“My mother brought home Sgt. Pepper—the original U.S.-released, Capitol label—and handed it straight to me. I was eight. We had my grandmother’s record player, an imposing piece of mahogany furniture about chest high on a grown up. I stood on a chair and watched Sgt. Pepper go round and round while that mind altered and altering music pouring out. It smelled of hot wiring and the speakers were covered in tweed.
The music was three-dimensional, happening all around me. But it existing in a fourth as well—time—either moving past me or I moving forward through it. Yet the record was flat. Two dimensional.
Mom explained how the groove of the record wound around the disk, each tightly packed against the next, and how the needle travelled along it. So, it was a line, too, not just a disk! And the needle was a point on it! And the whole thing moved, but the needle stayed still, right there in the record player, while tangerine trees and lovely Rita and ten thousand holes filled the room like a Maurice Sendak dream.
“Western Massachusetts in the late ’70s and ’80s was not exactly the center of the musical universe. I grew up in the mountains of the Berkshires, and getting your hands on a new release took some serious planning.”
“Step 1 – Figure out the release date of the album in question. Now today, this may seem ridiculous considering the ubiquitous nature of information and your almost INABILITY to avoid it. But “way back then,” you had to earn it. Somehow, usually via the radio, you’d hear mention of a new record from your favorite band. The mission would grow from there.
Step 2 – Build your alliances and acquisition network. That’s right. If you wanted that copy of the new album on the day it came in, you’d need to have a couple of alliances at local music stores. You definitely needed to know them by name! There was often a “list” that they would keep of people looking for the first copies that came in, so you’d want to plant the seed early. Having a small army of like-minded passionate music pals helped immensely because they may know someone you don’t.
Step 3 – Ditch school early and get to the record shop on release day. Man, I feel so old saying that, seeing as though there is ZERO reason for this anymore! All things being digital, and pre-order, etc. You don’t need to go ANYWHERE! But back then, like I said, you had to earn that record. It took some serious and methodical planning.
“To be honest, the first time I set a needle to a record was only about 7 years ago. I was born in 1984 and so by the time I was really interested in music, cassettes and CDs were the most commonly available. My family didn’t own a record player—I think maybe my grandparents had an old Victrola in the basement but it was basically furniture.”
“In fact, my first real memory of being excited about music of any kind wasn’t until Christmas 1995. I asked for and got my first boombox CD/Cassette combo, paired with the soundtracks from my two favorite movies at the time—Batman Forever and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. So needless to say, I was a late bloomer. Here are a few memories that come to mind with regard to my discovery of vinyl:
1. In 2009, I was in Seattle to open a show for Ben Folds in Bellingham, WA. It was just a one-off opportunity but I was still excited out of my mind for the opportunity. I had never been to WA and barely had any money back then and so I remember having to call in favors to get picked up at the airport at midnight, sleep on someone’s couch, and then bum a ride to Bellingham from another singer-songwriter my manager was friends with.
Except it turns out he was busy that night and so his girlfriend—who none of us knew—offered to drive us the 2 hours there and back instead. With a little time to kill that day, our new friends showed us around Seattle—specifically a little artsy neighborhood called Fremont. We wandered into a record shop and for some reason, despite not owning a record player myself or having ever bought vinyl before, I walked out with U2’s War album and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. Those were the first 2 records I ever bought.
“My dad loved technology and was always interested in the newest thing. I remember being the only weirdo on my block with a computer when I was a kid. Just amber dots on the screen but there were still cool games on it.”
“I remember that he got us a LaserDisc player when that was a thing for about one day. When it came to music, we had cassettes, CDs, and eventually he had a library of about two terabytes on his PC. So, I actually don’t remember ever listening to vinyl when I was growing up but they were there, in the house. Shelves and shelves covering all sides of his office. Some of them framed on the wall above his desk. Some just stored in the garage alongside a pile of old turntables. At least 6-800 albums that he refused to get rid of even if he wasn’t utilizing their unique richness of sound. For years I wondered, “What’s the deal with these gigantic discs? Why keep them?”
One day after I had left the nest, my girlfriend came home with a turntable and some vinyl she picked up at a thrift store and I started to understand the appeal. This big beautiful jacket with so much more to engage you. The tender sonics of the linear sound recording coming out of the speakers. Even the limitations of the thing were interesting to me, especially when I began to design my own vinyl records years later. But that’s a different story. Anyway, I went to my dad and asked him to give me all that vinyl I knew he wasn’t even listening to. “Nope, sorry.” “Pleeease…” “Ok, maybe you can have a couple.” This went on for years.
“The measured ticks and tacks of a turn signal in an otherwise quiet car. The pitter-patter of rain on the skylights of my childhood home. Pretty much any word that passes through Morgan Freeman’s lips. These are among the few sounds in the world that can calm me to my very core even without actually having to hear them. Just the thought of these sensory sensations is able to render my mind silent in a way that no mind-body-based or breath-focused guided meditation ever has.”
“However none of these things even hold a candle to the sound a record player makes in the seconds after you drop the needle on the outermost edge of a vinyl record and just after the final notes of the last song of both the A and B sides of the record. That static alone was enough to make me buy a record player for myself at age 16 with the money I had saved from babysitting. It was and remains the best impulse purchase I have ever made.
After two months of my record player pretty much just sitting on my desk because the only record I had was some indie band’s album that I bought on a friend’s recommendation, and try as I might I just could not get on board, my brother gave me what I consider my first album. It was the Sigh No More album by one of my favorite bands, Mumford & Sons. That album got me through one of the darkest periods of my life and I can still remember the countless nights spent lying on the carpet in my room, staring at the ceiling, listening to the record on repeat, only being pulled out of the trance I was in when it came time to flip the record over.
“I am not a jazz guy by any means, more of a rhythm and blues guy. Sure I have a few Miles Davis records but most of the time I like listening to Lightin’ Hopkins or some far out Live Cream.“
“Even so, there are a couple of exotic jazz records that have stuck with me for a long time. I just love them, they are a weird hybrid of different things and that clash of cultures is what makes them exciting. They still sound fresh to this day. The first example I have is Indo-Jazz Suite by Joe Harriott and John Mayer. It is one of my favourite records of all time.
Alice Coltrane’s has made some stuff with a similar kinda vibe, particularly Journey to Satchidananda. I have listened to this record since I was a teenager and it has certainly influenced some of the Morcheeba records I was involved in. The blend of tambora, harp, and sax is an intoxicating mix—something about the nature of it makes it a perfect record for relaxing at home anytime of the day or night. I need records like that, they put you in a place of peace instantly without you having to make any effort!
“King’s Corner Road, Union Springs, New York, I was an acutely aware 4-year-old. My mother, recently divorced, danced with a vacuum cleaner in a singlewide trailer and sang to the stereo, my brother, and me. Rumors. Fandango. Let it Bleed. Sgt. Pepper’s. Frampton Comes Alive, all enjoying heavy rotation on the turntable, which was probably the most expensive thing in the damn place. That’s what I remember. I remember those records. I loved it. I loved seeing my mom lose herself in those songs. Those records saved her and by proxy my brother and me.”
“There has never been a time that I haven’t been surrounded by music and records. My personal collection has both thrived and suffered. Let’s start with thrived: the first records that were actually mine were the 45s my dad gave me. To this day, I consider his lack of discretion in giving a couple of kids under 10 first editions of Beatles, Stones, and Beach Boys singles to be borderline criminal.
We destroyed those things. Not only did we play the grooves off of them, they also served as nasty flying toys capable of significant injury. But mostly we played them. We had “Revolution”/”Hey Jude.” I thought Jude was a girl. I couldn’t, for the life of me, make sense of it. Didn’t care. Played it on my Fisher Price record player over and over and over. The distorted guitar on “Revolution” made the hair on my neck stand up. I didn’t understand, but I knew I loved it. Needed it.
“Things of beauty and value are sometimes handed down to us, and other times we inherit the task of finding those things on our own. My story is the latter.”
“I do wish I had the childhood memories of sitting with my parents while we enjoy the warm intermittent crackles of our vinyl records revolving around the turntable. But that is not my narrative. I have since found out that my parents have impeccable taste in music, and once owned a veritable treasure trove of original vinyl. My dad’s favorites were The Beatles and The Stones. My mom was a die-hard fan of Barbra Streisand and James Taylor.
What happened? A combination of my folks embracing the change over to cassettes and CDs and not realizing how priceless their collection truly was. I was told a gut-wrenching story that they had sold boxes and boxes of LPs to a local pawn shop in the early ’80s. I believe, “YOU DID WHAT??” was my response when my mom shared that with me. We’ve since worked through that musical crisis, and have many enjoyable conversations together about our favorite artists.
So, how did I discover my love for vinyl? The year was 2012. Thank you, Urban Outfitters.
“I started buying records in my early 20s at Goodwills and Salvation Army outlets in central Pennsylvania. The bins were deep and cheap. It took some digging, but I found a couple of great records that way and all of a sudden I was some kind of collector. One that comes immediately to mind was a copy of Jim & Jesse’s Saluting the Louvin Brothers. Best fifty cents I ever spent in my life. You could speculate that The Stray Birds had its first rehearsal in 2010 when I asked Maya de Vitry to come over and learn ‘When I Stop Dreaming’ with me off of that record.”
“Collecting vinyl for me is some kind of living relationship. I think the tactile experience and the audio reward of accumulating art that can literally speak to you is one of the most fun and uplifting ways a person could possibly consume. But the powerful ways in which vinyl has brought me to interact with the people closest to me in my life have proven more meaningful than any one record could on its own.
Typically when I come across one, and often without anybody in mind, I’ll buy a second or third copy of a favorite record just so I can have one to give away when the person and the moment presents itself. I don’t think I’ve ever passed on a copy of Volume One by The Traveling Wilburys or Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken—still I own only one copy of each today. Whether it’s casually to a friend at party, or in a carefully written letter to someone I love, I relish the chance to say, ‘Nothing means more to me than music, and there’s no music that means more to me than this. Let it mean something to you too. Have it. It’s yours.’
“I’ve been buying records since I was about eight. For those of you keeping score, that was a while ago.”
“Bands like XTC, The Clash, and The Pretenders were my early favorites and the Beatles and Stones, of course. I would always fish through my dad’s change box he kept on top of the dresser and hopefully there would be enough to buy a 45 (7”). My friends would spend their loot on video games and pinball. Then in 1980 when Pink Floyd’s The Wall came out, I was all over that. It was early days of owning whole albums. “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat?” Permanently etched.
Then there were the KISS albums I used to have to hide under my bed. My dad being raised VERY catholic thought the whole rock ‘n’ roll thing was devil’s music. KISS was believed to stand for Knight’s in Satan’s Service. Hilarious, right? My mom didn’t approve so much either but didn’t have the same hate-on for rock music because she liked Rod Stewart a bit…anyway…