When I was growing up, money was tough to come by. My parents worked their asses off to make sure I had everything I needed, but when it came to niceties like music, I was mostly on my own. Mostly. So I’d save all the money I could and, rather than buy full albums, I’d buy 45’s. Full albums were $7-10, whereas 45’s were about a buck. Granted, I always ended up with a B-side throw-away because that’s just how it was. Side A was the hit and Side B was something nobody would remember in a month. (There were exceptions, but come on.) Still I figured having one throw-away was better than dropping $10 and ending up with 9 throw-aways.
I guess that’s why the iTunes model of letting you buy single songs always felt so natural to me. But I digress.
The downside to 45s and all phonograph records was scratches. I was pretty meticulous with records, but shit happens. Some scratches could be dealt with if you were careful, but many were the deathknell. You might as well trash the 45 because, dude, it’s gone.
Growing up in West Texas, about the only way to discover new music was from friends and the radio. At the time, my town wasn’t big enough to pull known acts and, even if they did show up, I was too young to go. My friends occasionally turned me on to some good stuff, but mostly I was on my own. When I heard something on the radio that blew my mind, I’d hit the record store as soon as I had a spare buck and buy it.
In 1978, I heard a song on the radio that vibrated my very soul. I wanted to dance. I wanted to move. I wanted to live in that fucking song. I raced to the record store on a Friday evening and bought it. I listened it repeatedly throughout the evening and most of the next day. Seriously. That one song played over and over and over. (I still do this.)
Late Saturday evening, I was taking the 45 off the player to replace it when it slipped out of my hand and dropped to the floor, hitting every possible surface on its way to the floor. It popped off the floor, seemed to spin in the air, freezing for just a moment, and crashed solidly and finally to the ground. I stood like a stone, staring, knowing, dreading.
I snatched it from the floor and looked at it, angling it so the light would bounce off the grooves, searching for any signs of damage and holy hell there it is, the damned thing is scratched. I put it back on the player and started the song. About 30 seconds in, it skipped. I pulled it off the player and carefully cleaned it. I blew on it. I brushed it ever so lightly. I forced love from my chest hoping that by some miracle the scratch was go away, only be dust, only be something small, only be okay again. I prayed and cursed and damned everything I could think of. On the next play, it skipped again and I knew the 45 was finished. There was no salvation to be found. It was over. Done. Gone. I sunk inside. I felt my heart drop. I was destroyed.
Tears. I ran to my dad and showed him, explaining as best as a fourteen year old can how important this song was to me. It moved me. It made me feel alive. It made me want to be happy. It made things make sense. Please, oh please, surely you have a dollar. We can go to the record store now, they don’t close for another half hour. We can replace it. It’ll be fixed. It’ll be good. All can be well in the world. If you can’t take me, I can ride my bike and still make it. I just need a dollar. Just one goddamned dollar.
I didn’t get that dollar and that 45 never got replaced.
Last week I started thinking about that song again and couldn’t remember its name. It was such a huge deal at the time and now, 34 years later, I can’t even remember the name of song. I had convinced myself that it was The Trammps’ Disco Inferno, but that didn’t feel right. Tonight, as I was cooking an awesome grilled cheese sandwich, Disco Inferno came on and I smiled, trying to recall the pure ecstacy that it once brought. And again, it didn’t feel right. I had the wrong song. Hell, Disco Inferno was released in 1976. My song was 1978.
And there it was. It’s The Same Old Song (originally recorded by the Four Tops). It peaked at 35 in the US, 30 on the R&B charts and never saw the top 20 in any market. But that song rocked my world. So I jumped over to iTunes, did a quick search, and $0.99 later, it was on my iPhone.
Thirty-four years after-the-fact, I had my dollar and I replaced my scratched 45.
It’s a great time to be alive.
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