Record Condition – My Less than Perfect Collection

by Felice Prager
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Today, when I want to hear music, I can go to my computer, go to my music files, and program whatever songs I want. I have loaded each my CDs into my computer as I have purchased them, mostly so I would have a backup copy in case the CD became scratched or lost or someone spilled soda or coffee on it. (I have learned from experience to think ahead!)

Over the years, we have managed to replace our old record collections with copies on CD, so we have an incredible collection. My computer files are set up by artist, by album, and by genre. I have copied each song from my computer into my Ipod. If I want to hear music when I walk or while I am out shopping, I just grab my Ipod, and I have music to suit my mood. I can distance myself from everyone around me with a tiny set of earplugs that fit comfortably into my ears.

I can also take one of the CDs I own and play it on the stereo system we have set up in our home or I can find an FM station I like. We also have TV stations that play music by genre, and we have that hooked up to our stereo system. We have it set up so we can listen to music inside the house or out in our backyard. When I am in my car, I can push my FM transmitter into where the cigarette lighter used to be and listen to the same collection I have on my computer since it has all been copied to my Ipod and I upgrade it whenever I buy a new CD or a purchase a song.

Listening to music has become so easy. I have even copied this same catalog of music into my laptop and my husband's computer so the music we purchased can be shared. Wherever we go, we have our favorite songs to keep us company. And all we have to bring with us is a little, high-tech device that plays songs the same way every time.

This world of personal music I have just described has changed greatly since I was a kid. My first memories of music included a transistor radio with a transistor (9 volt) battery. This was not mine. It belonged to my brother, and I was "a baby" and would "break it" so I was not allowed to touch it. The transistor radio played just AM stations. We had never even heard of FM.

I eventually owned an assortment of 45s that I could listen to when my mother wasn't using the Hi-Fi to hear her Montovani and Sinatra albums. Mixed in her collection were show tunes including the complete cast albums of Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady, Sound of Music, Camelot, and West Side Story, her light classical favorites, and a Leroy Anderson album that had a song about sleigh bells and the Jerry Lewis typewriter song.

We had one apartment and one hi-fi. There was no need for more. The hi-fi was not stereo. When the needle wore out, which it did, we had to wait for someone to go shopping to buy a new one – then figure out how to put it in. The hi-fi was blue and white – to match my mother's couch, sat on a chrome stand, and played 45s, 78s, and 33s. We were very spoiled.

Then my parents bought me a portable record player for my birthday. I was one of the first kids on my block to have my own record player. I could take it with me and use it if there was a plug. It didn't have speakers. It was mono, not stereo. It was pink to match MY bedroom, but it was just a box - my box.

All of my baby-sitting money went to buying 45s. At first, I kept track of my 45s. Each got a little number glued on it. Each was placed in its paper sleeve behind the same number in a file box especially made for 45-rpm records. Each box had a master list with the song title and performer of each song – front side and flip side. Each record also had my name printed neatly with a permanent black marker on it…for when I brought my collection to sleepovers or parties.

But I got lazy.

It became tiresome keeping up the lists and the numbering each record. And putting them in their sleeves became a bother. We were told if the needle on the hi-fi became dull, it would ruin our records. I never replaced my needle. Spilling things on the records would ruin them. I spilled things on them. Scratching them would ruin them. I scratched them. For the record, I did not take good care of my records. So each of my originally treasured 45s - mono, then stereo – 45s then 33-RPM albums - had grooves in them that a small band of insects could live in.

There was soda spilled on them, so the insects would remain nourished. I remember putting my dad's reel-to-reel recorder up against the speaker to make a copy of the songs before I ruined them, but background noise (like people's voices, the television, and the ringing of the telephone) interfered. There was no such thing as a direct connection for consumers like me.

From my small record player, I graduated to a stereo "system" – components! I had a turntable and speakers and a tuner which had FM. I had name brands. I kept it in my room. By this time, my parents had a system of their own and I was not allowed to touch theirs. Theirs was more expensive than mine. I hung my speakers on opposite walls and played the music very loud. I learned how to balance the sound so the base was booming and I could still hear everything else. My album collection grew. As with the 45s, they started in pristine condition and eventually were scratched and gashed.

When I was leaving for college, my dad suggested buying a smaller unit because I was going to be living in a small dorm room and the college I was going to was an airplane ride away. He bought me something new and inventive – an 8-track player. It was small and I thought it was cute, but I couldn't play my records on them, so I had to rebuild a collection of 8-tracks. People told me the fad of 8-tracks wouldn't last. I didn't believe them. I bought a lot of 8-track tapes. I couldn't scratch these, but soda still managed to get inside and ruin a few.

Since the 8-track fad never really took off, I went back to my stereo I had left at home. I upgraded to larger speakers and bought a cassette player to add to the set. With this, I also bought (and made my own) cassettes to play. I'd listen to the radio in my car and when I heard something I liked, I'd often go out and buy the album or a cassette. Sometimes all I knew was one song, and yet I still bought the album.

When I met my husband, he had a comparable collection and stereo. He claimed to have a better system than mine and his albums actually WERE in pristine collection. He was a regular neat freak about his records. Like my brother, he said since I didn't take care of my own, he didn't want me to touch his – no matter HOW much he loved me.

When our family moved cross-country, we were charged by the pound to move our stuff. We debated and lost sleep over what to do about our slightly outdated stereos and impressive vinyl collections, so we opted to say goodbye to our stereos, our records, and even my 45s in their boxes that were stored in our basement. We had a giant garage sale and thought we did relatively well selling to collectors and equipment.

Several collectors came to our home since we advertised that we were selling our record collections. They looked at my husband's collection and he negotiated with them to get the best price. Then the collectors looked at my collection, commented about the scratches, gashes, and soda spills on them, and told me I should give them away to someone who was hard of hearing. I eventually boxed everything up and gave it away to charity.

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