Back in 1970, as a six-year-old, there was no scope for me to buy records. That happened over a decade later, when I would save from my pocket money to pick up vinyl discs of ABBA, Boney M and Saturday Night Fever.
However, the initial listening experience as a 1st standard student shaped my tastes. Those days, till mono cassette players became popular in 1972, the primary ways of listening to music was through the radio and records.
On the radio, the Binaca Geetmala was a family favourite for Hindi songs, specially those picturised on Rajesh Khanna. But we all gave adequate time to and fought over the daily news bulletins, Test and Ranji Trophy cricket commentary, and mum’s favourite Shastriya Sangeet, as one preferred to call classical music.
My maternal uncle, an engineer who travelled a lot within India, would carry a portable Philips record player on his visits to Mumbai. His record collection occupied more space than his clothes and office papers. That’s when I got exposed to The Sound Of Music, Jim Reeves, Cliff Richard, Perry Como, Raj Kapoor film hits, Lata Mangeshkar, K.L. Saigal and yes, The Beatles.
Uncle would come once in three or four months, and stay a maximum of a week. When he was at work, I would play his records. He never got to know till my eighth birthday when I sang the entire Sound Of Music album to impress the girls. “Where did you learn them?” he asked. I had to spill the beans.
I kept pestering dad to buy a record player. But he would insist that the habit wasn’t meant for a kid who should be focusing on studies and sport. He eventually bought a Panasonic tape recorder, but the collection was restricted to classical music. I enjoyed it, but didn’t get the variety I craved for.
We shifted to New Delhi around that time. Life seemed incomplete without a record player. Worse, some of my friends had them. The best I could do was to go to their places and listen to their parents’ choices, in most cases a total contrast to mine. One of the few exceptions was the LP of the Sholay dialogues. We knew Gabbar Singh lines better than algebra formulae.
The Radio Era
Long live radio. On Monday and Friday, I would switch on the weekly shows Forces Request and A Date With You. Lobo, Anita Ward, Mary Hopkin, The Carpenters, George Baker Selection, George McCrae, John Denver, Glen Campbell, Demis Roussos, ABBA, Boney M – many new names popped up. I would shut off the machine when they played Pink Floyd or Uriah Heep, which later became obsessions.
The radio phase lasted a few years. In 1980, dad took me to the residence of his colleague. After we finished our tea, a bulky Philips stereo record player was kept on the table, along with a few records. “I am purchasing it second hand,” my father announced. I was thrilled, even though the brand wasn’t as fancy as Nakamichi, Akai or Kenwood. Something better than nothing.
Back to records
Most of the records purchased were of classical artistes like Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and M.S. Subbulakshmi. There was only one English record – A Hard Day’s Night by The Beatles. To build my collection, I would have to depend on savings from my pocket money. Less chhole bathure and ice-cream.
Those days, LPs cost Rs 35 or 40. It would take two or three months to collect enough money to buy one record. The first one I bought was the double album Saturday Night Fever, a rage among youngsters. Boney M’s Nightflight To Venus and ABBA’s Voulez Vous followed.
My tastes slowly shifted to rock. Over the next few months, I picked up 13 by The Doors, The Best of Traffic and Eric Clapton’s Time Pieces. I started working in June 1984, as a trainee with Sun magazine in New Delhi. This is when I started splurging on records, and also got blank cassettes recorded at Pyramid in Palika Bazaar.
I kept buying records for a brief period till I left for Jaipur in December 1984. My collection included Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon (the same songs I first hated), the red and blue compilations of The Beatles, Clapton’s Just One Night, Peter Frampton Comes Alive and Santana’s Shango. I was getting into jazz too, and picked up the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s The Inner Mounting Flame, Weather Report’s Black Market, John McLaughlin’s Belo Horizonte, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Miles Davis’ Kind Of Blue and Shakti’s Natural Elements.
A friend gifted me an LP because it was just lying around unused in his place. It was by a singer I had never heard before. I took another three months to play that record but the very first song ‘Mohabbat Karne Wale Kam Na Honge’ blew my mind. It was by Mehdi Hassan and it changed my life.
Moving to cassettes
Those early memories are vivid even today. Sadly, the craze for records died and we got into prerecorded cassettes and much later CDs. My biggest regret is that I just gave away all those records to whoever wanted them. That was besides my parents classical collection which was priceless.
Today, there is another dilemma. Vinyl is back in a big way, but I have most albums on CD, and I hate parting with the great ones. Thus, I am very choosy about buying new records. On top of that we have Spotify. Never mind if I prefer the good old analog sound.