A GenZ’s scariest nightmare is leaving the house without headphones because music has become such an undeniable part of their lives. The other day while I was dramatically looking outside the window with Spotify playing songs in the background, I was hit with a groundbreaking realization – that with the tip of our fingers, we can switch between languages and genres of songs was totally mind-blowing. It made me think of the pre-Spotify era.
While listening, I remembered the time when I was glued to a particular song back in 2008. And it also reminded me of the hard process I had to go download the song into Achan’s Nokia Keypad phone. And if you ever heard a song and loved it but you didn’t know its name, it was lost forever. So sing along and join us on the path of nostalgia while we relive the pre-Spotify era aka the jambavaande kaalam.
Every middle-class family has a dusty radio whose only function is taking up space because it is a shell of its future glory. But it also gives an insight into the times when this Radio served as the Evening news, Spotify, and even leisure time for our parents. Using a Radio wasn’t as simple as it seems because we had multiple challenges like adjusting the antenna to get the right signal and faring through the weather disturbances. But it did serve well in its time when families huddled around it at night with a single candle burning, tuning in for the ‘family time’.
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Curated playlists sound romantic right? The mix tape was the OG romantic gesture. There were either pre-recorded cassettes with the latest songs available for purchase or you’d spend recording your favorite songs into a blank tape. The songs would then be played on tape recorders after which they could be rewritten by recording more songs. The cassette era indeed has a fan base of its own.
Pirated song CDs
Moving on from the cassettes, we have CDs. I recall those memories when we would eagerly wait for movie intervals because all the songs would be compiled into a CD by some god-sent angel and be available for sale. As desktop computers and the internet became a common sight in every house, we began burning songs into our own CDs. The pirated song CDs also made their circles around each neighborhood until they magically disappeared into one house and were never found. I wonder where they went.
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Song requests on TV
We move a step ahead to the houses where TVs had just made their appearance. After spending the morning in school, afternoons meant glued to the tv grooving to the latest songs. And if you were lucky enough to get your hands on your parents’ Nokia phone, you could send in song requests. The <song code> followed by a special message to the channel would then play the song. A more complicated version of the Jukebox.
Rewatching the movies
With the advent of TVs, watching movies became comparatively easier, but it became an especially painstaking task when you loved the songs more than the movie itself. It was a task to find channels that played the songs on TV. The solution? Rewatch the movie. Sitting through a three-hour movie to watch that one iconic song for three minutes was a true commitment. Achan and amma often recall me being disinterested in the major part of the movies until ‘my’ songs came on screen.
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A few years ahead and we had the mind-blowing invention of Bluetooth. The Nokia phone now had a ‘music’ app into which you could load your pre-downloaded songs from songs.pk or other sites. This was however for those who had internet access, phone access, and the intellectual prowess to carry out the mission. The rest of us (like your freeloader ex using your Netflix) would wait and then transfer the songs using Bluetooth. Extremely slow yet once done, you can go back to plugging in the earphones and looking out of the car window and pretending that you’re in a music video.
These moments now exist only in memories and some of them created a gala time for family and friends. The songs were heard so many times that the preceding and succeeding songs too were known, not to mention the minute errors like a glitch became a part of the song.
What were your favorite songs while growing up and how did you get around to listening to them during the pre-Spotify era?