In the Guide’s weekly Solved! column, we look into a crucial pop-culture question you’ve been burning to know the answer to – and settle it, once and for all
When compact discs started arriving on the shelves of Woolworths in the 1980s, liberated boomers set about chucking out all the vinyl clogging up their entertainment centres. After an investment in a three-disc changer and some CD towers, they could rest easy in the assurance that they were future-proofed. A couple of decades, and a few music industry meltdowns later, no one wants CDs any more. Music is now nebulous, swirling round us like a particularly tuneful dust storm or, in the case of Gary Barlow’s new album, a fart in a lift.
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And here millennials sit, following begrudgingly in the boomers’ wake, at the centre of a generational Venn diagram: in the unique position of having CDs, vinyl and iTunes and streaming. For the best part of a year now, it’s been time for a clearout: so as we edge back to something resembling a normal life, dare we take the ultimate decluttering step and eschew our CD collections?
We have heard the vinyl regret stories from the boomers: “should have held on to that’; “a much richer sound”. They gaze longingly at Discogs, masochistically checking how much that Boney M picture disc is worth now. Will millennials be putting themselves in the same position? Vinyl has seen a resurgence in sales surpassing any expectations; even the cassette tape – the clunkiest format since the shellac disc – has seen a comeback. CDs are unlikely to enjoy such a renaissance: they are inherently unlovable, with none of the richness or tactile nature of vinyl, or the kooky, Urban Outfitters irony of tapes. They remain covetable only as part of deluxe eight-disc box sets containing five to 75 versions of the same song.
But is it safe to destroy your collection? With a monthly streaming subscription, or even the likes of iTunes, we are paying for a licence to listen to the music, not ownership of the music itself. What if, as happened last month with a number of K-pop songs on Spotify, the music we hold dear and listen to every day suddenly disappears? Or, worse, what if in 15 years’ time, the streaming services fold altogether? We will be bereft, and our Songs to Cry To playlist will be inaccessible. In a drawer under the bed, however, your trusty copy of Now 33 will always be waiting.
Of course, there are sentimental reasons for holding on to our CDs, too. For some of us, they are a physical manifestation of youth; a disc-by-disc autobiography. Some even still have the price stickers from shops long since closed (RIP, The Longplayer Tunbridge Wells). The behemoths – Tower Records, Virgin Megastores, Our Price – all vanished eventually, but we still have the music we bought there.
So, as we reconsider the worth of the supposed heirlooms that have been gathering dust in the loft, the clothes that have never been worn, the boxes of guff vying with the car for garage space – even the friends or acquaintances who have shown themselves to be surplus to requirements have been ditched – should the CD collection survive? Amid our stressful lives and the fresh starts we’re about to embark upon, our CDs are scratched little time capsules worth holding on to.