Apparently, an artist gets paid US$0.006 for each track that gets played on Spotify and that more than 20,000 tracks are uploaded each day. It also seems that artists will record albums with thirty or forty tracks, each of two minutes or so, because they are paid once a listener has played a track for more than thirty seconds.
When people are used to downloading hundreds if not thousands of tracks, who will remember the first one they bought?
I remember the first single I bought. Forty-five years ago, in the spring of 1974, I bought Paper Lace’s The Night Chicago Died. It seemed an oddly inauspicious choice for a first record; it didn’t even make No 1 in the British charts and I remember feeling the sort of intense irrational dislike, of which only a thirteen year old is capable, for their previous record, Billy, don’t be a hero. Why buy a record that could hardly have been popular amongst other thirteen year old boys? When there were Glam rock bands and serious rock bands around, there cannot have been many of my peers who were buying records by Paper Lace.
Perhaps it was desire for a happy ending, perhaps something else. The storyteller’s father is a policeman caught in a gunfight and his mother sits at home fearing for her husband’s life:
Then the door burst open wide
and my daddy stepped inside
And he kissed my mama’s face
And he brushed her tears away
This is an entry worthy of John Wayne, the door being thrown open with such ferocity that it hits the wall and the hinges nearly break. This is a man who has confronted scenes of killing and carnage, yet still can come home with confidence and composure. He is unaffected by what has happened, concerned only to comfort his wife in her tearful distress.
It is an odd song. What went on in the head of a thirteen year old boy to buy it? Maybe a searching for a hero, or for the right side to win, or for a story that was different from life in 1970s England, or maybe just a desire for a fairy tale end.
According to Wikipedia, Mayor Daley in Chicago was less than impressed by the record, a copy of which was sent to him; it is not a hard reaction to understand. The song is set in the city of Chicago around 1929, forty-five years previously. As a teenager, I believed it to be based on a true incident; only years later, did I discover that such a gun battle between Al Capone and the police had never taken place.
To dissect the song four decades later is being pedantic, the band were only trying to make a record, and it became hugely popular in the United States, but at some point I ceased to like the record – maybe when I learned it wasn’t true, maybe because a change of taste. It has probably not been played since I left school in 1977, yet if someone suggested getting rid of it, I would resist fiercely. Our past is our past, no matter how odd, or how mistaken it might now seem. It’s hard to imagine that downloading a track will never have the same emotional connection.