The turntable…sounds like a long time ago
They always had a strange Middle Eastern smell, at least the good ones. As kids, we all thought burning incense and the aroma of patchouli was just a cover for the staff smoking some goofy little weed in the back room. Turns out that wasn’t the case at all, just a scent sales extension that appealed to the young clientele.
If you’re an AARP member, or just starting to get the notifications, you probably remember the venerable Record Store.
When I was a kid in the late ’60s, my friends’ older sisters would throw “45” parties, with stacks of those fast-spinning seven-inch records playing on the larger spindle of the turntable. Does anyone remember the little plastic insert that allowed you to play 45 rpm records on a 33 rpm spindle?
For those too young to remember the joys and frustrations of the vinyl record, whether it was the smallest 45s or the big 12-inch 33s, it was an era of musical camaraderie.
Whole generations shared the same musical tastes. We’d hear the latest from the 4-Tops, the Supremes or Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, and soon one of us was buying an album.
They weren’t easy to share, but when friends got together, the records came out and the party started. Kids today would be appalled, but we’ve danced with girls at parties to the soundtracks of our favorite albums.
With the advent of headphones, high-end “Beats”-style headphones, and the cornucopia of concert halls, kids no longer share much of the same playlist.
When I was 13, I bought a high-end tape recorder that received AM, FM, and shortwave broadcasts. I spent many evenings patiently waiting for the DJ to shut up so I could record my favorite songs on a 60 or 90 minute tape. I would anticipate when the conversation would stop and the music would start and I would hit the red play and record button simultaneously, hoping to catch a full song without dialogue.
I still have those tapes, and although the radio presenters bored me as a kid, they’re quaint, nostalgic, and fun to listen to today when I pull out those brittle old tapes. It’s a magical soundtrack that defies time and space, taking me back half a century when my future was entirely before me. Maybe you share the same feeling.
Today’s children will never experience the musical unity that united our generation. Sure, there were a few metalheads, and some kids only listened to old-school country music, but most of us listened to the Beach Boys, the Lettermans, Linda Rondstadt and the Stone Ponies, or the one of the glorious Motown bands. which will still be popular in a century or two. It was that kind of era, and all you had to do to be part of it was put down $2.99 to $3.99 for the last LP at the record store.
As a high school student, the 45s were largely already gone by the mid-70s. Clearance sales of these tiny vinyl records were all the rage beginning in 1973 and extended until the 45s finally disappeared in 1975. AA Temple Drug in Riverton had a huge inventory of 45s during those years. I often stopped by to see if they had any artists I liked. Usually they had one or two great 45s at the now impossible price of 10 to 15 cents a record.
We all bought the records for their “A” side, but sometimes you found a pearl underneath, on the “B” side. Those old 45s only had two songs, one on each side.
When it came to the LP disc, it was a whole new era, you could pack up to 20 songs on both sides, and there was no A’s or B’s, just a collection of music that could last longer one hour on some albums.
I didn’t have a lot of LP records when I went to Laramie as a freshman. I had a whole collection of 8-track cassettes from my Columbia Records Club membership.
To quote those marketing geniuses, for just one dollar you can order 13 albums with a Columbia Records Club membership. The only problem was that you had to order an album, an 8-track or a cassette every month for a year at full retail price. Yes, I still have a few that survived my 62′ Nova 8-track deck, or plug-in in addition to my AM/FM stereo deck.
A bit of nostalgia died down seven years ago when the venerable record club declared bankruptcy on April 10, 2015. The fact that it lasted so long is a miracle in itself.
As a middle schooler, I started collecting albums, but living on an almost starving budget, my choices were limited to sales and a gorgeous backroom at the Curiosity Shop off Third and Grand Avenue in downtown Laramie. In a few milk crates the owners put good quality used albums that you could buy for 75 cents to a dollar apiece. I’ve never been a disco fan. The 1965-73 genre was my favorite choice in music, a choice that’s been going on for nearly half a century, and those boxes were filled with those classic artists. By the time I graduated in 1980, I had amassed a collection of a few hundred albums. Yes, much to Sue’s chagrin, I still have them.
I majored in history with a minor in English and spent long nights reading hundreds of pages of required text. A stack of albums playing the Eagles, Procol Harem, Tommy James and the Supremes made this job much, much easier. It was the soundtrack of an education for a teenager in his late twenties, early twenties.
In 1983, Sue and I went to California to spend spring break with my cousin Mike and his wife Rosie. We had a great time driving the 101 freeway on the Pacific coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
One afternoon, Sue and I found a huge record store in Anaheim. It spanned thousands of square feet.
We were looking for Joe South and Petula Clark albums and couldn’t find a single one. The suave salesman (in his mind) asked us what we were looking for and when we told him he had a classic look of disgust, mixed with a healthy dose of condescending contempt. At 26, I was barely past the age of punching someone I didn’t like in the throat, and they were pressing all the right buttons for a beating. But, I refrained, told him to get lost, and we continued our quest, a quest we couldn’t complete at this cutting-edge record store.
Records are making a comeback, at least LP styles are.
For those of us who have spent our lives listening to the radio or listening to Amazon Music, Serious XM or Pandora, music is a partner in almost everything we do.
It’s easier to find the songs you love today than it was in the days of vinyl, but I can hear the difference between an analog record and the slightly clipped sounds of a CD or digital recording. Analog is the music the way the artist intended it, the digital realm is full of options beyond comprehension, but it just doesn’t sound as good as an old fashioned needle moving in the groove of a record album.
With or without the smell of incense and patchouli, the technology that made the LP the lingua franca of the musical world endures and will no doubt continue to do so.