As much as I love the fact I can now find almost every song in existence online, I can’t help but sorely miss the days before the birth of mp3; the days when finding new music was genuinely exciting.
I have such fond memories of visiting the local record shop back in my teens to rummage through the racks and get recommendations on what bands to check out from the owner. Taking a risk on buying a CD of a band you had never heard of was always exciting, and it made you give every album you bought as many spins as possible before deciding if it was shit or a hit. These days if the first track sucks the rest don’t even get a look-in. What I loved most about the particular store I visited though, was its vast collection of illegal bootleg albums!
Now for those of you too young to know what the hell I’m talking about, bootlegs were unofficial releases usually full of b-sides, demos, live tracks, and rarities; and certainly not legal. Some dodgy companies out there collected all these tracks up, set up some serious CD duplication and then somehow managed to get them on the market; usually in local independent record stores or at record fairs. Obviously, there was no permission from the artists themselves, so anywhere that sold them risked legal issues, and this sadly resulted in the store I used to source them from being closed down; although they did reopen again shortly afterward – bootleg free!
Imagine how awesome it would feel if right now you found a whole new album of say Kanye West tracks or an entire album of rare Foo Fighters tracks you never even knew existed. That was the appeal of the bootleg. At any time you could stumble upon a whole album full to the brim of goodies from your favourite band and damn was it exciting. I fondly remember finding the Nirvana ‘Outcesticide‘ series; some of my first bootlegs. It totally blew my mind discovering tracks I’d never even heard of before such as Talk To Me, Opinion and Sappy; also known as Sad and Verse Chorus Verse, a song Kurt Cobain was never entirely happy with and only released as a hidden track on an AIDS benefit CD. It opened up a whole new portal into the bands that I loved, and it always felt like you had been let in on a big secret that no one else knew. Having a rare track that no one else you knew had even heard of felt pretty special.
We had The Multicultural Trampoline Machine, Spiderwire, Disneyland Demos, Fruity Fruity, Beacon Street Bimbo, Ska-Face, California Girl and who could forget Teenage Orgasm. Each release bringing its own special treats.
One particular highlight was hearing the band’s title track ‘No Doubt’ featuring their former vocalist Alan Mead who sang alongside Gwen; who was on backing vocals at the time. I didn’t even know they had another singer!
As much as the bands and labels themselves probably got annoyed as hell at the sale of bootleg albums, for the fans it only made them love the bands more. They may have been illegal but bootlegs were like a window into a band’s soul, and this only made you closer to them.