The turntable….sounds of long ago

They always had a strange, mid-eastern smell, at least the good ones did. As a kid, we all thought that burning incense and patchouli aroma was just a coverup for the staff smoking a little wacky weed in the back room. It turns out, that it wasn’t the case at all, just an olfactory sales extension that lured in young customers.

If you’re an AARP member, or maybe just starting to get the notifications, you no doubt remember the venerable record store.

As a kid in the late 60s, the older sisters of my friends had “45” parties, with stacks of those fast-spinning, seven-inch discs playing on the wider stem of the turntable. Anyone remember the little plastic insert that allowed you to play 45s on a 33 RPM spindle?

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For those too young to remember the joys and frustrations of the vinyl record, whether it be the smaller 45 or the big 12-inch, 33 RPM discs, it was an era of musical camaraderie.

Entire generations shared the same musical tastes. We’d hear the latest from the 4-Tops, the Supremes, or Creedence Clearwater Revival on the radio, and soon one of us would buy an album.

They weren’t easy to share, but when friends got together, the records came out and the party began. Kids today would be appalled, but we danced with girls at parties to the soundtrack of our favorite albums.

With the advent of ear buds, high end “Beats” style headphones and the cornucopia of musical venues, kids don’t share the same playlist much anymore.

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At 13 years old, I bought a high-end cassette tape recorder that received AM, FM, and Shortwave broadcasts. I spent many a late evening patiently waiting for the DJ to shut up so I could record my favorite songs on a 60 or 90-minute cassette tape. I’d anticipate when the talking stopped and the music started and hit the play and red record button simultaneously, hoping to catch a full song with no dialogue.

I still have those tapes, and while the radio announcers annoyed me as a kid, they’re quaint, nostalgic, and fun to listen to today when I pull out those old brittle tapes. It’s a magical soundtrack that defies time and space, taking me back a half-century when my future was entirely in front of me. Perhaps you shared the same sentiment.

Today’s kids won’t ever experience the musical unity that tied our generation together. Sure, there were a few metal heads, and some kids only listened to the twangy old-style country music, but most of us listened to the Beach Boys, the Letterman, Linda Rondstadt and the Stone Ponies, or any of the glorious Motown groups who will still be popular a century or two from now. It was that kind of era, and all you had to do to be part of it was to put down $2.99 to $3.99 for the latest LP down at the record store.

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As a high school kid, the 45s were largely already gone by the mid-70s. Closeout sales on these tiny vinyl records were all the rage beginning in 1973 and extending to the final disappearance of the 45 by 1975. AA Temple Drug in Riverton had a huge inventory of 45s during those years. I’d often drop in to see if they had any of the artists I liked. Usually, they had one or two great 45s at the now seemingly impossible price of 10 to 15 cents per record.

We all bought the records for their “A” side, but sometimes you’d find a gem underneath, on the “B” side. Those old 45s only had two songs, one on each side.

When it came to the LP record, that was an entirely new era, you could pack up to 20 songs on the two sides, and there wasn’t an A or a B, just a collection of music that could last over an hour on some albums.

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I didn’t have many LP records when I headed off to Laramie as a college freshman. I did have quite a collection of 8-track tapes thanks to a membership in the Columbia Records Club.

To quote these marketing geniuses, for just a dollar, you can order 13 albums with a membership in the Columbia Records Club. The only catch was you had to order an album, 8-track, or cassette each month for a year at full retail price. Yes, I still have a few of them that survived the 8-track deck in my 62’ Nova, or the plug-in addition to my AM/FM turntable stereo.

A bit of nostalgia died seven years ago when the venerable record club declared bankruptcy on April 10, 2015. The fact that it lasted that long is a miracle in itself.

As a college kid I began to collect albums, but living on a near-starvation budget, my choices were limited to clearance sales and a wonderful back room at the Curiosity Shop off Third and Grand Avenue in downtown Laramie. In a couple of milk crates, the owners put good quality used albums you could buy for 75 cents to a dollar a piece. I was never a disco fan. The 1965-73 genre was my favorite choice in music, a choice that has held for almost half a century, and those crates were filled with these classic artists. By the time I graduated in 1980, I built a collection of a couple hundred albums. Yes, to Sue’s chagrin, I still have them.

I majored in history with a minor in English and spent many long nights reading hundreds of pages of required text. A stack of albums playing the Eagles, Procol Harem, Tommy James, and the Supremes made that work much, much easier. It was the soundtrack of an education for a late teen, early 20-something.

In 1983, Sue and I drove to California to spend spring break with my cousin Mike and his wife Rosie. We had a great time driving Highway 101 on the Pacific Coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

One afternoon, Sue and I found a huge record store in Anaheim. It stretched for thousands of square feet.

We were searching for Joe South and Petula Clark albums and couldn’t find a single one. The suave (in his mind) salesman asked us what we were looking for and when we told him he had a classic look of disgust, mixed with an ample portion of condescending scorn. At 26 years old, I was barely past the age of throat punching someone I didn’t like, and he was pushing all the right buttons for a beating. But, I refrained, told him to get lost and we continued our quest, a quest we weren’t able to complete at that avant-garde record store.

Records are making a comeback, at least the 33 RPM styles are.

For those of us who have spent our lives listening to the radio, or tuning into Amazon Music, Serious XM, or Pandora, music is a partner in nearly everything we do.

It’s easier to find the songs you like today than it was in the vinyl era, but I can hear the difference between an analog record and the slightly clipped tones of a CD or digital recording. Analog is music as the artist intended, the digital realm is full of options beyond comprehension, but it just doesn’t sound as good as an old-fashioned needle moving through the groove of a record album.

With or without the smell of incense and patchouli the technology that made the LP the Lingua Franca of the musical world lives on, and will no doubt continue to do so.

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