It is 1985, and home CD players have become practical for home entertainment. And being an early adopter, I had to have one. Mind you, there were very few artists who had switched to CD, so when I bought the CD player, I bought three or four generic CDs to listen to on it. The London Orchestra plays the Beatles, and Big Band Hits by a big band no one had ever heard of were the choices I had. No big deal—right? It wasn’t a big deal because in a year or less the market was flooded with CDs.
Soon I had to figure out what to do with a pretty good turntable that I had bought soon after my first teaching job out of Auburn. But the big question was, what the hell do we do with all of these vinyl LPs? I am sure we must have had dozens and dozens. Do you donate them all to Goodwill? Do you hold on to them just in case the CD-thing fizzles like the eight-track tape? Of course, CDs and the digital revolution in sound took off like Fourth of July fireworks, and no one has looked back. Except me.
Of all the LPs we once had, for some unknown reason, we eventually pared our library down to 28, and we carried them with us from Alabama to Kentucky and back to Alabama and back to Kentucky and then to Indiana and eventually to Charlotte and finally to Cornelius—their final destination. I know there were 28 because I counted them this morning.
The big why is that these 28 included such musical luminaries as Elvis, Jim Croce, and Willie Nelson, but also included the Israel Philharmonic playing Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake/Nutcracker? I understand keeping Tchaikovsky, but could we not have found a more notable orchestra? We held on to three different Floyd Cramer albums. Three. The best I figure is that my darlin’ wife went through a country-piano period. Hell. One of them is not even in stereo! Stereo became widely available about 1960. In 1960, Sandy and I were both in the ninth grade, although in schools 40 miles apart and separated by Mobile Bay and Spanish Fort Hill. They were clearly hers! However, I freely admit that Floyd Cramer played a mean country-piano and his Last Date still pulled at my teenage synapses deep in my memory bank when I played it for a lark on my new turntable.
Of the rest of the two and a quarter dozen, some are really obvious, show a taste in music, and bring back memories as sentimental as an old Polaroid. Artists like Jimmy Buffet and the untouchable Jim Croce, and the best rock and roll band of all time—The Band—are easily defended. But Johnnie Horton and Bobby Goldsboro? I guess the fact that BG went to Dothan HS and Auburn is enough. But Johnnie Horton? Really? His biggest hits were “North to Alaska” and “The Battle of New Orleans.” And don’t ask. Yes, I still know both songs’ words and music, as does every good country music fan!
I do not know what possessed us to buy two John Denver LPs? Surely one would have been enough. Neil Diamond has stood the test of time, but the people who controlled trendiness would deduct points off my cool-card if they found that I listened to Neil back when.
There are many LPs in our stash that are OK, but nothing else. Really—did Kenny Logins really do anything significant without Messina? Maybe we were just helping out a faltering aging rocker. That’s as good an explanation as any I can remember. Anne Murray had a sweet voice but not anything special, kind of a precursor to Shania Twain. Murray was nice looking and worked with a producer who could pick songs for her, but her voice was nothing special to cause one to buy an album. Not like my favorite Canadian artist, Leonard Cohen. What? You never heard of Leonard Cohen? Neither had we back in our LP days. It would be many years before we discovered him, thanks to one of my all-time favorite high school students, Tommy Wilson.
Another artist whose looks must have been why I bought her LP was the Aussie beauty, Olivia Newton-John. ONJ, like Anne Murry and Shania, had a sweet but unremarkable voice. But that face! The epitome of the blonde Aussie beauty.
We did ourselves proud with a dozen of these LPs that have more miles than most of the vehicles I have owned over the years. People like Kris Kristofferson, Billy Joel, and Jim Croce. We kept the teenage wonder, Carole King’s “Tapestry” album, written at 17. “Tapestry” included “You’ve Got a Friend,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “Smackwater Jack,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” and “So Far Away.” Many songs would be made famous by other artists. After all, would James Taylor be the same artist had he not recorded “You’ve Got a Friend?”
Of course, it would have been Southern-sacrilege had we not kept Elvis. And listening to Ronnie Milsaps after so many years is like pure gold. No wonder the Country Music world was his kingdom. Perhaps the album that brings back the most memories is Willie Nelson’s “Redheaded Stranger.” “Redheaded Stranger” brought Willie’s voice to America that had appreciated his songwriting abilities for years and years without knowing it. Did we buy the album before or after we saw him in concert in Mobile? I have no idea!
A few other artists remain notable to us, like Linda Ronstadt—now there was a cutie with a voice to match! For some reason, we kept Bob Seger’s album, “Get Closer,” and that is genuinely old-time rock and roll. We also carted around Simon and Garfunkel’s twin-LP, “Concert in Central Park,” and I am glad we did.
Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” is as good an explanation as any for this music we kept. But what will our vinyl musical future be will going forward? Good question that makes our entire back-ass-wards shift so much fun—but not an inexpensive one!
You can find most new releases these days in vinyl and in CD or the ubiquitous MP3 download for $.99 a song. A new vinyl album on the heavier 180-gram discs will cost about twice to three times as much as a comparable CD or album download. I bought a new vinyl edition of Mark Knopfler’s Privateering and had I not had reward points, it would have cost me $35 for a two-volume LP versus $12.50 for a CD! And should one be in the market for an original LP like Johnny Cash’s two-LP American IV (one in a series of six American releases in all), be prepared for a price six times more than a CD or download! Because of the memories they hold for my wife and me, there are only a few albums I would pay that much for.
But there is another way! Goodwill and antique malls often have some albums still in good shape because their original owners valued them, too. A recent Saturday, the missus and I made our first LP hunting excursion, and we did well. Four albums from the Mooresville Antique Market went for less than $25 total, and eight LPs from the Cornelius Goodwill cost me less than $5 for the bunch. On the other hand, I stopped by another local Goodwill the other day on an errand run, and they had precisely nothing!
I get the idea that hunting for good condition LPs is a lot like bass fishing—feast or famine.
So, what does our newly added LPs look like? A lot like those 28 we hauled from state to state but with a few very different ones, too. The first LP I bought on eBay was The Last Waltz by The Band. This was the group’s farewell concert filmed by a very young Martin Scorsese.
From Amazon, we purchased two of Leonard Cohen’s most iconic albums, I’m Your Man and Various Positions. If you don’t know Leonard Cohen, look him up on Spotify and take a listen. Remember the song Halleluiah sung by k.d. lang at the Winter Olympics in Canada? His composition. Cohen is unique for sure and fits into our love of other gravelly-voiced singers such as the Essential Bob Dylan multi-album of his hits and Johnny Cash’s American IV (there are six in all). These six albums feature Cash in his later years after June Carter-Cash had passed away, singing musical standards produced by Rick Rubin in a very pared-down style that perfectly fits Cash’s voice. As an aside, Rick Rubin also produces Concord, NC’s Avett Brothers. We also had to purchase at least one album by our favorite artist, the aforementioned Britain’s Mark Knopfler, who started Dire Straits before going solo.
On our scavenging trips, we added Kris Kristofferson’s Jesus was a Capricorn, The Best of Dean Martin, Jim Croce’s I Got a Name, and a Reader’s Digest four-album anthology of Songs of the South Seas—we are suckers for anything about Hawaii! To complement our Dean Martin, we also added Love Story by Andy Williams! Today, at Goodwill, I struck gold and found LPs (not stereo) of the Glen Miller Band and the Inkspots.
I expect you may be asking yourself, “Why LPs instead of MP3s?” A fair question to which I would respond, “Why not both?!” I recently read a review about the value of LPs over MP3s. The author said that with MP3s, we have become listeners of single songs by artists, whereas the LP presents the listener with an entire album, usually with a specific theme to it.
I think that is a valid point of view to which I would add a few more thoughts.
First, I have 5600+ songs on my Apple iMac! That is an overwhelming number. So overwhelming that it is hard to decide what to play. I think this is where services like Pandora and Spotify succeed. They take the headache out of choosing what to play out of my vast music library. My point is that I seldom listen to my MP3s. Second, the LP length of about 4-6 songs on a side is the perfect length for dinner or an afternoon Scotch. Third, getting up to change sides on my totally manual turntable is just what my recently repaired spine needs! Finally, I can listen to my LPs on the same sound system as my television, which means they sound great! Better than CDs or MP3s? More preferred is a better term, I think.
What does it take to get started? 1) Decent speaker(s). Alexa doesn’t make the cut! However, a single Bose standalone system or one of the newer single speakers from Sonos or any other reputable electronics manufacturer will give you great sound if stereo sound doesn’t matter to you. As I mentioned earlier, your TV speaker system will probably give you decent sound, especially if it has a soundbar.
2) A reasonably priced manual turntable somewhere in the $200-$300 range will do just fine. However, I am not talking about one where you can put on a stack of records, and it will change them for you! Nope. To get the best experience and music, you need a fully manual turntable that will play one record at a time, and you have to lower the arm with the needle manually, too. Most turntables these days have a lever that softly lowers the needle to the LP.
3) Someone to help you set up the turntable to the speakers or receiver. It is not hard at all, just two RCA plugs—red for right and white for left. However, if you are a bit squeamish around electronics with all the wires and such, YouTube is likely to provide all the help you need.
4) A “record washer” that will clean all the dust on those LPs you have been hoarding. I know of which I speak. My 28 were awful. You will have many to choose from at Amazon.
5) A soft brush to brush away any dust the records accumulate now that you are playing them frequently. Available at Amazon, of course.
6) A means to keep your LPs near the turntable. Storing them on top of each other is a no-go because it contributes to warping. And where can you find a reasonably priced record holder? You know where, of course!
Well, I have no more answers about why I made the decision to keep these 28 LPs. But, you know, not everything needs a reason. I have a philosophy of leadership evolved over my 25+ years in leadership positions. I call it “natural events leadership.” It is much easier to move a group forward when events rather than a leader are the impetus for moving things forward. The key seems to be that a natural event often opens a small window, and we must take advantage of it or lose it. Or as Leonard Cohen wrote and sang about in his remarkable song, Anthem:
The birds they sang
At the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Sometime in the past, for some forgotten reason, a little crack of light got in and caused us to keep those particular LPs. While I don’t remember exactly what or when or why, it must have been a damn good reason, and I celebrate that choice these days every time I play a song from the Special 28.