By Darren Johnson
As regular readers of this newspaper know, I sometimes review items that corporate PR people send me to try out. Usually, us writers get to keep the items.
While many items may get my gee-whiz response in my articles, most do not stand the test of time. I eventually forget about the item soon after my review is published, as it goes to collect dust in my basement. But two items have persisted and have actually made it to key rooms in the house. And they are from the same genre – music – but from opposite ends of that spectrum.
The first is a Radio Shack Crosley record player and the second is a pair of blue-tooth speakers called The Chill Pill. We have retro and we have modern. And both have proven fun.
Did you know that new vinyl record sales are way up in America? This isn’t even counting used record sales, which are nearly impossible to count.
In 2011, almost 4 million new records were sold. Sure, that is nowhere near the hundreds of millions that were sold in the 1970s each year, but the format was almost dead in 1993, when only 300,000 new records were sold.
The Crosley Tech Turntable is about $80 on RadioShack.com. There, they have other models, some cheaper and some much more expensive.
I’d sold, donated or thrown out most of my records over the years, as I went to college, and moved from place to place. But I remember how much I used to love going to the used record store. This record player has helped rekindle those feelings.
I did keep some 45 singles (these only have one song per side), and was able to test the Crosley with those (the Crosley comes with the special 45 adapter). These were classics – such as “Hello, I Love You” by the Doors or “Wild Thing” by the Troggs – and they sounded different than the digital versions I’ve come to know. They sounded more amped, simpler. Perhaps these groups recorded specifically for the medium of their day, as these 45s sounded more “real.”
Recently, I was in Utica, NY, and noticed that there was a traveling record show in town at a local VFW. The flier said that there were 100,000 albums there. I decided to hit it. The place kind of stunk – the din and smell of grandma’s moldy basement – but was filled with dealers and buyers, rifling through rows and rows of vinyl. The few CD vendors looked abandoned, left to stand there to fiddle with their smart phones.
I was able to get seven records for five bucks from a bin. I did feel a bit itchy after. Mites? Who knows where these old records had been for the past 30-40 years?
One of the albums was John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High.” These were the albums of my parents’ era, and I’d largely ignored them as overplayed and, perhaps, a bit schmaltzy, as I bought albums like “The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads” and “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back” by Public Enemy in my youth. But I found myself curious about Mr. Denver, who died several years ago in a plane crash. In long, album form, his work is earnest, a mix of country and folk. Surely of its era, but I could see it having some fans 50, 100 years from now.
And maybe that’s the attraction of records after the big buzz of the Internet and downloading practically killed the industry. With a whole album, you hear 4-6 songs by the same artist, then flip it, and hear 4-6 more.
Which brings me to the other product – the Chill Pill (currently on sale for $29.95 on Amazon with free shipping). These are rechargeable mobile speakers. Turn them on and you get pretty solid stereo sound. These two speakers are about the size of salt and pepper shakers.
They are easy to locate from an iPad via bluetooth. How is this related to the Crosley? People have started posting whole albums on YouTube, especially older LPs, and the web site seems to allow it now. It’s all free. You can go to YouTube, search for the name of the artist and “full album” and just sit back and take it in.
(Some terminology for noobs: LP=Long Playing (a traditional record). These are played at 33 RPM (Revolutions Per Minute, the speed the record spins). Singles usually are played at 45 RPM.)
Try “Full LP: John Denver’s Greatest Hits.” Under that particular YouTube post, the poster writes: “Not many words can explain this album. These songs certainly defined his career. BTW I’m only 15. Enjoy! THIS WAS RECORDED DIRECTLY FROM THE ORIGINAL VINYL RECORD. NOTHING HAS BEEN REMASTERED OR RE-EDITED, UNLESS THAT WAS WHAT ON THE VINYL VERSION.”
Perhaps this kid used the original medium to create this file to make it sound more “real.” Maybe that’s what the current trend is – authenticity.
Both the Crosley record player and the Chill Pill speakers end up giving us the same effect – an appreciation of whole albums, where the artist took the time to arrange the songs in a certain order. No shuffle. No random.
Sure, you may notice if you are going through a 7-for-$5 bin at a smelly record flea market that, like today, there are a lot of duds out there. There have always been crappy bands with no heart making music, in all mediums, but at about 75 cents per title, it’s an inexpensive gamble that you will find the occasional keeper. The rest you can donate to your local Goodwill for others to find.
(Or, like one time in my freshman year in college during a time of partying, one dude showed up with a “Saturday Night Fever” LP and smashed it to pieces as we all laughed … except the one girl, who, it turned out, owned that record.)
Don’t like to gamble? In the case of the Chill Pill, considering that YouTube is free, there is no cost at all for listening to the old records, except for your time.