End of an era

I never owned one of those wind-up 78rpm record players with disposable steel needles (and nor did my parents), but from about 1962 I was into long playing records (LPs) and their 45rpm offspring. I had them for about a year at home before heading off on my own as a university student in 1963.

My early LPs were treasured and played over and over on a portable record player that was very lo-fi by almost any of today’s standards.

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Some of the early LPs I owned when I was a student. Most were bought from sale bins. I got to know these intimately. From top left: Pete Fountain’s French Quarter, Bud Shank’s Holiday in Brazil, Horace Silver's Finger Poppin', Miles Davis’s 'Kind of Blue', Gerry Mulligan’s Paris Concert, Mel Lewis's The Coolest Mikado.

When I finished university and added a daytime job salary to my nighttime music earnings, the records accumulated faster and no longer came mainly from sale bins. Then in 1970 I got a gig as a record reviewer. A university acquaintance, the late Dave Jordan, who had become a songwriter and folk performer with a national profile,  had wangled a record review column at the national Catholic magazine, NZ Tablet. He had a magnificent record collection, most of it gratis, courtesy of the record companies which then had offices in Wellington. The main ones I remember were RCA, Polygram, Festival and HMV.

In 1970 Dave headed overseas and bequeathed the record review column to me. I still remember the skip in my step as I headed back from record companies with the first haul of free records under my arm. I’d hit the jackpot and the most precious things in life were now free.

Just why the record companies thought the Tablet was worth their while has always been beyond me. The publication was bigger and more influential back in the seventies, but it still couldn’t have been an effective promotional vehicle. Certainly for much of the music Dave and I reviewed. I wasn’t going to question it. And I wasn’t I going to let on to the Tablet that I was  neither a Catholic nor a believer.

For the next seven years I got weekly new release promo mailings from the record companies. I could wander into their warehouses and say I’ll have this one. And that one. Thanks very much. To keep things reasonable, I reviewed a certain amount of middle of the road music, but my columns had a strong element of jazz and rock that would have been of little interest to most of the Tablet’s readers. Much of it would have been anathema – particularly a certain Frank Zappa record. I concentrated on its (excellent) musical strengths but did not discuss the extremely sexually explicit cover artwork  and lyric content. Zappa was also a lapsed Catholic and virulent atheist. I would have been excommunicated in an instant.

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The (would-have-been) offending Frank Zappa record, Overnote Sensation, I reviewed for the NZ Tablet. Note the bottom right (pun intended). The lyrics matched the visual decadence.

As time went on I extended my musical writings to the NZ Listener and the giveaway music industry paper, Rip it Up. Then in 1977 I retired from record reviewing. Partly it was because I was moving from Wellington and would lose direct contact with the record companies. But I was also getting tired of having to approach every new recording wearing a critic’s hat. It was time to enjoy music for music’s sake again.

In those reviewing years I amassed plenty of records – well over 500. Many I got rid of, but I kept 400 or so. For a few years I listened to them and even bought new ones. The rate of new acquisitions declined in the ’80s when we all started copying stuff onto new-fangled cassette tapesfrom friends’ collections and libraries. Then came the CD revolution. Now I was buying plenty of new recordings again. My LPs mostly stayed unplayed. CDs were so much more convenient – I didn’t have to leap up and down every 20 minutes to turn them over, for a start. And although I had a good stereo system, damned if I could hear the alleged superior sound that LPs were still supposed to provide. What I heard from the  CDs was great sound – mercifully sans pops and clicks – that lasted up to an hour. It was even time to get seriously into classical music and listen to all of a symphony at a time.

For decades my LPs languished with only very occasional outings. To make matters worse, a few years ago my stereo amplifier packed it in and since then nothing – not even even CDs and cassette tapes – has been played through the living room sound system. By now there are so many alternatives – I can play CDs on my computers, which have pretty good speaker systems. I can play MP3 recordings through my computers and through my MP3 player whose quality earbuds give a fantastic sound. I can bluetoothly send MP3s from my phone and iPad, to an excellent portable Creative brand speaker. I can stream ‘cloud’ music to my computers, phone and iPad.

The LPs still took up a lot of space in our wall units, and when we move full-time to our weekender cottage in Martinborough later this year, space will be at a premium. It was time to quit them. We catalogued the LP collection on Excel and I sent the file to a couple of second-hand record dealers. Both were interested, and last week I sold the lot to Petone shop Moonhop Records for $600. I was happy. Presumably the Moonhop guy expects to make a good profit on them. Good luck to him. For my part I now have most of the price of a decent home theatre system for Martinborough.

ImageOver the years I had collected digital CD and MP3 versions of many of my LPs. Two particular favourites had proved elusive, though. One was that great record, Sassy Swings the Tivoli. I bought it as MP3s today from Amazon. In the early ’sixties I belonged to the World Record Club, in which you nominated genres and they would send you a letter advising the record of the month. It arrived automatically unless you wrote back and said no. I forgot to nix this record and was annoyed when it arrived. At that stage of my life I’d barely been exposed to jazz singers. But what an introduction! I played the hell out of that record. Then I hadn’t heard it for years until yesterday. It’s still great – I’m getting a real buzz out of playing it and I am surprised at how much of the musical detail I remember, as though I last played it only yesterday. Sassy’s singing is great and she’s superbly backed by pianist Kirk Stuart and his trio. I remember shamelessly copying ideas from Kirk at the time.

ImageThe other treasured LP I’ve recently resurrected as MP3s is Dizzy Gillespie’s Dizzy on the French Riviera. This dates back to my early years in Wellington when I played with drummer Barry Young, who later went on to greater things. Barry told me about the Dizzy disk and said I simply had to own it. To emphasise the point, he turned up at the next band gig with the album, gave it to me, then asked for the purchase price. I didn’t regret it.

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