Monday, February 23, 2009

Needle Drop

Since I’m going to be away from home for three months in the summer (and who knows how long after that, if I even have a home) I decided to—finally—digitize most of my LP collection and install it on my computer.  

I was a major record buyer back there in the Stone Age and so far I’ve been resistant to abandoning them altogether.  Even to the point where I’ve packed up and moved the entire collection (and we’re talking thousands) more times in the last ten years than I care to remember.  I always loved the way empty boxes from the liquor store seem to have been made especially to cart 12-inch LPs.  True, every move has included a judicious pruning of the more extraneous titles.  The French movie soundtrack to “My Fair Lady”?  Gone.  Diana Ross and The Supremes sing the score to “Funny Girl”?  Outahere.  Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra Play The Beatles Songbook?  You say hello/I say goodbye.   


The collection has steadily reduced from thousands to hundreds to what is now mere scores, but I still own—in 2009, please remember—vinyl versions of records that have long since gone to CD or even the iTunes store.  Those were the first to get the axe this go-'round. 


But even that left me with piles of record jackets to pore over to decide if the entire album should be transferred to my laptop, if just a few selections should come along, or if the music on the disc—while basically worthless—was contained in a cover that was irreplaceable. Think:  a Chinese pop album from the 50s with a hand done block print pasted on the jacket, or “The Color Purple” soundtrack album on purple vinyl, or, especially, the Japanese cast album to the musical version of “Gone With the Wind”, known as “Scarlett.”   In Japanese.  The cast photos alone make this relic worth saving.


I found some nifty freeware that makes recording the albums a snap.  The one drawback is that, obviously, the recording has to be done in real time.  But that does mean that I get to listen to these songs which have not seen a turntable for, in some case, years.  Gently flexing the album cover and sliding the disc out of its paper sleeve is the best sense-memory exercise one can imagine.  Balancing the record at the center hole on an extended middle finger while stabilizing it with the thumb makes one instinctively reach for the Discwasher brush no audiophile was ever without.  


Some Peggy Lee platters made the cut, along with one of the great, underrated albums of all time, “Duet,” by Doris Day and André Previn.  And lots of little-known bands from the 20s and 30s, such as Hal Kemp, that never made it to CD but were definite keepers.


But the most fun has been LPs I genuinely like, but just haven’t listened to in ages because it’s so much easier to fire up the iPod and hit “shuffle.”  Things like the soundtrack to the musical remake of “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” with Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark.  Or, “Oooooooo,” a Jackie Gleason album that defines schmaltz and consists of molasses-like arrangements of standards sung by a choir that simply mouths “ooo” rather than sing the actual lyrics.


As for keeping the Robert Mitchum calypso album?  Well, ya just gotta, right? 

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