I first got into music around 10 or 11 years old. When I say "into" music, what I really mean is that it was around this time that I discovered music and started forming my own taste. Like every other kid, I only listened to whatever came on the AM radio in our kitchen but I started noticing songs that I really liked. Sometimes I'd wait and wait to hear a certain song and it seems like they never played it when I wanted them to. The thought of buying a record to hear these songs never occurred to me, after all, I was only 10 years old and didn't even know that was a thing. I soon learned that not only was it a thing, but it was going to be a major part of the rest of my life.
When my mom would run errands or go grocery shopping, she always dragged me and my siblings along. I can't speak for my brother or sister but as for me, I hated shopping of any kind and dreaded having to go to the store. My only solace was that while there, I'd head over to the comic book racks and check out all of my favorites: Archie, Beetle Bailey, Richie Rich...they were all there. Mad Magazine was big for me as well. Archie was and still is my absolute favorite. This was back in the day when even the supermarkets would have 4 or 5 racks of comic books. I could kill an entire shopping trip sifting through the comics and there were usually three or four other bored kids doing the same thing as me while their mom's were out and about around the store. My Mom would come by when she was done shopping to "pick me up" and tell me we were leaving.
On one particular trip to Grants Department Store, after reviewing the comic selections for that week, I wandered over to the nearby record section and I started looking at the 45's. I realized then that they had all of the songs that I liked from the radio. I didn't have my own record player yet, but my parents had the same set up as most families in the seventies: the all in one stereo / TV console and I knew I could play records on that.
On that fateful day, I stumbled across the 45 for Paul McCartney's Band On The Run which was playing on the radio all the time and was favorite song at the time (still is in my top 10 but that's for another blog post). Anyhow, my Mom let me buy the record along with a few more that she and my sister picked out and we went home and started playing our records over and over. Unfortunately my musical tastes didn't match up with the rest of my family and either my Mom or my sister had bought Terry Jacks "Seasons In The Sun" that day and it was torture for me to have to listen to it while I waited my turn to play Band on the Run again. (Quick sidebar: If there is a worse record on earth than Terry Jacks "Seasons In The Sun", I don't want to know about it). Anyhow, as time went on, I started using the few dollars of allowance money that I earned each week by mowing the lawn and taking out the trash on buying more 45's. Those shopping trips with my mom became a bit more fun as I now had comic books and records to keep me occupied. Not a bad way to spend a few hours.
Even as my 45's collection was starting to grow, I still never considered myself to be a "record collector", I was still in the casual music fan phase. All of that changed forever a few years later when I was in the eighth grade. My music teacher that year was Mr. McDowell and he was a huge Beatles fan. He decided to spend a few weeks during our weekly music class teaching about The Beatles and their influence on music and pop culture. He started out by introducing us to some of their classic songs and talked about their influence etc., but all I cared about was the sound I was hearing. I was completely overwhelmed by what I was listening to. The more I learned of their history and the more I heard of their music, the more obsessed I became. When I learned the names of the four Beatles and I heard "Paul McCartney", I realized I already had a Paul McCartney record at home, which I bought a few years earlier.
I went home that first day and told my Mom how great my music class was and that we were learning about The Beatles. She told me that she had a Beatles album in a crate of old records that had been sitting in our basement for years. I found the box of old records (Mom was holding out on me!) and to be truthful, most of it was pretty bad (sorry Ma). We're talking Ray Conniff, Herb Albert and Liberace here, but among those titles was an original copy of Meet The Beatles. I brought it upstairs and my Mom told me I could keep it. I played it over and over. A few weeks later, while visiting some family, one of my Aunt's had heard that I had discovered The Beatles. She told me she had a few Beatles records that she no longer listened to and said I could have them. She went digging around in her closet to find them and came back with 1962-66, 1967-70 and Abbey Road. I had struck gold. Three new Beatles records and two of them were double albums! I couldn't wait to get home to play them. I was hooked. Full on obsession had taken over and I just had to own every Beatles record. I wanted to know everything about this band that I could. I went and took a book out of the library about the Beatles and before I returned it, I wrote down every record they'd released and kept that as my "want list". Little did I know but this was the first of many "want lists" I'd create for myself over my record collecting life. It's now nearly 45 years later and those Beatles records mean as much to me now as they did then, maybe even more.
But The Beatles were just the beginning. I started branching out from there. I had read an interview that John Lennon had done sometime in the seventies and he was talking about his musical influences and how much he loved Chuck Berry. So now of course, I had to hear this Chuck Berry guy. My next trip to the record store I see a "Best of Chuck Berry" collection and I bought it. You know how this one ends right? From there I discovered Little Richard, Ray Charles, and of course Elvis and Buddy Holly. Over the following years, it was John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin' Wolf. That lead to Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. It just kept going. Music and record collecting became my life.
What is my point to all of this? My point is that I realized a long time ago, that collecting records was so much more than just buying music to listen to. Of course that was the end game, but it was about so much more. Every record I own means something to me. I can pull a record off of my shelf and in most cases I can remember exactly when and where I bought it. My passion for music lead me to work in a local record shop in my home town during the entire decade of the eighties, and to this day that was the most fun I ever had at a job. Back in those days, record shops were places where people would hang out and we all shared a passion for music. I would spend my days working in the store without ever feeling that I was "at work". I could talk about music all day with my co-workers and with our regulars, and at times get into debates about certain bands or albums. We'd listen to records all day long. When I watched the movie High Fidelity, I swear I felt like I was watching my own life.
But it wasn't just about the record stores. Record collector conventions were everywhere too. Back in the eighties, my friends and I would go to every record show in New England. Sometimes we would drive two or three hours if it was going to be a big show. We'd pile in the car early on a Sunday morning...hit a drive through for coffee and junk-food breakfast sandwiches and head out for a full day of record hunting. We'd arrive when the convention was opening the doors and wouldn't leave until it was closing. Me and my collector friends all knew that in the final hour of the show, a lot of dealers were willing to drop their prices just to sell a few more records before they had to pack up and leave. We'd linger until the end trying to score as many deals as we could before they kicked us out of the place. The ride home was always a blast. We'd talk about all of the records we'd found and if we were smart, we'd have saved at least a few dollars so we could hit another drive through for the long ride home. There was usually one of us in the group that was dead-broke after the convention because they needed every last dollar they had to get that last Lou Reed record they needed for their collection but we'd always spring for them knowing that next time, it could be one of us.
When I started Mad Apple Music, I did so because I wanted to create merchandise and designs that would appeal to people like me. Fans and hobbyists that want to be reminded of days gone by. Days when collecting Dead tapes was still a thing, and you spent time looking for old records at used record shops, flea markets and record shows, rather than on ebay. Back to the times when you'd be driving somewhere new and couldn't drive past a record shop without stopping to check it out.
I often think of the great line from the final episode of the TV show The Office, when the character Andy Bernard said "I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days, before you've actually left them." That is so true.
So to my fellow record collectors, as you find yourself growing older, go and spend some time sifting through your collection and enjoy the memories that each one of those priceless records brings back. And to the next generation of record collectors I say, welcome to the greatest hobby on earth and thank you for keeping the torch burning. Thanks to you, vinyl is making a comeback and that is as good as it gets.
Records really are important. They're a time capsule that can take you back to another place. Some records are as important as any photograph you have in your family photo album as it can transport those memories in the same way that an old picture will.
To most people today, music is a download. It's soul-less. It's just another electronic file on a device full of electronic files. I'm sick of electronic files and I'm sick of fancy devices. The only fancy device that I want right now is a time-machine so I can go back and do it all over again.