Music and the Early Days of the Internet

Filed under i used to be so cool, music is my boyfriend

This morning, my best friend, Tracey, sent me this:

click to enlarge

Can you imagine all the sob stories we’ll tell our children when it comes to music pre-Internet? Like how for years, I thought the lyrics to The Bellamy Brothers’ “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body” were “if I said you had a beautiful bonnet, would you hold it against me?”, and I wondered why anyone would be offended by a friendly hat-related compliment.

And what about music not pre-Internet but pre-AWESOME-Internet? I remember hearing The Connells’ “’74-’75” on the radio in high school and thinking it was mind-blowing, but of course Google didn’t exist then, so I couldn’t find the song using the three or four words I knew. I had to actually call the radio station to ask.

And even better, when Tracey and I were in high school, Bush’s album Razorblade Suitcase came out, and we were dying to know the lyrics to “Insect Kin“, so we taped their “Saturday Night Live” performance on her VCR and sat watching and pausing, watching and pausing, writing down the lyrics from the closed captioning. AMAZING.

It’s funny how looking back, that seems so romantic. It seems like music really mattered back then, because bands actually had to have a whole album’s worth of material before they were allowed to record one, and we actually had to buy that music–or record it with our VCRs–to hear the song we liked whenever we wanted to.

I’m not really complaining, because I love being able to call that Justin Bieber song up on MySpace whenever I want to and not feel bad about it because I’m not contributing any money to his freaky fame, but still.


  1. kimz says:

    Loni and I did something similar, albeit a bit updated to your Razorblade Suitcase thing.

    Back in 2001, Loni and I had internet at Apartment 74. Dial-up. Uy. We were also kind of poor, so our form of entertainment was going downtown to Millennium Music and listening to a bunch of free music. Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back came out around that time and we were obsessed with “Jay’s Rap.” We sat at a listening station that had that soundtrack and listened and re-listened until we learned every single drugged up word. I still know every single word and I guarantee Loni does, too.

    • Karaoke time! Dial-up stories are especially awesome on their own, but the fact that “Jay’s Rap” got involved on this makes my day.

      Those listening stations were so hot for me back in the late 90s/early 00s, too. I remember thinking it said so much about me if I was seen publicly listening to something cool.

  2. Serial says:

    Can we also talk about the romance of mixtapes? Or are the 2.5 years I have on you (or so? not sure) the last years of mixtapes?

    • Ah, mixtapes. I loved getting them, but I was never very good at making them.

      I’m older than both of you, so I’m probably the only one here besides Bluzdude who remembers taping songs off the radio and how the DJ would talk over the beginning of your favorite song EVERY TIME and fuck it up.

      • Oh, man, that brings back such good/awful memories! We should start a blog of laws of the universe like that.

      • Tracey says:

        I had a copy of a cassette tape of 80s songs that my brother’s friend had taped off the CAR RADIO by holding up a tape recorder to them while someone else was driving. You can imagine how horrible the sound quality was, but that didn’t stop me from listening over and over and committing every nuance of Falco’s Amadeus to memory.

      • Serial says:

        I totally recorded songs off radio! And songs I really loved, I would use my dual tape deck to record over and over again, and that was my method of learning the lyrics.

    • Oh, no, I was right there with you, only I was always making them for myself and never having them made for me. My family always had a cassette in the stereo and queued up to a blank spot so we could just go hit record any time the first few notes of a good song started up. I’d kill to find a couple of those.

      I’ve had a few good mixCDs made for me in the recent past, but they don’t compare, knowing that a quarter of the work goes into them.

      • Serial says:

        I’ve only had one mix CD made for me that neared the meaning of the tapes I got back in the day. But that particular dude owned thousands of CDs, too many to compile digitally, so he actually had to know what he wanted, dig through his collection, and make it happen. It was dreamy. (and so was his CD collection.)

        BUT! Can I brag in comments? Rooomie wrote me a song and recorded it and uploaded it to my iTunes. WAY more romantic than any dumb mix tape or CD.

        OK. Enough romance. Back to how awesome it is to be able, so easily, to discover the song you heard on the radio (etc). What about when songs are instrumental? It’s like going back in TIME! It makes me unreasonably angry.

  3. bluzdude says:

    There’s one step missing:

    “Go to record store and play ‘Name that Tune’ with employees. Call them stupid because they can’t tell you what you want based on the line and a half you remember.”

    • Oh, I WISH. The closest record store for me was a half an hour away, so instead, I would just sing the lines over and over to myself while being pissed at my parents for not being cool enough to know my music and recognize the song. Angsty!

      I also remember writing the lyric to a song down on a corner of paper one morning and having my dad find it a couple of hours later where I’d left it behind. It was some suuuuuuuper-emo Bush (again!) lyric, I remember, and my dad thought I was suicidal for weeks because of it.

      • Tracey says:

        I feel like we were totally cheated by not growing up with a favorite record store where the employees totally GOT us and shared all of our taste in music.

  4. tina says:

    AOL (lol) used to have a library of like, 15 second clips of songs. I was really obsessed with David Bowie’s “Changes” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” when I was seven and would listen to those clips over and over without knowing the rest of the song.

    “I see a little silhouetto of a man, scaramouch, scaramouch, will you do the fandango, thunderbolts and lightning very very frightening me!”

    • It’s so funny you say that, because I was talking with a co-worker while I wrote this about how every site used to have 30-second clips, and I’d listen to the same 30 seconds over and over again before the existence of Napster.

      I can actually remember what my first mp3 was. That seems weird, right?

      Tracey would be happy to hear about your Bowie love (see her icon above). We barely even knew he made music until we were in our 20s, because we were too busy watching Labyrinth.

  5. Erin says:

    I had to laugh at your line “when Tracey and I were in high school…” It reminded me of American Pie and the line, “when I was at band camp…” I’m sure you could write A LOT using that phrase!

    • Oh, man, that is such a great idea for a book.

      But I’m too lazy for that, so obviously it should become a blog.

      We were about 2000 times less scandalous than American Pie, though. How embarrassing to admit.

  6. Cristy says:

    LOVE the timeline. So true. We didn’t know how to really hate on music properly back then. :)

  7. Alfagirl says:

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who recorded songs off the radio, but then again I’m also old now. I think it’s funny you wanted your parents to recognize songs– I think if my parents were to recognize a song lyric I would die, but then again, my mom was listening to Lionel Richie back then. I also love how the 90s were mentioned– I was doing this in the 80s!

  8. Jessica R. says:

    Oh I used to get blank cassette tapes, put them in my stereo and leave them on pause until I song I liked came on, then I would quickly hit “record,” usually missing the first few notes. Then I would wait and wait and hope the DJ finally announced the band and song. Old school mix tapes.

  9. anne says:

    My awesomely nerdy husband would eschew the common radio and spend his money as a youngster to get Spin magazine and actually order music from catalogs. Stuff he thought might be good without even hearing it! From places like subpop and grand royal. Swoon.

    I, on the other hand, was busy trying to tape the Bart Man song off the radio because The Simpsons was off-limits in my house…

    I totally married up.