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The List: So much music, acquired in so many ways

Published: Thursday, July 24, 2014 1:56 p.m. CDT

The car I drive to and from work still is in the mid-2000s, perhaps earlier, when it comes to music. It has a car stereo with a CD player and a radio. No plug-ins for iPhones, or even an iPod.

I could put on headphones to listen to Spotify on my cellphone, but I would be breaking the law. So I usually listen to sports talk radio.

I have some CDs in the car, but I don't often listen to them. But the other day, I reached into the trunk where an old CD case (remember those?!) was tucked away. In it are a bunch of CDs of music files I legally downloaded using a service I used to subscribe to called eMusic.

I've been listening to those CDs on my work drives the past couple of days. They're from 2008. Most of the songs are from bands I have not heard from since.

But it got me to thinking about the various ways I've acquired music over the past 40 or so years. First, I bought 45s (singles) at the TG&Y department store in Freeport, using as a guide the WLS Top 40 sheet the store provided. Today, I pay Spotify $10 a month to grab just about any record or song I want.

But back to eMusic for a second. It's a service that I used to pay $10 a month (I think) to download 30 songs a month. At the time, I used to think it was cool. Until it wasn't, and I canceled my subscription.

As I sampled the 6-year-old disc of music from bands I've barely heard of, I wondered if eMusic still exists. It does.

And I wondered if, 6 years from now, Spotify will be in my musical rearview mirror the way eMusic is. I hope not – I have thousands of songs and playlists stored there. But it probably will.

I still get a little thrill every time I listen to something new, even if it's in a digital file on my phone instead of on a 12-inch vinyl record pulled from a cover and sleeve.

But I gotta admit, the thrill of clicking a new file on Spotify isn't the same as the one I used to get by placing the needle in the groove of a new album.

For all of you "old-timers" out there, here's a list, ranking by order of fun the different ways I've acquired music over the years. Tell me what you think. What was, or is, your favorite way of listening to music?

1. Going to the record store. I delivered newspapers when I was a kid. Go figure. I'd spend a lot of the money I earned on albums. I particularly loved driving in to the Chicago suburb of Norridge, to Rolling Stones record store, on Irving Park Road. There, I'd buy six or seven albums at a time, usually for $4.99 or $5.99. I haven't even driven by Rolling Stones in many, many years, let alone go into the store. But it still exists.

2. Downloading music on iTunes. It felt pretty magical, when iPods and digital music were new, to have the world's greatest record store on your computer. Back then, it didn't yet seem silly to pay for every record you listened to.

3. Streaming music online. I would drive a couple of hours and spend about $40 to get a month's worth of records when I was a teen. Today, for $10 a month, I can listen to anything I want when I want to. Enough said.

4. Columbia House. I'll admit to being a record club member more than once during my younger years. There was something special about getting those albums, or 8-track tapes, in the mail. Of course, record club memberships never ended well, did they?

5. Illegal downloads on the Internet. Yes, I did that for a little while. I'm not saying anything more about it.

6. Subscription download services online. I'm talking about eMusic now. Let's just say it bridged the gap between iTunes and Spotify.

7. Taping off the radio. Am I the only person who used to sit next to a cassette tape recorder, finger poised, waiting to hit record when my favorite songs came on the radio? OK, so maybe I was.

I think I'll leave it there.

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