RECORD STORE TALES #928: Rockin’ the Computer From Then to Now
It’s funny to think about my parents being on the cutting edge of technology, but back in the day, we had all the cool stuff. In my earliest memories we had a Lloyd’s Pong machine. It came with two paddles and a really cool light gun assembly that you could customise with a stock or silencer. It was primitive but very few people had video games in the home back then.
You wouldn’t call the Lloyd’s a “computer”, but our next device was specifically marketed as a “video computer system”. The Atari 2600 console was beloved by our family for many years. There was a big sale. You could get the console with two games (Combat and Space Invaders), two joysticks, and two paddles. Our family grabbed one as did everyone else in the neighbourhood. While the games were not as sophisticated as those in the arcade (or any other home entertainment system), they were the most popular. And then one day in 1984, in front of that Atari 2600, I had the musical epiphany that changed the course of my life. Iron Maiden and Snoopy & the Red Baron collided in such a way that my life would never be the same. From that point forward, computers and music would be intertwined in my life. Music enhances everything from gaming to homework.
Cousin Geoff “Captain Destructo” wrecking our Atari joysticks while playing Snoopy & the Red Baron on the 2600
I had always been into soundtrack music, but when I was given a Fisher Price mono tape recorder as a young kid, I was able to record whatever I wanted. I made a compilation of all my favourite Atari 2600 musical themes. My sister and I would walk around the house humming those game tunes, so I recorded them for us to enjoy. Ms. Pac Man in particular had a good musical theme.
The next evolution in our computing lives was when my dad got an IBM PC through work. Not one but two 5 1/4″ floppy disc drives. Monochrome monitor. The ability to copy games from friends. That computer kept us going for many years until the early 90s when I wanted something new that could handle modern word processing for school. Not a very good computer, but a new one at least. It was regular upgrades from there: a modem, and finally the near-mythical CD-ROM drive.
Dad at the original PC
The first thing I did as soon as we got a CD-ROM drive was to buy something that truly combined the world of computers and music. In a way, CD-ROM was a new format in music, an upgrade from simple CD. Having a drive on the computer opened up my world to things I couldn’t play before, such as Queensryche’s Promised Land. (I first bought Alice In Chains’ Jar of Flies CD-ROM but couldn’t get it to work, so I exchanged it for another Seattle band.) There I sat at the keyboard, clicking on my mouse and virtually touring Big Log, the island studio that Queensryche recorded the album in. The CD-ROM also included a video game, and the prize for winning the video game was a brand new song. Queensryche specially recorded “Two Mile High”, an acoustic song, for the game. I never won the game, but I figured out what file the song was, and recorded it to a tape deck via the PC’s audio-out jack. And let me tell you, I thought it was pretty cool to gain an exclusive song by expanding my tech to play a new format. Collectors are kind of nuts that way.
When I started working at the Record Store, Trevor and I would check out CDs that had exclusive CD-ROM content, such as Tales from the Punchbowl by Primus. There was a special “enhanced” reissue that included visual content for your computer. This became common practice in the 1990s. And so, it became important to always have a computer able to keep up with the newest releases.
Ozzy had screen savers. The Tea Party had exclusive videos. I never found out what Alice In Chains had. We learned quickly at the Record Store that these “enhanced” CDs gave some people problems with playback, especially if they tried to play the album on an older computer. We had many returns. The alternative was to exchange the disc for a version manufactured by Columbia House. They usually lacked the enhanced content for your computer, which was causing some customers the playback issues. The feedback we received was that the Columbia House versions played fine!
With the advent of cheaper memory and better computers, my collection began the ongoing migration to digital copy. Having a decent computer is more important than ever. In fact now I do most of my listening right here in front of the screen. The subwoofer gives me plenty of depth. This is something I could never have imagined, even back in the early CD-ROM days. Only in the last 10 years has listening to music on the computer been smooth and decent sounding. Tech got faster and cheaper and now the computer is my main station.
I’ve had so many computers over the years that I’ve lost track of them all. The new laptop I bought doesn’t have an optical media drive at all, which alarmed me. I will always need the ability to have my CD collection interact with my digital machine. Will my future be external drives that play increasingly obsolete formats? Kang only knows, as this ride has been unpredictable so far. I guess we’ll see what changes in the next 10 years. I just know that it will change.