Editor's note: This column originally ran April 25, 2015:
I must’ve looked pretty funny standing there, dead in my tracks, with my mouth hanging open.
I was in the main aisle of a popular bookstore, and had just come upon a large display of record albums. You know, 33s. Vinyl. LPs.
“Are these real?” I asked a sales clerk, picking up a copy of Prince’s “Purple Rain” album. “Do they really play music?”
He nodded and looked as if I had asked if the nearby books had pages inside.
“But why?” I asked. “I have this album in a box at the very back of a closet in the basement.”
Why would anyone buy vinyl records? I may not be the savviest person when it comes to technology, but I am aware music recordings have evolved a bit in the past 30 years.
“Nothing beats vinyl,” he said.
“Who still has a record player?” I asked.
He smiled and pointed to the display. “You can buy one right here,” he said.
The player looked like the old portable suitcase kind my mother had in the 1950s — except for the USB port.
But why would people dedicate shelf space to 12- by 12-inch albums when they can carry all their music in their pocket?
“Sound quality,” said my husband, flipping past a copy of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” Then he muttered, “I wonder if they have any ‘Three Dog Night’.”
“But I thought digital was supposed to sound better. Remember, that’s what you said when we got rid of the turntable.”
(This led to a four-minute debate about whose decision it was that we should dispose of my awesome turntable.)
“At least I kept my Beatles album collection,” I said, spotting a copy of “Abbey Road.” Wow. $22. I think I paid $5 in 1975.
“Some people buy albums for the covers,” he added. “Let’s face it; nobody bought CDs for the cover artwork.”
With the advent of CDs and MP3 players, what other albums had I chosen to keep? When we arrived home, I went straight to the basement closet to find the box.
“See?” I said, removing the lid, “I even have some of my old 45s.”
Yes, kids, there was a time when a music recording was twice the size of a CD and only played two songs. One on each side. And you even had to turn it over yourself.
Alas, my prized copy of “Coconut” (by Harry Nilsson, 1971) was missing, so I did what I always do when I can’t find childhood artifacts: assume it’s at my parents’ house and call them.
“I’m searching for ‘Lime in the Coconut’,” I said over the phone.
“A lime and a coconut?” repeated my mother. “Try your refrigerator.”
“Do you still have my old 45 records?”
I could hear both my mother and stepfather chortling on the other end of the line.
“No, and we don’t have your old Partridge Family lunchbox from last month’s column either,” they said and hung up.
It was disappointing, realizing some of the beloved records I had listened to as a kid were gone. Over the years I pitched many of the albums I had purchased from the bins at Appletree Records in Normal.
“Maybe we should buy a new turntable,” I said to my husband. “Remember that awesome feeling when you place the needle exactly in the groove of a great record?”
We could dig out Fleetwood Mac, Supertramp and the Moody Blues. We could be cool again!
“Yes,” he said. “Maybe we could be hip again. But remember those lyrics by Cheap Trick? ‘Mommy’s all right, daddy’s all right … they just seem a little weird.’”