Records and the Playing of Music


Today’s generation has never even seen records. I know that my daughter will probably wonder what these black discs are if she saw one. However we were bought up in the time when records gave way to cassette players and then we saw the advent of CDs as well. However I believe that connoisseurs of music still swear by the discs of yore.
During my childhood, the record player was quite a luxury, at least in the circles that we lived. There were just a few families which possessed one of these and we all used to go to their houses to listen. I remember that one of our neighbours, the Roys, had a magnificent instrument. It was not just a player, but a record changer. It was a fine piece of engineering which could play several records one after the other. Rather than listening to the music I used to watch I n fascination as the stylus raised itself after one record stopped playing and it moved out of the way while the next record fell into place from the stack which we had piled up earlier. The stylus then moved back and the sounds of music flooded the room. To my unsophisticated mind, it was akin to magic. One problem of the ubiquity of complicated technology that we use nowadays is that it has taken the wonder out of it and we take it for granted.
I can scarcely remember the songs we used to listen to. Uncle had a collection of songs from the fifties. I remember one of them very vividly; this was the 1960 hit by Earl Grant, the famous song Number 54. We used to be convulsed at the thought of a house with bamboo roofs and bamboo walls; it even had a bamboo floor! If memory does not play me false I heard Harry Belafonte’s famous Jamaica farewell on this player for the first time. And the memories have remained to this day.

Our friend Pradeep who lived next door got a record player as a gift, perhaps on a birthday. It was a godsend for all of us who were his fiends as we could then use his player to listen endlessly to the songs of the sixties and the seventies. He had a large collection of 45 rpm records which were our introduction to Western pop music. The Beatles were God, of course, but Cliff Richard was also one of our favourites. The sonorous voice of Tom Jones and Jim Reeves’ sentimental songs were grist to our adolescent sentimentalism. There were three types of record then, 78 Rpms which were already rare even in the late sixties and early seventies, 33 rpm long playing records which could play for about 45 minutes on each side and 45 Rpms which played for about 5 minutes and could record one song on each side. We had to change the songs every three minutes, but that was not a burden. And guess what: no remotes!!!
There were tape recorders then, spools of tape which moved from one side to the other. It was another wonder to be able to hear ourselves speak. We recorded poems and songs and simple conversation. There must be many mouldering tapes in a thousand households which could be source for cultural history of those times.
We were in college before the cassette tapes became common. They were accompanied by the cassette player which became smaller and smaller every year until the ultimate music maker (or so we thought) , the Sony Walkman was introduced in the eighties. This, I remember feeling was the final frontier: it was the end of history, there could be no further progress. What an idiot I was. It was just after that the CDs came in and listening to music changed even more than we had ever imagined earlier. I only await the day when I will be able to hear a song in my brain remotely from a source somewhere else.

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