Thursday, September 15, 2011

Vinyl: Long play the LP.

A few weeks ago, I saw (yet another) article on the resurgence of vinyl record albums. I can’t recall where I saw this particular article. My mental note just said “blog about LP’s”. And, hey, I always do what those mental notes tell me to do. That is, when I remember the mental notes.

Before I owned a record album, I had a few singles – 45 rpm records.  The first one I ever bought: Jerry Lee Lewis “Great Balls of Fire.”

I had seen Jerry Lee perform this number of American Bandstand and thought it was just HI-larious. So I knifed fifty cents worth of dimes and nickels out of my amber glass piggy bank, and awayed to Woolworth’s. I was seven years old and, goodness gracious, I felt like a teenager.


Goodness gracious.

My next 45 purchase came a couple of years later: Johnny Horton’s “Sink the Bismarck.” (I always was a World War II buff, and this irresistible number started “In May of 1941, the war had just begun. The Germans had the biggest ship, which had the biggest guns.”) Johnny was a rockabilly singer who specialized in “historically” themed songs. His other two big hits were “The Battle of New Orleans” and “North to Alaska (a-go north, the rush is on)”.

Those may have been the only 45’s I ever owned. 45’s were a relic of an earlier era, one with bobby-soxed, pony-tailed teenagers at soda fountains. 45’s were so 1950’s.

For those of us who came of teen-age in the 1960’s, the 33 rpm LP, a.k.a., “an album”, was the thing.

The first album I remember owning was Richard Chamberlain Sings. Richard Chamberlain!!!! A complete and utter dreamboat! Calling Dr. Kildare….Richard Chamberlain Sings (TV's Dr. Kildare) As with just about any other LP I ever owned, I could probably queue up one note and karaoke my way through the entire oeuvre. After all, what’s a first big love interest for if not to moon over his baby blues, and the smooth way he had with the lyrics to “Three Stars Will Shine Tonight.” Be still my twelve-year-old heart.

I remember asking my mother whether she found Richard Chamberlain handsome, and she told me that she found him callow. I had to look the word up. Hiss, boo! Someone who had had a teenage crush on Nelson Eddy had the nerve to call Richard Chamberlain callow?

My next crush album was that of Pernell Roberts, who played Adam Cartwright on Bonanza. I got this opernellne for Christmas in 1963, and my older cousin Robert made some sarcastic comment about my wanting this album because I liked Adam. I huffily told him that I wanted this record because Adam, I mean Pernell, had a wonderful voice and I loved his songs. So there! (Okay, okay. I had a crush on Adam – the brainy one - when every right-thinking, sane girl in America went for Little Joe – the cute one. Fast forward a year or two and my favorite Beatle was John, not Paul.)

By the next Christmas, however, my musical tastes had gotten a bit more sophisticated, and Judy Collins was my album of choice. From there on out, it was mostly folk music – from the echt-authentic Tom Rush to the faux-entertaining Chad Mitchell Trio. And, of course, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. My pop faves ran to Simon and Garfunkel, and the Mamas and Papas.

Of course, I also owned some Beatles’ albums although, as a snob, I came a bit late to Beatles delirium – admitting to it maybe six months after everyone else my age had gone gaga. But by the time Hard Days Night (the movie) came around, I came around.

I played my albums on the family’s Webcor stereo and, later, on the plastic (RCA?) portable stereo that my sister Kath had.

And I played not just my albums, but Kath’s, as well. Kath is a bit older and her tastes were more refined. My guess is that the Bob Dylan albums I remember as mine were really hers. While the Chad Mitchell LP’s were all mine.

When I wanted to go down-market, I played my brother Tom’s Beach Boy records. (Tom later became a fan of Moondog – if you don’t know, DO NOT ASK – and Jethro Tull. Moondog and Jethro were among the hundreds of LP’s we hauled off to the St. Vincent DePaul thrift shop when my mother sold the house we grew up in.)

Living in a small house with a lot of people, there was also no escaping my brother Rick’s repeated playing of “The Impossible Dream” album, commemorating the Red Sox 1967 pennant year. (“Carl Yastrzemski! Carl Yastrzemski! The man they call Yaz, We Love ‘im!…”). Nor my sister Trish’s round-the-clock Jolly Holiday with Mary Poppins.

We also had a lot of Broadway musical albums, which I played incessantly. The comedy albums of Bob Newhart (he of the button-downed mind), Vaughn Meador (JFK imitator), and Allen Sherman (Hello Muddah! Hello Faddah!)

There was some classical music, too, but that was a tad too high-brow for me. South Pacific and West Side Story, any old day.

Ah, the pleasures of those vinyl records: dropping the needle into the just the right groove so you could play your favorite songs over and over again. The tragic discovery of a scratch. Nudging the needle along to move over the skips. Putting a penny or nickel on the needle arm to prevent skipping to begin with. And, oh, all that cool info on the back cover and – bonus – liner notes.

And now, as it is periodically announced, LP’s are back, replacing the CD’s favored by us old fogeys. A nice complement to the download of the favorite tune only, which come with no written word, no cover art, no thought given to the how and why “they” came up with order of the dozen or so songs on an album. What made it to the A side, what was relegated to the B.

I no longer have a turntable, so I couldn’t play an LP even if I had one.

But I used to have plenty of them.

Even as CD’s started to gain in popularity, I spent a fortune at the Harvard Coop on albums that I loved but didn’t own. The guy working in the record department told me I was wasting my money, and I should buy CD’s instead.

Which, of course, I ended up doing a year or so later – replacing the entire schmeer of LP’s I’d just invested in.

The albums mostly ended up at my mother’s, from whence they made their way to the St. Vinnie D’s store.

A few months later I saw a lot of the same albums on sale at a flea market for a lot more than the average price of $3 that they originally went for.


And if we’d only held on to them even longer, we’d have experienced the LP resurgence.

Long play the LP!

(So when will we witness the return of the 78?)



1 comment:

Frederick Wright said...

More than anything, I am nostalgic for the (presumption of) innocence that LPs represent. Back when music fans were not presumed guilty and hauled off to prison without any due process for potentially downloading music.