A message from 1977

Ever since I bought a modern turntable three or four years ago, my collection of mechanically reproduced recordings has grown even more unmanageable. (Back in the days when radio stations signed off the air between midnight and dawn, part of the closing shtick was to say, “Some portions of these broadcasts have been mechanically reproduced.” I later learned this was fancy-shmancy talk for records and other alternatives to live conversation or music.) I am well overdue for organizing my various LPs, 45s, 78s, CDs, tapes, etc., into an order where I can think, for example, “Did I ever find that John Kirby Sextet song that my dad told me about? Oh yeah, it’s in Box #x.”

I keep some of my more recent acquisitions in a cube next to my desktop for easy retrieval. It was from here that I pulled Crescent City by Pete Fountain to accompany my photo processing Monday morning.

Recognizing the tune from “And it’s one, two, three, four, what are we fighting for?” I grabbed the album cover, discovered I was listening to “Muskrat Ramble,” and discovered a small slip of paper inside the cover.

I was amused to see it was the original receipt! The original owner of this copy purchased it from Musicland — a record store that once was a staple of malls in Northeast Wisconsin and I imagine elsewhere — paying 24 cents tax on the $5.99 cost of a new LP for a total of $6.23 on Sept. 11, 1977.

That original owner took care of his/her records, because Crescent City plays like new these 45 years later. Among other thoughts I had while examining that historic slip of paper: Wow, a new vinyl album today would put you out somewhere between $20 and $35. Wow, remember when sales tax was only 4%? Wow, the original owner and I have received much more than six bucks worth of pleasure from this record over 45 years. And wow, what did I pay for this? $1? $2? I know I recently purchased another Pete Fountain album for 29 cents at the liquidation sale for The Exclusive Company, another venerable record store that closed just this spring.

I continue to believe no one has really improved on the vinyl LP as an archival product. Yes, I can fit 1,000 albums on a chip that I might lose in my pocket, but properly preserved and handled with care, vinyl records continue to sound like new five and six decades after they were produced, while audiotape deteriorates, compact discs become corrupted, and digital copies, especially cloud-based copies, are ephemeral.

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