The Vinyl Solution

Think 45s are a thing of the past? Think again.

Hear Here is also patronized by so-called "operators" like Ray Fudge, who have contracts to service and provide music for jukeboxes on routes that generally include restaurants and bars. In the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, this task was often linked with organized crime: If a barkeep refused to take a jukebox at an inflated price from a mob underling, his teeth might soon be jutting from the back of his head. Carolyn doubts that anything similar goes on among her clientele, but she acknowledges that some operators exhibit a certain paranoia about competitors anyway: "It's a cutthroat business. People will try to break up someone's route by going to all their customers and offering them better deals to take their jukeboxes and games. That's why some people won't tell us where the music's going--because they want to keep their routes secret. Or they'll have us separate things for different places using initials--like 'S.C.' or 'B.P.'--or different color codes. That way, they can let us keep track of things without being afraid that we can figure out their routes." She laughs. "It's all kind of funny to us. Because we don't care where it goes."

"Besides," Heather elaborates, "there are getting to be more and more big companies that are doing this, and they're not really afraid of people stealing their routes. Like there's this one we deal with called Vicorp that supplies music for the jukeboxes in all the Village Inns across the country. I don't know how they heard about us, but we didn't call them--they called us. We couldn't believe it."

With only a handful of exceptions, corporate operators such as Vicorp are interested in compact discs, not 45s. Still, most major record companies continue to make a sizable portion of their catalogues available on vinyl. The proof is in any of Hear Here's bins. Pick out one at random--the middle of the letter 'D,' perhaps--and you'll discover a stunning assortment of acts from yesterday and today: Dean & Jean, El De Barge, Chris De Burgh, Joey Dee, Kool Moe Dee, Ricky Dee, Deee-Lite, Deep Forest, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, the DeFranco Family, Desmond Dekker, Delaney & Bonnie, the Delfonics, the Dells, Martin Delray...

Contemporary smashes can be had as well; Carolyn estimates that she can get about a third of the current Hot 100 pop singles on 45, and two-thirds of the selections on the country hits chart. The exception to this rule, she says, is hip-hop, which owners of 45 boxes haven't taken into their hearts. "It sells on twelve-inch because people want to mix and scratch it," Carolyn says. "But it doesn't do well on 45 at all. We service a place in Five Points that won't take it. They say it brings in the wrong element. And if it won't sell in Five Points, it's not going to sell in many other places. Most business owners want something that seems a little safer to them."

"Like 'The Macarena.' We've sold hundreds of copies of 'The Macarena,' and we still can't keep it in stock. You may be sick of it, but somebody out there still likes it."

Even when a cut is listed as available, actually getting ahold of it can be tricky. Because vinyl accounts for such a small part of an imprint's profits, the format is often treated as an afterthought that results in the issuance of too many copies of some singles and not enough of others. Complications also arise when firms sell titles to houses like Collectables Records, based in Narberth, Pennsylvania, that specialize in the making and marketing of vintage 45s. Such pacts keep classics in print, but while the kinks are being worked out, they can lead to periods of months or even years when Carolyn can't obtain certain titles. "We've been trying to get 'Dancing Queen' and 'Fernando,' by ABBA, for a couple of years; they're supposed to be available, but they never show up. And you pretty much can't get any early Rolling Stones stuff right now because the rights are all fouled up. Somebody found a bunch of Stones singles in an old warehouse in New York state a while back, and they were selling them for nine and ten dollars apiece. And those were for the cheap ones."

"People are always asking for 'Jose Cuervo,' by Shelly West, too," Tamara offers. "It's a good drinking song, and we could sell a ton of them. But we can't get it."

So what is the single Carolyn and company would most like to obtain--the one that has been requested most regularly?

Tamara and Carolyn don't need to confer. They respond in unison, as if intoning the name of the Holy Grail.

"'Stairway to Heaven.'"

Is there a future in 45s? Ask this question of any music-biz pro you can find and you'll likely receive the quickest "no" in the history of verbal communication. But Tamara and Heather are of the opposite opinion. In fact, both expect Hear Here to flourish for many years to come--and they plan to be a part of its success. Tamara works forty hours a week at the store. "Things just got too busy for Mom to handle by herself," she says. "On those days when I've got to be gone for something, I come back and she's just worn out. And when she's gone, I can hardly believe all the work that I've got to do." She's taking night courses at Community College of Aurora with an eye toward an accounting degree that she wants to use to make Hear Here run even smoother. "I'd like to take everything over when Mom's ready to retire," she says. "Even though I don't think she ever will be."

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