Where would I be without the Columbia House Record Club?

In the 80s, Columbia House Record Club was God’s gift to young music fans interested in building their libraries. I remember those card stock ads falling out of our weekly TV Guide and bothering my mom to let me spend my babysitting money on signing up for those 12 albums for a penny plus a bonus. All I had to do was purchase a certain number of additional albums over the course of 12 or 24 months, and I would fulfill my contractual obligation and pack my record collection full of the day’s favorites.

Some summer during junior high, I wore her down and received her permission to sign myself up. It was one of the headiest days of my life.

I had never paid close attention to what was offered by Columbia House, so filling out that first form was difficult. The Club offered mostly selections from the Top 40 lists of recent years, like Air Supply and Carly Simon. But there were enough gems in there to satisfy my taste for new music and add to my collection of the classics.

Prince CharmingOne of those was Adam & The Ants’ Prince Charming. It was the first album I opened on that auspicious day of my inaugural delivery. I can still remember Stuart peering at me all war-painted wearing pseudo-military garb in ruffles and the flashiest colors imaginable. The band was absent from the cover. Didn’t matter… Adam was the man. “Don’t you ever stop being dandy, showing me your handsome.” INDEED!

It didn’t take long for the needle to hit the record and blast those tribal beats out of the speakers my dad constructed to match with my hot pink and French Provincial décor. I wonder if my mother regretted her decision to let me join the club as much as I doubted my sanity for downloading Katy Perry’s “Firework” onto my kids’ iPods. But that album, and the dozens of others that followed, brought me tremendous pleasure for years to come. I still own all of them. (It took two weeks for my kids to dismiss Katy Perry.)

A couple of years ago, we had guests over for an impromptu “afterparty,” and I boasted that I could offer our guests anything they wanted to hear. One of them thought he was putting me to the test when he asked for Adam & The Ants. Of course, I delivered …as did Adam & The Ants …as did the Columbia House Record Club.

The Columbia House Record Club is a dinosaur now, distinct for more than a decade and probably irrelevant long before it folded. I was still a member in the early 90s when CDs replaced albums and cassettes. I’ve got to say that I prefer the immediacy of the iTunes world. How else could I download Andy Gibb for an instant New Year’s Eve devotion? But I will always have fond memories of Columbia House and the joy of getting all that great music for the price of a few albums and a penny.

Record Store Day — Something I Can Get Behind

How many of you feel sorry for the younger generations — and even the youngest of GenX — because they did not partake in the pleasure of purchasing their music on vinyl?  …I thought so.  I know there are still some very cool record stores around, but it’s not the pastime that it once was for pre-digital generations.  Record stores evoke a different experience now, I think, though I continue to enjoy a good browse through them.

In my current town, Laurie’s Planet of Sound exists today.  In my hometown, the Wooden Nickel comes to mind.  These places existed all over the country.  These places were the destination point where fans connected with their favorite artists, discovered new music, and flipped through the albums, posters, rock magazines and other assorted record store goods for sometimes hours.  The dudes behind the counter (almost always dudes) were either totally into almost any artist you came in to find, or they completely minded their own business and kept their nose out of yours.  Either way, I didn’t mind.

Recently I found a website for Record Store Day.  I had heard about this last year, but after the fact because I am completely middle age and don’t hear about cool stuff like this before it happens anymore.  (Renewing our subscription to Rolling Stone has helped only slightly.  I retain more from the political/social/cultural features than anything else.)  I stumbled across it again this year, and although I do not anticipate recognizing any of the artists slated for the new releases, I do know their ambassador (Iggy Pop), so I feel relatively welcome to engage.

The thing is, I spent hours upon hours in my town’s local record stores.  I was a record store snob.  I rarely visited the chain stores in the mall, and when I did, I often made comments about their poor (or non-existent) selection of Gang of Four or early-career Depeche Mode.  (I often hear my teen self laughing at my midlife self when I download music from iTunes now.)

Kids these days — there, I said it — have no idea how indulgent it is to commune among the album bins with a BFF or boyfriend on a Saturday afternoon under the somewhat watchful eye of a record store employee.  Recently, a friend of mine talked about a record store her mom owned, recalling the massive cardboard ham and eggs that dangled from the ceiling during the release of Supertramp’s Breakfast In America.  I totally remembered those promos!  I can see them hanging in my favorite record store.  I could probably even give you the dimensions if I thought hard enough.  When I think about it, the hilarity brings forth a chuckle — giant ham and eggs to sell an album?  It was all so innocent.

There is a lot to be said about the experience of listening to music on vinyl (another post, another time), but my memories of record stores also bring back that bittersweet feeling of desperation when a new album was on the verge of selling out.  Yes, albums could sell out.  The store could be out of stock with no hope of replenishment for a month.  Four weeks was way too long to wait for a beloved new release!  I remember hiding the last copy of John Lennon’s Double Fantasy at my local record store, hoping that the next potential purchasor would walk away without a thorough search in the artists nearby, but the record store dude must have watched me place it among the Ms.  Not ten feet from me as I pretended to peruse the A and B artists, he pulled it out and handed it to the man.  (Fortunately, my parents had already secured a copy for Christmas morning.)

I still have that album, along with hundreds of others comprised of my husband’s hefty collection, many of his dad’s old jazz records and a handful of albums I’ve bought at garage sales and antique stores.  Last year, a friend of ours put me to the test.  When I asked what he wanted to hear, he said, “Do you have any Adam & The Ants?”  Maybe he really wanted to hear them.  Maybe he thought I couldn’t deliver.  But I did — both in digital form and on vinyl.  I can picture that album, Prince Charming, sitting among the very few Ants albums our record store had… “Adam” with his war paint and pirate-inspired ensemble.  I can remember my thumb nail cutting into the shrink wrap that encased the cover when I got it home.

I don’t remember the specific occasion of every album I purchased, but I do recall more than I probably should.  How about you?