I was going through our bedroom closet the other day looking for something and I found a stash of my old records. Remember records?
We used them before streaming music, compact discs and cassettes. I remember my father having some albums on reel to reel tape, but I think that was more for the audiophile and not the casual listener.
Most of the records I have now are ones I have bought in the last few years. I have found them in thrift and antique stores and occasionally I will find a vintage record shop, but those cater more to collectors than listeners, I suppose.
I once bought a record at one of those places and the guy behind the counter was appalled that I planned on actually listening to the record. It was sealed and unplayed, he told me. It was meant to be collected. I had paid $45 for the record and it was now mine and not his and I could do with it what I wanted. I went home and played it.
I still don’t know which was more fun, playing records or shopping for them. A lot of us are old enough to remember the great record stores, with thousands of albums in a lot of categories. The stores usually had promotional posters of the artists plastering the walls and a stereo system we were all envious of.
I don’t know about your local record store, but ours was staffed by people a few years older and a hell of a lot more cool than us. The girls who worked at the record stores all looked like the popular singers and the guys all looked like rock and rollers. Well, except for the one nerdy looking guy who wasn’t so cool, but he possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of all things music.
My brother and I would spend all of our money at the record stores. We would visit our grandmother on Saturdays and there was a used record store a short walk from her house. She’d always give each of us a couple of bucks and we would run to the record store and buy something. In those days, our uncle still lived at home and he had a great and very expensive stereo system in the basement of grandmom’s house. We were allowed to use it if we were careful. Many hours were spent with newly bought records and a set of professional-grade headphones.
It’s been said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but let me tell you, I judged many a record by its cover. I’d be lying if I said I never bought a record solely for its cover. One that comes to mind is Carly Simon’s “No Secrets” album. Ask any guy that was an adolescent between 1972 and 1980 about that record and I will bet he can’t tell you any song that is on it, but can give you two reasons why he likes the album cover.
I bought soundtrack albums to movies I had never seen, but wanted to. The album art was usually a reproduction of the movie poster and I thought that was as cool as it got. I bought single albums, double albums, live albums and boxed sets.
If I had a couple of bucks, I would buy records. I bought records with Christmas and birthday money. A friend of mine went into a record store at 12 years old and bought the Miles Davis album “Bitches Brew” solely because it had a bad word on the cover. I don’t know if I would have done that, but I did buy a lot of records with sexy women on them, regardless of the content. For that, I would like to thank Herb Alpert.
One of the record stores we went to as kids had a display case at the counter with all kinds of weird apparatuses and such in it. I was a little older when I figured out that they weren’t necessarily for tobacco consumption.
The small record stores slowly went away and were replaced with sterile cookie-cutter chain stores. Eventually, they would die out as well. One stalwart independent store in my hometown stayed alive until just a couple of years ago. You could almost hear the music get sucked into an abyss when they locked the doors for the last time.
I usually listen to music when I write the column. Maybe next week, I’ll dig out some of the old records and listen to them for a while. Some of them might sound a little crackly and scratchy, but that’s okay. I do too.
Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.