Jamaican 45s always have cool labels, dub flipsides and thundering bass.
Jamaican 45s always have cool labels, dub flipsides and thundering bass.

For the love of 45s

Although I became a record collector at a young age -- around 9 -- it wasn't until I was 12 that I become passionate about 45s. Sure, I'd had a big stack of American 45s for a few years by then. They were Beatles singles, mostly, but also a range of mainstream U.S. radio hits from the '70s and some things I'd picked up along the way from my parents and other sources.

What clicked for me, though, was discovering bands like The Jam, The Clash and Buzzcocks and finding Zig Zag Records on Avenue U in Brooklyn. Whenever I got a little money, I rode my bike to Zig Zag and bought the new UK 45s by the bands I liked and by bands I was curious about. I also used the store's amazing stock to go back and assemble collections of the 45s the bands issued before I discovered them.

UK 45s were awesome. They always came in picture sleeves with interesting designs and the weighty paper stock of those sleeves hinted as the heaviness of the music inside. And in most cases -- especially by the bands listed above, but also Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, The Specials, Elvis Costello and others -- there were but two (sometimes three) slices of music pressed into the wax, but that was plenty. That's because these bands took the 45 seriously. The b-side was no place for an album track. No, the b-side was almost always unique to the single and more often than not, it was the equal -- and occasionally superior -- to its companion on the flip.

UK singles always seemed exotic, too, because unlike their American counterparts, they had small holes, just like LPs, rendering the pesky turntable adaptor moot.

A couple years later, when I was about 15, I discovered Jamaican 45s, which looked more like American ones (big holes), but with amazingly diverse and wonderfully designed labels and always with a version (dub) on the flip side. And, of course, they looked like they were pressed in someone's basement -- someone's very, very pebbly basement.

These 45s always had more surface noise than U.K. singles -- often more than U.S. ones, too, except for those really noisy Columbia singles from the late '70s -- but they also were mastered to rock the bass in a way my ears had never heard before.

My passion for 45s has never waned. So it is with some sadness that I've been liquidating a lot of them lately (although I still have too many). The problem is -- besides space and that I'd rather tie up my capital in college funds for the future than in vinyl in my closet -- I can't get a turntable to work on the dashboard of my car and I have trouble balancing a Dansette on the console of the treadmill at the gym. I listen to music in three places these days: the car, the gym and at work. None of those places is vinyl-friendly.

Some of the PVC is being replaced with CDs, some of it not, for now.

But more than losing music, I feel like I'm saying goodbye to the younger me. Some of these records have been with me longer than anyone I know, other than my parents, and certainly longer than most any other material objects. There's something freeing about letting them go, but still I have to force myself to be cavalier about it. Otherwise, they'd never move out the door.



Spark29 | May 26, 2010 at 9:01 p.m. (report)

Nice column. I, too, have a ton of vinyl but mine is in LPs and as I look at this stuff I can't help wondering why I've kept it all.

Most of it has been replaced with cds or it's stuff that I will never listen to again because I've out grown it or my tastes have changed and yet I still haven't tossed it out.

And you're right: much this music has been a part of me for longer than anyone I know outside of my family.

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