I was born in 1976, right smack in the middle of the disco era, two years after "Love's Theme" by Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra, a year before Saturday Night Fever, and ironically the year punk broke. There are many things I remember of my first three or so years in this world, majority of which I spent in our old apartment in Pasay City on EDSA, including nearly drowning in a balde full of water while reaching for a toy; it was my first memory. However, most of my first memories had to do with music: playing it, watching videos of it and shows about it (Dance Fever, anyone?), dancing to it. I remember watching Olivia Newton-John videos and also ABBA concert footages on TV a lot. I remember always seeing Rico J. Puno gyrating on stage and then throwing his coat to the shrieking crowd (you know it's a different era when people go crazy at the mere sight of the mustachioed Rico J.). But most of all I remember carrying my parents' vinyl LPs up and down the stairs. I don't know why, maybe they would always change the location of the turntable. I remember having a personal attachment to those black disks at such an early age. I even have a photo of me carrying a vinyl LP while in my visibly peed-on pajamas.
Most kids would bug their mothers to buy them candies or toys or balloons. Me, I drove my mom crazy forcing her to buy me plaka. I distinctly remember going to a record store one December night with my mom to buy a 45rpm single of "Funky Town" by Lipps, Inc. When I was in elementary school and already living in Batangas, I even made my mother pick song titles -- written in maybe a hundred pieces of paper -- from a small basket. When I was three years old (this one my mom and I both remember very well), she and I went to the old Harrison Plaza. At the sight of a record bar, I immediately went nuts and bugged her to buy me Imelda Papin's Greatest Hits. She didn't want to, but I refused to budge, so I made a scene in the middle of the department store and cried hysterically. Of course, I got what I wanted and went home happy. Not long after, the old Harrison Plaza burned down, with it probably several more copies of Imelda Papin's Greatest Hits.
Vinyl records were my favorite toys when I was growing up. I played store with them. I played restaurant with them together with my brother (the LPs served as trays). We would put 45s over our ears and pretended we were aliens. I even stupidly turned some of them into frisbees. Being my toys, they were also the usual casualties of my tantrums-slash-moments of insanity. My aunt said whenever I'd get upset, I would mess up the turntable (the "stereo"). Up to now, we could not fully open our heavy sliding door in Batangas. One day, my aunt told me, I inserted several 45 rpm records into the door slot. The records of course broke into pieces, up to now preventing the door to fully open. I wonder what those records were. They probably included my aunt's copy of "Saranggola ni Pepe." I never did hear the last of that loss.
I didn't have a lot of records. Growing up I had about 20 LPs and several dozen singles. They were not really mine actually. They were probably previously owned by my grown-up cousins and some were my parents', who both loved to dance. Some of them were obviously from the '60s (Bobby Gonzales, Helen Gamboa), but majority were from the disco era. Among the LPs, my favorites were James Last's "Non-Stop Dancing 1976" (a live-sounding medley of disco hits including A.I.E. Mwana, Paloma Blanca, and The Hustle), Anastacio Mamaril's "Cha Cha In Motion," Tito, Vic, & Joey's "Tough Hits," and the Stars on 45 LP. Among the 45s, I remember listening a lot to "Funky Town," Donna Summer's "Bad Girls"/"Hot Stuff," Glen Campbell's "The Rhinestone Cowboy" (a favorite of my brother), George McRae's "Rock Your Baby," Marvin Gaye's "Got To Give It Up Pt.1" (I always wondered who those guys talking in the background were), and Sylvia LaTorre's "Sa Kabukiran"/"Ako'y Kampupot" (I truly dug those unbelievably high notes).
During my pre-school and elementary years, I was truly obsessed with records in general. I would be visiting homes and would not be able to tear my eyes away from the owner's record collection. I would go to my aunt's panciteria and hang out by the jukebox. I would go to a restaurant or to a sastre, and would not be able to concentrate because of the LPs hanging on the walls as decoration. I would pass by hardware stores and do a double take because I thought I saw 45s (no, they're just metal thingies used for whatnots). Tires would remind me of LPs; actually anything round and black reminded me of plaka. I would also often watch Eat Bulaga (when it was still on Channel 9), especially the dance contests, because at the end they would give away free copies (!!!) of the LP they're promoting, to both the winning and losing pairs. (During this era, some of the popular dance contests were Metallic Gigolo, White Horse, Relax, and the immortal Desert Dance by the Abdul Hassan Orchestra. More than twenty years ago when Eat Bulaga had an anniversary show, they invited all past winners of said dance contests. I think I wet my pants with glee.)
I was obsessed with my records. Whenever I didn't have class, I would spend almost the whole day not just listening to them, but staring at them while they went round and round the turntable, as if being hypnotized, wondering how this piece of plastic could produce all these sounds. Some of the LPs, like James Last's and Anastacio Mamaril's, I would listen to twice or thrice a day. The greatest tragedy for me when I was in elementary school was when there would be brownouts, or when the karayom would break. I had three "stereos" when I was a kid: two portable ones, and one cabinet type the needle arm of which would automatically return to its base once it reached the record's end. All of them would be rendered useless by the end of the '80s.
In high school, I was still very much into music, but not anymore with records (having nothing to play them with, I just stored them in our bodega). However, I got into another format: cassette tapes. I would not buy anything during recess time just so that I would be able to buy one cassette tape at the end of the month. In high school, my allowance was P6.00 a day (home was three minutes away so I really didn't need to spend anything). By the end of each month, I would have P120.00, enough to buy me a cassette tape, two songhits published bi-monthly, and tricycle fare to and from the next town where I bought the tapes. This went on for years. My brother and I also made a lot of mix tapes, some of them we gave out as gifts. (My brother also taped a lot of live radio concerts of rock bands in the mid '90s. Those recordings might actually be worth a fortune in the future.) Being tape fiends, we also had tape repair (pag kinain ng cassette player) down to an art.
My obsession with cassette tapes continued when I went to Manila for college. Since I had more allowance, I could afford to buy two or more tapes at a time. When I started working, I would buy 10 at a time. I was able to amass more than a thousand cassette tapes until just a few years ago when I started buying CDs instead. I have hundreds of (original) CDs right now, but honestly, buying them was never as fun as buying those tapes, and listening to them is a colder, less personal experience than listening to my analog records.
Looking back, I think it was inevitable that one day I would rekindle my love for vinyl. In the '90s, with the rise of electronic music and turntablism, the vinyl record was regarded as a cool object. Hipsters across America and the UK flocked to stores selling vinyl. Pearl Jam made a tribute song to vinyl ("Spin The Black Circle;" they even released the album Vitalogy on vinyl a week before the CD release), so did Cornershop ("Brimful of Asha"). Most of all, the Eraserheads had "Ang Huling El Bimbo," in reference to the popular mid-'70s dance craze. The music video directed by Auraeus Solito (later of "Maximo Oliveros" and "Pisay" fame) made the connection to vinyl records more pronounced, with kids dancing to the record being played and guided by dance instructions which came with the record. It reminded me very much of my childhood.
Other significant "events" that seemed to point me back to vinyl: the release in the late '90s of a bootleg CD entitled "Disco Fiasco" which included disco hits such as 'The Hustle" and "That's The Way I Like It;" when I stumbled upon vinyl copies of Thriller, Like A Virgin, and Purple Rain LPs at P10.00 each in Hizon St. (some shops were also selling portable stereos in good working condition); "High Fidelity," both the movie and the book; when I saw by accident in Odyssey a repackaged CD of Anastacio Mamaril's "Cha Cha In Motion" (it had a generic cover instead of the original trippy pink artwork; the track list was also not in correct order but thanks to technology, I was able to rearrange them in the original order); when I stumbled upon the website of Villar Records, which originally released works by Sylvia LaTorre, Ruben Tagalog, and Relly Coloma; when I was able to download from the internet "Arabian Affair" by the Abdul Hassan Orchestra and Van McCoy's "Change With The Times" which featured prominently on the James Last LP; when I stumbled upon near-mint 45rpm EPs of Eddie Peregrina, Nora Aunor, Victor Wood, Tirso Cruz III, and Edgar Mortiz at the flea market of Jalan Surabaya in Jakarta which the guy sold me at 10 rupiahs, or P60.00, each (I asked the guy where he got them; he just smiled); and when Vicor (the best record company in the Philippines in terms of back catalogue) reissued the original "Tough Hits" on CD.
February of last year, as I was strolling around a certain part of Quezon City, I came upon two antique / memorabilia shops selling old vinyl records. "How much?" I asked in the first shop. The woman said fifty pesos each. "Only??!" I couldn't believe my ears, as classic albums by Paul Simon and soundtracks like that of Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus Christ Superstar stared at my face. When I went to the next shop, I nearly passed out. "Three for one hundred," the girl said. Sweating heavily, I thumbed through the dusty selection at the store's entrance and found near-mint copies of LPs by disco genius Cerrone and Esquivel's exotica classic "Latin-Esque." There were even near-mint copies of spoken-word albums by T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and a double-LP compilation which included J.R.R. Tolkien singing an excerpt from The Lord of the Rings! "There are more upstairs," the girl interrupted. "There it's only fifteen pesos each." My heart stopped. "We also have 78rpm discs at around fifty to eighty pesos each.: Knowing how 78rpm discs -- which were made earlier than vinyl LPs--would regularly fetch huge amounts on auction websites, I nearly blurted out, "are you nuts??!!"
The second floor was Valhalla, with boxes and shelves full of vinyl LPs, and about six balikbayan boxes bursting with never-played 45rpm singles still in their original plastic and paper sleeves (around 15,000 discs according to the owner). The best part was that I was the only customer, and it seems that not many people have been invited to this sanctuary. I immediately ran my sweaty hands through the selection, immediately picking out not one, but several copies of James Last's "Non-Stop Dancing 1976" and The Ritchie Family's "Brazil" and an el bimbo dance record (both with dance instructions inside!) and Van McCoy's "Disco Baby." I wish there were rock LPs, but it was a treasure trove nonetheless. So far I've been to these stores several times already, each time taking home at least a dozen LPs of disco classics (including a sealed copy of Giorgio Moroder's groundbreaking "From Here To Eternity" LP, a steal at fifty pesos, and Abdul Hassan Orchestra's "Arabian Affair"), soul LPs (Aretha, Diana, Sly & The Family Stone), OPM (including organist Relly Coloma's trippy "Music To Watch Girls By" which sells on the internet for $75 up, and several LPs by Blackbuster, a forgotten Pinoy disco supergroup that included future members of VST & Company, Nanette Inventor, etc.), 12-inch remixes (Human League's "Human," P.S.Y.'s "Angelina"), and other genres. They also sold me a copy of a Beatles compilation (not a bootleg) I never knew existed, for a mere P150.00 ("A Collection of Beatles Oldies," never released in the US). I have also attacked some of the 45rpm boxes, unearthing with trembling hands very good copies of Santana's "Oye Como Va," Color's "Never Mind," Sampaguita's "Bonggahan," Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," an OPM disco version of the Voltes V theme, Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, and Gary V. singles, Motown singles, and "Desert Dance" by the Abdul Hassan Orchestra. Knowing how fragile singles are, and the fact that they probably got tossed around a lot by their previous owners, it was such a thrill to find them in very good condition.
So what do I do with these finds? Luckily, on a trip to Quiapo, I chanced upon a store I used to ignore when I would go there to buy stuff. They sell audio equipment. That time, they were also selling a 60s-era Califone portable record player, the type that already has built-in speakers, which looked only slightly used. Audiophiles will certainly scoff at the idea of playing their records in such low-end equipment, but I just wanted to have a record player similar to those I had when I was a kid and like the one that Gwyneth Paltrow used in the movie "The Royal Tenenbaums." I asked how much. The girl said "P4,500.00." I thought it was a reasonable price, but I didn't have money at that time. A few weeks after, I went back and was glad that it was still there. I was prepared to part with my P4.5K, but I jokingly asked, "can i get it for P3,000?" "Are you buying it today?" the girl asked. Surprised, I said yes of course. It was a happy day.
I've been playing my records a lot, especially the LPs (though sometimes playing 45s makes me wish I were playing CDs so that I would just skip to the next track. I think I need a jukebox. Hmmm...) One night while I was playing "El Bimbo" by Bimbo Jet, my mother went into my room to tell me that that was the popular song when my father was still courting her, and that they would win dance contests in parties with that song. I didn't know whether to feel touched, delighted, or icky about it.
I always couldn't wait to get home to play or clean my records (best home-made cleaning solution I learned from the net: 1 part distilled water, 1 part 70% isopropyl alcohol; spray it on to the discs, rub using soft towel, then air dry.) I've become a vinyl geek once more, going through websites about record collecting, watching items on eBay, though not buying a single thing because I thought they're hilariously overpriced (P1,500 for the James Last LP? I got two for P15 each?!) I visited Bebop records at the basement of Makati Cinema Square, with a small but well-selected--and may I add, very expensive--collection of used LPs for sale. I even trekked to Quiapo one night, only to come upon a store that sells LPs and singles, where I got Gary Numan's "Cars," Devo's "Whip It," and Urszula Dudziak's disco-jazz freakout "Papaya," as well as a couple of Sharon Cuneta movie theme songs.
Why bother collecting LPs? Aren't CDs better? Real music lovers (not just casual love but love love) will tell you that, with decent equipment, vinyl just sounds better than CDs. Yes, LPs have crackles and pops, and they scratch easily, but if taken cared of very well, they produce a richer, fuller, warmer, more realistic sound than CDs, which personally I feel produce synthetic and/or metallic sounding music (best for techno though). When you turn up the volume of your "stereo," the music of course becomes louder; if you do the same to a CD player, the music would pierce the ears. Even DVD-audio and SACD could only approximate the realism produced by vinyl records. The music is just more tangible, as if the musicians are there inside the room with you. Another reason why hunting for vinyl is worth it is, there is so much music on vinyl that were never reissued on CDs. CDs have been around for only 25 years. Records have been around since the turn of the last century. Going to a used records store is like stumbling upon a forgotten basement. There is just so much stuff waiting to be rediscovered by music lovers. In my suking memorabilia shops, there are classical music records, radio drama records, kitschy instructional records, lounge and world music records, dance and pop records, Chinese pop records, big band 78s that you cannot find on CD even on Amazon.com. Those records, many of them forgotten masterpieces, deserve to be rediscovered and appreciated.
If you think you can buy only old music in vinyl format (although there's nothing wrong with that), you'll be glad to know that record companies have been releasing new albums and their back catalogue on vinyl. In the US and especially in the UK, new vinyl LPs are taking more and more space in record store chains like HMV. As the sales of CDs dwindle faster than you can say iTunes, the record companies have turned back to vinyl as their "new" audio format of choice, maybe because of their durability and collectability. I've also read somewhere that in countries like Jamaica, vinyl never really went out of circulation, unlike in the rest of the world (please please let me get my hands on those reggae, ska, and rocksteady 45s!!!)
The night before I started writing this entry, I dreamt that I stumbled upon a forgotten store inside a forgotten shopping area in a forgotten part of the metro. In it, there were racks upon glorious racks of vinyl, and cabinets full of turntable needles and other paraphernalia. I couldn't wait to sleep again to continue my adventure. Oh well, maybe later. I have to do the Latin hustle first before I tuck myself in bed.
My vinyl wishlist:
By the way, I have created a photo blog for vinyl record lovers at www.iheartvinyl.blogspot.com. If you have photos of yourself with your objects of affection, please e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, location, blog or site address (if any), plus a short, humorous caption.
Listen to some of my favorite disco-era tracks HERE.
Listen to my 80s mix tape HERE.
Learn to do The Hustle HERE.
Listen to Eddie Drennon's classic "Let's Do The Latin Hustle" HERE.
Learn how records are made HERE.