The Vinyl Countdown

In a week or two’s time, we move house. This is not something that I have undertaken often, or lightly. A lifetime’s clobber needs to be accommodated or, worse still, thrown away. And then there is the overriding question of what to do with the vinyl!  

Had I known, back in December 1962, when I scraped together what was probably 6/8d for a copy of the Springfields’ Island of Dreams, that this was the first of what would become a collection of about 2,200 singles, would I have had second thoughts? Certainly not. I would have been thrilled. So thrilled, in fact, that I have never been able to bring myself to dispose of any of them.

The collection stopped growing in 1989. My final purchase was Billy Joel’s We Didn’t Start the Fire, which was an appropriate note on which to end since the lyrics summarised, in the space of 4 minutes, most of the preceding 27 years. I continued to buy the occasional album on vinyl, but mainly I now bought CDs and – in due course – digital downloads. I stopped listening to Radio 1 in 1989. It dawned on me, at the age of 40, that I was no longer a teenager.

So, what to do with the stash of vinyl? I emasculated the album collection in 2009, when my wife-to-be moved in and more space was urgently required. I kept my favourites and gave the rest to a friend. That was painless because albums have never meant as much to me as singles. Getting rid of the 45s should now be painless too, especially since I have every track I want on the computer. But it isn’t. They have defined my life. It would be like jettisoning a large chunk of myself.

When, in early 1963, Island of Dreams was joined by other classics, I bought a plastic wallet to house my precious belongings. This expanded to several plastic wallets. I think the next stage was probably a cardboard box. In 1967, I unwisely left a pile of singles too close to a gas fire. The Mojos’ Everything’s Alright has never been the same since. In 1971, I left university and moved into a flat off the Fulham Road in London. That heralded the first of three purpose-built storage solutions, of ever-increasing size and complexity, each linked to a change of address. By 2009, the collection was housed in a varnished rack in my sitting room. The sleeves had been chucked a long time earlier.

Then, and even though I wasn’t moving house, another change was required. The space was needed. My wife-to-be wanted to have a desk in the sitting room and there wasn’t anywhere else to put it. By then, I no longer had a record player, so the 45s weren’t actually being played. I hit on the idea of turning the collection into an art installation, mounted on the wall above the loo behind a perspex sheet.

And that is where it still sits, while I ponder what to do with it in the imminent move.

It is a shocking admission but, a few weeks ago, I had come to the decision to dispose of the collection. It was too heavy; it took up too much space; there was nowhere practical to put it in the new house; I never played the records; it seemed unlikely I would become a teenager again. It was a perverse decision to make just when vinyl was becoming fashionable again, but I couldn’t see an alternative. It’s not as if I’m Tim Rice and can afford to devote an entire room to my record collection. I wish.

Two things put paid to this proposed iconoclasm. The first was my wife insisting that the 45s are far too important to me (and possibly to her) to get rid of altogether. The second was sitting with friends in London who had recently acquired a retro record player and had started to play their singles again. Why didn’t we get one too, asked my wife? In fact, why didn’t we get a jukebox?

Because we can’t afford it, alas. A vintage humdinger of a jukebox (and who would want any other kind?) costs thousands and takes up a lot of space we won’t have. Not to be deterred, my wife has designed an add-on to an existing pillar in the house, capable of housing a column of shelves, each with a box containing the 45s. Then we’ll get a record player. I am required to build the shelves. And to make the boxes.

It remains to be seen how much of the collection can be preserved in this way. It won’t be all of it. My current guess is that about 900 singles will survive. Invidious choices will need to be made. Old friends will disappear.

Although the collection is spread fairly evenly over 30 plus years, the cull will not be even. 45s belong to the late ’50s and the ’60s. Possibly the early ’70s. I think those are the ones we will end up keeping. The tracks that seeped through the blankets from Radio Luxembourg, or wafted across summer lawns from Big L. And we will play them to the grandchildren and tell them that this is what we did when we were their age, and they will think we’re mad. Doesn’t matter. They already do.

And I will never go through all this again.