I got my marching orders from my wife the other day — clean out your record closet! I could see that stern look on her face and hear the "no nonsense" tone in her voice.
I knew she was absolutely serious about getting the closet in order.
Let me explain what this closet is all about.
When I got into radio in the mid-60s, I started collecting records — first 45 RPMs, the little records with the big hole, referring to the size of the hole in the middle of the record. They were 7-inch discs that ran at 45 revolutions per minute. I had quite a few of these "singles" that I bought, usually for about 50 cents each or took home from the radio station — one of the perks of being a DJ.
The 45s usually had an "A" side, which the record label thought was going to be the "hit side," and the "B" side which was rarely one of the best efforts by the artist. Hence, the "A" side was the one the radio stations played.
We used to mark the "A" side with a magic marker to make it easily identifiable when shuffling records looking for one to play.
The singles were also short. The shorter the better. I remember hearing the hit song "Stay" by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, which was released in August of 1960. It was only one minute and 36 seconds long! It is still the shortest, No. 1 record (on the American charts) ever recorded. It was also listed as a one-hit wonder. I used to introduce it as "Maurice Williams singing a medley of his greatest HIT."
There were a few long songs that were played on the radio. Bob Dylan's six-minute version of "Like A Rolling Stone" was one of Columbia's biggest hits.
There was another attribute for many hit singles. According to Sir George Martin, producer of the Beatles, the louder the single the more likely it was to sell. In fact, you could see what parts of a record were loud by how close the grooves were scrunched together on the disc.
The opposite of the 45 single was the LP — long play — album. After making their debut in 1948, (Columbia was the first label to have LPs) many artists began making "concept" albums. On these records the artist often tied together all, or most, of the tracks into a central theme like lost love, found love or no love at all.
If you remember buying LPs, they were pricey for the couple of hit songs you got for your money. I always waited until a group or artist had compiled an LP filled with their "Greatest Hits" before I would buy most LPs.
One of the best things about working in radio — it allowed me to buy records at a fraction of their retail cost. There were several of us DJs who would pool our money and put together an order from a record wholesaler where we paid $1 a piece for LPs. You sure couldn't beat that price! That's how I wound up with hundreds of albums that fill my record closet until this day.
After getting waist-deep in singles and LPs, I started recording tape cassettes, making individual "mix tapes" filled with the best tunes off my LPs. I have so many of these mix tapes that I've kept a couple of cassette players just to have a way of listening to the tapes.
Next came the era of CDs — compact discs. Would you believe that I bought so many of the same songs on CDs that I already had on LPs and singles? I loved the fact that CDs didn't scratch like records and you had instant access to the individual songs. Another good thing about CDs was their size. You could easily store four CDs in the space it took for one LP.
In the beginning, when it came to recording music on blank CDs, it was very expensive compared to tape cassettes. I remember buying a standalone CD recorder and paying $3 apiece for the CDs I used to make recordings. Thank goodness the price dropped fairly quickly.
With affordable CD-burning software and hardware (standard equipment on most computers) came the advent of file sharing. I remember being introduced to Napster and all of the variations of the concept of sharing your music with friends and strangers around the world. Realizing it was fighting a losing battle with sharing, the music industry found a way around the issue.
Now all you have to do is lay out about $10 a month and you can have access to millions of songs that play through your computer or other streaming device. The operative word is "access."
Chatting with our elder son the other day, I lamented the fact that his young children will grow up never knowing what it was like to "own" music, to hold your own singles, LPs, cassettes and CDs in your hands. The closest thing to ownership is to pay $0.99 or so to "purchase" a track or single song from one of the online subscription services.
Virtually nobody buys CDs or cassettes any more. But LPs are making a strong, if small, comeback. In 2007, a mere 1 million vinyl LPs were sold in the U.S. Since then sales have surged to $16.8 million LPs sold in 2018. According to Nielsen's 2018 music report, LP's accounted for 12 percent of U.S. album sales. But don't start dusting off your 1980s-era turntable just yet. When you factor in streaming and downloads of single tracks, that number drops to 2.7 percent.
If that's the case, my wife is on the right track to get the record closet cleaned out. And when I'm finished, it will be virtually empty except for a smart phone ... and lots of memories.