I moved my record collection the other day. Three thousand albums? Four thousand? Something like that. A lot of albums.
They were in storage. Now they're in my house, in a big attic room. In cardboard boxes.
I moved them into storage eight or nine years ago. By then I didn't listen to records. I had switched to CDs. They seemed so modern. Small and shiny. You didn't have to turn them over to hear the other side. They didn't start sounding scratchy or skip.
Now CDs don't seem so modern. In fact, they seem a bit passé, what with MP3s and other downloadable formats. And sometimes I even like the scratchy sound of the records.
Suddenly, my record collection seems real interesting.
The day after I got it home, I starting looking for something to play, and the first album I came across was by John Hiatt: Slug Line. It was released a little more than 20 years ago, BCD. You know, Before CD.
I'm sure you never heard it. It wasn't a hit. But 20-plus years ago, Slug Line had its moment. Critics, myself included, loved Slug Line. We thought John Hiatt was the new Elvis (Costello, that is).
Listening to Slug Line got me thinking about other gems that didn't chart. Soon I was listening to Robin Lane and the Chartbusters' self-titled 1980 debut. God, did I love that album. Full of really cool pop-rock songs like "Waitin' in Line" and the chilling "I Don't Want to Know."
"I heard the news," Robin Lane sang to me years ago. "From a friend just a while ago/ He stabbed her with his knife/ When she told him no, oh, oh, oh, oh/ I still don't understand/ What a man can do/ To one who was his lover/ And he said he loved her too."
I'll bet you can't get Slug Line on CD. Same with Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, which also didn't sell much.
I think of albums like those two as being part of the secret history of rock 'n' roll. And there are hundreds and hundreds of albums, let alone singles, on the secret history shelves. Music that meant a lot to me, or to you, or to your friends. Music that didn't go platinum or even gold. Albums that sold 5,000 copies. Maybe 10,000.
I haven't seen "High Fidelity" yet, but I've read a lot of the book. Like a lot of people, I can relate to Rob (played by John Cusack in the film) and the guys who work at his little record store. I used to haunt record stores like that. They're like an exotic world filled with artifacts from another time and from this time. From other cultures and from this culture.
It still blows my mind that I can buy a recording by, say, Floyd Dixon that was cut in 1954, and I can actually hear music that sounds just the same as it did when it was recorded four or five decades ago. You think of Dixon, young and full of hope, sitting at the piano, bangin' out "Hey Bartender." It's like traveling back in time.
Or you put on a record such as the Beatles' "A Day in the Life," and suddenly it takes you back to the first time you heard it.
I'm 14 years old, my mom is driving the Rambler and we're almost home when the DJ plays this new Beatles song for the first time. And I'm stunned. I'm almost in shock. They're playing this on the radio?
Hearing that song for the first time, on top-40 radio, was so amazing. Like the first time you heard "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
© 2000 Michael Goldberg — all rights reserved