Lesson One: A Proposal For HMV

Yesterday evening, sometime between my leaving HMV with a few new purchases under arm and arriving home, it was announced that HMV was to go into administration. Now, all news so far suggests that intentions are simply to find a way to keep HMV running as a viable business. But this may well mean giving the company a business liposuction, and forming a smaller, sleeker version of HMV. It’s music and DVD sales, Jim, but not as we know it. That sort of thing.

Regardless of the future of the company, people are already taking their chances to either share fond memories of HMV, or stab it slyly in the back like some ailing king in Game of Thrones (DVD: £20). Perhaps unsurprisingly (and satisfyingly, for the latter group), those mourning HMV tend to be the wider market of pop music fans – those who might struggle finding the new One Direction or Michael Bublé album in their local indie store. Those doing the malicious stabbing are, of course, the self-proclaimed ‘real music’ fans who probably struggled to find the original vinyl pressing of Nuggets in HMV anyway (reprint vinyl: £30).

If, indeed, the company does die a death it’ll be precisely these smug arguments that will be forgotten first. Because that’s all they will amount to once the great demon that caused so many indie record shops to close their doors is itself forced to lock up and leave the high street. It’s a great shame that so many independent retailers have been forced from business by the impossible competition HMV proposed to them, but it’s also unfair to suggest that HMV never played the same role in lives that a small record store could.

For the great many – for those of us not raised by beardy vinyl addicts and obbsessive collectors of obscure German industrial bands – HMV actually represented that first step into music. HMV represented the window into a world we had never known before. It taught us that there was music, and that there was great amounts of it, in weird and wonderful genres that made no sense to a ten year old. What was this ‘easy listening’, and why did all the men who sang it have to wear suits and ties? That didn’t seem ‘easy’ at all. And what on earth could ‘metal’ be? There couldn’t really have been so many Stomp albums that they deserved their own genre?

My introduction to music came in stages – an evolution of tastes that started with bright and cheerful pop music, developed into middle of the road ‘dad rock’ (Best of the Stereophonics CD: £5) and then morphed steadily from mid-noughties jangly indie rock to mid-noughties introspective alternative music, to indie folk, to modern folk, to all the ruddy folk you can throw at me. But HMV was vital in the early days.

My first album is not one that most would consider a masterpiece. It shone no light on the future music-taste-god that was to come. But I can tell you one thing: Jingles, just off the high street in East Grinstead, wanted four pounds more than HMV did for ‘B*Witched’ by B*Witched. At ten years old, those four pounds add up to almost two dozen chocolate bars in Woolworths. A year or two later, it was in HMV Crawley that I eagerly flicked through the shelves, looking for the Japanese import of Atomic Kitten’s debut album – the one where Kerry Katona is still in the band, fresh-faced and unaware of the living hell she’ll put herself through for the rest of time.

Neither of these should be proud purchases. They are, but that’s a different matter. What they represent, though, are the tentative first steps into a brave new world of music appreciation. HMV would go on to introduce me to my next steps, too – via Stereophonics and Travis. But those two purchases gave me the bug. Finding the band you loved, getting the bargin, delving through the shelving for the hard-to-find classic (or not, but I know where I stand on the Atomic Kitten question).

None of these actions compare to the joys I’ve had since at independent record stores, sure, but none of those later joys could have existed without my first adventures in an HMV. They might be a big, brash, impersonal approach to music, but they still provide that first stepping stone for a great many people each year.

So here, at last, is my proposal for HMV. Get rid of the less profitable music. It’s my music, sure, but I wasn’t buying it from you anyway. The people who really want a Sufjan Stevens album will know where to go for it. Nobody buying the new John Grant album will be buying it from you, so don’t stock it. Drop the metal section. Dedicate your floor space only to the big-selling Radio One pop albums, your Bublé’s, your Emeli Sandés. This is the music you sell the most of as it is.

Just do us a favour: at the back of each store have one shelving unit. Stock it with Hunky Dory, and with Dark Side of the Moon. Chuck in Parallel Lines and Blonde On Blonde. All of those classic albums that can change the path of somebody’s musical life in the first listen. Call the section ‘Lesson Two’, and next to the shelving unit have a rack of leaflets detailing the nearest independent record stores. HMV deserves to live to teach the same lesson it’s been teaching all these years. Lesson One.

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