My nephew Kevin and I grew up together. Looking back, it makes sense that even though he was four years younger than me, he influenced my musical tastes. Still, my pride wouldn’t let me tell him that until we were adults.
One Christmas, when he was in his early teens, his parents–my brother and sister-in-law–gave him a portable record player. This was huge. Because the only way you could play a record in our house was in the living room, on the hi-fi: a long, sleek, polished wooden piece of furniture whose top slid open to reveal the record player within. You gently placed the record on the platter (or stacked, under the arm, as many records as you wanted to play), and when you turned it on, the record would gently drop onto the platter, the needle would drop onto the record, and the sound would come from the speakers built into the front of the cabinet. And you BET’ not scratch their records!
(Damn. Having to describe this makes me feel OLD.)
Anyway. Kevin’s new record player looked like a brown suitcase. But when you opened it, the base was a turntable and the lid had speakers built vertically into each side. And when you turned it on? Well, dear reader, that is when I discovered what heaven was, because I was now in the grownup world of STERE-ERE-EREO (as the announcer used to say on WBLS, our soul radio station)! It absolutely delighted me that on some records, you could hear different sounds coming out of each speaker. I craved this, and was never ashamed to position my head between the speakers of the little brown record player to get the full effect.
From then on, I was hooked. I made a rule that any stereo I owned must have separate speakers. I became very snobby whenever I listened to music—I almost wouldn’t respect it unless I heard distinctly different sounds coming from each speaker. I found the first-ever album I bought, Barrabas, to be so well stereophonically engineered so that to this day, I use its first song, Wild Safari, as the test album for any new stereo I get!
And the best part was, we could now listen to *our* records away from the grownup’s collection in the living room–and from that day on, we did! Unfortunately, there is no photo of the little brown record player, so it only exists in my memory. But its legacy is very much fully present.