I fell in love with records at a very young age.
My earliest memory takes me back to when I was about 5, watching my mum place another record on the player. The big shiny discs with their fine lines, their fragility and the reverence with which they were taken out of their covers fascinated me. I just loved the fact that these things, which looked like they could travel pretty far if tossed across a room (I never dared try), emitted some of my favourite songs.
I grew up surrounded by music- my parents have varied tastes so the soundtrack to my life includes The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Cliff Richard, Franco and TPOK Jazz, Harry Belafonte, Miriam Makeba, Queen, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and countless more. I developed my love for musicals from my mum- sure enough, as soon as The Sound of Music or Fiddler on the Roof was in our VHS collection, you could be sure the record would be on the shelf soon. My dad introduced me to the musical stylings of Jimmy Cliff (to this day, Reggae Night is one of my all-time favourite jams. What a tune!) and I would spend hours on his lap as he tried to explain the lyrics of Many Rivers To Cross or The Power and The Glory, or tell me about his favourite Beatles songs. As children my siblings and I were always astonished when we heard our parents singing along to a classic word for word, thinking we were the only ones with a monopoly on knowing a song better than our multiplication tables.
The records that used to really amaze me were the Franco and TPOK Jazz albums. A large record, known as a 33’’, usually has 8 songs on average per side, depending on the album it could be a lot more or less. The lingala records sometimes had only one or two songs on each side! My sisters and I each had that one uncle we would dread at family parties, who would insist on dancing with his nieces when the interminable Franco song started playing. It just didn’t make sense to me how one song could last for an eternity. Ok, 15 minutes, but it felt much longer.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve become very particular about song credits. If I love a song, I want to know everything about it. Who sang the backing vocals? Who played that saxophone solo that you just HAVE to sing along to? Who drew the cartoons on the inside sleeve of the Thriller album? (Michael drew them himself by the way. Also, did you know that Michael Jackson, Eddie Levert and Luther Vandross all provided backing vocals on All I Do by Stevie Wonder?!) I digress. I loved the album sleeves as much as the records themselves. I would spend hours curled up on the couch, listening to Dionne Warwick’s ‘Heartbreaker’ album, following the lyrics and singing along, and hoping that when I grew up my fingernails would be as gorgeous as hers. (Almost there.)
One of my favourite things about records is that split second when the wheel starts to turn, and the stylus gently falls on the record, making that gorgeous, almost inaudible ‘thump’… and that inimitable scratching sound as the needle drags across the spinning record. With all the technological advances over the years, from tapes to CDs to mini discs to mp3s, nothing beats that sound. It is so deliciously old school.
My family and I have been through many sound systems over the years. About ten years ago, my mum travelled and came back with a turn table, complete with banana clips that can be connected to pretty much any modern system. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. After years of CDs, it was time to dig out that mammoth collection of records and go back in time. That record player has pride of place in my bedroom to this day.
Records for me are a connection to the past- a time when my parents were young, when they, like us their children, had songs they loved to groove and slow dance to. When Michael was still black, when Donna Summer was asking for your unconditional love, when Lionel Richie made you believe you really COULD dance on the ceiling and when Mbilia Bel was telling Keyna ‘je t’aime a la folie.’’ Good times, before auto-tune and computer-generated instruments came along and changed everything.
My mum told me that when she was heavily pregnant with me, she went to a party and danced to Diana Ross’ disco classic ‘I’m Coming Out’. How apt, seeing as I was born soon after (as in, weeks, not the party). I guess my love for records and the amazing music associated with them was inevitable. To quote the great Miss Ross- if there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it.