My first-ever 33 1⁄3 long play (LP) vinyl album was KISS Destroyer. It was the first present I unwrapped on Christmas Eve night 1976. There was also a second to unwrap: Cat Stevens Greatest Hits. After opening those two presents first, the surprise of my next present was pretty well spoiled: my first turntable.
The blue turntable had detachable speakers, their cords long enough to put one speaker on one side of the room and the other speaker on the other side of the room for full stereo effect.
My first, very own record player!
No more having to use the family stereo console, which was made of wood and was nearly as long and deep as a coffin, to play my 45 rpm records.
My. First. Record. Player.
Freedom to turn my music listening into a monastic experience. Close the bedroom door. Rocking out to “King of the Night Time World,” “Detroit Rock City,” “Shout It Out Loud” whenever I wanted, then mellowing out to “Peace Train,” “Wild World,” “Two Fine People.”
KISS. Cat Stevens. Talk about musical contrast. Hard rock versus folk rock. Four face-painted devils on one shoulder, a bearded angel on the other, all imploring for my attention. I was an altar boy, but the temptation of my first KISS got the best of me. I always followed up with Cat Stevens, though, as if performing an act of contrition.
My. First. Record. Player.
I doubt I emerged from my bedroom before Christmas break ended. I returned to grade school a somewhat altered boy, my soul lost to rock n’ roll: “Shout it. Shout it. Shout it out loud. You’ve got to have a party!”
I had already owned an 8-track tape player (first tape: Jim Croce’s “Life and Times”) and a cassette player (first tape: Elton John’s “Greatest Hits”), but the sound quality of those music mediums — always emitted was a hellish hiss — were far inferior to that of a turntable, which delivered a rich, raw crispness and cherished crackle.
I purchased scores of LPs, and they were always a big part of my birthday and Christmas wish lists. Cheap Trick’s “Dream Police” was a memorable Christmas gift, and the Easter Bunny actually brought me Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” I guess my parents deemed me to be too old for the Easter Bunny after that. (I shouldn’t have played “Young Lust” so loudly.)
They still supported my record addiction. One of the coolest album-related gifts they gave me was a beautiful wooden crate to hold my records. My dad made it in his wood shop, which made the gift extra special. I populated it with Springsteen and Bob Seger and J. Geils and Steve Miller and Jimmy Buffett . . . and on and on and on. “The Best of Bread” was also in there, but don’t tell my dudes. (I’ve always been a sucker for the grammar-challenged “Baby I’m-a Want You.”)
The boom in popularity of the compact disc player in the mid-1980s delivered the demise of record collections everywhere. My first CD: Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” Of course, CDs have suffered great casualties in the music industry wars as of late thanks to mp3s and online streaming, both of which I support.
The last time I saw my record collection was just before my divorce. I was in the attic picking out things that made sense to carry with me into my new life. The record collection, still in dad’s wooden crate, did not make the cut since most of the records had been replaced with CD counterparts. Later, I learned my record collection migrated to an ex-in-law’s yard sale. What great item did I ultimately pillage from the attic? — a toaster, since it was a duplicated wedding gift. Sometimes wedding gifts end up becoming unintended divorce gifts, which can be a good thing since they end up saving one member of the party money at a time when he or she really, really needs it. There should be a divorce gift registry.
Oddly, in the past few years, there has been a slow resurgence in interest for LPs and turntables in the U.S. This Christmas, I bought my son and daughter each a turntable (the first for both) since both have long collected LPs but have never heard them play. Delaney has them hanging on her bedroom walls as decorations: The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers, Dion, etc.
I also bought both of them unplayed pressings of The Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds,” which is the real reason record players were invented in the first place. Austin also received Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” a turntable no-brainer for my jazzy son.
At about 2 a.m. after Christmas, Delaney and I listened to her old records. It was nice to share the sight of an LP spinning, and though some of the records were slightly warped, the needle still rode their wavy grooves without fail. It was nice to share the still crisp sound of songs from very old records, from the The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” to Johnny Cash’s “Wanted Man” to The Beatles’ “Two of Us” to The Everly Brother’s “All I Have To Do Is Dream” to the Eagles “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks,” their needle-gnawed crackles a comfort food for my ears. It was nice to share music the way it was meant to be shared.