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The Friday Morning Listen: The Cars

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In an article about becoming a non-smoker, writer David Sedaris speaks of his childhood bedroom as a sort of oasis amidst the neglect and smokey odor of the rest of the house. "…if I'd had my way," Sedaris writes, "it would have smelled like an album jacket the moment you remove the plastic. That is to say, it would have smelled like anticipation."

The smell of anticipation. Wow. So for all of these years, I thought it was only my music-crazed self who cared about the smell of album jackets. Yes, every new record ever purchased does indeed come with that lovely aroma. It's a little like "new car smell," but maybe more narrowly focused. I have to say that I always felt a little weird savoring that smell, but as the stacks of records took over most of my living space, I figured that it was just an unavoidable and (supposedly!) secret part of my little ritual. When I get a hit of that smell now, the first two or three seconds of nearly every record I own can be heard echoing around in my head.

That is certainly true of The Cars first record, though this one has other things attached to it. I bought the album during a little adventure with a friend of mine. Neither of us had a way to get around so we decided to hitchhike to the nearest big town. This wasn't my idea as I'd never hitched a ride before, my nerd self being deathly afraid of being killed by some psycho in a pickup truck. As it turned out, we got picked up by the mother of a good friend of mine. She was pretty cool about it (read: didn't tell my parents), seeming more amused than anything else.

We got to the store and I immediately pulled a copy of The Cars from the new releases rack. "Good Times Roll" was all over the radio at the time and I just had to have it. Heck, I was ready to head for home right then and there, the draw of new music perhaps being as strong as nicotine addiction (I don't know… I've never smoked), but Andrew wasn't finished yet. More poking through the bins and I take a copy of The Tubes What Do You Want From Live, having been highly recommended by another friend of mine. Come on, "White Punks On Dope" sounds like just the sort of song that'll piss off the parents. Oh yeah, I was such a rebel.

A rebel with not enough money. There is nothing worse than a music freak on a vinyl high. I actually lowered myself to asking Andrew for a loan. It felt sort of low and sleazy, but I'd already attempted the album calculus in my head and couldn't come to the solution as to which record to put back. I needed them both.

Somehow, we made it back home. Apparently, the pickup truck psychos don't come out until the evening.

Back in my room, we peeled the plastic from the albums and shook the walls with The Cars, The Tubes, and Nazareth (Andrew bought either Expect No Mercy or Razamanaz, I can't remember which).

Dang, it smelled great.

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About Mark Saleski

  • That is to say, it would have smelled like anticipation.”

    I didn’t grow up with vinyl for quite as much of my musical life as you, but I know that scent and the feelings attached to it. The scent of anticipation. Amen. For me, it’s the tactile response to opening a CD, something digital files can’t give.

    I’d already attempted the album calculus in my head and couldn’t come to the solution as to which record to put back.

    My wife needs to read that statement. I understand it only too well.

  • And here comes a third generation of music format: the cassette. I used to love opening cassettes and smelling the liner. The best ones had a sweetness the likes of which I’ve never smelled before or since. It faded over time.

    Some were like most CDs that I open today: they had an awful, sharp stink, and I seem to recall it was on later cassettes that I bought, not the earlier ones. It must be due to some combination of slightly more environmentally-friendly (read: recycled) paper and ink that leads to a nasty odor.

    I just checked the new Portishead CD – not much of an odor, but it does strangely smell like the drawing-tools section of an art store. Pencils and erasers, specifically. Weird.

    Someone needs to chime in and tells us what 8-tracks smelled like.

  • Wow – you nailed my feelings on vinyl.

    Well done.

  • this is kinda weird. now that i think of it, i like the smell of books, magazines, and newspapers too.

    8-tracks? isn’t boyd around here somewhere? no wait, that’s wax cylinders.


  • Man, it’s been so long I’d forgotten about my once large collection of cassettes. Yeah, that was my entry point into the world of music. I don’t miss those fuckin’ things, that’s for damn sure. I don’t think I can get nostalgic about cassettes at all.

  • i have a pile of cassettes, still packed away in a couple of boxes…waiting for me to do digital transfers (these are mostly radio shows and things).

    i bet i never bought more than 10 or so actual prerecorded cassettes.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I’ve done some transfers of cassette. Trying to buy the CD of that no longer produced album costs way too much & trying to work with vinyl can be a real pain in the ass. I have my trusty Denon single player hooked up through my sound card & Sony Sound Forge 8.0. With the real hard to find stuff I encode to 24bit/96kHz for future purposes. I can always re-encode from their on down for any other reason(CD,Flac,etc).

    As for this “smell thing”,I couldn’t be bothered but I don’t like the smell of books or magazines either. I guess if you want any kind of smell from your digital files, you could always fry your hard drive…*Smirk*

  • Bennett

    Great stuff Mark. Damn fine to hear someone else “just had to have” The Tubes album. Classic stuff that.

  • yeah brian, i’ve got a bunch of radio shows and hard to find things on tape….but my poor Nakamichi hasn’t been fired up in several years. we’ll see what happens.

  • 8-tracks? isn’t boyd around here somewhere? no wait, that’s wax cylinders.

    8-Tracks never really had a distinctive smell. Just this really irritating clicking sound between tracks — and sometimes right in the middle of them. I did used to store mine in one of those revolving “lazy susan” fixtures though.

    Nah, not much to miss there. But the smell of vinyl…ahh, now that’s the stuff of dreams.

    Very well put Sir Mark.


  • Actually, now that I think about it, 8 Tracks smelled kind of like burnt oil.


  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Dude…Nakamichi!! That should start right up. Those were the best decks you could buy. My friend had the “Dragon” in his car,ya know, the one that flipped the tape over for you…

    I forgot to mention that I love The Cars & some of The Tubes stuff was pretty cool. Todd Rundgren sounds pretty damn good with’em (The Cars) nowadays.

    My only(fondest)memories of 8-Track was that mom had a deck in her Ford LTD. My brother used to play KISS – Double Platinum & The Eagles – Greatest Hits.

    I’m pretty sure that storing your 8-Track tapes under the hood wasn’t a good idea. It’s not very convenient either,especially on the highway…*smirk*

  • yes, i have a Nak CR-2A. built like a freaking tank.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    My Denon DRR-680 is built pretty damn good as well.

  • Darren

    RE: Brian’s Denon tape deck.

    What a beauty – I love how the promotional photos of cassette decks always had these mysteriously cool looking clear cassettes loaded into them that you could see actual metal reels inside. My Maxell UDXLII’s never looked like that…

    I may be the only person alive who IS nostalgic for the days of cassettes. I started out on vinyl and quickly moved to tapes for their portability ( I was a teenager with a boom box fetish, natch) and when we moved house two years ago was pained to finally have to throw out hundreds of pounds of 80’s rock on cassette. Some of it (mostly obscure Canadian rock) is still not available on CD – Gary O’s “Strange Behaviour” or Chalk Circle’s “Mending Wall” anyone?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Just recently I bought (again,some 20+ yrs later) Kick Axe – Vices on cassette because on CD it is going for $30-$40.

  • JC Mosquito

    As a kid, the day I came home with my brand new copy of Deep Purple’s Burn was the same day part of our basement flooded. I will always associate that album with the smell of wet carpet and vice versa.

  • Very good stuff Mark. I can’t remember what the smell of a new vinyl record was like, but I do know that I love the smell of musty books.

    And while we’re speaking of odors, I used to work in an office with this fax machine. The coupler smelled oddly like band-aids.

    (she writes while radiating essence of patchouli.)
    : )

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    (she writes while radiating essence of patchouli.)

    *yuck*…Why not scare a skunk and let it spray you?!

  • Happy

    The 8 track player in my ford LTD was the right size to stash my stone pipe! Thank goodness the cops didnt look there! Vinyl rules!

  • *yuck*…Why not scare a skunk and let it spray you?!

    to each his own brian. i happen to love that smell.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Mark…Skunk or Patchouli? I think it is skunk & that wouldn’t surprise me after reading this thread.
    You sick bastich *Smirk*

  • Bruce


    Who commented on Gary O’ Strange Behavior and Chalk Circle, The Mending Wall. I have a CDR Professionally mastered from Lp of the Strange Behavior album, and an original copy of The Mending Wall on cd.
    If you want a CDR copy of either or both email me and I will send them to you at no cost.


    [Personal contact info deleted]