My life as a music collection data nerd: The early years

[Microsoft Works]

I swear by the Music Collector software made by I bought a license for it in 2000, and I’ve used it to track every single item in my music collection ever since. But I’d been gathering data on my collection from way before then.

I didn’t really remember those proto-Collectorz days till I ran across a few .wdb files on a floppy disk. What kind of file is a .wdb file? It’s a Microsoft Works database file. That’s right — not an Access file or even an Excel file, a Works file. Microsoft Works was a home consumer version of the Office suite and came pre-installed on the first computer I owned.

Works amazingly lasted all the way till 2010, when Office finally supplanted it. Microsoft doesn’t provide a utility to convert Works database files to Excel, but a Java application by Duncan Jauncey does the job. So I took a peek into the state of my music collection in 1998, and I’ve shared it for the world to peruse.

The columns of that old database reflected how I kept records on paper. Yes, I do mean paper. Back in high school, I would type out lists of my collection, noting artist, title, release year, label and genre. Those fields became the basis for my Works database.

How do I know this file dates back to 1998? That was the year I replaced that first Windows 95 system — an Acer — with a Dell, and I bought a license for Office 2000 to go with it. I wanted a grown-up productivity suite, and the Works files were doomed to the digital dustbin.

I also kept track of genre, a concept I let go once I started shopping at Waterloo Records in 1997. Waterloo doesn’t organize its bins by genre, so Elvis Costello went right next to John Coltrane. When I migrated my data to Music Collector, I stopped tracking individual genres.

Of course, you could probably date the list by its total lack of anything released after 1998.

A lot of the albums in that spreadsheet are the same ones in my current collection, which Collectorz provides online through its cloud service. 1998 was 18 years ago. 1988 was 28 years ago. I’ve held on to some of these records and CDs since then. Shocking, right?

Probably the most interesting aspect of that old spreadsheet are the number of titles no longer in my collection. I’ve written a few entries about albums I’ve welcomed back after letting them go. I thought I would feel an urge to listen to revisit those rejected albums, but looking at that list, I remember why a lot of them went away. If curiosity gets the best of me, there’s always the streaming services.

Very rarely would I fail to recognize an album completely. Case in point, Sunday Morning to Saturday Night by Matraca Berg. I did a search on YouTube to figure out who she was. I discovered Emmylou Harris covered a song from Sunday Morning to Saturday Night on her second duet album with Rodney Crowell. (I knew I heard “Back When We Were Beautiful” somewhere!)

The album is nowhere to be found on streaming services, so I actually found a used copy to figure out why it exited my collection. It’s not a bad album, but compared to other country albums I encountered in the late ’90s — Jack Ingram’s Livin’ and Dyin’ and Kim Richey’s Bittersweet — it went on the chopping block earlier than others.