Entirely by accident I found out this weekend that Damon Albarn has a new single out — well, a new track, but those are the closest that we really come to singles in this digital landscape we’re in, let’s be honest — and it left me nostalgic for the musical world I grew up in.
Being British and of a certain age, I was a child of pop radio. Not the pop radio of the United States, where everything is sliced up into particular genres and demographics; the radio I listened to religiously was BBC Radio 1, which played “pop music” with all the vagueness and blurred boundaries that implied. That was part of the joy of it all, though: that if you listened for long enough (which, honestly, meant about half an hour at the most, less if it was a daytime, “mainstream,” show), you’d hear songs you absolutely hated, songs you were in love with, and at least one thing that you’d never heard before. Who didn’t want that?
The entire country listened to Radio 1, it felt like. (That there were so few alternatives helped with that, though; there’s nothing like a captive audience.) It meant that, when it was time to unveil a new single from a popular band or a new album track of some importance or whatever, it not only happened on Radio 1, but it became an event, something that would be teased and trailed, to ensure that you were definitely listening at the right time to hear it.
At the height of Britpop, this was how new Blur tracks — and new Oasis tracks, or anything else by a popular band of white men in tennis shoes holding guitars — were unleashed on the world: hyped across a day or so of shows before the hushed tones of Steve Lamacq or Jo Whiley quietly introduced them.
Three decades or so later, this is how I still expect to discover new Damon Albarn songs. Finding them on Spotify and going, “Wait, is this new?” really doesn’t have the same feel to it at all.