In My Life

When I was 12 years old, my parents bought me a record player for my birthday. It looked something like this:

It was manufactured by a company named Webcor. The sound was decent. It played 33 1/3 LP’s, 45’s and even had a setting to play 78’s. Apparently, my mom spoke to another mom of a kid who was coming to my party and told her about the record player. As a result of that conversation, the gift my friend brought for my birthday was the Top 10 songs of the day all on 45’s. I now had records to play on my new record player. These were the first records that I ever had and as a result, I played them over and over and over again.

Not only did I play them continuously, but while a record was playing, I read the label information contained on the other nine 45’s. Once I started buying more 45’s, I learned how to recognize certain songs and groups, their producers, the record label and even the publishers of the songs. Those first ten records placed me on a journey of buying vinyl that continues to this day.

It wasn’t always easy to be a “vinyl junkie.”In my teens I began to buy more 45’s and if the funds were available, LP’s were bought as well, which added to my record collection. But then one day, one of my friends said to me, “Mike, vinyl will become a thing of the past, everyone is buying 8-Tracks.” I was told that you could even play the 8-Tracks in your car with a unit installed in the dashboard.

In addition to the 8-Track players, I knew that there were also devices that could play 45’s in your car, but they had be installed in the glove compartment which made it hard to change records while driving. Sort of like the forerunner of today’s texting. It wasn’t a good idea to change 45’s in a moving car then as it is not wise to text while you drive today.

Anyway, those 45 record players were expensive and if you drove on a bumpy road, there was better than average chance that the record would bounce mercilessly thus interrupting the song. Fortunately, 8-Tracks experienced a quick demise because continuous playing of them made the tape stretch out within the case and as a result, a tape that was played multiple times made the music sound as though the artist was singing under water. Moreover, music on the 8-Track was divided into four equal parts which meant that there was a possibility that a song could be interrupted at any time to switch to the next quadrant. It wasn’t a great way to listen to your favorite tunes. Good-bye 8-Tracks. OK, back to vinyl. And my vinyl collection continued to grow.

A little while later, another one of my friends said to me, “Mike, vinyl will quickly become a thing of the past, everyone is now going to be buying music on cassettes. They are much better than 8-Tracks!” Yes, in fact the cassette was smaller in size than the bulky 8-Tracks and you could play them comfortably in your car or on a tape deck in your house that attached to your home stereo and the sound was actually better than the 8-Tracks. You could even transfer the music from your LP’s or 45’s on to blank cassettes through the tape deck on your home stereo. I wondered, “Is this the death knell of my ever expanding vinyl collection?”

Record companies rushed to re-record the albums previously issued on vinyl and make them available on cassettes. However, as time went on, the cassettes suffered much the same fate as 8-Tracks. After continuously playing a cassette, the tape within the case had a tendency to stretch which once again meant that a cassette played often made the artist sound like they were singing under water again. Similarly, if you left your cassettes in your car on a few hot days, that too could cause the tape to stretch out. And even worse, the thin tape of a cassette was not very sturdy and as such, had tendency to easily break. Highways all over the world showed remnants of brown or black colored cassette tapes discarded by frustrated drivers whose cassette tapes split apart in the dashboard player of their cars. Eventually, it was good-bye cassettes. OK, back to vinyl. And my vinyl collection continued to grow.

I thought everything was full speed ahead on exclusively buying vinyl until another one of my friends said to me “Mike, vinyl will quickly become a thing of the past; everyone is now going to be buying CD’s.” I was told that the sound on the CD was better than vinyl and unlike vinyl; the sound quality would always remain excellent. Yikes! Was this the end of vinyl?

In an effort to corral this new technology, record companies immediately issued CD’s of the old albums that once were on vinyl, which then were reissued on 8-Tracks, which were later reissued on cassettes and now reissued once again on CD. It was therefore conceivable that you could have a copy of the Beatles “Rubber Soul” on vinyl, 8-Track, cassette and now CD. And each time, the record companies promised that the new iteration was better than the previous media. Hmmm, was this the final blow to my beloved vinyl? Not really.

As it turned out, CD’s while good, could not duplicate the rich sound produced by vinyl on a decent stereo system. Yeah, LP’s have two sides which mean that in order to hear the second side, you have to get up and turn the record over on the turntable while the CD can play the entire album uninterrupted. Getting out of your chair to turn the side of the album is a very small price to pay for superior sound. Since the CD’s are considerably smaller in size than an LP, their case is also smaller which means the print describing the album and its songs are many times difficult to read for those without 20/20 eyesight. LPs’ have colorful artwork with easy to read liner notes and some of those records provided artistic labels and posters as well. As a result of the CD’s imperfections and the superior sound quality of LP’s, it was good-bye CD’s. OK, back to vinyl. And my vinyl collection continued to grow.

And today, MP3’s seem to be the rage. I must admit that I and millions of people around the world truly enjoy downloading music and yet vinyl is more popular than ever. Many of the current most popular artists are demanding that their record companies issue the latest albums on vinyl. There are methods of producing vinyl today that make the sound better than ever. Actually, vinyl sales have steadily increased over the last few years while CD sales have plummeted. Vinyl lives!

But more than that, people who like to buy vinyl, will buy from people that like to sell vinyl. Since my first experience with vinyl over 50 years ago, I have had the pleasure to buy records in virtually every state in the U.S. I have also bought records in Canada, Latin America, Europe and Asia and one inescapable fact remains a constant. And that is that the person behind the counter of the record store usually likes vinyl as much as the customer.

I have had conversations with record store people all over the world. I remember the guy in Paris, who sold me the full version of the Doors’ “Light My Fire” on a 45. Or the guy in Orlando, Florida who moved boxes and rummaged through them with me just to find a 45 that I wanted. Or the record store in London where I bought a gold record of “Let It Be” which is among my most prized music memorabilia items. Or one of my favorite record stores located in Columbus, Ohio that I would visit once a year for many years when I was in town on business. The owner knew me and would warmly greet me by saying, “Hey, it’s Mike from New York” as I walked in the store. And of course, a tribute to the now departed many Tower Records stores I had the pleasure to visit that had the most knowledgeable music staff ever assembled.

The bottom line in all these cases and many more too numerous to mention, is that the act of buying vinyl usually involves some type of conversation about the music with the store person. Recently, I visited my neighborhood used book store that much to my pleasure has always had very good vinyl collection of LP’s and 45’s to sell. I noticed that his boxes of 45’s recently were diminishing in number. On this particular day, when I questioned the owner of the shop about this alarming situation, he told me that his main supplier of 45’s was somewhat behind in providing the store with more 45’s. “Why?” I inquired.

“Speak to Dave; who is standing right here next to me He’s the guy who provides me with the vinyl.” He replied.

“Dave?” I said. “What’s going on?”

Dave told me that he has many 45’s and LP’s in multiple storage bins and has not had the opportunity to go through those bins to select that vinyl for the book store to sell. He told me that he has over 250,000 LP’s and 45’s and then invited me to come to his storage bins to see the collection. That sounded like an offer too good to pass up.

On a most beautiful sunny afternoon in Maryland, I met Dave at one of his three storage bins. The bin he opened for me contained many boxes of records, four jukeboxes, numerous turntables, stereo equipment and of course more vinyl than I had ever seen assembled in such a small space. From the same bin, he took out a comfortable chair and table for me while at the same time playing music and suggested that I start to look though boxes of 45’s.

The sun was shining. The breeze was most comfortable. The music he played for me was just right and as I rummaged though box after box, all the while, Dave and I traded stories about music. We spoke about artists, labels, his collection and mine (I thought that I had a lot of vinyl) and the afternoon was the most incredibly pleasant record buying experience that I ever had. We were joined by Dave’s friend Walter and the three of us just had a great afternoon. Just a couple of vinyl junkies talking’ about music; It doesn’t get much better than that.