All this week, I’ve been musing about the effect that vinyl records have had on me since childhood. I’ve written about some prized finds, my mission to complete my collection of the Warner Brothers Loss Leaders series, turntables I’ve known and loved and lost and gained, and now, the day before the big event that is Record Store Day 2015, I’ve saved the best for last.
At least, that’s how I see it. Come with me on a journey: My parents had lived through the 78 rpm album days; I remember discovering some discs, packaged as fat, heavy albums, on a shelf in the closet across from the laundry room in our house. I picked up one of the albums, thumbed through it, and decided it was too heavy to deal with! Later on, while working in radio in Delaware, my wife and I spent many weekends going to antique shops, where consoles incorporating radios and turntables could be had for relative cheap. I found an Everly Brothers 78 at a yard sale, I think, and paid around five dollars for it. It was all scratched up, but it was mine, a pretty nice collectible. You could hear the thick needle crash against the surface gashes as it played. But, still. Look what it was; it was the Everly Brothers trying to sing “Wake Up Little Susie” from the grooves of a disc that was succumbing to the weight of a strong tide of mishandling through the years. But, still.
At a junk shop or somewhere similar, we found a lovely turntable that played only 78s. It was housed in a beautifully-constructed all-wood case rising above four thick yet spindly legs, carved in a fluid pattern by a visionary craftsman who was clearly inspired to do good work, even great work. The legs reminded me of my father, who built a blonde wood television case with all sorts of patterned cuts and raised effects on the sliding doors. My father was very proud of his work; the cabinet had pride of place in our den for many years.
And so it was with the case that housed the 78 turntable. The person, or persons, who built the case clearly were taking their time and worked from inspiration, not perspiration. The artists whose voices and playing sprung from the discs had the same idea–their mission was to create their art and pass it on to the masses, a decent proportion of which might enjoy what they’d done.
When I was a boy, 78s had run their course; my generation would have nothing to do with them. For my friends and I and all of the other pint-sized, striped t-shirted boys and proper girls wearing cute dresses, for whom music and records were king, 45s, presenting a- and b-sides, around four-and-a-half minutes long total, and LPs by our favorite artists were our currency. We played them over and over and over again at home, brought them to parties with our portable turntables with tinny sound and brightly-decorated outsides, brought them to school to play our favorite songs during Show and Tell, and just generally annoyed our parents with music they didn’t understand because they didn’t want to–because that was how the gap between parents and their children stayed rigid and in force.
Our currency was vinyl and those of us for whom vinyl was a way of life–more important than school, church or state, or breakfast, lunch and dinner combined–made early determinations of how we would spend our allowances and birthday gifts–always gift certificates, thank you very much–and rearranged the furniture in our rooms, picked out by our mothers, so that there was room to store our growing collections. First there was one, then two, then 10, then more 45s and a couple of albums here and there, and then a flood of them when we joined the Columbia Record Club and quit the club and then joined it again, and then 10 or more used 45s picked up at a yard sale for a nickel or a dime apiece, and then, well, and then we were off to the races, us kids who were collectors and didn’t really know it. Yet.
The seeds were planted. We talked about the latest records we got for birthday gifts or at holidays or just because when we accompanied our parents to the department store and, ooh, look there, it’s the new Beatles album! We had a lot of relatives–more than we knew we had, to be honest, and we trained all of them to buy us records for gifts–not shirts or socks or pants or hats or combs or shoes or shiny new pencils for school. “Can you get me the new Elton John album?” It was a lot of that–planting more seeds…making sure the relatives and the parents knew where we stood.
We lived through the 8-track years, a shaky period of music delivery for kids back in our day; my aunt bought me the Beatles’ Let It Be album for a holiday present and I hated everything about it, because it wasn’t a record. What was that thing? It made a loud noise–a kind of click! when it got to the end of a program, and sometimes a song was too long and had to be faded out and faded up after the click! brought you to the next program. Ruined the flow, man. Ruined the flow!
Those of us who were well under vinyl’s spell spent every last penny we had on records that were from our favorite artists, from artists we heard about from friends, from cousins, from anywhere, really. I worked for my father at his law practice on lower Broadway in Manhattan when I was a kid and spent every penny he gave me at the end of each week on records in a long bin at the front of the Duane Reade drug store across the street from his office. “If you spend your money on records every week, you won’t have any left and you’ll have to wait until next week to get more.” More records? Yes, that was fine with me.
After a while, and after the seasons changed and winter became spring and spring became summer and other obsessions took root, like comic books and stamps and tropical fish and CB radio and picture taking with my Polaroid Swinger camera and then, later on, video games and video tapes and video discs and laser discs and on and on and on, records still ruled the roost. Records were still the number one obsession. Nothing could compete with the hunt. And the hunt only took on more prominence in my life when I got my drivers license and began to map out routes to used record stores, both prominent and underground in nature, which is when I got turned on to the Warner Brothers Loss Leaders series and vowed to never rest until every release in that series was procured.
When I started college, I had hundreds of albums, which I lugged to school and lugged home before vacations and holidays and then lugged them back to school again. After graduation, I had many hundreds more, which I lugged to Delaware. The many hundreds more became many hundreds more than that, and then there were thousands and it never stopped.
Owing to the passing years and shrinking storage space and the emergence of new formats and just the ides of March, May, July and October, and then some, the thousands became many hundreds and the many hundreds became a few hundreds and the number of 45s and LPs hit their new water level. But now, with the resurgence of vinyl and a newly-christened, growing interest in spinning vinyl more prominently again, and the emergence of Record Store Day as a way to celebrate the joy of listening to and collecting 45s and LPs, the future is once again so bright I may well have to wear…well, you know.
Which brings us back to the tomorrow of it all–Record Store Day 2015 and all of the joy that it brings, from special releases to the camaraderie amongst music fans and vinyl collectors and music fans who are vinyl collectors, who all gather in their local, independent record stores and confab with each other, touting records by artists the other guy may not have heard, spouting the phrase “Did you hear–” at least a few times during a quick conversation that often leads to a pile of records in hand on its way to the register and a conversation with the shop’s owner that begins with “Did you have fun today?” and moves on to “Did you find everything you were looking for?” and moves on further to “I see you’ve got this great album by the Kinks; have you heard anything by–” and it’s back to the stacks for you, young man or young woman, for another round of musical discovery.
Mine is a life defined by music and vinyl records and sharing my good fortune with others–the good fortune that allows me to discover great music and write about it and play it on the radio in an effort to spread the word in the only way I know how–through the joy of the act of having my life changed by a single song or a single artist or an actual single, a 45 rpm record, or its long playing cousin, the album, and then turning to someone and saying “Oh man, your life is about to be changed by this thing.” It really is as easy as that. And it really is as important as that.
Record Store Day is a day to celebrate our joy. It is a way to share our joy. It is a day to just jump into it all and swirl around in it, like jumping in a huge pile of leaves in the colder fall months as a bonfire lights the night sky a couple of feet away from you. It’s like the leaves shoot up in the air and fall down on top of you and all around you, and it’s a lot like how music does that–how music makes the air around you come alive and changes your life, and it’s easy, really as easy as that. When music makes you happy, you’re happy–just look at the two crazy kids to the right!
Tomorrow, on Record Store Day 2015, remember your journey to this point and go into that shop and shake lots of hands and talk to a lot of people and smile, smile, smile, and pick up some new records and some old ones and take them home and place them carefully on your turntable and let the music become you.
For us music hounds, the best is yet to come.
– Alan Haber
Trax on Wax, in Catonsville, Maryland, is the official record store of Pure Pop Radio. When in the Baltimore area, we recommend that you make Trax on Wax your number one vinyl destination. Visit Trax on Wax’s website by clicking here.