“We Got More Soul,” by Dyke and the Blazers (Original Sound OS-86). Ex collection “M. Scale.” Found circa 1977, Passaic, New Jersey. Estimated plays 50-60. Gritty but serviceable, the grooves still evincing a satiny surface sheen. The silences are not too loud; the stop-and-go percolates nicely. Former owner Scale was in his middle twenties then, still healthy, still socially integrated, still employed. He played the record on Saturday mornings, finding in it an analogue to the optimistic cheer that filled him as he contemplated the possibilities of a weekend that seemed as long and promising as the unwinding highway of his future life. Now he has no recollection of it.
“Soul Power Pt. 1,” by James Brown (King 45-6368). Ex collection “Suggs.” Found 1976, New York City. Estimated plays 200-250. Label rubbed nearly raw, with white bands at outer edge and edge of inner declivity; title nearly illegible. Shines nicely when held at an angle, but the surface is a skating rink. James’s shouts are nearly lost in a forest of brambles, and seventeen seconds before the end groove the finale is hijacked by a fatal skip. Suggs was a teenager, a serial attendee of house parties, a pest to the ladies who imagined himself a hit with the ladies, a loud kid with a big smile and a six-inch Afro who carried his records in a brown paper bag. Today he recalls this side a bit ruefully on certain empty summer nights.
“You Got What It Takes,” by Marv Johnson (United Artists UA 185). Ex collection “Fran Paul.” Found 1984, New Rochelle, New York. Estimated plays 75-100. Sounds better than it looks. Asphalt-like undertone actually contributes to record’s lapidary impact, shaves a bit of the new-car ambiance off typical Berry Gordy production. The single hiccup by Marv fails to develop into a full skip. Former owner was fourteen at the time, the record stolen by her soi-disant best friend Debbie, who had it stolen from her in turn at a church-sponsored event, and who knows how it traveled all the way to Westchester County? Today the original owner has a pop-music memory that only goes back about ten years.
“I’m So Glad I Found You,” by Linda Jones and the Whatnauts (Stang ST-5039A). Ex collection “Brenda Vernon.” Found 1994, Oneonta, New York. Estimated plays 20-25. Like watching a ship sailing through mist, the music emerges from a wide but translucent cloud of tiny skitterings, although the surface was abraded by poor storage rather than overplaying. The former owner was sixteen, bought the record because of its title because she thought she was in love. Disillusionment with boy in question led to abandonment of record in back of closet; it was found decades later by new owners of house. Brenda today is a successful businesswoman, who disavows any knowledge of the details of her youth and insists on the empowering quality of staring fixedly forward.
“Angel Baby,” by Rosie and the Originals (Highland 1011). Ex collection “Aline” and “Rozier.” Found circa 1974, New York City. Estimated plays 300-400. As thickly impastoed as a late Rouault, the record is simply unplayable; surface abrasion is compounded by extensive chipping of inner ring–spindle insert barely clings. Aline, in her middle teens at the time, was a careful owner who filed her records in a carrying case (label bears a small sticker reading “18”). Rozier, a friend of her older brother who “borrowed” it and marked it as his own, presented quite a different picture. Not only did he subject it to numerous playings at late-night rumpuses where the tone arm would regularly be dropped bluntly and carelessly on the surface and taken up with similar lack of finesse, but he also, impishly and regularly, sailed his records through the air, aiming for friends’ unsuspecting heads. Eventually it traveled out the window and was rescued by a scavenger. Nothing is known of the subsequent fates of either Aline or Rozier.
“Just One Look,” by Doris Troy (Atlantic 45-2188). Ex collection “Pearl.” Found 1977, Brooklyn, New York. Estimated plays 100-150. Gives the impression of an imperfectly tuned radio: the song is clearly audible, but apparently competes with an entirely separate musique concrète, perhaps a little-known Luc Ferrari composition. White streaks between grooves on the B-side provide evidence of long-ago spillage of a liquid substance. Former owner purchased record at sixteen and continued to play it at home and at parties for much of the following decade. Donated it to the church bazaar on the eve of her marriage. Today she is twice-divorced and sad, misses her records, misses her old friends, misses her mom.
“Who’s Cheating Who?” by Little Milton (Checker 1113). Ex collection “ES” and “D.” Found 1973, New York City. Estimated plays 200-250. Very little remains of the music on this record, which now sounds like an electric coffee grinder on low speed. ES and D were siblings who agreed to share their records in a rare instance of youthful idealism and economy. Within a year or two, however, hormonally-driven tensions between them had escalated their former jocular rivalry into a state of war. Records became bargaining chips, then hostages, then weapons. ES, who was very attached to the music, attempted to handle them with care, but D, for whom records were social markers above all, treated them with contempt. Eventually their mother settled things by just throwing the whole mess out on the street. Today the brothers have reconciled. ES enjoys smooth jazz, golf, the occasional drink or three, while D has become a Buddhist and prefers the sound of his own inner harmonies.
“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” by James Brown (King 45-6035). Ex collection “Authur” [sic]. Found 1972, Jersey City, New Jersey. Estimated plays 400-450. An unlistenable platter of French-fried worms, this record has been loved to death. Authur (pronounced “Arthur”) spent his teenage years consumed by this record. He lived surrounded by females: mother, grandmother, three sisters, and a girl cousin, all packed into a two-bedroom apartment; Authur slept in the pantry closet. He obtained a small portable record player through a complicated series of swaps, stole the record from Woolworth’s, and listened to virtually nothing else between the ages of twelve and seventeen. Perhaps because man made electric lights to bring us out of the dark, he went to work for Consolidated Edison in New York City, where he remains. Today he listens to the song on CD in his car on the way to work.
“Crying,” by Roy Orbison (Monument 45-447). Ex collection “Laura Weiner.” Found 1986, Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Estimated plays 15-20. Superb condition, beautifully maintained, sounds nearly new to the ear even if it does not necessarily appear that way to the eye. Laura bought the record because she was sad, because a certain boy failed to offer her a Valentine’s Day remembrance. Then she forgot that she was sad, and forgot the record, and it sat in a box in her old bedroom for two decades after she married and went on to raise four children in a suburb of Atlanta, until the death of her mother, when the house’s contents were disposed of by professional estate managers. Today she couldn’t pick the song out of a lineup.
“Rockin’ Pneumonia Part I,” by Huey “Piano” Smith and his Clowns (Cotillion 45-44142). Ex collection “Clasic” or “Clasie.” Found 1980, Brunswick, Maine. Estimated plays 35-40. Another record in excellent condition, albeit presenting a label marked with various letters, numbers, and glyphs, mostly in felt marker. It is a disc jockey copy, on which the A side is inscribed “Plug Side” (perhaps redundantly, since the B side is Part II). Clasic or Clasie has here, as on several other records found along with it, daubed his name or handle on a stub of masking tape and covered the brand logo with it. He seems to have been an itinerant deejay who worked weddings and graduations and possessed a great many records, most of them with little emotional investment; he played strictly to the crowd’s tastes. He died in 1979 from choking on a pretzel stick. Vic Damone’s version of “My Way” was played at his funeral.
“So Much in Love,” by the Tymes (Parkway P-871C). Ex collection “Victor Heinrich.” Found 1971, Brigantine, New Jersey. Estimated plays 175-200. The Tymes here sound as if they are heard singing deep in a forest at the lush height of summer by a wanderer on the trail above who cannot quite locate the source of the music. Birds and insects and rustling branches can be heard in three-dimensional detail–for all that they are really just scratches–giving the song even more of a poignant, elegiac quality than it initially possessed. This is apt since Victor played the record unendingly in commemoration of his love for Hazel, who never even knew he was alive. He kept the song secret from his parents, who might have laughed, and from his friends, who certainly would have. He went so far as to try to become a priest to assuage his broken heart, but the order knew better than to sign him up. Today he is an angry drunk, and no longer remembers how he got there.
“Cool Broadway,” by the Fantastic Johnny C (Phil-L.A. of Soul 315). Ex collection “Tina.” Found 1978, New York City. Estimated plays 175-225. The grooves’ rocky road here becomes a sonic analogue to the scratches and blots and blemishes on an old strip of film. The Fantastic J. C. is high-stepping along Broadway through an electric haze you could mistake for gnats or snow. Those were the good times–each pop representative of an occasion of fun, each flurry of crackles a reminder of the enveloping embrace of that old gang of friends. They played it and played it and played it some more for the duration of the summer of 1968, even though it was just the follow-up, even though it sounded like a bare retread of the original “Boogaloo.” They didn’t care. It was Tina’s record at first, but it found its way to Beverly’s house, and then to LaVerne’s, and then to Tracy’s, and Tracy’s mother was the one who gave all the records away to a neighbor one day after all the girls had gotten pregnant and the records, just a couple of years old by then, might as well have been relics of earliest childhood. Today each of the three survivors of that time will, if questioned, recall a certain brass-section color, a certain parade-drum bounce that stands in for 1968, unspecified and indistinguishable from the sodas and chips and hair-care products and magazines that wove with the music to create the fiber of those afternoons and weekends, still close to their hearts but an unimaginably vast remove away.