Mining through my parents vinyl LP collection was something I did often as a kid. On a summer weekday morning when my parents were working and my sister was yapping on the phone in her room, I’d be gazing in wonderment as I opened a colorful gatefold record sleeve.
A few of my favorite albums to look at were The Beatles’ Greatest Hits The Red Album 1962-1966, The Blue Album 1967-1970, and the Bee Gee’s Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, simply because I thought they looked ridiculous (this coming from a kid who at the time thought Brutus Beefcake and Jesse “The Body” Ventura were the epitome of cool.) I was also mesmerized by every other album in their vast collection ranging from Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw to Sinatra and Streisand. I’d also feel remiss if I left out the free Christmas albums they got from the gas stations.
Discovering music in this paleontological way was risky. What if I scratched one of their records? I’d feel terrible and they’d immediately know it was me since I was the only “hi-fi curious” one in the household. In subsequent visits to my parents record collection, which resided in a shelf under the stereo components, I made sure I was extra careful. Once I got the courage to actually put a record on the turntable, I placed the needle ever so gingerly onto the groove of the record. I may have had my first heart attack at that tender young age when I heard the record playing on the wrong speed. After my ears nearly bled, and I almost soiled myself, I was convinced that I ruined their pristine records. Seconds later, I figured out what the problem was.
Once I got the hang of it, playing records became a favorite hobby of mine as a kid, especially when no one was around. Eventually, I inherited my sister’s portable turntable which I would set up on an open area of the floor, plug it in, and lay out my very own collection of 45’s. I used to play Bobby Freeman’s “Betty Lou’s Got a New Pair of Shoes,” and spin around like a maniacal dreidel. Some of these mini records were mine and others were ones that my sister scratched or my father was bored with. I had a nice little collection going even though I padded out the bunch with some book and record sets like my absolute favorites, “Batman: Stacked Cards,
” and Masters of the Universe The Power of Point Dread and The Danger at Castle Grayskull.
I was about 5 or 6 years old when I started to have a major crush on a girl, Stephanie, and that record player really came through for me. My dad had given me a 45 of Ricky Nelson’s version of “The Very Thought of You” from Decca Records that he had since 1964. It’s definitely a testament to Teaneck NJ native Ricky Nelson that a little kid in the early ’80s used to lay on the floor spinning one of Nelson’s singles daydreaming about a girl he had a mind altering crush on. None of my friends at that time would have even known who Ricky Nelson was. I’m sure I would’ve gotten shit for listening to that and being in love with the little girl with dirty blonde hair who paid no attention to me.
Around the same time, my neighbor Darren always granted me permission to admire his KISS record collection. Was he just being nice or did my incessant requests drive him nuts? The gatefolds of KISS Alive and KISS Alive II both made my senses go into overload. In fact, I remember literally asking the poor guy if I could look at his albums every time I was at his house. He must’ve thought I was out of my mind. In actuality, I was merely admiring the way the album sleeve opened up and featured these outrageously scary and bizarre photos of a larger than life band. Perhaps more enticing to me than those gatefold Alive albums were their albums Kiss, Dressed to Kill, Dynasty, and Creatures of the Night. These are album covers that focus on the band members’ faces which helped acquaint me with each of their “characters.” (The Beatles started this trend with their album “Meet The Beatles.”) I wasn’t old enough to know what multiplication was, but I sure as hell could tell you that Gene Simmons was the “scary one who spits blood.”
The records I’ve mentioned had much influence in shaping my musical taste. I’ve always had an affinity for bands who have band members with their own distinct appearance. As basic and cliche as it is, it helps greatly in a band’s chance at success. C’mon…everyone had a favorite Spice Girl! One of the most classic cases of this is another gatefold album cover that I used to stare at while listening to their music: Time Peace: The Rascal’s Greatest Hits
The album was released in 1968…so what? I was a little kid and the music sounded fresh and rocking to me. All their big ones were on here, including “Good Lovin’,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “It’s Wonderful,” “Groovin’,” “I’ve Been Lonley Too Long,” “Mustang Sally,” and “You Better Run.” What made listening to the album a complete sensory experience was that I could hold the album and stare at the comic strip style cover art that featured each member of the band. I remember wondering to myself “which one of them is singing?” during each song I listened to. It was almost 20 years later and The Rascal’s music sounded upbeat and made me feel like jumping around. What made them even cooler was that I remembered that my mother told me how a couple of members of The Rascals went to her high school and hung out in town before they were famous. (Eddie Brigati and Dino Danelli are both from Jersey.) In Bruce Eder’s All Music.com review of Time Peace, he writes “Arguably the greatest greatest hits album of the ’60s. A White-Soul classic.”
As I write this, it’s the first day of 2009. Vinyl records have since came and went and came back again just for shits (and collectors). I’ve lived through vinyl, cassette tapes, and CD’s…hey does anyone actually BUY CD’s anymore? I know I do. How else am I going to get to know each of the band members and get caught up in their aura? If CD’s are put to death, are actual living breathing bands still going to exist? Will music be made my nameless, invisible spirits? 1-click will bring us the sound. No more setting up a record player or carefully placing the needle down. I’ll never again have to fast forward a cassette tape to my favorite song for what felt like ages. I guess I’ll have to adjust to looking at slow-loading spammed up Myspace band profiles or promotional sites full of annoying bells and whistles. My eyes are straining already. My head is spinning. It’s not delivering me to another world. I’m not mesmerized. I’m definitely not in awe. I don’t really have anything to be curious about.
It’s sad to see the extinction of the process of a young kid discovering music in his own little way. In the next several years will kids discover books through the use of an Amazon Kindle? It just doesn’t sound as adventurous as walking up to the Turnpike bridge and then digging through old books in the air conditioned library on a hot summer day. I still want to discover music in my own way. Maybe I even want to daydream a little and not stare into a computer screen. I don’t look forward to the moment when time brings the official end of CD’s and downloading becomes the only avenue of procuring music. I still want to hold the artwork because it pulled me into another world. I want to open up a gatefold and see what’s inside. There was curiosity. Possibilities. Details. It wasn’t intangible, it wasn’t merely sound. I want to lay on the carpet with my chin in my hands, get hypnotized by the spinning black Decca 45, and imagine what it would be like if she was mine.