Early this year, I entered a music shop, one of the few in the city that hasn't stripped its CD shelves to replace music with video games and movies. I had read about one of my favourite bands Soundgarden coming out with a new album 16 whole years after their last studio release. I went up to the store guy and asked whether the new album was out yet. He said he'll just fetch it for me.
"Um, I want the new Soundgarden album," I told the chap looking straight into his eyes as I looked at Truly Madly Completely: The Best of Savage Garden that he handed to me. This wasn't the first time someone had mixed up between Soundgarden and the cretinous Australian pop duo Savage Garden. And it wouldn't be the last time.
But King Animal, the new Soundgarden album, was finally released early last month. So I was all ready to order it from Flipkart at the very attractive price of Rs 395 when...
...a friend of mine told me that Apple had opened its iTunes store for users in India. I had registered at the iTune store some two years ago, but psychologically - and economically - turned off by dollar prices despite the vast music on sale in the store, I stuck to old-style CD shopping or to downloading individual songs from YouTube clips on to my computer for free. The former was limiting while the latter was time-consuming and had varying sound quality.
So there I went and registered on the new iTunes India web site (www.apple.com/in/itunes/). The page splashed open to first display what was on offer: Dabangg 2: Original Soundtrack; Evergreen Hits of Lata Mangeshkar; The Dirty Picture soundtrack; Led Zeppelin albums; along with movies that included Don 2, Ek Tha Tiger and a whole bunch by 'King of Romance' Yash Chopra.
I scrolled down to more familiar terrain and I found the new Rolling Stones compilation Grrr! as well as the new Green Day album Tre! on the menu. But after being sidetracked for a bit - which involved purchasing the Pixies' masterpiece, Doolitle, an album I had even forgotten that I had been scouring for - I was back on my search for King Animal. A search operation later, there it was, a 'deluxe version' with three demo tracks. The album, with its 17 tracks and a digital booklet (read: a scanned copy of the liner notes) cost a glorious Rs 200. My jaw, usually kept at a certain angle by keeping my mouth closed, dropped.
The iTunes store zaps every other destination for music by fulfilling three of my key demands: one, that it's there; two, that it's affordable; and three, that its sound quality is good. While iTunes, before it went rupee-price, checklisted my No. 1 and No. 3 parameters, it was woefully short on No. 2. King Animal, the same deluxe version that I bought for Rs 200, cost $14.99 - Rs 816 at the current exchange rate - at the firang iTunes store. That's a neat Rs 616 more expensive than my desi store price. Thanks to iTunes India, I'm suddenly a true-blue patriot.
Also, individual songs come at Rs 12 - the price of a cold drink! - a pop. While I'm still very much of an album guy, the sheer pleasure of discovering individual tracks - like, er, Norwegian band A-Ha's 1985 hit 'Take On Me' - that I've just downloaded while writing the last sentence - is liberating and fun. It releases the juke box player inside you as well as pushing the music world to the old 'singles', rather than 'albums', mindset.
Once you taste iTunes blood, there's no going back to CDs or iffy quality free downloads. Now all I have to do is to wait for those Apple guys to get albums yet to be on sale (but on display) on iTunes India. Such as the glorious Rob Zombie/White Zombie collection, Past, Present & Future. It's available on nice mp3 format on Flipkart. But I want to wait and see whether iTunes can better Flipkart's very decent Rs 171 price tag and provide me with prettier formatting and a digital booklet.