STEPHEN SMITH: Vinyl Treasures -- Trying to Toss Out a Pile of Old Records
I'm all in favor of getting rid of useless clutter.
So last week, I did something I should have done 20 years ago: I dug a huge pile of records out of my closet with the intention of disposing of the entire collection. I considered placing the records on eBay. Than I thought: Naw, I'll just toss them.
Easier said than done. A pile of old records is an impossibly steep climb back into the past. I counted nearly 300 records -- 300 overpowering reasons, now mostly long forgotten, for buying the recordings in the first place -- still safely preserved in their sleeves and waiting to be played.
Before I started filling the giant, triple-layered trash bags, I sat on the floor examining the covers and did some quick calculations.
Allowing an average of $5 a record, I'd spent $1,500 on the ragged pile stacked on my bedroom floor -- and those were '50s, '60s, and '70s dollars!
And lordy, what energy I'd expended! I'd dragged those records from home to dorm to apartment to house to condo for more than 50 years.
I also dug out an old turntable, two raggedy speakers, and a 40-year-old Lafayette 30-watt amp I've been unable to part with. I hooked up the equipment, plugged the two-prong power cord into the wall socket and presto! -- it was the early '60s, and I was sitting in a sound booth at the Hi Fi Shop on Maryland Avenue in Annapolis, listening to the Joan Baez warble away.
The shop's only employee, a beatnik from St. John's College, allowed me to listen to any recording I pleased, and I finally purchased the Joan Baez LP as a thank-you for allowing me to listen to every record in the place.
Then I played a hefty 78 rpm of "Shrimp Boats" by Jo Stafford. When I was 6, my sainted grandmother played the record constantly, and I somehow believed the lyric was a warning about the arrival of flying saucers --
Shrimp boats is a-comin'
Their sails are in sight.
Shrimp boats is a-comin',
There's dancin' tonight.
Why don't 'cha hurry hurry hurry home?" ...
Talk about old granny records -- I found Jurassic copies of Johnny Marvin-Aileen Stanley's duet "Red Lips Kiss My Blues Away," the Weavers' "Goodnite Irene," and Hank Williams' "You Win Again."
And there was a super-scratchy hi-fi copy of "Meet the Beatles" that my sister and I played in the family room until the recording was unintelligible -- "It won't be long/ yeah, yeah, yeah." -- and three old, hopeless Beatles 45s that were stuffed in an LP sleeve.
My copy of "Bob Dylan" with its early version of "Song to Woody" and "Man of Constant Sorrow" was unlistenable, and Ray Charles' rendition of "What'd I Say?" was still warped from my having left it in the backseat of Bobby Muller's Nash-Rambler on a summer afternoon -- "See the girl with the red dress on/she can do the Birdland all night long "
I miss ya, Ray! I started to play the Kingston Trio's hopped-up interpretation of "Tom Dooley" but couldn't bring myself to listen for more than a few notes. Doc Watson's version of "Tom Dula" has it hands down.
I piled all my favorite recordings from the mid-to late '60s in one tall stack -- The Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, the Kinks, the Lovin' Spoonful (their recording of "Daydream" is an all-time keeper), Taj Mahal, Leadbelly, Ben E. King, the Association, the Rascals, the Drifters, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and the Papas (sitting in a grungy, claw-footed bathtub for eternity), etc.
In the '70s I had a full-time grownup job, so that pile was the tallest -- Pure Prairie League, Jackson Brown, the Eagles, Little Feat, Dave Loggins, Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show, Loudon Wainwright III.
And there were a thousand other memories too personal to mention here.
Then I came upon a stack of Frank Sinatra recordings that belonged to my late father.
The old man always wanted to be a famous singer, and late at night when he thought everyone in the family was asleep, I'd come upon his singing to Sinatra's recordings of "Come Rain Or Shine" or "All the Way" -- "Deeper than the deep blue sea/that's how deep it goes."
Ah, me, the music remembers! The records are now stashed safely in their favorite spot in the closet. Maybe next year. ...
Stephen Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
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