My first musical memory is sitting on the living room carpet with my dad, listening to the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band CD. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was my favorite song. Before I even knew who the Beatles were, before I understood what rock music is or that the song might be a reference to LSD, I could sing the whole thing by heart.
CDs seem to be a dying medium. They have fallen out of style almost as quickly as they came into it. In about 1985, the compact disc began to outpace sales of vinyl, and the music world was revolutionized. The shiny, portable, durable discs sold by the billions and reigned supreme during the 1990s, but less than thirty years after their debut, CDs were replaced by the next big thing: MP3 players. I was still pretty young when MP3 caught on. I can’t remember a world without iPods. But CDs were, and are, a huge part of my musical experience. They’ve been present throughout my changing music tastes, my different stages of life, and the evolution of new music listening formats. I think that’s why I like CDs so much. They feel permanent and tangible in a way that online music doesn’t. I still have that Sergeant Pepper’s CD, the one that my parents bought before I was even born.
Those evenings spent listening to my parents’ old CDs were my introduction to the world of music. The first albums I fell in love with were Sergeant Pepper’s, Beach Boys CDs, and jazz artists: Stan Getz, Chuck Mangione. At that point, music wasn’t really a big force in my life. I was probably about 7 or 8, too young to have much awareness of current pop music or broader musical genres, but I knew that I loved singing along to these CDs. I can so easily visualize the album artwork: Beatles in brightly colored coats, the sunny yellow and waving palm trees of Beach Boys covers. I can still remember waltzing on my dad’s feet to the tune of “The Girl From Ipanema.”
In middle school, I started to grow away from my parents’ music taste and form my own preferences. My favorite bands were fairly average preteen girl staples, but the important thing was that they belonged to me — I loved them in an intensely intimate and personal way, worshipping their pictures inside the private shrine of my bedroom. The first CD I ever got from my parents, a Christmas gift, was Up All Night by One Direction. As I lay on my bed listening to the boys singing to me, I felt grown-up, almost like a teenager in a movie – united with generations of girls before me by the common experience of a celebrity crush on a boy band.
For a few years, I kind of stopped listening to CDs. Spotify became popular, and it was usually easier for me to access music on my laptop or phone than on a CD player. But then I got my driver’s license. I still remember the date – it was December 1st, probably a Wednesday or Thursday. Walking out of the DMV with my license, I could hear the thrilling guitar riffs of the opening of a coming-of-age movie — the camera panned out to reveal a whole new world laying itself out in front of me. And along with this new freedom, there had to be a soundtrack. I didn’t want to listen to the radio and endure ads or bad songs, and I couldn’t play music from my phone without using up too much cellular data. So I turned to CDs once again. The first CD that I bought for my car was Is This It by the Strokes, and I got it for one dollar from a thrift store. The cover of that album is bright gold and green – it’s sort of a part of my car now after being there for so long. Soon, every crevice of my car filled up with CDs. The Breeders, The White Stripes, Green Day, The Velvet Underground. Mix CDs, live albums, free sample CDs from concerts. Every morning when I get into my car, I rifle through the plastic cases to choose my theme music for the day. Now more than ever, I have my own distinct music taste and the independence that comes with young adulthood. These CDs – bought with my own money, kept in my own car, albums that I have curated as the music that I want to accompany my adventures – are symbols of this independence.
CDs might have died out as the primary method of music-listening. But I don’t think they’ll ever really go away. The experience of holding a CD in your hand, looking at the album artwork, reading the lyrics booklet, burning a mix for someone – those experiences are tangible, more vivid than just pressing play on a phone. CDs can be bought, given, carried around, like little passports to the worlds of our memories. The story of my love for music and the story of my growth over the last decade or so has been told with the help of CDs. So I’ll never let go of that awesome David Bowie greatest hits compilation, or the mix CD that my English teacher made me last year. I will treasure them for as long as CD players exist and keep pressing repeat.