Gift puts a new spin on an old record collection

Gift puts a new spin on an old record collection

Special to the Star-Telegram

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So there I was happily if begrudgingly cleaning out the cluttered basement when I came across a box of 45 RPM, brittle, black vinyl discs. I think they were called "records."

The box was labeled "L.A.'s Records, 1970s" and because my wife is Leslie Aun, that would make sense. I put the old cardboard box on a table and started flipping through it. Some records had been played so frequently that the black vinyl grooves had worn down to white ruts. Clearly, this was music someone cared about.

My wife was born in 1964, so in the 1970s she was in her late childhood to pre-adolescent years. And the song selection revealed it. Here was a treasure trove of torrid, tepid pop rock from a little girl's life, no doubt played for hours alone in the bedroom with a Close 'n' Play turntable.

And that's when I had a diabolical idea. Leslie's birthday was coming up, so I decided to put these 45s on a CD, make a witty label for it and give it to her as a "it's the thought that counts" birthday gift, which would send the nostalgia factor off the charts. And if not, at least we could laugh about it.

Stanton, the Hollywood, Fla., electronics company, makes a USB turntable that lets you turn vinyl and audio cassettes into MP3s, which means once the music is recorded on your computer, you can burn it to a disc. The Stanton T.90 USB Turntable is a professional DJ tool that lists at $455, but you can get it for a lot less online.

First, you download the Cakewalk Pyro 5 disc into your computer. Cakewalk is a music-editing program that lets you convert, rip and copy tracks from other sources, and it loaded quickly without taking up very much space. (A bug: Every time I opened Cakewalk I got an error box telling me the CD-R library was not fully installed and to uninstall Cakewalk and try again. I did that three times with the same result and finally figured it didn't matter for what I was doing.)

You plug the T.90's USB cable into your laptop and tell Cakewalk to open up "Make CDs of Your Cassettes and LPs." Not having a handy audio-video receiver, I plugged the output cables from the Stanton into an old boom box, just to monitor the music, not judge its digital quality.

I cleaned off Shaun Cassidy's That's Rock 'n' Roll and put it on the T.90 platter. It took some adjusting, but I finally got the tone arm to stop skidding the needle across the disc. This would be a recurring problem. For some reason, no matter how I set the tone arm skid control, the arm would skate across the first two or three songs before settling in the middle of the album.

There was only faint recognition of the song in the microphone volume box, although I could clearly hear the tune through the boom box, meaning my computer was hearing something but not very loud. I checked all the volume levels — the program, the computer, the T.90 (which, as it happens, doesn't have a volume control) — and grew more irritated by the minute.

Then I checked Windows' "Manage Audio Devices" to see any recording options and noticed that my computer's built-in microphone was still operating. I changed it to default to the external mike.

Suddenly the "Record Volume" bars rang into the upper register and I was good to go in creating a file called "Leslie's Birthday CD."

Or, actually, 15 different files that went from "Leslie's Birthday CD 1" to "15." Each time you "Stop Recording" you have to rename the new file instead of just stacking songs on one another. It took me about three hours and 15 minutes over three mornings, but I finally finished and had the song list ready to put on a CD.

Cakewalk gives you the option of cleaning up the clicks and pops that are indigenous to vinyl, but I left them in to drive home the point that, hey, I made this by hand, not just by ordering it from Amazon.

So there it was, a disc loaded with my wife's favorites, among them: I'm Easy by Keith Carradine, Welcome Back (Kotter) by John Sebastian, Boogie Fever by the Sylvers, Heaven on the Seventh Floor by Paul Nicholas, and the coup de grace, Don't Give Up on Us, Baby by David Soul (yes, Starsky from Starsky and Hutch).

My wife's younger sister was going to be in town for Leslie's birthday, and I thought I would play the CD of lame, middle-of-the-road pop from Leslie's past on the house 5.1 system and we could all laugh at the memories and remark how terrific Leslie's taste in music is these days (Jordan Zevon, Arcade Fire, Madeline Peyroux).

And so with me and her sister watching, Leslie opened the wrapped CD and gazed at it in wonder for just a second before taking it from her hand and putting it into the CD player. I hit "Play" and out came Shaun Cassidy warbling like he did in 1977, with all the clicks and pops intact from the well-worn vinyl.

My wife looked confused. Her sister didn't laugh. So I skipped to the Carradine cut. Same reaction: No one laughed. So I skipped to Boogie Fever, and there was a giggle, but they were still dumbfounded.

Then I blurted, "I spent a week putting these songs on CD from your box in the basement. Don't you appreciate that?"

And Leslie asked, "What box?"

"The box of 45 records, the box with your initials on it — 'L.A.' — songs from your childhood. Don't you recognize them?"

"Those were my records, not Leslie's," said her sister — Lindsay.

And just then David Soul started singing, and we finally got the laugh I'd been waiting for.

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