My kids have grown up listening to digital music, but I can trace my musical development through the various musical formats: vinyl records, cassettes, CDs and digital music. As I watched my 10-year-old daughter listen to Adele on her iPod, I thought about evolution in music, and my journey from vinyl records to digital music and back.
My first musical discovery
After my parents divorced, my father left behind a collection of 45s that included James Brown, the Platters, Joe Tex, the Supremes, Etta James and Marvin Gaye. I’d spend countless hours listening to these records. I’d pull the record out of the sleeve, secure the adapter to the record, switch the player from 33 to 45 (sometimes I’d play them at 33 for the fun of it), place the record on the turntable and then the needle in the groove. We had a cool record player that would remove the record when it was done and replace it with another one. These records were the starter drugs that fueled my musical addiction.
I was never really into buying 45s because I enjoyed listening to whole albums. However, I did buy Prince’s singles because they often had an unreleased song on the B-side. The first one I purchased was 1999 with “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” on the B-side.
But albums were my true love and I started collecting them when I was in middle school. The first LP I purchased was Culture Club’s Colour by Numbers. I followed that purchase with buying records by Michael Jackson, Madonna, Duran Duran, Phil Collins, ZZ Top, The Thompson Twins, Van Halen, Whitney Houston and of course Prince. I nearly wore these albums out because I listened to them so much. I also ruined many albums and needles by trying to scratch my records like the hip-hop DJs.
Music on the move
The cassette started to gain popularity just as hip-hop started to get big. At that point, I decided to buy hip-hop music on cassette and all other types of music on vinyl. Run DMC’s Raising Hell was my first cassette purchase. During the summer of 1986, I carried that tape with me everywhere I went. I also piled up on Whodini, The Fat Boys, Mantronix, The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. Of course I had my boombox and walkman. I also made many mixtapes to share with my friends and impress my girlfriends.
Those silver discs increased my love of music
I continued to buy cassettes until I got to college. By then, CDs were the popular format. I remember the first time I heard a CD. It sounded so crystal clear that I knew that I would never buy another cassette. The first CD that I bought was Jungle Brother’s Straight Out the Jungle. But my CD purchases were not limited to hip-hop. In college, I was exposed to a world of new music: jazz, house, reggae, Go-Go, grunge, alt-rock, punk and heavy metal. By the time I graduated from college, I had amassed a collection of over 400 CDs.
I became a download junkie
As digital music gained prominence, I was one of the first people on Napster. A co-worker told me about it and let me listen to a band he discovered in the service. The band was Two Ton Shoe and their song Medicine blew me away. When I got home, I immediately logged onto Napster and downloaded the MP3. I spent many evenings downloading songs until I grew frustrated with the quality of MP3s. That was when I decided to start digitizing my CD collection (by then it had reached 800). Today, I have a digital music library with over 20,000 songs.
Everything old is new again
But a funny thing happened this year – my wife bought me a record player for my birthday. When I placed a record on the turntable, the hiss and crackle made me feel like I was a teenager again. So many memories rushed through my head.
My kids were intrigued by this new musical device and wondered how I would carry it around. I told them that record players are best enjoyed in a room with friends and family. They looked puzzled, but agreed to sit on the couch with me and listen to Hall and Oates.