Chores were always a value-added thing in my household growing up. In fact, it’s how I earned my allowance, and thus how I was able to purchase my first vinyl, Prince’s Purple Rain, in 1984. I saved my money and begged my mother to take me to Waxie Maxie’s in Lanham, MD on the 4th of July in 1984 to purchase the album.
Prior to that point, my mother had purchased all of my records, which included Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Culture Club’s Colour by Numbers. For me, Prince was a departure, and my mother tentatively supported my desire to buy the album. I mean, this was the guy who sang “Controversy” and “Dirty Mind,” so what exactly were my six-year old ears about to hear? She figured it was a movie soundtrack so it couldn’t be that bad, and I forked over my $6.99 and had my album.
As my mother was cooking food and preparing for a barbecue later that day, I distinctly remember laying down in front of the record player and putting the speakers on either side of my head “Let’s Go Crazy” was SO loud, “Take Me With U” was cool, as were “The Beautiful Ones” and “Computer Blue.” However, when Prince sand “I met a little girl named Nikki, and I guess you could say she was a sex fiend, met her in a hotel lobby masturbating with a magazine…” I definitely remember my mother appearing, as if from out of nowhere, and taking the record off the player and directly to her bedroom. “You can’t hear that yet,” she said. Of course, when Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center successfully advocated for warning stickers to be placed on explicit records in 1985, my mother was in full support!
By the age of 13, I had moved the record player into my bedroom, and taken a stack of records with me. That summer, my mother was recovering from a breast cancer scare, and one day, while adjusting her pillows, I saw behind her bed, you guessed it, Purple Rain! I totally snagged it, and listened to “Darling Nikki.” One listen later, it was absolutely the life altering experience my mother didn’t want it to be!
The main difference between someone who is 33 (ie: me) and someone who is 23 doing this story is that back in the day when 33-year-old people were kids buying records on vinyl was still a relatively regular way to buy records vs a super cool, nostalgic way to do so. Sure, tapes were prevalent and CDs started popping up as 90s hit us, but buying actual records was not an exotic pursuit, it was just a way to own music. Now, my parents owned and still own some AMAZING records we listened to all the time on vinyl: all sorts of jazz standards, and rock’n’roll classics, and assorted French pop music which has forever stayed burned in my brain, and they definitely spent money on buying me and my brother Disney singalong soundtracks and Eurovision song contest winners but last summer when I was back home in Serbia for a while I went rifling through the stash they left behind and ran into a record that was INEVITABLY MINE AND NO ONE ELSE’S BUT MINE in that household and which came out in 1990 which means, as far as I am concerned it WAS and ALWAYS WILL BE the first vinyl I consciously owned.
The album was called The Sweet Keeper by a 19-year-old (really? she seemed so grown up!!!) German born British folk singer named Tanita Tikaram, which came on the heels of her better received “Ancient Heart” which featured hits such as “Twist in My Sobriety”. The Sweet Keeper had a song on it that I remember so clearly, so irrevocably, that it had to be the reason this record was purchased (I remember no other songs when I look at the titles, which indicates my early propensity for playing a song over and over AND OVER again). That song was “We Almost Got It Together” and it was sort of uptempo (but not really), and easy to sing along to (but not really, because Tikaram had this mezzo-alto that is impossible to replicate) and on revisiting, also very weird (imagery includes pecadillos and creepy smiles and frog princesses and …) and sad. Just incredibly sad. I mean, I was a nine year old singing along to this: “Oh, I’d like to be what I wanna be/ But you want to carry on, but you need to take/ What you have to take/ But I’ll still be here when you’re gone”
I guess I was a very melancholic kid and I didn’t even know it. Seeing how I turned out (“sort of uptempo but not really and very weird” seem pretty accurate descriptions of the state of my current and forever affairs) I probably have this record to blame for a lot.
My earliest memory of vinyl records is of my Fisher Price Record Player. Not only could you play a 7 inch OR a 12 inch record on it (or as I called it back then, the big hole or the small hole), BUT it was housed in a suitcase for all of your vinyl traveling needs. At the age of 5 I was definitely a gal on the go and I needed my record player. Now, I used to have a 4 post bed. You could remove the tops of the posts to hang a canopy on it, but I mostly used those pieces as makeshift microphones. The record I performed to the most in those days was Madonna’s Like A Virgin. I was quite literally like a virgin and clearly had no idea what was really going on with that album. One day, after taking some time off from my record player (I was so exhausted from touring. Life on the road is hard), I came home from school to discover my mom had given my record player away to the poor kids. Because I was an asshole I was livid. The conversation went like this:
Me: Where is my record player?
My mom: I gave it away to some children who really needed it.
Me: You gave it away to homeless kids? And where will they plug it in Mother? THEY HAVE NO HOME!
Needless to say I got over it and moved onto recording the radio onto blank tapes and pretending I was a DJ. I still feel a little ache in my heart for those days when I was like a virgin, and an album, plus a very special record player, touched me for the very first time.
It was pretty late in high school when I got my first record player. My parents had moved on from the idea of records long ago, and my wanting one was put on their list of “cute” things that the kids were suddenly into. Like the time bellbottoms were suddenly popular for a year or so in the 90’s. “Things come and go in cycles,” my mom always says.
Here I was, dabbling in hipsterdom and receiving a record player for Christmas (technically late Christmas Eve). Along with it were a few Jimi Hendrix albums, but what I ended up playing on the machine to lose my vinyl virginity was Bob Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks.” I think a music savvy friend had given it to me. And as the big Jimi Hendrix fan that I was, I knew that Dylan was the artist who inspired Jimi the most (we were on a first name basis in my mind). So after asking myself “What Would Hendrix Do?” I played the record, dimmed the lights, and proceeded to fall asleep. It’s a great record.
Church garage sales helped kick start my passion for filling in the past.
I was given a very fine sounding turntable (with a needle in perfect working order!!!), two large speakers and 40 unscratched LPs because no one had a use for them in 1996. I knew I didn’t like dads so dad rock was out of the question, I didn’t like khakis so Paul Simon stayed off the table, I didn’t like classical music because yawn. That left me with ZZ Top’s 1975 half live album, half studio album, Fandango!
It’s not a bad record. It’s not a formative record. It was a free record. With a new, at the time outdated device, I was able to amass a large vinyl collection of older brothers and dads that just gave up. Lots of LPs of The Doors, Zeppelin, The Who and other classic rock bands that featured PROPERTY OF PHIL and BOB and JOE written on the back cover. That’s the stuff that was readily available in the suburbs. No punk or post punk or soul or R & B until high school, but the record player made the last years of junior high a bit more interesting. I wasn’t really enjoying everything I was hearing, but at least it wasn’t I heard on the radio.
Fandango! isn’t a great record. The best song, “Tush,” is buried. ZZ Top plays that song every night and have been for the last 40 years, but it’s the last track on the album. That sums it up. The good stuff is there, you just have to look. Also, the good stuff is about butts.
My first vinyl is actually my first musical memory. It was Elton John’s Greatest Hits, and I used to beg my mom as a little kid to put on “Crocodile Rock” so I could dance as recklessly as possible to it. I can distinctly remember dancing till I literally passed out.
I grew up on the outskirts of a farming town in central Wisconsin. There aren’t record stores or movie theaters or weird kids starting bands. Maybe there was one band a couple towns over, in the city where our Wal-Mart was. I can’t remember.
In 1997, I was 13 and friendless, and the Internet was largely useless. I could tell I was missing out on something, but I could never quite figure out what it was. I knew I at least needed a record player. My mom helped me scour garage sales until we found one. Later, she’d bring home stacks of records for me, from co-workers or farmers cleaning out their basements. She was a saint during those years. I think I just realized that.
She drove me the hour to Madison to help me pick out my first record: Changesonebowie. I majored in theater, so I eventually figured out how special I wasn’t, but that record was everything to me. It kicked off several years of a too serious obsession with David Bowie that felt like the gateway to a bigger world. That first record player was garbage; I had to fold up little pieces of magazine inserts and cram them into the volume sliders to get any sound to come out. I remember exactly where the record skips during “Changes” and how those papers would fall out if I whacked the turntable too hard. That made it feel more real somehow–it was all difficult, and by figuring out the tricks, I had earned access to a better world. It’d still be several years before I made any friends, but for awhile, I felt less alone because David Bowie was a total weirdo too.
Boy, wouldn’t it be cool if I had a good record here? Like if I was a kid and picked out Ege Bamyasi or Unknown Pleasures. I would be the coolest kid. In reality it was Mousercise, a record put out by Disney in the early 80s to teach kids how to exercise. It had a medley of Disney songs on it set to a disco beat in the style of Meco’s Star Wars Theme and Mickey and other characters nagged you into bending and stretching. I’d play it on my Fisher Price record player and dance around. I really remember the record player more. It was brown and white plastic that was it’s own carrying case. Even when I was a kid it was dated technology (I was born in ’84) but I was the youngest by a gap of six years and my folks had no intention of starting over with tapes. (I still remember my first tape and CD too though: Weird Al’s Off The Deep End and a free C+C Music Factory single that came in a 12 pack of Coke.) Ultimately, I think I destroyed this record and record player by scratching the shit out of it pretending to be a hip-hop DJ. That would be a great story if I ended up being a hip-hop DJ. Oh well, I guess.
I found The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart — one of the greatest comedy records of all time — in the dollar bin at Joint Custody on U Street, and it serves as a fine centerpiece for an accidental record collection.
As someone who has lived his whole life in the midwest, the concept of “dad-rock” has always been floating around the cultural ether. The soundtrack to BBQ’s in the park and trips to hockey practice, Dad-rock left a bad taste in my young punk rock mouth as most dads have horrible taste. My friend’s dads in Fort Wayne, IN liked stuff like Foghat and Def Leppard and Pink Floyd. But my dad had somewhat different tastes than your typical Indiana dad.
When I was 12 we took a trip to Madison, WI (a city not far from where my dad grew up and as he later disclosed to me when I was an adult a city he over did it on pot brownies one time in 1980 and was too high for the Mifflin St block party, sitting with his head in his hands for five hours while the party raged around him) and stopped by the cool college record store. He let me pick out a CD (I got Green Day’s 1,039/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours) and he got The Dead Boys Young Loud and Snotty. So for me dad-rock was a whole lot cooler because my dad liked cool music. The Dead Boys still remain one of my favorite bands and underrated when it comes to NYC CBGB’s bands (personally I could give a shit about Blondie or the Talking Heads).
Because of all this, my first LP was Cheap Trick at Budokan. When I was 13 or so I moved into a new bedroom and my dad took out his old record player from the closet and gave it to me. He had an old tuner and big speakers from the 70s he hung from the ceiling with some sort of thick netting he’d found somewhere in the garage. I remember the first time i put this record on, I closed the blinds so the room was dark, put the needle on the album and laid on my bed to take it all in. Sonically, this album starts with loud screams from Japanese fans and CHUCKA-CHUCKA sounds you can make when you palm mute a guitar. Laying in a dark room staring at the ceiling with only this soundscape, I seriously felt like I was at this show. A voice comes over the PA at the stadium “ALL RIGHT TOKYO! ARE YOU READY? WILL YOU WELCOME EPIC RECORDING ARTIST….CHEAP TRICK!” Then Rick Nielsen’s heavy down strokes for their “intro song” “Hello There” kick in. This is a theme rock bands have decided against for decades. Start out the show with a quick rocking song that explains what your going to do with these horny teens that came to see your show.
Hello there ladies & gentleman
Ladies & gentleman,
Are you ready to rock?
HELL YEAH. They laid it out for you pretty clearly so you better be ready to rock.
I’d never heard much Cheap Trick until my dad gave me his old LPs with my turntable. But I was pretty impressed with how hard an “old” band could rock. The song that latched onto and played over and over again was “Big Eyes”. The oddly timed guitar riff worked so well in this 4/4 rock songs and was the first time I really noticed that a riff could dictate how all the other parts of a song would go.
Looking back now its so clear how much Green Day took from bands like Dead Boys and especially Cheap Trick. The band of guys who I idolized were just a different version of the guys my dad idolized.
“Dad-rock” has mostly come to mean shitty cheesy crap from classic rock radio, but if your dad saw Cheap Trick at a YMCA in Janesville, Wisconsin in 1976, your version of dad rock will probably be a whole lot cooler.
I’ve been into music ever since I can remember. Whether it was learning to play piano and guitar at an early age, singing along to yacht rock on the radio, or getting into punk/harDCore music due to skating, it’s something that is always there for me and always evolving. With that being said, I remember when it was my 14th birthday I had been bugging my mom and aunts to plunder their vinyl collections that were still lying around in great condition at my grandmother’s house. When it came time to open my gifts, I remember opening the final package and inside there was a little piece of stationary that said: “Go to the living room.”
There was a plethora of different genre’s: The TIME/LIFE master collection of classical composers, original Beatles albums, Chicago, Jackson Five, and one that I kept revisiting over, and over again and that album was Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy. The songs included on their fourth studio album read like a greatest hits compilation: “Dancing Days”, “Over The Hills And Far Away”, “D’yer Mak’er”, “The Song Remains The Same”. It made me realize how much I cared about album art, out of the dozens of vinyl records I was betrothed that day, this one clearly had the best cover art and it didn’t even have the name of the band or album title on the cover! Since I was still playing guitar I had my guitar teacher show me how to play my favorite cuts and to this day I can still do the opening riff to “Over The Hills And Far Away”.
There is a sad ending to this story though, amongst shitty things that older brother’s do to piss off their younger siblings, like taking my electric guitar and knocking it over or smashing your favorite vinyl in front of you because he was mad at you is where it’s life was ended. I obviously still feel some-type-of-way about that dastardly act of musical terrorism, but what are you going to do?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZh6eCc7uDo
At the Dulles Town Center, I received my first paycheck. At the Dulles Town Center, I bought my first record. Within 10 square miles of Ashburn, VA, the only place I could find a job was a Caribou Coffee kiosk, and the only place I could find a record was at Hot Topic. I didn’t even own a record player, but much like an after-school job, buying a record seemed like a rite of passage. My parents were of the CD generation, so I inherited no player, no receiver, and apparently no taste in music. It’s a good album. The lead singer has a good name. But how great can an album be when it’s sold on clearance, in a box that housed a complimentary/complementary t-shirt? Amazing. Perfect, even. While the tee was soon outgrown, the crystal-blue vinyl plays as good as ever, now that I actually have a record player. And the box still does a great job hiding my weed.
My first record was a single by Belle and Sebastian, purchased at what was once my favorite record store in my hometown of Buffalo, NY, Home of the Hits. HOTH closed in 2006, the year I graduated high school and was only two or three years into figuring out what cool music was. Belle and Sebastian’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress was an early favorite when I was starting to wrap my head around indie rock, and so when I saw the “I’m A Cuckoo” 45 () for sale for only a few bucks during a visit to HOTH, I figured this was as good a time as any to get into the vinyl buying game, to show that I really meant it as a music fan. This kicked off several years of spending way too much of my disposable income on buying up all my favorite albums on vinyl, a compulsion that has slowed down in recent years, now that I have to actually, you know, pay for rent and food. I’ll always remember playing that 7″ for the first time on a crappy old turntable I recovered from my parents’ basement. It didn’t sound “better than CDs” or anything, but it definitely felt cooler.
When I was 13 I was sitting on a stoop in St. Marks Place and from next door I heard ‘that noise’ for the first time. It was the opening chords of track one from Sonic Youth’s album Daydream Nation, and I went immediately to the record store and bought Greenday’s Dookie on CD. Years later, as a college student, I would take up collecting vinyl, but had no interest on Sonic Youth records, rather, I bought the soundtrack to the film Amadeus.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wkf6UUE2Iks
I used to tell people that I thought I was conceived on the night of a Rod Stewart concert 35 years ago, but some research on today’s relevant Stewart concert wikis (there’s a few, who knew?) make it seem more likely I was just left in the car during one. Point being: My parents weren’t huge audiophiles, but music was around me from the jump.
This past Christmas, I actually went digging in the crates – i.e. one crate and a Gremlins lunchbox style 45″ holder (full of Hardee’s Gremlins promotional records) – to confront my ghosts of vinyl past. The story starts somewhere around late 1982 in a small apartment behind the 7-11 on 76th street in downtown Newport News, where I remember two things: eating a ton of play doh and playing 45 records on a classic Fisher Price machine. High fidelity, indeed. We graduated to a tiny ranch in midtown shortly after and I graduated to a real record player. The first full length vinyl gifted to me was Michael Jackon’s Thriller. I wasn’t unique – the album sold a bazillion copies. That may explain the pop R&B appetite that still resides today, and was voracious in the 90s (anyone else watching that SWV reality show?). Thriller had at least 6 unassailable bangers on it and you didn’t have to be old enough to not pee in your pants to understand that.
The first vinyl I consciously asked for – DEMANDED – was released on my birthday in 1984: NY glam metal outfit Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry. I was being babysat by MTV at the time, and Dee Snyder’s dime-store Kiss makeup vamping spoke to me as much as anything else that Martha Quinn was spoon feeding me. I sat in front of my ET TV tray every night that summer to catch Mark Metcalf (brilliantly evil here and in Animal House, Better Off Dead) in “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock” as that dude who just wanted one thing: for you NOT to rock. Very un-chill. Revisiting the album now, I’m surprised at how well it holds up. It’s hard to imagine the motivational musings/warnings of Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta without the speed metal Tony Robbins messaging of “Stay Hungry.” Mark Mendoza’s lurching bassline on “Burn In Hell” was as rhythmically entrancing to me as anything on the following month’s vinyl obsession, Purple Rain. Incidentally, both Prince and Dee Snyder (Prince twice, for both “Darling Nikki” and Sheena Easton’s “Sugar Walls,”) soon drew the ire of prudish POS Tipper Gore and the PMRC. Shout out to mom for letting me live and be part of the corrupted youth.
The first vinyl I ever acquired was Isaac Hayes’ 1971 album Black Moses. The follow-up to Shaft is quite good, but what made me steal it from the junk shop record bin at 15 was the cover–a poster-sized, six-panel fold-out in the shape of a cross, with Isaac Hayes dressed as Moses, as photographed by famed music photographer Joel Brodsky. It is very, very cool in spite of being absurd and narcissistic.
The first piece of vinyl I ever paid for was Roni Size’s 1997 classic drum ‘n bass single “Brown Paper Bag,” back when I wanted to spin out. The track stood the test of time (the hyperkinetic drum patterns, the MCing, and the use of a stand-up bass still sound fresh despite being a kind of jungle that definitely doesn’t get made anymore), but thankfully my attempts to be the next self-important rave DJ did not.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guc-QvErIbM
Being that I’m a fetus (thanks for the reminder, btw) I have never lived in a primarily-vinyl world. BUT, being that I read poetry in high school and was just generally one of “those kids,” I have indeed bought many a vinyl. After inheriting my Dad’s player and collection my senior year of high school, I made it a point to buy my favorite album at the time on vinyl. It was The Libertines’ Up The Bracket (I think I ordered it online?) and I actually framed the cover. Seriously. I kept the vinyl itself in a separate sleeve, though—as I recall—it spent most of its time in the record player itself. I listened to that album so much it’s semi-ridiculous. This is embarrassing for me. Hope you enjoyed reading!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZqnaeDcR9M
Wheaton, MD used to be kind of a hardcore place. It was dingy, and abandoned, like Silver Spring, but definitely less terrifying for suburban dorks in the middle of the night, ascending that long grand escalator on the last stop on the Red Line like a prole approaching the robot factory in Metropolitan. There was a 24 hour video game arcade. There was a 24hr Dunkin’. There was a labyrinthine D&D bookstore run by the kindest guy with a hunchback. There was a massive complex of a used instrument store. And there was Phantasmagoria, which everyone called Phas, still the best record store I have ever been to for 2 reasons.
1. It was a good record store in all the ways that hipster record stores are still good. Rare shit in the bins and on the store’s record player, weird old guys behind the counter willing to chat with braggadocios grunge-teens about Pop Will Eat Itself for however long, everything organized and clean, no crappy t-shirts or incense or bongs cluttering the place up.
2. But the budget bin was the real best thing about the place. Being 14 and broke means even the 7.99 Used bin full of Big Black and the Cult is beyond your grasp. Before I inherited a record player from my mom’s roommate Terry I dug up two of my favorite pieces of music out of their various budget bins: Wedding Present Peel Sessions on cassette, and the Bats – Daddy’s Highway, plus the Dutch East India Trading Co’s first CD comp which introduced me to Uncle Tupelo, 5678s, Unrest, Sebadoh, essentially all the things of 90s music in one place, which is how I remember that whole section of the store anyway. Anyway, the gem of all gems was the LP budget bin.
Which is how I ended up taking home the Cramps Songs the Lord Taught Us for like $1.00. Who the fuck would put this in the budget bin? It made no sense. I had, of course, no idea who or what this was, but I was hoping it was like the Misfits, the only “Goth” band I liked. How did I not hate it? I was really into Pearl Jam and The Man In The Box in those days. I listen to it now and it still sounds disgusting, especially compared to Pearl Jam. Maybe it’s because Terry’s record player had a shitty plastic arm and shitty tinny speakers that made all records sound like they were lacquered in spit milk and dust mites, so the rumbling, scratchy static chaos of this record, from the first note of “TV Set” to their stalkery take on “Fever,” just sounded perfect.
Probably this is why, when people talk about how warm and beautiful vinyl is, how “Ooh la la you can really hear those soft pops and etcetc bs bs bs” I have to leave the room and walk to a window to stare out at the dark and think about everything I’ve lost. My first experience with vinyl was cheap, and crass, and dirty, like Wheaton MD. Eventually Phas got enough cash to move into a new space with a music venue attached. It lasted a while, but then died. You can go to shows at the Fillmore in Silver Spring now, and buy your vintage records somewhere safe and expensive. Or just stay home and watch severed heads dance around on Game of Thrones.
I mostly inherited all my records in bulk from my parents and aunts and uncles, so rather than go the physical possession route, I’m going to instead tell you about the first record I consciously remember listening to and enjoying, which was Peter and the Wolf. (There are, of course, roughly one point five billion versions of the music and narration, and I can’t remember which we owned, BUT it’s all pretty much the same idea at the end of the day.) To be completely honest, I still think the music is fantastic (I seriously cannot even handle the strings section), to the point that I bought it again on vinyl for a dollar at the NYPL’s record sale last year, even though it made me look like a major lame-o in front of the cool guys.(And as a side note, I still get emotional upon hearing oboes and french horns, because I am always reminded of the duck having been eaten by the wolf.)
This one’s tricky, because technically the first record I got was a copy of Disco Tex and His Sex-O-Lettes Review. It was scratched to hell and didn’t even play, but the art was spectacular, like someone made a collage out of the cover of Disraeli Gears, a photo of an older Frank Sinatra, and a blacksploitation film poster. I think during the first purge of my stuff back before high school ended that record ended up in the trash. The first record I ever loved and wore out was Paul Simon’s self titled record- the one where he’s wearing an anorak and looks like he’s watching Art Garfunkel walking out of his life. I’d lay on the carpet in my living room with only my God candle burning, mumbling every beautiful word. I’d heard records as complete before, both on CD and tape, but like a super-positive first experience with hallucinogenics the set and setting was perfect. The record stacks track on track like they were made for one another (but y’know, actually succeeding) and listening to both sides- taking a few seconds break between “Armistice Day” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard,” feels like a full emotional arc; it’s being kneaded so that after you can rise.
I was born in 1979, right when my family was making the transition from vinyl to cassette tape. They called them records back then though. Growing up I distinctly remember knowing what records were, how they worked, that they could be scratched, etc. so I know I listened to them early on, but don’t really remember specific albums. I asked my mom to check around the house, and the only kids record she could find was The Care Bears Christmas:
Sounds like it was awful. I believe it’s the only survivor because sometime in the 80s my best friend Robert and I took the remaining kids albums out in the backyard and played GI Joe with them (throwing them like ninja stars against the side of the house). Cause records were lame in the 80s.
My mom sent me a list of the other records she found, it included a lot of stuff I ended up discovering on my own in high school many years later, never knowing my parents already owned them on vinyl. Which means when they made the transition to cassette tape and started having kids, they lost a little of their cool. Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, the Bar-Kays, The Doobies, the 2001 soundtrack, Sergio Mendes, none of these made it through. It was Peter Paul & Mary, James Taylor, Alabama, Jim Croce, Paul Simon, and Air Supply on road trips. Don’t get me wrong, Graceland is one of the greatest albums ever made, but it’s safer than Jethro Tull.
Being an early adopter of digital music technology, from CD-Rs to MiniDisc to mp3s to Super Audio CDs to DVD-Audio to iPods to private torrent communities, and the fact that I owned a car, led to me valuing the convenience, portability, accessibility, duplication, and high resolution surround sound over the warmth, nostalgia, tactility, and girl-impressing of the vinyl rebirth era. I get it though, and now that my thousands of CDs in their nasty little jewel cases are sitting in a storage box, I imagine it would be nice to sit by the fire on a rug with some scotch and dust off some Carole King and let it crackle away. But alas, 10 bajillion song shuffle over Bluetooth stands it’s ground. So, the first, and only, vinyl I ever bought was Talking Heads’ Little Creatures, shortly after college, and it was just to put in one of those record frames they sell at Urban Outfitters, cause I haven’t had a turntable since I was 3 years old.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AccJk7rBSQ
My parents weren’t cool enough to pass down their record collection to me. Whatever was in the attic was, like, Brian Setzer or something anyway. I started from scratch.
I was a late-bloomer with the vinyl resurgence craze and I am also very cheap, so it took a gimmicky record to get me on board. Angel holograms? Can’t get that through a streaming service (not even Tidal, whatever that is). I fucking love Blunderbuss and was anxiously awaiting the release of White’s follow-up. When he dropped “High Ball Stepper” I totally lost it. Ugh, so good. Anyway, once it was released I listened to Lazaretto via miscellaneous streaming services a bunch of times and then finally jumped on the bandwagon with that record as my first vinyl purchase.
I ordered it from Third Man Records and was thrilled when it arrived, all shiny and tangible, but I’d yet to purchase an actual record player. So I went ahead and bought an entire sound system and record player just to listen to this one record the way it was meant to be listened to. Funny enough, once I had the whole thing set up I was too intimidated by the whole one-side-plays-backwards, one-side-has-songs-under-the-label thing to listen to it. So I ended up at the local record store buying a handful of used, beginner level (Simon & Garfunkel, etc) albums for practice. Once I felt confident enough to place the needle without breaking everything, I tried again to find those angel holograms. That was an emotional moment for me when those little halos came into view. But if you think I’m ripping the label off for whatever magical key-to-existence song resides underneath, you’re dead wrong. That’s just too much.
Obviously the record itself as an object is a feat in vinyl pressing, and had its hand in the re-popularization and creative adaptation of the medium for sure. But underneath the engineering quirks is a fucking amazing album of music I want to swim in. I love Jack White, and I will always love him no matter how bizarre his backstage rider is or whatever mystical music project he’s working on. I love that Lazaretto was my first vinyl because it’s a timeless record and will survive however many mediums of music-listening we may go through as a society after vinyl falls off the radar again and then eventually rise back up.
I still buy CDs. And I don’t mean that I will buy a CD in the rarest instances, like, say, I’m road-tripping through Iowa and I just can’t handle the radio anymore and I see a Best Buy. I mean that I buy CDs on the regular. I would estimate that I’ve purchased 15 this year already. Last night, the (two disc!) deluxe edition of Calexico’s Edge of the Sun came in the mail – a purchase that set me back a Sam Goody-era worthy $22.49 once shipping was factored in. Of course, that is far and away the exception to the rule: If you enjoy purchasing music in a physical format, the CD economy has never been better. Amazon may have killed the record store, but it gets me an $8.99 CD in two business days. And if you don’t want to dance with the devil, many labels – like Merge and Drag City – offer free shipping.
The hype around the vinyl “revival” has always felt a little bit like magic bean dealing to me. That’s not to knock the format itself. However you choose to purchase music – and support artists and labels and maybe brick-and-mortar stores – is cool with me. If vinyl is your preferred method of music consumption, then, well, hi-five. You do you, and them too. But the idea that purchasing vinyl unlocks the door to the secret garden of music fandom is silly. Yes, the packaging is prettier, and I am fully in support of that, but, ultimately, it sits on a shelf, like everything else. Does vinyl sound marginally different than CDs? Yes. Does it sound “better?” Debatable. Either way, vinyl fanatics remind me of Jon Stewart in “Half Baked”: Vinyl makes every album that much better. “You ever listened to The Soft Bulletin? You ever listened to The Sot Bulletin… on colored vinyl? Whoooooa.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my first vinyl records were ones that I didn’t ask for. There was a promotional 7″ that some online retailer bundled with Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief and featured “Paperbag Writer”. There was the time that I ordered an import of the Decemberists “16 Military Wives” CD single and they sent me the 7″ instead. There was the “Black Out” b/w “Extradition” 7″ that came with Matador’s Buy Early Get Now rollout of the Wowee Zoweer reissue. In all of these instances, I looked at the little sheathed circle in my hands and thought, “What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?” It’s a testament only to my hoarding that I didn’t just throw them away.
I was only recently, begrudgingly, pulled into the vinyl revival. As vinyl has become the preferred format of “collectors” (read: nerds like me), labels have catered their special releases to that market. As an example, eleven years ago, Merge Records celebrated its 15th anniversary with a three-disc compilation. Five years later, it commemorated 20 years with a 17-disc (!) box set. Last year, for the label’s 25th birthday, it had caught up to the times with a 7″ subscription series, which I purchased assuming they would come with download codes. The catch? No download codes. Same went for Divine Fits’ Live at Third Man Records. How was I supposed to hear Britt Daniel’s cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lost”. The files were in the vinyl. I cried uncle. I bought a turntable. More specifically, I bought a turntable that would let me rip files from my turntable to my laptop.
My first vinyl record is also my personal favorite. I’ve never even listened to the thing, but I’ve carried it through every move in my adult life. It means that much to me.
I didn’t come out until my senior year of college. Heck, I didn’t even realize that I was gay until then. I had a pretty good relationship with my college girlfriend…who was Vice President of the campus Abstinence Club. I really couldn’t understand why all my religious friends had such a hard time abstaining from sex with their girlfriends. “I just pray to God,” I’d tell them. “And he gives me strength. I don’t even have any desire to sleep with Becky!” The Bible Belt does that to you. I was clueless. I thought I was holy, not homosexual.
When I did finally realize I was gay, I knew I would have to come out to my very-straight roommate and best friend. I had told my gay friends about me, and it was only fair that I tell the one guy who I was closest to. I was nervous. After all, he was studying to become a pastor. But, I did have one in with him: he was a huge Wham! fan. Now, he was a Jesus-loving punk rocker, but he unashamedly loved George Michael.
He was my best friend, so I decided to make my coming out memorable. I left him a note that said “Dude, I’ve been cleaning out my closet and I wanted to talk with you about what I’ve discovered.” I then left a trail of items from the note tomy room. It started with a magazine cover of Ellen DeGeneres, followed my a Melissa Etheridge CD (Etheridge’s Your Little Secret album was our go-to cleaning day soundtrack). I threw in a few other gay-related items on the trail which finally ended with his copy of Make It Big by Wham! propped up on my closed bedroom door.
That vinyl album meant a lot to my roommate, almost as much as Jesus. He got was I was trying to say with it, and when he found it we laughed about me being gay and him loving Wham!.
When I moved out, my roommate pulled out that copy of Make It Big from his shelf and gave it to me. It sits on my shelf now. Although I’ve collected a number of vinyls over the years, Make It Big will not only be my first one, but it will always be my favorite.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ZS-87I0QJ8
When I was 14 my best friend at the time started collecting vinyl. We would spend hours on the floor of her bedroom listening to the weird (and terrible) records her and her mom would buy from local thrift stores. More often than not, the album covers were way better than the actual records themselves, but we became obsessed with the ritual and preparation required with playing vinyl. Flipping through the stacks and stacks of albums, carefully pulling the record out of it’s sleeve and placing it on the record player, etc.