Make it or Break it



What you got back home, little sister, to play your fuzzy warbles on? I bet you got little save pitiful, portable picnic players. Come with uncle and hear all proper! Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited.

—– A Clockwork Orange

When I first started to listen to music, a 45 RPM record cost ninety-eight cents. I had a dollar a week coming in and would eagerly await a trip to the record store to buy my music single. They had little booths that would let you listen to your prospective purchase, but I never would. I had been listening to the top-40 all week and would already have my mind made up. . Actually, the new national top-40 came out on Friday. Every night would be a local top-ten. I was fascinated by how much more volatile and responsive the nightly list would be – dominated by call-ins. That nightly snip would whet my appetite for the Friday countdown. Friday night, I’d think about it and make my choice.

On Saturday I would march right up to the big display – four columns horizontal, ten rows vertical, forty numbered slots – and snatch out my selection – march right to the counter and pay.

These were the days of battery-powered record players. The days of taping pennies to the tone arm to keep a scratched, overplayed, worn-out, favorite record from skipping.

Somehow, from somewhere, maybe a garage sale, we bought for a couple of dollars a huge stack of used, abandoned forty-fives – old stuff, no sleeves, just a stack-o-wax. We spent a day down in an unfinished basement with those platters and a pitiful, portable picnic player. One by one, we would cue up a record and within a few seconds after the tinny music began to eke out of the cheap speakers we would shout, “Make it or Break it?!” Inevitably, the choice would be “Break it!” and we would sling the sub-par disk against the concrete wall, shattering it into sharp shards of useless grooved vinyl. By the end of the day we had an impressive pile of ex-music.

The only platter that survived was 96 Tears, by ? and the Mysterians. It was addicting right from the start, so it survived. That heroin Farfisa organ.

Over time, later,  I played the hell out of that record.

I would see that band live decades later (1984) in a reunion double-bill concert with Joe King Carrasco at the Arcadia in Dallas. It was an evening of absolute off-the-hook greatness. I think that may have been the high-water mark of Western Civilization.

I feel guilt, to this day, over our lunatic day of Make it or Break it. I took so much from the single survivor. Looking back, I wonder what wonders were in those records we smashed. How much early rock or rockabilly or other classic stuff. Oh well, easy come, easy go.