A sequel to Record Store Tales Part 215: Mono
RECORD STORE TALES #885: Mono (II)
I don’t know how I got mono, but it happened it the 8th grade. Everybody was getting ready to graduate and move on to highschool, which was something I could not wait for. I also can’t remember how long I was sick for. I was home from school for a long time. Weeks? Felt like months. I almost missed graduation. I made it back to school for the last few days of the year. I remember everybody was nice to me when I came back. That was a first. I only managed half a day upon my return, but felt well enough to do a full day the next time. Then it was all over.
I didn’t mind having to stay home from school. It kept me away from the bullies. There wasn’t much to do except watch music videos on the Pepsi Power Hour. That’s how my “music collection” grew, song by song. One of the defining songs from that period in my life is “Rough Boy” by ZZ Top. MuchMusic played that video a lot, and I captured a really good recording of it that I played incessantly. I didn’t own any albums by the artists I was recording. Anvil, Dio, Hear N’ Aid, Loudness — but I added the songs to my life. “Metal On Metal” was what I craved.
The limitation here was that I could, in theory, only listen to these songs on the TV in the basement. Like most people, we had an ordinary mono VCR and a TV with only one speaker. It was a strange JVC machine, with a dockable remote. I can’t find any pictures online of the exact model. It looked cool but it had a potentially fatal flaw. It was that dockable remote. It was the only set of controls. If you lost the remote, you were in trouble!
Like all kids, I wasn’t allowed to spend all day in front of the TV, even when I was sick. But I wanted my tunes. Songs like “Let It Go” by Loudness. “Shake It Up” by Lee Aaron. “Lay It On the Line” by Triumph. I was just a kid; I didn’t have money to buy all the records. I had enough to start collecting the core bands I loved, like Maiden and Kiss. Not outliers like Loudness or Dio.
My buddy Bob taught me how to improvise. I had a box of primitive wires and connectors. At a very early stage, I realized I could connect the single “audio out” port on the VCR to one of the two “stereo in” jacks on my Panasonic dual tape deck. This meant that the mono signal from the VCR was really going to be in mono on my tape deck. One speaker only. Left or right, it was my choice. Neither was ideal. But I could put my music from the Pepsi Power Hour onto a cassette, which could then be enjoyed in my bedroom.
I saved my allowance and my parents took me to Steve’s TV so I could buy a Y-connector. It was a cheap, grey cable with one RCA connector on one end, and two on the other. It split a mono signal into a fake stereo, which is exactly what I needed.
I recorded all my MuchMusic videos (the ones I didn’t own on album) to cassette in this way. When I got around to buying an album, I wouldn’t need the recorded songs anymore. I didn’t like to waste valuable cassette space, so I would record over any redundant songs. I still have all these tapes, but the tracks today are a mish-mash of different years of recording and re-recording. When we got a stereo VCR in early 1991, I was able to put the Y-connector back in the box for good. No more need for fake stereo. Now I had the real thing for every music video I recorded going forward.
Having so many great songs recorded in mono (often with truncated beginnings and endings) gave me a real appreciation for buying the albums later on. Listening to my tapes made me want the really good songs that much more. When I finally got them, in full stereo cassette glory, and I heard the songs come to life, it was like going from black and white to full colour. Or 2D to 3D. Albums versions were often longer than the edited video versions as well. Buying the album was always rewarding. But there were so many songs, and only so many dollars. I had to pick and choose what to buy. Sometimes I wouldn’t get around to them for years. Or decades.
You just read a story about a kid with mono, listening to music in mono. You can say you’ve done that now.