Back in Style
When I was three years old, my parents bought me a Fisher Price cassette tape player.
This was their first mistake.
My radio, as I liked to call it, was white with bright blue speakers. It had a red handle that I decorated with all the best puppy and princess stickers and was small enough that I could carry it in my arms.
My parents made another mistake. They selected a cassette player that came with its own microphone, attached to the side of the speaker by a thickly coiled yellow wire. Five-minute car rides and five-hour road trips—I lugged my radio from room to room with me whenever I spent the day at home.
Since my radio could not, in fact, tune into any actual radio stations, I made it my mission to locate every cassette in my house, resulting in makeshift mixtapes bouncing from Pavarotti to Sesame Street Sing-Along! to AC/DC. I took special interest in listening to the cassettes in small spurts, gleefully replaying the same 60 seconds. I held the microphone up to the speaker whenever my favourite songs came on, just to make sure that everyone in the house could enjoy my sold-out shows featuring screechy feedback and feeble attempts at whistle tones.
Much to my parents’ dismay, I also invested quite a bit of time in using the “record” function on my radio to compose my own songs. These “originals” were immortalized through cassette tapes of their own (thankfully, they have never seen the light of day, nor will they ever—at least, not if I have anything to say about it).
Over time, my radio’s speakers began to hiss. My father did his best to try to fix my radio, and he was successful for the most part—the only portion of it that stopped working completely was the microphone (though I’m not sure his intention was to fix that in the first place).
As I grew older, my radio and I parted ways. When I was seven years old, I received a CD player for Christmas, along with a collection of Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Avril Lavigne CDs. My radio was quickly relocated to a drawer in my bedroom, then to a shelf in the basement. A few years later, I was given my first MP3 player, outfitted with a sparkly purple case and a set of matching headphones—my music was now fully portable, and I was ecstatic. My CD player joined my radio in the graveyard of childhood gadgets.
Every time something new came out, whether it was the next generation iPod or the most recent streaming service, I made the switch to the “latest and greatest” without second thought. This change was always made easier by the fact that everyone seemed to move along with me. Suddenly, the stores in the mall that sold CDs and cassette tapes shifted over to Funko Pops and band t-shirts, making it virtually impossible to find these musical antiquities anywhere but flea markets and garage sales. But who would want to anyway?
My most recent change has been expensive (I’ve learned the hard way that shipping fees can really bump up the total on your receipt), but one that I feel is worth the dents in my chequing account.
I’ve started building my very own record collection—partly because my father bought a record player, and I didn’t feel like solely listening to 80s music. At first, it was just a few records, albums I loved, or discs I thought were too pretty to pass up. Now, I have more than 50 records, and the habit I thought was a phase during the pandemic has become a bit of an obsession. There is nothing comparable to the crackling of the needle as the record begins to spin; the music carries a richness you simply can’t taste through a Spotify track.
And I’ll admit, collecting record variants is slightly addictive—I’m pretty sure my credit card sobbed the day I found out that Taylor Swift’s folklore was going to be released in eight different editions, each with its own original cover art, inner sleeve photograph, and marbled vinyl disc (I have two of them, which I’d like to think displays more self-control than anything else). My new hobby has led me to collect records from multiple genres and eras. My enhanced musical tastes now span from original pressings of Culture Club and Elton John to anniversary editions of My Chemical Romance to Paramore albums.
Part of the allure of collecting vinyl—for me, at least—comes from the experience of shopping at the record store. The smell of mould generally isn’t something I particularly enjoy, but being greeted by familiar musty air when you push open the front door of a record store means you’ve found the jackpot. Other indications include stained carpets, stairs that most definitely do not look safe to walk down, and store owners who dress as though the 60s never ended (bonus points if they have a horseshoe mustache and their hair falls below their shoulders).
When I was younger, my father and I went to Blockbuster every Thursday—the day that new releases were placed on shelves. I would run down the aisles, hoping to locate copies of my favourite movies, sometimes trying to swindle my way into renting films that no six-year-old had any business watching (despite my best efforts, my numerous attempts at switching out DVD cases or hiding horror movies under stacks of Barbie films were not successful). Thursday, for many years, was my favourite day of the week. Then, Blockbuster went out of business, and Thursday night excursions were no more; our new equivalent of strolling the “New Releases” was scrolling through what was “New to Netflix.”
A few years ago, my father introduced me to Archtop Café in Port Credit, just a short drive from the University of Toronto Mississauga campus. While the main floor serves as a café, the basement is home to an eclectic collection of used records, housing everything from classic rock to stand-up comedy. He watched as I perused through the rows of bins, searching for the coveted The Breakfast Club soundtrack (the original recording from 1985, not the reissue).
“I can’t believe it,” he smiled, thumbing through the stacks of records alongside me. “If I had known you would be collecting records, I would have kept more of them, or at least, kept them in better shape.” Many of the older albums I’ve spent weeks, sometimes months, tracking down are records my father once owned. His collection was scattered over the years—some ended up in the trash, others were sold at garage sales or given to family members, but most were scratched and bent from years of use. The records that were left behind ended up in my grandparents’ shed. Some of those albums have recently made their way to our home, where we discovered that years of living through Canadian winters and summer thunderstorms were, unsurprisingly, not ideal for records. Thin sheets of mould and mildew enveloped each record sleeve. We salvaged what we could, purchasing new outer slips for the best ones, but had to let go of the rest.
“We owned almost all the original Beatles albums, and nobody really cared,” my father told me recently. An original, mint condition copy of The Beatles’ self-titled album now sells for just under US$12,000. “They were just something that everyone had, and it wasn’t a big deal if you scratched it or bent the outer sleeve—it wasn’t like we thought they’d be worth anything. It was the same with hockey cards. Almost every one of my friends had a Wayne Gretzky rookie card, and now one of those just sold for over a million dollars. I wish I had known what I was doing when I stuck that card in the spokes of my bike because it made a cool sound when I was riding down the street.”
Just like hockey cards and other memorabilia, most vintage records carry a hefty price tag today. Older vinyl records can be worth anything from tens to thousands of dollars, depending on the year of production, the colour of the vinyl, and how many copies were produced. New vinyl record prices increased by almost 500 per cent between 2007 and 2017, and these prices continue to rise. This price tag is clearly not a deterrence, however, 2021 saw more vinyl record sales than CD sales, a metric last met in 1986.
My father and I now visit local record stores regularly, and it has become tradition for us to attend Record Store Day—an annual celebration where indie record stores are given exclusive rights to limited-edition pressings of albums, both new and old.
Recently, my father and I sat in the basement of my grandparents’ house, sifting through my grandfather’s record collection. Just before he passed, my grandfather asked me to pick out whatever records I liked, wanting to make sure they ended up in the hands of someone who would spin them, rather than use the sleeves as artsy posters. There was one record, though, that he specifically requested I take home, regardless of whether it would ever leave my shelf again.
The record is a signed copy of Donn Reynolds’ Songs of the West. Donn Reynolds, known as the “King Of The Yodelers,” was a Canadian country musician. In 1976, Reynolds established the world record for the longest consecutive yodelling session, which lasted for almost seven and a half hours. He was also named the world’s fastest yodeler in 1982.
Donn was my grandfather’s close friend. My father remembers him coming over for dinner on several occasions, singing merrily as he slurped down beers at the head of the table. Donn gifted my grandparents a signed copy of his most popular record more than 40 years ago. My grandfather cherished this record, evident by the condition of its sleeve. Songs of the West is the only record in his collection with pristine corners and an inner sleeve to protect it from static build-up.
It is common knowledge among my family and friends that I loathe country music—it’s the one genre that will make me switch radio stations. But this record now sits between Taylor Swift and Paramore, outfitted with a new outer sleeve like all the rest of my albums. One day, maybe when the hurt isn’t so fresh, I might give the yodeling tracklist a try; maybe it’ll end up on my next mixtape.
Just as my father’s records from his teenage years sat accumulating mould in a backyard shed at my grandparents’ house, my radio, and the cassettes that survived their time with three-year-old me, still collect dust somewhere in my parents’ basement. They have survived countless garage sales, spring cleanings, and even moving houses. For some reason, I haven’t been able to justify letting them go just yet. Who knows, there’s always the possibility that cassette tapes may come back in style.
Managing Editor (Volume 49); Senior Copy Editor (July–November, Volume 49); Copy Editor (Volume 48) — Juliana is a fourth-year student completing a double major in English and Professional Writing and Communication. She previously worked as a Copy Editor for Volume 48 and briefly as Senior Copy Editor for Volume 49. When she isn’t adding commas or splitting up run-on sentences, Juliana loves to read, play violin, sing, fangirl over multiple TV shows, and completely spoil her two dogs.