There’s a big hole in my record!

Juke box 7-inch vinyl records.

There’s one thing today’s generation of music buyers are missing. The joy of receiving a box of random seven-inch singles from juke box heaven.

Before CDs and MP3s took over the recorded music world, the main way to own a pop song was on a vinyl disc. In the late 1970s a 45RPM single cost about 50 pence (or $1).
As a kid I’d spend my entire weekly pocket money, the reward for a range of domestic chores, on one single.

Making my choice from the top 40 was the week’s most difficult decision. The first single I bought was Cozy Powell’s Dance with the Devil.

On returning home from my three-hour Saturday morning visit to my local record shop, where I’d pick through albums priced at £1.99 wishing I had more cash, mum would say: “Didn’t you buy one of those last week?”

“Yes, but this one sounds different.”

She just didn’t get the joy of listening to cool music. You know, songs by the likes of the Bay City Rollers, Suzi Quatro, Slade, Kenny, Abba, Gary Glitter…

Having entered the workforce at the ripe old age of 16, I started earning proper money. Still, my collection of records grew slowly and by the 1980s dance music was my thing.

Leafing through a music magazine one wet weekend I had time to look at the small ads. There among the requests for a north London bass player, a Nottingham punk singer offering his services, tape duplication firms, and recording studios that were bookable by the hour, was a company offering ex-chart records.

The game was that as new singles entered the pop chart, the owners of juke boxes up and down the UK would remove last week’s chart droppers from the limited slots of these machines so new ones could go in.

Turns out, there were thousands of records destined for the dump every week, and as a way to get shot of them, juke box owners would offer their unwanted stock to the public. But you couldn’t pick and choose. A tenner got you a box of singles and you never knew what you’d get. It was a pop-pourie!

When the first box arrived from some London warehouse I couldn’t open it fast enough. In among the recent hits were tracks by singers I’d never heard of – each one a broken dream. Having quickly sorted the known from the unknown, a problem became apparent.

Being ex-juke box records, the centre of the singles were huge compared to the tiny hole they normally have. These records had holes about 4cm across – so they could be easily placed by a mechanical arm onto the spinning turntable of a juke box.

I tried centring the disc best I could on my turntable to no avail. Pointless. The sound was all wobbly.

A friend helpfully recommended I buy a bag of centres that clip into the middle of the records. Once they were acquired, I was away.

After playing both the A side and the B side of each single, more than half never saw the light of day again. But in the mix were plenty of hits and a regular order was made until I had to start giving away singles to unsuspecting friends.

“No really, give it a listen…Take it before I change my mind…Take a handful…”

The day’s of having a box of random records delivered are long gone. Still, the joy of the bargain boxes lives on. Even if only a handful remain in my modest collection today. Moving houses, and moving countries, really helps focus the mind on what to keep.

A record collection of seven-inch and 12-inch singles, as well as a hefty number of vinyl albums – that filled the width and height of a front room wall by the late 1990s – has today been thinned down from thousands to a few boxes collecting dust in the bottom of the wardrobe.

Much like old photos in this digital world, they serve little purpose other than to prompt memories…Of teenage parties, a first dance, the first kiss, my journey to becoming a club DJ, and eventually sharing my favourite music with my children – when music from a spinning black disc seemed like magic.

It’s a shame really.

Steve Hart

Steve Hart

Steve Hart is a journalist and editor based in Melbourne.

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