Friday, February 27, 2009

I am Long Play, my friends

Today is my 33 1/3 birthday. For those of you who are youngsters or technophiles, the LP album, spinning at 33 1/3 rpm, was the music delivery format of choice for more than forty years. It is still beloved by many music fans - those who are aficionados, and those who are dilettantes, and those who for whatever reason feel that there is a warmth and intimacy that doesn't resonate the same digitally. In honor of my reaching this momentous age, I'd like to share with you some music that I own on vinyl.

Joni Mitchell's Blue was the first piece of vinyl I bought for myself. I had several records I had inherited from my sisters, and a few that were purchased for me as presents - mostly of the turn the page when you hear the chime variety - but I didn't buy my first piece of vinyl until my musical tastes were fairly well defined. I mostly bought cassette tapes in those days; they could be had for less than a tenner and were eminently portable. I went into a little record store and saw this and thought instantly of my mother, who had long, stick straight flaxen hair just like Joni's before she joined the army and cut it all off. I bought it, and I listened to it again and again and again on my $99 Magnavox turntable, the one without a replaceable needle. I was the only one on my dorm floor with a turntable; everyone thought it was quaint and faintly ridiculous.

One of the albums that got passed on to me when my music snob sister eschewed vinyl for CDs was Stray Cats' Rant 'n' Rave. (Yeah, you know where this is going...) Listen, the eponymous album is epic, I know, and Built For Speed has some better written material on it, but Rant 'n' Rave was what launched them into the stratosphere. Setzer, for all his rockstar posturing these days, was just plain CANDY. Before I was bequeathed it at the tender age of 13, I used to sneak this album out of my sister's collection and listen to it with headphones on... Mostly because of this song:

I don't know how I came to be in possession of the Readers Digest wartime favorites album. It is thick and brittle, the sleeve faded from the years, smelling faintly of mildew... It is scratchy, poorly mastered, and strangely put together. But it was my introduction to swing and consequently to all the other forms of jazz, and the Andrews Sisters were my gateway drug:

I have the White Album. Disc two is scratched to hell and back, and Julia is a little warped on the B side of disc one. It probably makes me a bad Beatles fan to admit this, but my favorite sonng on the white album is not Bungalow Bill or Dear Prudence. It's Ob-la-di, Ob-la-dah.

I did not realize until I was about 17 that anyone other than Nat King Cole ever sang this song. It was on another album I received from my sister in a pile that she no longer wanted when I was in middle school. For several years, there was no song in the world that could compare to the sheer romance of this one:

Finally, this album belonged to my mother first. Although I was ostensibly too old to be fascinated by such things, I coveted the paper dolls on the inner sleeve, and dreamed of a day when I could have a fringe skirt to wear with my cowboy boots. I know every word of this album, every chord change and semiquaver. It still gives me chills.

I won't object if you offer me cupcakes or cocktails or even some 45's, but what I'd really like is if you'd drop a memory about a long play record down there in the comments. I know each and every one of you has a story... My newest favorite memory involving both the vinyl AND good wishes is this: On my recent trip to New Orleans, I celebrated my birthday on the last day I was in town. It happened to be the only day that Z. and I had to really explore, because we had spent so much of our time listening to to music at Voodoo Experience. I walked him all over town, down Frenchman Street and up Burgundy, and I finally made him go to the Louisiana Music Factory with me, which is a huge music store right on Decatur that specializes in local music from in and around New Orleans. I was happily dirtying my hands with vintage records, pulling them out and putting them back again, when Z. walked up behind me, leaned very close, and said, "I forgot to wish you a happy birthday. Happy Birthday." Then he kissed my cheek and left me amid the stacks of wax, breathing in the decades. I don't know that I have ever been as perfectly content.


  1. All of these KILL me.
    Here's some of my earliest LP memories:

    Listening to this song,on some weird compilation album my parents had, as a very young child while my family watched Howdy Doody in the next room:

    Gazing at the beautiful sun-drenched and freckled Judy Collins on her album cover and wanting to BE her:

    And feeling like my heart would break whenever I heard this one:

    And don't even get me STARTED on Johnny Cash.