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Song Hordes: The Return of the Indie

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PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Before my wife and I moved out to Portland from Boston, my mother asked if there was anything I wanted from her house in New Jersey to take on the trip with us.

"Yeah," I said. "Can you bring up Steve Holland's records?"

In our family lore, Steve Holland's records are the equivalent of The Ark of the Covenant from Raiders Of The Lost Ark or One-Eyed Willy's treasure map from Goonies. The story went that Steve Holland, my mother's high school boyfriend, had lent them to her more than 40 years ago and that the two broke up shortly thereafter. My mom got the records in the exchange and both went on to lives too busy to be bothered with a bunch of old vinyl. The two faux-snakeskin flip-top boxes of 45s had been buried in a far corner our family's attic since we moved into the house in the mid-'80s and hadn't been played since the late 1960s or early '70s.

When my mom brought them up to our Boston apartment last summer, I was surprised not only by the singles they contained -- Dirty Water by The Standells, Louie Louie by The Kingsmen, You Can't Hurry Love by The Supremes , The Music Explosion's Little Bit O'Soul -- but by the sheer amount of labels. Not just Motown, Stax, Sun and the ones people still talk about, but dozens of others. The orange-and-white checkers of Roulette records, the googie font of Laurie records and the cartoon quote bubble firing from the revolver of Bang Records still entrance me every time I drop the 45 adapter on the turntable and give them a spin.

In the current music climate, we're repeatedly told how consolidation and greed are killing the recording industry and how the Big Three of Universal Vivendi, Sony and Warner Music are turning airwaves and earbuds into a steady stream of auto-tuned Muzak. Shouldn't the sight of all those labels from a high point in music history be making us a lot more wistful?

Maybe they would if the Big Three was all we had and independent labels were ground into dust. Maybe that would be the case if they weren't such a potent reminder that once those London-issued Rolling Stones singles and Capitol-minted Beatles records stop spinning, music lovers eventually branch out and start seeking out the Dave Clark Five, Procol Harum and The Left Banke. That's where the little labels come in, and broadening music minds have kept a lot of them around.