“Angie Lynn, you are 8 years old. When are you going to get tired of this disco music?” Mom wanted to know.
“Never,” I insisted.
“It feels like it,” she said. “How many times have I called the radio station to play that ‘Dancing Queen’ song for you?”
“Not enough,” I argued. “If we had a record player, I could listen to ‘Dancing Queen’ all the time.”
“Oh lord.” Mom put her hand to her forehead. “You are not helping your case.”
“But Mom, I saw you dancing to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ the other day,” I blurted. “It came on the radio while you were ironing.”
“Child, do you ever take a nap when I tell you to?”
I went for broke, even though Mom was frowning. “When Dad drives the station wagon, he cranks up Johnny Cash and rolls the windows down. Our cousins blast Kiss on that stereo that looks like a cabinet. But your own children are stuck with a busted eight-track Dad got at a flea market.”
Mom looked like she wanted to strangle me, except that I had touched a chord, if you will.
“Well, your brother’s birthday is coming up,” she said. “If I convince your father to get a record player, you’re not getting any songs by Abba.”
“I don’t care,” I lied as I jumped for joy.
“And none of their albums either,” she added.
“That’s fine, whatever.” I ran out to tell my brother, who had pinky sworn to share a record player if I talked Mom into it.
We started putting Kmart sale papers with the plug-and-player in places where my parents would see them: Mom’s rocking chair, Dad’s wingback chair, and of course the bathroom. We imagined taking the player wherever we went, lugging along our stacks of albums and 45s. Our cousins and their stereo cabinet would have nothing on us.
When my brother ripped the birthday paper off the beige hard plastic plug-and-player, he was thrilled, although his first album was unexpected.
“Rod Stewart’s Night on the Town?” he said, holding up the cover. “A British heart throb with poofy hair?”
“I don’t care for his looks,” Mom assured us, “but the clerk said he’s on top of the charts. Do you not like him either?”
“Are you crazy?” I said to my brother. “Who cares what you play? Just put it on.”
He dropped the needle on Rod’s number-one hit. “Tonight’s the night,” Rod crooned, “It’s gonna be alright.” But he sounded like he was trapped in a tiny tin can instead of un-belting his way into a hot woman’s bell bottoms. Even after my brother turned the volume to max, Rod’s declarations had a definite lack of lung power. The plug-and-player had a solo speaker as small as my sneaker.
“You kids look like you lost your best friend,” Dad said. “Open your other album, son.”
My brother perked up when he pulled the paper off Songs in the Key of Life. “This will sound way better,” he assured me. “Here comes ‘Sir Duke.’”
As soon as the horns started playing, I shook my head. “It sounds like Stevie Wonder’s band is farting.”
“That’s not very nice,” Dad cautioned me.
Dad tried to help us engineer better sound for the plug-and-player—setting it on a stack of World Books, blowing a fan behind it, taping the album covers together like the Wall of Sound—but nothing worked.
“Son,” Dad finally admitted, “I think this thing is doing all it can.”
My brother’s face was as long as Stevie Wonder’s braids. Our cousins’ stuck-in-place stereo cabinet was cooler than our plug-and-player, but we didn’t ask Mom and Dad if we could live with them.
Instead, we moped our way through mono versions of Fleetwood Mac and Foreigner while my brother saved his summer-job money and bought a stereo we couldn’t take anywhere. Not that we needed to. The speakers were so big, everyone on our street could hear us playing Love You Live by the Rolling Stones and my cousins’ Christmas gift, The Album by Abba.
“You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need.”
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