Our OG Vinyl Hearts
The thing about vinyl is that all vinyl collectors have the records that we bought when we were growing up. Grimy stacks of 45s, shelves of albums, these records are the keys to our souls and our tastes. These are the original ancestors, the recordings nearest and dearest to our hearts. In fact, these records, in many ways, are our hearts.
These are the records we lived with before the record itself became a totem. We played them incessantly, over and over. We played them on the suitcase record players that we and our friends had. We played them on all-in-one stereo systems that your friend's brother got from Service Merchandise. We stacked them, yes we did, 45s and even LPs even though we could hear the physical punishment the records were taking every time they were dropped onto another piece of vinyl.
We were young. We thought we were indestructible, and so was our vinyl.
So these records, if we still have them, these records that are the keys to our souls and to understanding us in so many ways, are beat to hell.
I'm not talking about a few years later, when maybe a friend or someone down at the local record shop started to hip you to the general care of your records, including maybe investing in a decent turntable and setup. When you realized the inhumanity of stacking your records the way you had been.
I’m talking about the very first records you owned. That actually belonged to you.
I grew up in a hi-fi household with equipment that was pretty standard for the 1950s and well into the 1960s. My parents had a record collection, and it was treated with care. Their records ranged from Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Dinah Washington through Harry Belafonte, Tito Puente, a little flamenco, and stuff like the soundtrack to My Fair Lady.
I first had a little blue suitcase record player that I used to play all of the records I got, mostly 45s at this point. Then I graduated to an all in one system, with a record changer that included the 45 rpm record stacker and the detachable speakers that you could arrange around the room within the limitations posed by the length of the permanently attached cord that came with.
Later when my father bought a component stereo system I began to play my records there, and I learned to clean them and periodically replace the stylus as well. Records that I bought from this period were better cared for. When I shopped for used records I looked for records that appeared clean and without obvious scratches, with few surface scratches as possible.
But some of the records I love the most are the ones that have the most clicks and pops, the surface scratches that you can hear. In an avant-garde, John Cage meets Borges kind of world the scratches and surface noise become part of the record, part of the actual music itself.
In fact, each vinyl copy of an album is different because it has different imperfections. They are like scars from falling or other injuries, or from surgery. They are like the scar tissue that can develop in our arteries or on vital organs like our hearts.
The music that is on those records can be heard in other formats but the individual scars on them that came about from our fanatical love of the music they contained.
Growing up I had a compilation album that included Janis Joplin's "Down on Me." The record had a slight warp and the wave it created hit its crest on that track, so the song always skipped a couple of times, rendering the track pretty short. But I loved the song, so I played it that way for years, even after I had recorded a non-skipping version of the song on a cassette.
As a result, whenever I hear the song I find myself mentally bracing for the skips. I react physically and mentally to the habitual skips I expect to hear there even though I've not heard the song played that way for most of my life.
Not only did our favorite records themselves take a hit, but so did their dust jackets and covers. Before we learned to think of record covers as pieces of tart we may have used them as coasters or maybe mailed out the postcards that came with or cut out the cardboard fake mustache that came with our copy of Sgt. Pepper's. You might have had a favorite gatefold album that you used to clean the seeds from your weed. Maybe you put your favorite Siouxsie and the Banshees album on your dresser next to your mirror for the makeup inspiration.
Now when I go through records in a crate I wonder to myself what they meant to the person who owned them. For a number of years they were considered worthless. The owner of a local vintage shop that sells used records told me that a lot of the records they get are donations. People want to get rid of Uncle Fred's collection of ukelele records but they don't want to toss them in the dustbin. What better idea than to donate them to a shop and let them be sold for a few bucks to someone who wants them.
In the latest installment of our Song Remains the Same series I take a look at one of Paul Simon's most unsettling and politically-inspired songs, "An American Tune."
You’ll be hearing a lot more about listening bars as the phenomenon of people gathering to listen to music on vinyl records played on high-end stereo equipment picks up steam around the world. Nosheen Iqbal wrote this piece about the phenomenon for The Guardian.
Robert Silverman is the son of artist Burton Silverman, who painted the famous cover image for Jethro Tull’s Aqualung album. His article My Dad Painted the Iconic Cover for Jethro Tull’s Aqualung—and It’s Haunted Him Ever Since is a deep dive into the nature of art and commerce in the music industry. Spoiler alert: it’s not a really happy story.
I’m closing out this newsletter with Roberta Flack’s take on the Gene McDaniels song “Compared to What". Flack recorded the song for her 1969 album First Take, and it became her first single. Not surprising since Les McCann and Eddie Harris’ performance of the song at the 1969 Montreux Jazz Festival was a big hit and McCann was Flack’s manager during that same year.
Besides her incredible vocals, Roberta plays piano and is accompanied by Bucky Pizzarelli, Ron Carter, Ray Lucas, and a crack horn section. Like her other Atlantic releases, First Take was produced by Joel Dorn.
Let your friends know about NDIM. Forward this newsletter, drop our web address or our Facebook page to someone you know who loves music more than almost anything else.