You know what I hate about mp3 files? The color: None.
Last week, I plucked a copy of Josie Cotton‘s 1982 single “He Could Be The One” out of a bargain bin for pennies. And that little 45 reminded me once more that, much as I appreciate the convenience of digital music, vinyl records will always be the #1 format in my heart.
Look at that picture sleeve! The image alone provides a ton of information. The hairdo lets the potential listener know that this was a lady who’d seen an Elizabeth Taylor film or two in her day — and, quite possibly, skipped class to watch them on the Dialing-for-Dollars midday movie. And that car. You don’t need to be a vintage automobile buff to deduce that Cotton’s retro style doesn’t end when the needle hits the groove.
And sure enough, it didn’t. Josie Cotton’s debut album, Convertible Music, from which “He Could Be The One” was plucked, brimmed over with ’60s girl group and ’70s bubblegum ebullience. Like the pre-major label Bangles, early Blondie, and Tracey Ullman’s You Broke My Heart in 17 Places, Josie Cotton delivered music that was both contemporary and nostalgic. She was definitely au courant, with a well-timed spot in Valley Girl that cemented her place in pop culture history. Yet it also seemed likely her car radio was tuned to the oldies station just as soon as KROQ. Heck, it was only a couple years after the fact that I figured out that two of her catchiest tunes, “Tell Him” and “Jimmy Loves Maryanne,” were covers (of The Exciters and Looking Glass, respectively).
And then you slide the 45 out of the sleeve… and the vinyl is gorgeous, creamy pink. The color of strawberry milkshakes, satin pillows, and the upholstery at better beauty parlors everywhere. As my colleagues at Magnet have documented thoroughly, here and here, Cotton’s career — which later crossed paths with Elliott Smith — wasn’t quite as rosy as this single. But when “He Could Be The One” hits my turntable, and the chewing gum colored wax begins to spin, I can feel the years falling way, from 2009 to 1982 to… well, whenever that convertible rolled off the assembly line. Naïve? Probably. And a hell of a lot more romantic than a bunch of zeroes and ones pinging through my earbuds.
DJ El Toro is the host of the overnight show In Between Sleep & Reason, Wednesday mornings from 1 AM to 6 AM on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle and kexp.org. His column, Weird At My School, appears every Monday on the KEXP Blog. You can now follow DJ El Toro on Twitter!