Bye Bye Mon HMV


Word is HMV is closing shop. This follows a trend that started over a decade ago and appears to be coming to a final curtain. Which is, the end of the chain record store.

For my entire life, record stores have been like church to me. They were where I went be around my favorite thing. Music. Which records, more than anything else, represented.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money. Buying a new record was a pretty big deal. That didn’t stop me from hanging out at record stores. I’d spend hours just looking through the racks, reading the credits, making a mental wish list and just enjoying being around records. I remember gong to what many would call the fair, which in our case was a carnival, midway and exhibition called Klondike Days. There were rides and games and carnival food. There was also a marketplace and in it was a pop up record shop. Instead of going on rides or playing the games of chance, I would spend a big chunk of my time at Klondike Days just perusing the records, even though I didn’t have enough money to buy one.

The only time I almost stole something. There was a $2.99 sale at Kelly’s in Edmonton. Previous to this, my older brother John had bought both Masters Of Reality by Black Sabbath and the original Rock Opera version of Jesus Christ Superstar, the real one with Ian Gillan. I loved both of these records and played the crap out of them. In the sale bin there was Black Sabbath’s Paranoid and the original cast recording of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, which I’d never heard of but was by the same guys who wrote and produced Superstar. I could only pick one so I went for Joseph. As it turned out, the Joseph record was a London cast recording of the stage play and kind of sucked. Or didn’t suck but wasn’t what I was expecting, which was a rock opera like JCS. Disappointed, I took the bus back into Edmonton the next week hoping I might be able to exchange it for Paranoid. I was a very nervous kid and edged my way up to the counter and said, “do you give refunds on the sale records?” to which the clerk of course said, “no”. I meant exchange. Feeling angry about it, I thought about tucking the Joseph record back into the bin and slipping the Sabbath record into my Kelly’s bag. But I didn’t. I went home and listened to the Joseph record 40 times to try and like it. Because that’s what you did when you could only buy a small amount of music, you gave it a chance.

Diversions were few when I was a kid. Television was terrible. So finding time to listen to music was easy. On those days that I actually had enough money to buy a record, I would take it home and listen to it. Not listen while I was doing something else. Just listen to the music. I would listen to any record I bought hundreds of times. This experience was not unique to me and I’m sure many reading who are of a ‘certain age’ can relate to what I’m saying. I remember an interview I once read with Pete Townsend where he talked about loving books. Just touching them and having them in your hands. I have also felt that way about books and book stores.

My obsession with records and record stores lasted well into my adult life, actually until very recently. When we were on the road, I’d go to the local Towers or whatever record store was handy and check out what they had that I couldn’t get back home. Sometime’s our record company would let us pick out a few CD’s after an in store and I would drive the band batty while I meticulously combed the bins to find exactly what I wanted. One of my big regrets is leaving a sealed, vinyl copy of Music From The Magic Christian by Badfinger under the mattress of my bunk on a tour bus.

When Sonic Boom opened in the Annex, I was there pretty much every day. At that point I was flipping through CD’s instead of vinyl but I was still spending an hour or so, checking out what they had and what I might be able to buy. This was post Napster. Some habits are hard to break.

I imagine people look at the generation that follows them and wonders if their experience of the world is as idyllic as their own. So I ask myself, are kids missing out on something because most of them never set foot in a record store? Most of them don’t buy music in the way we used to. (This doesn’t even address radio, which was another bounty of musical experience that shaped me as a kid).

Let’s examine how a young person might access music today. They can purchase music online without ever leaving their house. The catalog of recordings that is available through iTunes outstrips any record store from my youth. Then there are sites like Bandcamp, Reverbnation and Soundcloud where they can discover indy music. Finally there is YouTube where almost every recording known to man, not to mention live performances and more amateur music than you could listen to in a lifetime, exists. There is also Spotify, where kids can listen to music without having to empty their bank accounts to buy it. Just pay a few bucks a month to have access to a wide catalog of music.

If I think of a song, or am wondering about a song, or am trying to tell someone about a song, I can access any of these sites and be able to hear the song pretty much instantaneously. If I could have done this as a kid, you would have had to pry me away from my computer.

The downside, of course, is that the internet has devalued music. Because music was so ‘rare’ in terms of my ability to access it, I was happy to pay for it when I was able to. A kid once said to me, “if I had to pay for music, I wouldn’t have half the music that I do.” Yes, you would be me as a kid. I didn’t even have 1/50th of the music that I wanted.

So are things better now? I guess it’s all about context. Was my experience as a kid better than the experiences of a young music listener today? I’m going to say no. Here is what was bad about my experience. Early on, the supply of music wasn’t so vast and most music could be found in your local record store. As popular music grew and certain recordings became hyper successful, I’m talking about you Frampton Comes Alive and Saturday Night Fever, both record companies and retailers became fixated on making and selling recordings that would sell in huge quantities. So records that didn’t or stopped selling as many copies as labels and stores wanted them to, were deleted, banished to history and obscurity. This got worse and worse over the years. So finding a song like, Mr. Dyingly Sad by The Critters or Crazy Jane by Tom Northcott was virtually impossible unless you could find it in a used record store.

The internet has given people access to songs that have been abandoned by the powers that controlled music. This is the best part and is the part that trumps any nostalgia that I can conjure up about record stores. And while I may lament the closing of HMV and before them, Tower, A&A, Kelly’s and Cheapies, for my own personal reasons, it’s been replaced by something so magical, my younger self wouldn’t have been able to imagine it.

And the fall of the chain record store doesn’t mean the end of the record store. The resurgence of vinyl has created a boom for the independent record shop. So as much as I remember my youth with fondness, life for the music fan has never been better. Now for the musician….

Post Script. It is now looking like Sunrise Records might be buying some of the HMV locations. Not sure how they are planning to make that work but stay tuned, maybe this isn’t over?

10 Responses to “Bye Bye Mon HMV”

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    Doug Kennedy Says:

    The only thing that bothers me about the whole vinyl resurgence is that the artists get little or nothing out of it because people buy *almost* everything used.

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    Grant P Says:

    Great post, Moe. Like you wrote, many reading are of a ‘certain age’ and can relate to the experience of hanging out in record stores, carefully studying the available choices, and then buying a record and listening to it like a newly-found treasure. I must have played certain Kiss albums over a thousand times. But I didn’t just sit and listen….I would study the album’s front and back covers, and read every word of the liner sleeve. That was one reason I never switched to cassettes (I also didn’t drive or have a car til I was 23, which may have had something to do with it). Some bands like The Smiths included lyrics, which made even the less-than-stellar songs seem pretty great, while other bands might just give the “thank you’s” and production credits, but even then, I started to learn that “mastered by Bob Ludwig” actually meant something. The worst culprits were the plain white sleeves…it was like opening a cereal box and not getting a prize.

    When I started college, I seemed to be magnetically pulled towards like-minded people, and I immediately began swapping CDs, which greatly expanded the library of music that I was exposed to. I can remember buying cassette tapes in 24-packs and filling them up in a month. The holy grails were always the hard to find import CDs, b-sides, etc. When you found someone with those, you’d do everything to stay on their good side. I even remember being at parties and always taking the opportunity to browse through the person’s record, tape and CD collection, just to see what gems might be lurking there (and there was always one or two).

    That routine of deeply absorbing every second and every word of an album was in full force in 1990, and that brings me to a personal story that I wanted to share with you. Like many fans, I first heard TPOH through alternative radio in the 1980s, starting with Love Junk. I am from Detroit, and while Windsor record shops were within driving distance, I did not manage to discover TPOH during the pre-Love Junk days. The album One Sided Story happened to come out when I was going through typical adolescent stuff, and the lyrics of almost every song on that record seemed to magically insert themselves into my life at that time. I even remember lending the record to a friend and then discussing it with her the following week, and hearing her say “on ‘Runs in the Family’ isn’t that interesting where he says “She looks at me with innocence, I look away”. I would analyze those songs like a presidential historian analyzes letters written by George Washington.

    And perhaps the most interesting part was years later, where someone (you?) wrote a promo piece on the Iron Music website about “The Wonderful World of The Pursuit of Happiness” where they described listening to an album from the opening note of the leadoff track right through to the last track’s fade-out. Whoever wrote it didn’t know it, but they were describing me in my bedroom listening to One Sided Story in May of 1990.

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    tom thumb Says:

    Great post! What about the loss of having a physical copy of a treasured record or cd and all of the joy that brought in reading the liner notes, credits, lyrics, artwork, etc.

    Sgt pepper wouldn’t be the same if I wouldn’t have had those awesome cardboard cut-outs to play with as a kid.

    The digitization of music has also impacted how artists are able to present a vision for their work.

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    Simon King Says:

    Hey Mon. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Change is contextual, constant, and lately, moving at a rapid pace. IMHO, the digital technological landscape, of which the internet is part, is ‘disruptive’ and ‘destructive’ by nature. The purveyors of these technologies (SILLY-CON VALLEY) has the unwary totally conned, as they are being robbed blind. In the case of music, the portable affordable mp3s sound worse than the previous Sony Walkmans. This outcome usually is ‘planned obsolescence’ (Ralph Nader) through psychological stealth marketing via constant updates and upgrades. The creation, performance, consumption, and marketing of music maybe slowly returning to its analog roots, when the populace has had enough. Hopefully. Meanwhile, I am blasting my vinyl version of In the Court of the Crimson King (all hail Mr. Fripp) on the turntable. Hendrix’s Are You Experienced is next. Where the heck is Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. Found it!! Cheers.

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    Laurence Cavanaugh Says:

    Like you, I was never able to buy close to what I desired as a yewt.

    I’m an adult now and have made up for lost time, so my CD collection is pretty much ridiculous. Had there been such a thing as iTunes or Spotify ten or fifteen years earlier, I’d own far less than I do, but I’d still buy music.

    While I like the convenience of being able to stream at work, and being able to stream those titles I will realistically only listen to once before it sits on a shelf, there are still those core artists that I both want the physical release for, and want to be able to listen to on a proper stereo setup.

    I still listen to music as a standalone activity-it’s not background for something else.

    I feel like that has been lost on young people today, and I do not think they know what they are missing.

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    Chris Waterfield Says:

    Can you tell me anything about the ‘She’s So Young’ 8 track tape that I just saw on ebay? How did that come together?

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      MoeBerg Says:

      It was a promo item for Love Junk. LJ was the first commercially released DAT and had been released on CD, vinyl and cassette so 8-track was the last format left.

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    Scott Meister Says:

    Moe, Loved the article, we came from the same era and area and I experienced everything you mentioned in your article. I think young music fans are indeed missing out on the experience of holding that album jacket, memorizing every detail of the graphics and information on that cover, and if you were lucky enough to get an album with a lyric sheet, euphoria. I may be a little nostalgic, but I still have every record album and cassette I ever bought, and still get excited and feel like a kid again, when I attend a local record sale twice a year. Today’s youth download songs, sometimes without even knowing what an artist looks like, and then discard that art when they run out of disc space and have to make room for the new stuff. Music, to some people, these days is almost disposable, there is no real connection to the artists. Art in any form should be cherished and kept for generations to enjoy. Like you mentioned, some great music will be lost to history when record collections disappear and dwindle away, I’m leaving my collection to my daughter and slowly trying to digitally document some of it, hopefully she will pass it on.

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    Bob Nichols Says:

    Hi Moe,
    I’m 65 and was just the perfect age for browsing record stores as a kid. Still have 45’s lots of vinyl (including my wife’s). I’m from Pittsburgh, so was into the Philly soul and was THRILLED to learn Todd has Philly roots. I too miss liner notes, etc. Being also a YES fan, the album artwork was fantastic. Wow. Not just music, but art. Holy cow!! Lived in San Francisco in early 70’s…wow. Been there done that.
    Speaking of tape, made a home made video when She’s So Young came out, my daughter was 5 and dressed up for daddy daughter date night and I was in a suit and thought wouldn’t it be funny to make a video. Plugged the audio into the camera on the tri-pod and let er rip. Julie just kind of looks at me (but she’s familiar with the tune) and I’m hamming it up with my Mickey Mouse guitar solo. then I went to the piano and played Wailing Wall (still in the suit and lip syncing). Julie is 35 now!! WHERE does the time go? I blew so much music into her brains (so did my wife), Julie became a professional musician in Chicago, but alas, fairly small scale. She loves jazz and plays keyboards. I’m actually deaf in one ear. And to think I love music so much. I found out about TPOH through the Utopia Times (pre-internet really). But I think I got Love Junk on CD (might have been the first CD I ever bought), that became the thing. CDs take way less space than vinyl. And, needless to say, I just need volume. I’m not that deep into quality, although for some stoopid reason, I got a bunch of YES CDs remastered in 5.1. One ear. Good God. My friends call me a “poppish” progger. I have (and paid for) most of your work. and just found this site. Sweet.

    You gotta find your own space, have a nice day.

    OH, one last thing. We have Half-Priced bookstores here in Chicago now. Get this. So my wife puts 100 cds and vinyl in a box, takes it over there (along with some books), they offer her $7.95 to take everything off her hands and then re-sell everything for at least $5 each. Not a bid gig if you can get it. Somehow I feel like….a musician?

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    Randy Says:

    Hi Moe. I have only now discovered your memoir/blogs here and really enjoyed your essay on The Hip. This one, Bye Bye Mon HMV, reminds me very much of my youth in Toronto, shopping for records and making discoveries

    Mr. Dyingly Sad reminds me of a record that I have been listening to for about 44 years. “The Smoke” by The Smoke is an obscure no hit wonder that you might appreciate. A little bit psychedelic and well layered with the sounds of strings, horns, harpsichords and vocals. I was delighted to find that it finally got posted on iTunes, where I was happy to pay for it even though I have it on vinyl. If you ever read this, and download The Smoke, or at least preview the tracks, I’d be happy to know what you think.

    Also, my compliments on the great production job on The Cliks “Snakehouse” It remains one of my modern favourites for its great classic rock quality, if I can describe it so. Saw you about 25 years ago at a They Might be Giants show in Toronto (now my daughter’s current favourite band. My sister slipped you her phone number, never heard from you…

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