Helena Rodriguez: There is nothing like the sound of vinyl records


By Helena Rodriguez

Guest Columnist

Today we have crisp and high-quality digital sound at our finger and ear tips. But nothing beats the old-fashioned needle-to-the-vinyl sounds of my youth, whether I was jamming to the hardcore piano of Billy Joel or hip-swaying cumbias of Grupo Mazz.

My friend, Lupe Rosales, got me thinking about my first vinyls recently.

Some of you may be too young for vinyls, which were the personal-pan-pizza-sized disc records that came before cassette tapes … and then the CDs or iPods you know and use today.

I remember the first vinyl I ever bought. I’m talking 45s here, as they were called.

My first vinyl was the spunky, hardcore piano-with-attitude, 1978 smash, “My Life,” by Billy Joel, a.k.a. The Piano Man.

I crooned that song with the attitude it was meant to be crooned in as I sang, “I don’t need you to worry for me ’cause I’m alright. I don’t want you to tell me it’s time to come home. I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life. Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.”

I was in my preteens at the time and rock ’n’ roll and disco ruled my world. But then, fast forward just a few years later, to the early 1980s, and I remember the first Tejano music, or Tex-Mex LP that my dad brought home.

LPs were the larger pizza-size discs of vinyls, about the size of a regular pizza. Dad brought home the now-classic album, “Calla” by Mazz. I’m talking the old Mazz, when Joe Lopez, out of Brownsville, Texas, was the lead singer.

Although I did not know much Spanish at the time, my friends were starting to listen to Tejano music, and I easily got into its pop-inspired beats that had just a little more bounce due to their mix of keyboards, accordion and sometimes brass and keyboards.

From Selena to La Fiebre, these Tejano bands had the same pop groove as many of my favorite English singers; they were just singing in Spanish, and so us Mexican Americans, growing up between English and Spanish-speaking cultures, found them infectious. Who didn’t like to sing along to “Borracho de Besos,” a love song about being drunk on kisses?

When I got into college, my friend Diana and I knew the lyrics to many of green-eyed Joe Lopez’s songs and sang along to the top of our lungs to, “No Te Volvere a Querer” and the ultimate tear-in-my beer song, “Fallaste Corazon,” which goes like this:

“Y tu que te creias, el rey de todo el mundo.”

In translation, that means, “… And so … you think you are king of the world?”

You can see that Billy Joel attitude in the Spanish, Tex-Mex sound of Mazz, too, only this time around, the tables were turned.

When we listened to vinyls, it was the state-of-the art sound of our day, but it had its glitches. The records would scratch and needles had to be replaced. But the beats went on.

I remember many times, sneaking into my dad’s band room before he got home from work and putting the needle to the vinyl, lost somewhere between two cultures, or maybe I should say, being indulged in two cultures.

Sometimes it was The Village People, Chic, Donna Summer and John Mellencamp with “YMCA,” “Le Freak,” “Bad Girls” and who could forget “Jack and Diane”?

Sometimes the needle to the vinyl let out the Spanish lyrics of Little Joe, La Mafia and Augustine Ramirez, from, “Margarita” and “Tu, Tu, Solo Tu” and Augustine’s “El Barco Chiquito.”

When I see kids these days having a whole library or music store at their fingertips, in their small, hand-held devices, I sometimes flash back and think of the dozens and dozens of vinyls that lined the shelves in Dad’s music room.

Now many of these vinyls are packed in boxes and gathering dust. But many of these vinyls, I’m glad to see, have also been converted to digital sound, and in some cases, “static and all.”

Helena Rodriguez is a Portales native. Contact her at: Helena-Rodriguez@hotmail.com

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