Thursday, September 08, 2005

Why people love their old records

More music is available in more formats than ever before thanks to modern technology. You've got i-pods, MP3 files, satellite radio, music DVDs, even ring-tones for your cellphone.

But it wasn't always so. The long-playing record (LP) dominated the available technology for nearly half a century following its introduction in 1949. Actually, people fell in love with 'em.

If you don't know, LPs are the records enclosed in 12 by 12 inch cardboard jackets which usually displayed a color photograph of the performer along with liner notes. LPs are also referred to as "33's," a reference to the speed the disc rotates on the turntable.

Music fans embraced the format and its' little brother, the seven inch "45". Also known as a "single," the 45 featured "a" and "b" sides, showcasing a hit song on the top side and a "throwaway" track on the reverse.

As the post World War II economy heated up, families purchased "hi-fi's," to play their new recordings. At first people bought Broadway musicals and such and then rock 'n' roll burst on the scene in the mid-Fifties with the appearance of Elvis, Johnny Mathis, Pat Boone, Chuck Berry and other stars.

The music went through several stages including do-wop and folk until the Beatles stormed ashore in the tumultuous months following President Kennedy's assassination. Besides the British music invasion, American rock acts also flourished.

A good stereo was required by every young person. People with the cash would assemble a component system while others would utilize cheaper portable plastic players with detachable speakers. Tens of millions of record players were sold. They were nearly as prevalent as television sets or indoor plumbing.

For the sake of convenience, furniture stores which sold "hi-fi's" also added small record departments. You could also buy discs at the "dime" store (such as Woolworth's) and drug stores. In 1969, when minimum wage was $1.65, an LP would cost $4.98 and a 45 about 79 cents.

In fact, buying a record was a momentous occasion. Older people almost certainly remember their first purchase, whether it was The Doors, Tommy James and the Shondells, Led Zeppelin or some other piece of treasured vinyl. Removing the shrink wrap and dropping the needle on your new record for the first time was a memorable experience, too. You could look at the cover and read the liner notes while listening, perhaps on attached headphones. In fact, many people viewed the LP cover itself as art.

About this time, tapes were introduced. There were two types- cassettes and eight-tracks. Cassettes had the two stereo tracks on each side and had to be flipped over to play the entire program. The eight-tracks, however, ran continuously. But, they had the annoying limitation of often changing tracks in the middle of a song because all four of the stereo programs had to be the same length.

Tapes proved popular with motorists for the simple fact records couldn't be played in your car. In fact, you could fill-up at your corner gas station and buy tapes at the counter when you checked out. As the Seventies advanced, the eight-track slipped into history thanks to the cassette's small size and superior sound.

Despite advances in the marketplace by cassettes, the LP still sold well. People continued to add to their collections, as the music became the soundtrack to their lives.

The LP was strong throughout the Eighties and into the Nineties when the cassette held sway for a brief time before the compact disc appeared. The CD, in fact, rejuvenated the pre-recorded music business as most customers felt compelled to replace their favorite record albums with the digital versions.

While customers bought the new discs, they never had the emotional draw or "warm sound" of the LP. In the late Nineties, Napster and other file-sharing web-sites allowed fans to get their music for free and CD sales declined.

Now, the CD is labeled a "tired format" while the LP may be making a comeback. Once relegated to garage sales, flea markets and used record stores, young and old alike are dusting off their LPs for an encore performance.

So, take those decorative LPs off your dorm walls and give 'em a spin. Discover for yourself why so many people love their old records.

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