Wednesday, October 24, 2012

On the Record

There's an episode in one of my favorite TV comedy series of all time, Everybody Loves Raymond, where Ray Barone's dad, Frank, chastises his son for ruining (accidentally) dad's jazz album collection when Raymond was a youngster. Seems Ray moved the albums to make room for his new Hot Wheels car track, received for Christmas. Unfortunately, Raymond moved the albums next to the furnace. You can imagine what happened to them.

So Ray tries to make up for the lost music by replacing as many of the albums as he can, with CD versions. He professes to have visited a bunch of independent music stores in his effort to replace the albums.

Frank is skeptical of the discs and won't even listen to them, which frustrates Raymond. Finally, Raymond basically forces his dad to listen to the discs by having them in a portable CD player, ready to go, when his parents return from a shopping trip. They enter the home, Raymond hits the remote button, and the jazz fills the house, loudly.

But still Frank isn't happy. Raymond tries to convince his father of the discs' grandeur by declaring that it's like the band was right there, in the living room, thanks to the crystal clarity of the sound.

Still no sale. Frank gets belligerent (nothing out of character for him) and orders the music turned off. Raymond is incredulous; how can his dad NOT enjoy these discs?

The answer arrives a few minutes later, when Raymond's brother Robert and his fiancee Amy arrive with some of the actual albums, purchased at a used music store. They are not CDs but vinyl, 33-1/3 RPM platters of jazz.

The album is played on the phonograph, with all of its crackling and hissing, and Frank is in heaven.

"Now THAT'S music!" he declares as the songs pop.

I know where he's coming from.

CD technology is wonderful; digital is always best, in terms of cleanliness in sound. But I get what Frank Barone is enjoying---the music in its original form; static and crackle and hiss and all.

I started to collect 45s when I was as young as a pre-schooler. Actually, my mom would buy me the records, based on my likes. The Monkees were high on my list back then. The 45 collection grew as I became old enough to pick them out on my own at K-Mart, which sold them for 96 cents, in their plain white sleeves on hooks behind the cashier in the music department.

My first record player was plastic and the "stylus" was a clunky needle that was bigger than a pencil lead.


This record player is very similar to my first one, circa the late-1960s


In 1977 my parents bought me a brand new stereo system, and the phonograph was much more sophisticated and the stylus was diamond. Plus, you could stack the records/albums, and play hours of uninterrupted music.

The cracking and hissing was part of the deal. So was the occasional skip or crack that would cause the same four notes to play over and over until you moved the stylus.

I don't know; there was something magical about turning on the record player and lowering the needle/stylus onto the vinyl platter and hearing that first crackle and hiss, moments before the song began.

You don't get that with CDs. I'm not so sure that's progress.

I know Frank Barone would agree with me.


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