by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Well, I lost them. All 60 songs. I don’t know where I put them. They could be under a sock. They could be behind a credit card in my wallet.

Sixty songs. Gone like that. That’s what I get for living in the era of shrinking music.

See, kids, once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far, away — the 20th Century — music came on big discs called 78s. They were heavy, solid things. You could bang a nail with them or throw them like a Frisbee. Odd Job could flick one and take someone’s head off.

Who is Odd Job, you ask?

That is why you’re kids.

After the 78s came 33s — or LPs — which were lighter and made of vinyl. These things, like the 78s, held an album’s worth of music. But unlike the 78s, you could carry five of these to your friend’s house and not have to stop to rest.

Then came the 45. We thought these were cool. For one thing, they were half the size of an LP. And you could carry a whole stack to your friend’s house. Just stick your thumb through the hole in the middle and …

Why was there a hole in the middle?

For the little yellow plastic thing, of course.

Is everyone your age this thick?

Long live the 8-track

Anyhow, we would have been fine with the 45. But the music industry keeps inventing exciting new ways to listen to your old songs, mostly because it can’t come up with any exciting new songs.

So the 8-track was born. These were God’s little joke. They were long plastic boxes that you shoved into a slot. They didn’t rewind, and they stuck as often as they played. The only advantage an 8-track had over an album was that an 8-track didn’t melt in the sun.

Not that it stopped us from buying them. And as soon as we did, they were obsolete, in favor of …the cassette. Now here was an invention! You could tape a whole album on a 4-inch plastic rectangle. Never mind that you already had bought the album, the 45, the 8-track, and now you were putting it onto cassette, so you actually owned four formats of Elvis Presley singing “Ring Around Your Neck.”

And never mind that you needed a brand new cassette player, blank cassettes, labels and a carrying case, the cost of which could have bought you a dozen new albums.

What are you, a communist?

Music was getting smaller. That was important! We could not only take cassettes to friends’ houses but we could also take the player! And soon, we could wear it; they called it a Walkman.

Ah, I see this rings a bell.

Welcome the CD era

We could have stopped there. But the music industry, always concerned about the consumer, gathered together and said, “Who’s got the cocaine?”

Boom! Enter the CD. The CD was more compact than the 78, the LP, the 45, 8-track or cassette. Of course, you couldn’t record on CDs — “It’s technical” they said — so you had to replace all your albums.

And as soon as you replaced your entire collection, they made CDs recordable.
(This is why, in movies, record company executives are portrayed just above serial killers.)

Surely, CDs were the end of the line. But no! An even smaller version was invented — the mini-disc. And then, smaller still, the new craze, MP3, in which you have no disc or tape, just data cards the size of a quarter that can download 2 hours’ worth of music into a pocket-sized player.

And being a sap, I went out and bought one.

And I spent 5 hours with the software and another 4 hours transferring my CDs onto the computer then down to this tiny data card.

And when I finished, I ran to my friends and said, “Look! On these little cards I have put 60 songs!”

I was so proud. I was so hip. And I went on a trip. And I put them in my pocket. And I lost them because they are TOO …DANG …SMALL!

So now I have a player, but no data. I also have CDs, LPs, cassettes, 45s, and 8-tracks. Here is what I am doing now. I am turning on the radio. The song they’re playing is “Ring Around Your Neck.”

Class dismissed, kids. Go download Hanson.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or Catch “Albom in the Afternoon” 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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