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Book: Turntable Stories

Chapter: Vinyl Anxiety

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.46284


The outskirts of Hyde. A pebble-dashed semi on a Wimpey estate – a hill-top view of Manchester stretching away. It is April 1974. I am nine years old, and this is my childhood home. There is – has always been – a record player on the living room floor underneath the window. Propped next to it is a stack of records – L.P.s at the back, E.P.s in front. The stack is in constant growth – mainly L.P.s, the E.P.s seem to be a thing of the past. Purchases come from either the tiny record shop in Hyde Precinct or, more thrillingly, from special shopping trips to Manchester.

It is Dad, not Mum, who hunts for new records in these dingy basements. He has added Toots and the Maytals to the stack and will, five years hence, bring London Calling by the Clash into the house. Dad is the one who is culturally fluent in music. The LP he has just bought is I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, by Richard and Linda Thompson. Its sleeve is a strange mise-en-abyme of the window it is propped beneath – a glass surface coated in condensation, with sodium light seeping through. Someone has scrawled I WANT TO SEE THE BRIGHT LIGHTS TONIGHT on that surface, in the same way I scrawl my name on the window and watch beads of water slide away from the letters.

But there is a problem with Dad’s copy. It won’t play on our record player. Every time he lowers the arm, the needle stays in the run-in groove. It fails to find the first track and the vinyl rotates soundlessly. There are several trips back to the shop; copies returned, new ones bagged and brought home. But nothing works. The needle never moves.

My chapter will evoke and interrogate this vinyl failure. It will become an emblem of cultural anxiety in a specific geographical and historical location as I look back at my dad – and myself - trying to find a place in British post-war modernity.

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