Monday, April 30, 2007

House of Wax

My wife recently bought me a newfangled turntable that plugs into your computer and transforms your LP records into WAV or MP3 files, which can then be dumped into your iTunes. I hadn't had a working turntable in six or eight years, but I did still have a crate full of vinyl in the basement that I have been lugging around, consisting mostly of records that I liked but not so much that I was going to go out and buy the CD version of the album. (The last new vinyl record I bought, by the way, was Bob Mould's Workbook; the first CD I ever bought was the Cure's Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. I made a note of that, because I thought it would one day be significant.)

So there are a fair amount of forgotten gems in there, such as Art Garfunkel's Breakaway, which I had since supplanted with a greatest-hits package on CD, but that meant I have been living all these years without "Waters of March," which is a real shame. Garfunkel himself put Breakaway on his ballot when Rolling Stone magazine held the balloting for its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (I forget the exact placement, but it was around No. 29); as OPC reader RS pointed out to me at the time, at least he picked the right Garfunkel solo album -- how embarrassing it would have been had he listed Fate for Breakfast!

I have also, on the other hand, been reminded of the built-in obsolescence of wax records. The ultra-high-tech (at least compared to any previous turntable I have owned) setup comes complete with a flyweight tone arm that fairly floats over the grooves, but my copy of Breakaway has an almost imperceptible warp (right in the middle of the ethereal "Disney Girls") that ruined several of the songs. But even in this, the 21st century, with an entirely digital environment, the old tricks still obtain: I solved that warp problem by putting a penny on the needle cartridge. Et voila: "Disney Girls"!