Ode to Those Flat Black Circular Things with Grooves

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

March 31, 1949 was the day that the first 45 RPM single was released by the RCA Victor record company, Eddy Arnold’s “Texarkana Baby,” and in conjunction marketed a special turntable to play it on. I don’t have that 45 (though I DO have it on 78), but I’ve accumulated enough over the years to be excused one or two. I’m sure that if I were able to total up every single I’ve had in my collection at some time, counting the better-condition copies that I’ve swapped along the way for those copies that their original owners may have used for frisbees, I’ve probably had close to 50,000 over the years.

My obsession to have “every” single came from a discovery I had when I was 19 and had accumulated about 100 singles over my adolescent and teen years. The first comprehensive book to truly encompass the entire spectrum of Rock from its beginnings to what was then present day was released in late 1969. Music journalist Lillian Roxon published “Rock Encyclopedia” back then, but what caught my eye and made me make every effort to find the then astronomical $10 to buy was not just the capsule analyses of the most important artists and trends in the genre’s history, but the appendix at the end which listed the top 50 singles of every year from 1956 to 1968, plus weekly number one listings from 1950 on. After deciding I wanted to get every record on all those lists, and at the same time discovering I could find decent condition original copies of those records for as little as 5 cents apiece in thrift shops, the flood gates opened.

Every day I’d go check out stores, but was also making new mental lists that needed completing. I was amazed too, at the thought of people giving up such treasure troves of stuff for unexplained reasons. I was finding stuff on all speeds, but particularly on 45, and learning more about specific labels to look for. That eventually developed into deciding I wanted to get every record on certain labels, and further vistas were opened, plus learning more about country and R&B on top of all else. A few years later, I’d discover English chart hits, and there we go again.

This all started when I was still living in Redlands, California with my parents, with plans already in motion to move to San Francisco. By the time I left Redlands on June 15, 1970, I had accumulated close to 1000 45’s and maybe 50 78’s to go with the around 200 LP’s. Though it took me nearly a year from then to officially move into San Francisco, I discovered flea markets and garage sales, and though my earnings from Show Biz were at a minimum then (was making about $50 a week), it was still possible to spend maybe 2 dollars and get 20 records and have enough cash left to buy a taco for dinner. As the earnings increased, so did the record hunting. For a short time, when my partner quit show biz for a few months, I was actually buying, selling, and trading records to earn a living. I shudder to think of the value of some of the stuff I let go, but I also accumulated great stuff as well. By the end of the 70’s, my 45’s numbered around 25,000, my 78’s about 2000, and LP’s, which never really piqued my interest anyway, had only swelled to maybe 1500.

Good thing I never became an LP collector, because once I found in the early 2000’s that my present and future were to be across the Atlantic (name of my favorite record label), the expense I would have encountered might have been prohibitive for shipping the entire lot over to UK. As it was, when I decided in 2005 to ship my archives from San Francisco to Dagenham, that transaction would cost me 3600 US dollars, or @ 2200 GB pounds. It was worth it, and what was even better, at the time, I could AFFORD it!

So my buddies have remained with me through 19 relocations in 8 different areas and two different countries, but they’ve never let me down. They’ve been a source of joy through bad times, an unending source of party entertainment, and at harder financial times, a source of money. Even when I’ve had to give up something I’ve cherished, I remember two things: A) There’s still plenty to choose from, and B) I’m making someone else happy by selling it to them (unless it’s a dealer, who cares little about the music as compared to how much he thinks he can make off it.). Thankfully, in spite of my three divorces, the records have never been cited as a culprit for the marriages falling apart. In my last year of my second marriage, when the Mrs. and I were going to counseling, she mentioned in one session my obsession with the records being a bit of a distraction, then in the same breath said, “But it’s hard to deny they’re really cool!”

Yes, they are cool, and though the music industry has been trying for over 30 years to tell us vinyl is dead, many other so-called “progressive” music formats have come and gone. I always favored the 45 over the LP, incidentally, because in most cases, what was put on the single was the most interesting and accessible track from the album. In just a couple of hours, I’m going to Vinyl Night at the Kings Head pub in Crouch End, N. London, where people bring in their old records, possibly tell a story about what a certain song means to them, then play their copy of it. (I’m also spying on behalf of some friends of mine who host a similar thing, just to make sure it’s not too close to what they do.) My only problem will be deciding which one record to bring!

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