As a devoted music fan, one of the more pleasurable activities during the 1990s was always the release of a new album by an artist I loved. It would involve lining up at a record store in town, sometimes HMV, at other times Brashes (remember them???) or Rocking Horse Records. It would sometimes depend on the popularity of the artist as to which store I would go to, knowing who was going to have the album not just on the shelves, but in stock.
Once purchased, I would return home (always took the day off work for this by the way) and set myself up in my bedroom with some food, drinks and the album in full swing on my stereo. I’d read over the liner notes and lyrics, immersed in any new musicians, engineers or back up singers who may have been brought in on the albumin question.
It was truly a wonderful experience. I’d often play the album in full, perhaps four or five times through the day, allowing the music to grow on me with every new listen, picking up previously unheard guitar hooks or backing vocals in the distance, behind the wall of sound.
The last time I did this was in fact just on 15 years ago now. Monday, October 4th 1999 to be precise. The album in question was “Hours…”, the 21st studio album from David Bowie, my musical idol.
You must remember one thing before I continue. With these releases you would often only hear an advance single or enjoy the pleasure of reading the reviews in the press over the lead up period to its release. There was no digital downloads, iTunes or CD-R copies exchanged among friends in the know. The day of release was just that, The first time you would be able to hear the album in full.
The only way to hear an album back then before release was by being invited to an advance listening party, normally held by the label or, as in my case, sometimes receiving a copy of an album to play in the clubs I was DJ’ing in around the time. If you were lucky and the artist was big enough, radio stations would sometimes play a few tracks in the days shortly before the record was due to hit the record stores.
So, where was I? Ahh, that’s right. On the 174 bus from Holland Park, my house of residence at the time. From memory it was the 8:21 am ride I caught. I had Bowie’s previous album, Earthling (1997) on my discman (yes, you heard right) for the 20 minute journey into town.
After arriving in the city, I excitedly rushed through the gloom ridden office workers towards HMV, my first port of call on the Queen Street Mall. Upon arriving, I still had around 12 minutes before the were due to open. My heart was racing at the prospect of the new Bowie album reaching my senses. There was only one small problem that lay in wait for me.
Upon rushing into the store upon opening, I was somewhat dismayed to learn that there were in fact no copies of “Hours…” resting neatly in the pockets of the stores Bowie section. This couldn’t be could it? Where was my album? First world problems I hear you say…….
I felt let down.
My next option was to scour my way to Skinny’s Records on Elizabeth Street. No copies there. Hmmm, where next? Rocking Horse Records on Adelaide Street. Still no luck. At this point (pre mobile phone days for most of us) I ran to a phone box and called Bowie’s record label in Sydney where they advised me the stock for their releases on this day had not left the factory on Friday as was the normal routine.
“I’m sorry, Bowie’s album won’t be hitting stores until later today. Maybe 3 o’clock?” explained the voice at the other end of the phone line.
I was gutted!
It was not yet, 9:30 am in the morning. I had no choice but to loiter around the city. Moping my way from cafe to record store. Back and forth over the following few hours, harassing the staff in each store I re-entered, some 5 or 6 times waiting for the delivery of stock.
Eventually, at around 2:00 pm HMV received a delivery of boxes. I impatiently followed the delivery man, wheeling around five or six small boxes into the store to be signed for. The guy behind the counter immediately began to rummage through the boxes, searching for Bowie’s new album. It didn’t take him long. He’d found it!
From here, the rest of the afternoon was a bit of a blur. I remember putting the album straight into my discman for instant aural pleasuring of my senses.
“Thursday’s Child”, the albums opening track had been the first single so i’d already heard that one many times over. Track two, “Something in The Air” was where things really got juicy! Following that, I was lost in Bowie’s vocal delivery. With “Survive” and “Seven”, it felt like he has deliberately returned to his “Hunky Dory” era vocal deliveries.
A treat upon that first listen to “Hours….” was the second from end installment, “Brilliant Adventure”, a distinct return to Bowie’s instrumental sounds from 1977s “Heroes” LP.
Overall, I was most pleased with the release and listening to the album once more as I write this blog, “Hours….” still remains a most enjoyable musical experience. It’s a bit of a shame that younger music fans today don’t really have those emotional experiences of exploring an album the way many of us once did upon the day of release.
The most enjoyable aspects of an album are often the non-single tracks, tucked away towards the end of an album. Here’s hoping the album format never dies. It is a true expression of artistic merit.
October 4th 1999 was the last time I bought a physical album upon its release. Seems so long ago now but I will always remember the experience. Ohh, the album artwork and liner notes were fantastic in case you were wondering………..