Call me a nostalgic baby boomer, but I sometimes reminisce about the way we used to purchase and listen to our favorite musical artists, albums and songs back in the 1970s and ’80s.
Sure albums/records/LPs/33’s are available again as ‘vinyl’ for young hipsters. But they’re pricey and remastered, so they don’t have their predecessors’ scratchy ‘character.’ And there are so many other options, vinyl is usually just a small part of a portfolio of iTunes purchases, songs on your phone, or already ‘old school’ alternatives like CDs or iPods. People often listen to random one-off songs, on the run, while they’re doing other things, not necessarily in any order, not necessarily even listening to the same artist for too long or even a song all the way through. Which is fine, but still …
There was something special about the days when you waited for your favorite artist to come out with their next record album. Then you waited on line at a physical (‘brick and mortar’) store to buy it. And you came home with something in your hands – not in a cloud. The album cover art mattered and you often got liner notes and lyrics, and more photos and images inside.
When you opened up the album, you generally listened start to finish because the artist had a certain order in mind. You rarely picked up the needle to skip a song, except (in my case) if you wanted to listen to the same favorite song over and over to get all the words down and sing along. It wasn’t even all that easy to place the needle exactly on the groove for the next song.
And the albums themselves were somewhat fragile. I remember singing a certain line of a Billy Joel song with the skip in it (basically skipping over a word) since that’s how it played on my Piano Man album. I remember the heartbreak my boyfriend, turned husband, felt back in college when he tripped on the rug in his dorm room and forever scratched his brand-newly acquired Genesis’s Seconds Out double live album.
I remember feeling ancient when I told my young kids at the time how the really cool long Beatles Abbey Road ‘medley’ was on side 2 of the album. They literally had no idea what I was talking about.
Mostly, I remember where I was when I listened to all my favorite artists and albums during my pre-teen and teenage years. It was always on someone’s floor – in their bedroom or basement – right next to the record player, which later on expanded to include giant speakers. There was no multi-tasking (as there was nothing back then to multi-task with).
Sometimes we’d put on giant headphones (which you had to plug in) and sing at the top of our lungs. Like when I was in my friend Tina’s big basement in junior high singing to things like Jethro Tull’s Aqualung, Edgar Winter’s Free Ride and Yes’s Roundabout. Later came the mellower sides of Neil Young (After the Gold Rush) and Joni Mitchell (Court and Spark).
Tina and I would also sit on my gold shag rug in the corner of my bedroom trying repeatedly to sing that really fast song from Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road double album: ‘Your Sister Can’t Dance but She Can Rock and Roll.’ Back in sixth grade, my friend Jessica and I could be found walking dramatically to each other in the middle of my bedroom as David Cassidy and The Partridge family sang ‘I’ll meet you halfway.’ Man, I was a nerd!
I also remember when I went to a friend’s house who I barely knew because she had just gotten Cat Stevens’ Buddha and the Chocolate Box. There was no other way to listen and share than to be right there … together … which, in hindsight, was kind of special, a real shared experience.
Many of us on Long Island went to a department store called Korvette’s to buy our albums. Who you listened to kind of defined you, as everything in those formative years seemed to. As I was transitioning from a ‘too cool’ for me group to a ‘too studious’ one, I should have guessed my fate when one of the ‘cool’ kids and I went to pick up albums of bands we didn’t know … just for fun. She went home with a Black Sabbath album (at a time when lead singer Ozzy Osbourne famously ate a bat on stage as the band played head-banging, dark-themed heavy metal). I picked out the band America, who were decidedly calmer, more mainstream and whose radio hit song was a sweet little tune about two young muskrats falling in love.
I also remember like it was yesterday when my grandmother and mom took me to Korvette’s one time when I came home on a college break. They were clothes shopping and I was record shopping for the same boyfriend-turned husband for his birthday. I got him Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. My grandmother famously said, ‘Why is that man’s coat on fire?’ I couldn’t really answer. I wonder how she would have felt about the cover of The Who’s Who’s Next? or the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album that featured an actual working zipper on the fly of a pair on men’s jeans!
I still have loads of albums and a turntable, which we can’t play at the moment since it doesn’t work with a new receiver we got a few years back. Thanks to my brother Larry, we did graduate from two-and-a-half feet high/a foot-and-a-half wide ADS speakers to tiny Bose ones we have to admit sound even better. I have graduated to CDs – not really beyond that. And I still love music whichever way I listen to it. But I do have a special place in my heart for the ‘old days’ of the record album. And don’t even get me started on the hundreds of home-made cassette mixes we still play sometimes on ‘boom boxes’ around the house!