Friday, October 24, 2014

Rolling with Records

Every so often I get nostalgic so I travel down to the basement and pull out all my old record albums.

Actual vinyl gold, which may or may not still reproduce something that resembles music, if I actually owned something called a turntable to play them on.

There they sit before me, upright in plastic egg crates, all neatly stacked; original presses from America and the Beatles, to Springsteen and ZZ Top, because I needed something to complete the alphabet.

This then gets me thinking about the various aforementioned music conveyances that we utilized through the years to enjoy these “stacks of wax” as some old radio DJ from the past referred to them

Or…basically…the different things we played our records on from the late 50’s onward.

I think my first so called record player was this little tiny plastic thing that played little tiny plastic records. Not sure what was actually on the records, but somehow the sound of farm animals resonates through my head…
ee-eye, ee-eye oh

These little yellow records were pretty indestructible as well as the actual needle and arm, which I also think were made of the same hard plastic, and probably exist to this day, on the bottom of landfills all over the country.

From there we graduated to what out grammar school teachers, who ran with Ben Franklyn and Tom Jefferson, called a “Victrola”, which I think had something to do with a dog and some sort of horn like device.

Anyway, the “Victrola”, which was obviously not an actual Victrola, was this kind of suitcase like item, with a platter that allowed you to place a single record on top, plop on the needle and, voila, music emerged from this tiny little speaker in front.

And archaic as this may sound, these machines were not without their sophistication…there was an actual knob that allowed you to raise and lower the volume, at will.

Yep…at will.

And you could even play multiple styles of records ranging from the 33 ½ LP or Long Play album to the popular 45 singles with their A and B sides…provided you had some sort of adapter to accommodate the larger hole.This consisted of a little disk placed over the center of the turntable pin or one of those little yellow spidery things you plugged into the actual 45 hole itself, if you wanted to stack and play more than one at a time.

There was even a setting to play your old 78 rpm Rudy Valley platters.

Hi-Ho, Everybody!

Let the good times roll!

Eventually we all stepped up in class to the somewhat larger Hi-Fi’s which included a tall spindle that allowed us to now actually stack the wax so we could watch them drop onto the platter, as the automated tone arm set itself down perfectly, gently into the appropriate grove…sometimes. Other times it missed its mark completely and transmitted a  horrendous scraping sound all across the neighborhood.

These scraping sounds invariably lead to scratches on the record itself, which of course gave all our music of that era it’s signature snap, crackle & pop dynamic.

However, if all went well, you could lie back and listen to hours of uninterrupted Hi-Fidelity magic…unless of course a record breaking dust ball the size of something you might find at a road side tourist attraction, somewhere in Wisconsin, accumulated on the needle.

Of course if you weren’t picky, you could ignore the dust ball and pretend Mick Jagger always sang with a pair of socks in his mouth…which in reality is possible.

But if you were picky, you would drag yourself up from the couch, bed or floor—wherever your record spinning preference was at the time—and proceed to employ one of several needle cleaning methods available at the time to remove said, ball of dust.

First, you’d simply try blowing the offending fuzz away, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t.  If it didn’t, you would then have to move on to step two, which entailed a tiny little stylus brush that gently removed the offending particles.

Of course, if you were like me, you could never find the tiny little stylus brush that gently removed the offending particles, so you then put into service the last, yet most effective, dust removal method, which was to merely flick your finger across the needle.

Ahhhhh…what a satisfying sound it was to hear the ridges of your finger play its own singular brand of music.

Rumph Rumph Rumph….

Or something like that.

Then, coated with a nice layer of finger oil that actually attracted even more dust, the stylus gently slid into the appropriate groove and once again, the Beatles were asking to hold your hand…which made me a bit uncomfortable….especially when the needle skipped and skipped and skipped, caught in the elusive dust ball remnant, that you failed to remove from the record itself.

Of course, music has evolved since then, thorough several phases of technology, where now, the only dust ball we need concern ourselves with are the ones that sometimes fill our…well, I‘ll leave that for you to finish on your own.

No more vinyl albums, 8-Tracks or cassette cartridges filled with colorful graphics and information on all your favorite artist. Even CD’s have pretty much gone by the wayside.

Instead of an actual music collection all I have, now, is the suggestion of one, stored as “Albums” and song titles on my IPod and phone.   

It all sounds flawless, it all sounds great…but I don’t know.  I kind of miss that little ball of dust.

At least it was something I could touch…even though I wasn’t supposed to.



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  1. that ball of dust!!! i think my first record was shaun cassidy. (he was dreamy way back when). we still have a ton of records but we would have to use your victrola.
    the GREASE soundtrack was our all time favorite when we was little. we'd listen to it over and over and read the covers. so many good memories with vinyl...

    1. You and Travolta throwing back beers. I can see it!

  2. A perfect example of ritualistic nostalgia in the hallowed annals of music experience. Just loved the article and the reminder that putting on a tune for somebody once meant much more than a vast data collection of everything ever made.


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