#928: Rockin’ the Computer From Then to Now

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.

22 comments

  1. My used Bon Jovi ‘Keep the Faith’ CD contains a live video of “Keep the Faith” that I can play on my computer (not that I’ve tried it yet). Is that what you mean by enchanted CD? I used to watch movies on my old MacBook Pro (which I got in 2013) before I got a DVD/Blu-ray player for my TV. My new MacBook Pro (which I got in 2018) doesn’t have a DVD player.

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      1. That’s true! I’m better off with YouTube. I had such flashbacks reading your post because I was thinking about those big computers I grew up with in elementary school with the mouse and fat keyboards. No MacBooks back then. In junior/senior year of high school, I got to use a chromebook for English class.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. No keyboard?!?! Wow! How did it work if it didn’t have a mouse?

          I remember that ball. I believe it got smaller overtime and wasn’t really a ball anymore. Before we used our fingers to scroll up and down, we used the ball on the mouse, instead, haha!

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        2. Just a keyboard nothing else. Windows didn’t exist. Everything ran on DOS. That’s the computer my dad is using in the photo. Amazing but I’m the same age now as he was in the photo.

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        3. Hahaha it kind of does. Yeah no mouse… look at his hands! Everything was keyboard. But it was state of the art when we got it in 1984.

          It came with a word processor called Writer’s Assistant and I used that for all my creative writing and school projects for 8 years. I still have some stories made on that computer printed on old, perforated tractor feed paper.

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        4. Oh I see. For 1984, that computer was considered advanced technology. It’s weird seeing the TV in the background too. So different from what TVs are like now.

          So Writer’s Assistant is like an old version of Microsoft Word? That’s cool you kept some of your old work for memories.

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  2. Maiden’s 1998 remasters had the enhanced bit. I was able to dig into a couple to get some live videos from Donington, which was a nice treat since we’ve yet to get the full concert on DVD.

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      1. No bonus tracks (other than Sancturay, Twilight Zone and Total Eclipse) is a bummer that an Eddie face on the spines can’t account for. The 1995 set was far superior.

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  3. Great story Mike, nice traveling through the different levels of computers. We never had the Pong game, but we had the Atari!! Loved it and want to buy one if I can find it at a decent price. I want to play all those games again. Why don’t they release all the games on the computer or Playstation or the Wii, they would make some money I would think…anyway…off topic. Enjoyed the post!!

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  4. My first home computer was the Commodore Amiga 500. I got my first Winblows machine it 97 or 98. It had a CD-r burner, the first of anyone I knew. So cool. I left Winblows for Mac before 7, and never looked back. So long as your laptop has a USB drive, you can just run an external CD/DVD drive. They’re like $40 everywhere.

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