I played a record yesterday. A real, vinyl record. It’s one of those things I think about doing often, usually while I’m at work or in the car. By the time I’m home and settling in, there are other things to do besides listening to a record.
I miss listening to records like I did as a teenager and it’s not something that I can do again. It’s a thing of the past. In those days, if I bought a new record, I had probably desired it for a while. Or maybe I knew one song from the radio and was intrigued by that one song enough to invest the $7 or $8 it cost for the album (later $13 to $15!). I would buy an album and then I would LIVE with that album for a long time before I invested in another. I would listen to it, sometimes on headphones, and look at the liner notes, the lyrics, the pictures, the cover… and absorb everything. Usually my mother got a good dose of an album when I bought it, too, because I would have it blasting through the house. I remember specifically that she did NOT like Billy Joel’s “Anthony’s Song” (was that on The Stranger or Glass Houses? Probably The Stranger since I know I listened to it a LOT). It has that chorus about “heart attack-ack-ack-ack…” and that got on Mom’s nerves. On the other hand, she did like Jerry Jeff Walker’s song “Will There Be Any?” from Walker’s Collectibles. The full lyric of the song, sung hymn-like, was “Will there be any, up in heaven? Will there be any, I’ve got to know. Will there be any, up in heaven? Lord, before I go I’ve got to know… I’ve got to know.”
I lived with Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player by Elton John, The Stranger by Billy Joel, Viva Terlingua by Jerry Jeff Walker, one of the Asleep at the Wheel albums, Best of Bread, Rocky Mountain High by John Denver, Chicago VII, and many more.
The album I put on yesterday was Linda Ronstadt’s Simple Dreams. That was a HUGE album as I started college. There was a big poster from the album in our studio at the West Texas State radio station. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately after seeing the great documentary about the Eagles that is on Showtime right now. She was every girl’s ideal and every man’s dream. Gorgeous. Gorgeous voice. The song “Blue Bayou” was on that album along with “It’s So Easy,” though I had forgotten “It’s So Easy” was from that album.
We have an old record player that Mark had refurbished. It had belonged to his mother in college, so it is a true record player from the beginnings of LPs. Putting a record on it brought back so many memories. First, I realized how it isn’t easy to put a record onto a spindle! I don’t know how long it has been since I’ve done that. Even over the last 20 years when I’ve played records they are usually played on a turntable with just the short spindle and you play one record at a time. This was the kind of record player where you can stack them up and the arm holds them all steady and somehow manages to drop only one record at a time to keep the music going. But trying to make that little hole fit over that tall spindle was a challenge. I’m sure it was never a challenge in my young days.
The sound that I really loved and would never have thought about it again was the sound of the needle when it first hits the vinyl. It hits on the vinyl, but not in a groove and there is this moment of hesitancy as you wait for it to hit the groove. Then, there it is, it “gets in the groove” and there is another second or split-second of riding that groove before the first notes hit. Big bass notes in the case of “Blue Bayou.”
I had also forgotten about the turntable rumble. This record player was not made to be turned up loud enough to be heard off in the kitchen. It was designed for listening in the same room, maybe rolling up the carpet and having a sock hop even. But trying to turn up the volume so I could hear it further than 10 feet away didn’t work. Rumble rumble. The mechanics at work underneath that record were coming through loud and clear. That was always a concern at a radio station. Program directors did not like it when the quiet part of a record played and you could hear the turntable running underneath.
I listened to Linda all the way through a few times. We’ve gotten accustomed to albums being about 55 or 60 minutes long now, but back then a side was usually about 20 to 22 minutes long. It goes by pretty fast before that needle picks up and starts that side again. Or in the case yesterday, the needle picks up and then sets back down at the 7-inch point where it would sit down if it were repeating a 45 instead of an LP. It wasn’t the fault of a setting, it was a fault of the mechanics that we need to look into.
Finally I turned the “reject” knob so that the tone arm picked itself up and set itself down on its dock and everything shut off. One album was enough for this experiment. There is a lot of talk about whether vinyl sounds better than a CD or an mp3. I agree it CAN sound better on the right stereo equipment. For me, yesterday, it wasn’t so much a matter of the sound I was seeking, it was a matter of the memory. I didn’t need to live in my old house again, I just needed to drive through the neighborhood.