Actually Listening to Your Record Collection (nearly)

Talk TalkI decided to appreciate what I own. Or else what’s the point of owning anything? So I have listened to almost every album in my record collection, CDs and LPs – over 500 of them, casually working through them in random order during the past 12 months. Now, with no CDs left and only 14 LPs to go, my record player has broken. Will I ever hear the vinyl again?

Anyway, here are some observations for

1. I have been a bit slack at helping out billionaires.

The most enjoyable listens were seldom ‘classics’ beloved of journos and polls. This isn’t reverse snobbery but either
(a) unwillingness to repeat-play music that has been played to death everywhere else. And there’s nothing in the way I live my life day-to-day at home that can be soundtracked by mega-anthems, which to be fair to them were never written to be all-purpose or even timeless. ‘The greatest albums of all time’ cannot realistically be listened to at home.


(b) my supposedly baroque tastes just about undermine my appreciation of these things.

[Editor’s note: the above is not necessarily true, as Barry actually owns lots of ‘canonical’ LPs and CDs.]

2. The mixed effects of nostalgia.

By nostalgia I mean nostalgia for past cultural moments, like in a generational sense, I don’t mean nostalgia too subjectively. (I know you all have sick, gratifying associations with random detritus but I’m not interested in your sordid personal lives.) So, like, I love my 1951 recording of Beethoven’s 9th, but I don’t feel nostalgia for it. I’m talking about my ‘generation’ here.

Nostalgia doesn’t rule my puny mind, dictating that something is a good record because everything was a whirlpool of brilliance back in the rose-tinted days of tadpole youth. What I might have listened to a lot X years ago may not stand up as a good recording today, even if I associate good things with it. Let’s face that truth.

On the other hand, nostalgia can be a kind of blessing. There are records I wouldn’t expect anyone from outside my age group to particularly like or ‘get into’ or ‘be into’. There are records I bought when they came out (that’s what we did, pre-retromania) and the original contexts in which those records felt enriching have long since passed. But I can ‘hear’ those contexts. I listened to the records of my own ‘generation’ when they came out, so I am lucky to be connected to something that happened when I was alive. (I imagine retromaniacs feel nostalgia for cultural moments they never experienced).

3. What music did.

Some music may stick with me only because I heard it when I was a certain age, but sometimes it is also what the music is doing or what is being done with the music that is the inescapable attraction for me, for example genre-breaking use of the recording process, compassion to make your tired heart sing, or songs ‘transcribed’ from another state of consciousness. I’m not sitting here concerned about what other people’s views on these things might be, but do these concepts have anything to do with approaches to music nowadays? If not, these are idiosyncrasies.
(I’m just not sure whose idiosyncrasies – mine or the musicians’?)

4. Does writing about music require lists?

To give you a list of my ‘best listening experiences’ in the past year (probably about 30% of the collection was, collectively, a high point) might be the wrong thing to do. It would look skewed. It would show many entries from particular artist(e)s. You see, you can only appreciate certain artist(e)s by listening to a lot of their output, but they might still be less good than others who produced far less music. Also, there are artists who made albums 2/3 of which to me are better than most other music, but the other 1/3 stops them from being enjoyable records all the way through (6 stone cold classics followed by 4 boring songs – it happens! – Or 2 great pieces then some misguided symphony), and therefore they wouldn’t make it onto ‘the list’. Besides, there can be no list, because I can’t assess the final 14 records in my collection.

5. Conclusion?

There can never be one.

Barry Kavanagh writes fiction, and has made music, formerly with Dacianos and presently with the forthcoming "voodoo project".

Contact him here.


  1. “I imagine retromaniacs feel nostalgia for cultural moments they never experienced
    Heh, I like that.

  2. I agree with that you said that some of the music that we listened to before may not be as good if we listen to them now come to think of it.

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