From a distance of more than forty years, it is a mystery how I came by the catalogue. I didn’t read any music magazines, so it would not have come as a free insert (if such things existed in the 1970s). Perhaps there had been an advertisement in the Daily Mail, the paper that was delivered from Monday to Saturday, or the News of the World, which was delivered by a different newsagent on a Sunday. Perhaps there was one of those ads where if you sent a first class stamp and a self-addressed envelope, they would send you something.
Whatever the source, I had a catalogue of seven inch vinyl singles. It must have been in late-1977 or early-1978, when I had a weekend job pumping petrol and had money to spend and nothing on which to spend it. The catalogue was A5 sized and was columns of song titles, artists and prices, printed in small print on plain pages. There were no photographs of the artists or the records and no details of the recordings.
I remember spending many hours poring over the records on offer, deciding which ones I would buy, working out the total payable for the discs and the cost of the postage and packing. Each time I picked up the catalogue there would be another record that caught the eye, and one that had been on the list I had made that did not seem worth the money that was being asked.
Eventually, I didn’t order any of them. Some were classics at the time, singles issued by major artists from the late-1960s, now they might be worth considerably more than the price I paid for them. I cannot recall why, having spent so much time considering what I would buy, I didn’t buy any of them. Perhaps something else came along and I spent my money. Even the catalogue itself would be an interesting artefact of that pre-digital age.
The students whom I teach at school struggle to imagine the life of a teenager in times before the Internet and mobile phones. If I told them of the catalogue, they would look blankly, “why didn’t you just look up the singers online, sir?” If I talked about how much I might have paid for a particular record, they would look mystified, “why would you have paid for them, sir, couldn’t you just stream them?”
Perhaps even more surprising to them would be amounts paid for records, in memory a typical single in 1977 was 75 pence or more. There aren’t many teenagers now who would pay £4.70 for a single song.