|Above: The gatefold that sealed my fate.|
Ahh, you damn kids and your Demonoids and Pirate Bays and YouTubes and what have you. You have no idea what it was like back in the olden days for decaying farts like me. Man, everything was better back then. You know, when you had to go to six different stores just to find that one album you were looking for, and then it was always only in the most expensive store of the lot. I’m telling you, you little ingrates with your two-mouse-clicks-and-done culture, you don’t appreciate anything. Not the way we did, back when procuring music was a task. Back when it wasn’t for the weak. Back when we walked to the store, uphill, both ways in the snow, and loved it, god damn it.
Just in case you wandered over here from, I dunno, the Steve Hoffman Music Forms or some other similar bastion of crotchety drool-spew elsewhere on the inter-tubes, please allow me to assure you that the preceding paragraph was 100% parody. Sure, record stores were fun, no doubt about it. So is being able to hear anything I’ve ever wanted, completely free of charge, without much worry about rarity. What follows is a sad teenage tragedy that underscores the fragility of physical media, and a free lesson in the use of exaggeration for comedic effect.
Shortly after returning from family vacation with Heaven Tonight and At Budokan, I found myself dragged to the Stamford Town Center, a mall in Southern Connecticut about half an hour north of where we lived, for the dreaded yearly clothes shopping. I’m not sure why I hated clothes shopping as much as I did when I was a kid – it’s not like my parents tried to dress me for the short bus or anything – but about the only thing that could get me in that car was knowing that there was usually a trip to the record store in it for me on the way out. What can I say? I guess I sold out cheap when I was a kid.
Back in White Plains, you choices for music acquisition were the sleazy indie store I mentioned back in my musings on Cheap Trick, plus two (count ‘em) Sam Goody/Musicland stores in the Galleria. Those were a bummer for a kid on a budget; essentially in competition with themselves, their prices were astronomical. Stamford, on the other hand, had a Record World. Looking back on it, Record World was an interesting chain: clearly, the modus operandi of their dingy, dimly lit stores was to replicate a “real” record store. By mall standards, they were somewhat successful: their prices were a bit tamer than Goody’s, and it was under their roof that the terms “import” and “cutout” became important parts of my vocabulary. The following commercial probably isn’t too promising, but take my word for it: the store was about as alright as anything rubbing retail shoulders with the likes of Benetton and Chess King could be.
Having decided before our car even pulled out of the driveway and headed north that this was going to be Dream Police day, my visit to Record World was fairly short and clinical. I had only one decision to make: vinyl, tape or CD? See, that’s another thing about music shopping back in the day, kids: three different media to choose from. Let’s see your silly little internet replicate something that redundant and unnecessary, eh? The CD was immediately ruled out: out of stock. Tape and vinyl were the same price, but the vinyl sported a gatefold cover. Decision made.
Made wrongly, as it turned out. Everything was fine for about a minute or so; there I sat, staring at the big, colorful lineup photo in the gatefold, and grooving to the album’s classic title track, when the second chorus came and shot everything to hell: The Dream Police, they THUNKA-THUNKA-side of my head. Not a skip per se – the needle never jumped – but a LOUD THUMP right in the middle of the chorus. See, that’s another thing about music buying in the golden age, children: if you bought something out of state and it had a defect and you were a fourteen year old kid lacking in independent transportation, you were shit outta luck. I moved the needle back three or four times to make sure it wasn’t just dust on the groove or anything. No such luck: this thump was a permanent resident. Ruined my whole day, I tell ya, as well as my enjoyment of the rest of the album. Now, of course, you’d just hear such a blemish and go “wow, this rip sucks, let’s find another torrent” and be happily listening again in a matter of moments. No respect for the old ways from the kids these days, I tell ya.
Instead, I found myself out the $6 I spent on the bad vinyl copy, plus another $12 for the on-sale-at-The-Wiz (gotta love the concept of an electronics and music chain named after urine, don’t ya?) CD a few weeks later. Blessed with the thump-less clarity of digital audio, I immediately fell in love with the music once again. While the debut album will always remain my favorite of their albums, Dream Police may well be their finest three-quarters-of-an-hour in the studio. It’s the album that consolidates everything that was great about its three predecessors and moves forward. I’m not usually a guy who goes for the long songs, but Dream Police boasts two that have real reason to go past four minutes: the intense build-and-release epic of “Need Your Love” (previewed on At Budokan, but better here), and the mesmerizing death disco of “Gonna Raise Hell”, home to some of Robin Zander’s best screaming ever. Also, an instant-classic title track, some great three-chord shout-alongs (“I’ll Be With You Tonight” and “I Know What I Want”, the latter of which sports a Tom Petersson vocal that the Trouser Press Record Guide perfectly summed up as “delightfully goofy”), and the best power-pop song ever written, hands down. That’d be “Way of the World”; really, the genre could have just called it a day right then and no one would be any worse for it. The best part? The songs I haven’t mentioned are just as good as the ones I have.
If you’re looking for a non-compilation start to your studio Cheap Trick explorations, look no further.
Next week: All Shook Up…and bent outta shape.