On Dec. 25, 2013, my grandparents surprised me with the number-one item on that year’s Christmas wish list: a record player.
It was one of Crosley’s retro-stylized models, which was exactly what I was looking for. I was a sophomore in high school, and an intense vinyl fever had gripped me. I’m not quite sure why; my girlfriend at the time owned one, and perhaps the sheer aesthetic of the thing was enough to win me over. Plus, I was just dipping my toes into classic music from decades past, and the musical technology of that time had a similar appeal. Most importantly, vinyl saw a strong resurgence around that time, and of course I wanted to hop on the trend.
I was unaware of the fact that Crosley players – and others of similar quality – were known to bless their owners with low-quality sound, and damaged records to boot. Not that would I have cared. The machine was easy on the eyes and, more importantly, I had some records to play on it. My grandma also gifted me with some of her own records, which for a long time hadn’t done much more than take up storage space. It was mainly a collection of classic rock – Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, Roger Daltrey depicted as a centaur (trust me, that’s worth a quick Google search) – but the one that really stuck out to my teenage brain was “Meet the Beatles,” the U.S. debut LP of the band I was most recently obsessing over.
A bona fide vinyl collector would know that a first-print copy of the all-time bestselling band’s debut could be worth a pretty penny in good condition, but my copy wouldn’t fit the criteria for “good.” The cover had been taken to with a bright orange marker, tracing the band’s name and, for some reason, only the “M” in “Meet the Beatles.” The faces of the Fab Four were left untouched, except for poor John, whose eyes, brows and lips had been colored in. The number “15” fills up the top corner, the meaning of which is beyond me. On the back, the band photo features cuts along each of the Beatles’ bodies, as if they had somehow wronged my grandma and she had to symbolically disembowel them.
Though I always prefer to find used records in excellent condition, this Beatles record remains one of my absolute favorites. To me, it serves as evidence in the great conversation surrounding physical versus digital music. While it is a mono (rather than technologically superior stereo) recording, its surface long scratched from overuse, “Meet the Beatles” has something that a pristine digital file stored conveniently on my phone could never hope to achieve: a history.
My “Meet the Beatles” has existed and fulfilled its duty for decades before landing in my hands. It is a historical artifact, an actual time capsule, that can still perform its exact function even though it’s now outdated. Its value even becomes sentimental when I consider that it was once purchased and played to death by my grandma, in the time when records weren’t considered novelty items but were as commonplace as books. Did scribbling on the cover of a Beatles record, in a time when pretty everyone was listening to them, have any sort of magnitude?
The weight of the record in my hands is like the passage of time manifested into 180 grams. This is a perspective that may not come naturally to everyone, but it gives record-collecting an excitement and magic that I find addicting. When I sift through old records in a store and pick one up from 1982, I think: this flimsy piece of grooved plastic has gone through 36 years of life, has given who knows how many people countless hours of musically-induced happiness or sorrow and somehow ended up right in front of me, ready to do it all over again.
In the five years since excitedly unboxing the Crosley, I’ve upgraded to a new turntable and amassed close to 300 records. My collection is, in a sense, a manifestation of my own growth. Any record that I pick up evokes two memories: one of the music itself, and another of how it entered my life. My plan is to take “Life on Wax” beyond “Meet the Beatles,” and to further explore the beauty of record collecting, and I hope you’ll come along.