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On The Prism Ship of Music Technology

On to the 21st Century

I recently joined the 21st century when I learned how to download music onto an Android phone I bought for that specific purpose.

Almost every day for more than a month, I have driven five miles down the road to a WiFi hot spot where I can download - over 1100 songs, so far - one at a time. And all for free.

Do I feel guilty about downloading all that music for free?

Not really. Over the years, I had already purchased 98-percent of it in the form of records, cassette tapes and CDs.

The music did not change, the system of storage and playback did - and not for the first time.

Early Memories

Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on a table beside an old Edison flip-top radio/phonograph and singing along to 78 rpm records of the Chipmunks and my father's 33 rpm collection of honky-tonk. "Crazy," written by Willie Nelson, and sung by Patsy Cline, was the first adult song to which I learned the lyrics.

One year, I received a small, portable mono record player for Christmas. It was hardly state of the art but, it served well as I began my own record collection and my musical tastes matured - from Theresa Brewer, to the 1910 Fruit Gum Company, to Black Sabbath.

I was able to purchase a small bookcase stereo just in time for Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

I loved that little stereo, and used it for more than ten years before a neighbor offered to sell a turntable/amp with two large Panasonic Thruster speakers.

I sold the turntable but, kept the speakers, and ten years later added a pair of big Sonys, along with another turntable/amp that included a double cassette deck.


By then, I did not use the turntable to play music so much as to convert my record collection onto the newest innovation - cassette tapes.

With records, there was a lot of picking up the needle and moving it to the next song, turning the album over, or changing it altogether.

The great thing about cassette tapes was the ability to record only those songs I liked. No offense to the artist but, of the dozen songs on an album, only half are worth listening to more than once. Sometimes there's only one.

Remember Focus?

Tape eliminated the eventual pops, skips, and crackling a record acquires after repeated plays but, there was the constant, and annoying, tape hiss. There was also a lot of fast forward and rewinding, especially with new store bought recordings. The tape still had to be turned over to play side two, and sometimes, a technical malfunction ate the tape.


There were alternatives but, 8-tracks, that often stopped in the middle of a song to change tracks, were a really bad idea.

I used 8-and 12-inch reel-to-reel when I worked at a public radio station in the '80's. However the machinery, reels and tape were not readily available commercially, and there was little prerecorded music for them.


CDs were the answer. Of course, by then, they kind of had to be as records were no longer generally available. They were easier to use and eliminated the crackling and tape hiss. I bought an amp and a five-disc changer. I used a borrowed phonograph to run my record collection through an Apple E-Mac, then burned them onto CDs.

Unfortunately, that was about the time I moved into a house with rooms too small to accommodate an amp and CD changer stack with four large speakers and wiring all over the place.

I ended up listening to the CDs off the computer.

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A Leap Into the Present

Over time, when played regularly, records and tapes naturally deteriorate. Imagine my chagrin when I discovered CDs also deteriorate, whether they are played or not.

The loss of homemade discs of Kansas, Credence Clearwater Revival, and the Doors, prompted me to take the leap into the present. Surprisingly, I paid less for the phone and two bookcase blue tooth speakers than I did for my first stereo in 1970.

Other than attempting to use it, the biggest problem with technology is nothing is compatible with anything else.

The phone would not download directly off my E-Mac. I reversed the earlier process and ran my CDs back through the E-Mac and onto flash drives. The drives would play on a Windows Lenovo laptop but, would not transfer to the phone so, it was down the road to find a WiFi hotspot.

Every Known Version

Downloading presents its own set of problems.

While there seems to be every known version of the song requested, it can be difficult to find the original among the covers, remasters and live performances. It may be due to a licensing problem but, on Ymusic, there are very few album tracks of Jimi Hendrix or Bob Dylan.

The only version I could find of The Celebration of the Lizard from The Doors Live album, some idiot had destroyed by breaking it up into it's component parts. Who does that?

Well, maybe not as dumb as the guy who downloaded it.

A little too often, half of a songs' first note is clipped off. Some songs end a little too abruptly. Very unprofessional and most annoying to a former DJ and old stoner.

Even though the phone automatically sorts the music in alphabetical order, only half the songs log in under the artists name. The other half are scattered about under the name of the song. Very inconvenient.

Lost in the rush to embrace the newest technology has been the wonderful album covers I used to study for hours while listening to the record. I miss that.

The Plus Side

On the plus side, it's all a wonderful thing, and I am amazed.

A thin, five-and-a-half by two-and-a-half inch piece of technology has replaced my amp, turntable, cassette deck, and CD changer. Bluetooth has eliminated all the wiring underfoot.

I just have to remember to keep the phone charged.

It would take four grown men and two boys to pick up and carry away my records, cassettes and CDs. Now I can put the entire collection in my pocket. Some younger readers might not think that is such a big deal - but, it is.

Now, virtually every song I ever liked is at the touch of a finger. A far cry from listening to the radio and wading through someone else's top ten in hopes of hearing one song I liked.

Now, every song is a hand picked favorite.

Alexa can eat my shorts!

What's Next?

While I celebrate the acquisition of new technology, I have to wonder; how soon will it be before the next innovation renders the present technology obsolete and leaves me behind once again?

At my age, the next innovation might be one too many.

I am reminded of an old MAD magazine cartoon. One neighbor is bragging to another about how he just traded in all his old 78 rpm records and equipment for the brand new technology of 33 rpm High Fidelity.

In the next panel, he is bragging about his new stereo equipment. In the third, he has a new reel-to-reel set-up.

In the last panel, when asked if he is going to invest in yet the newest technology, he sadly hangs his head and says no, he is giving up music.

I feel his pain. It has not been easy keeping up with the changes.


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