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Pulling the plug on the Walkman sends me to Electric Avenue

Consumer electronics giant Sony said Monday it would no longer make its iconic Walkman, and I immediately thought of Eddy Grant and Thomas Dolby.

Songs by those two pop stars — “Electric Avenue” and “She Blinded Me with Science,” respectively — were in heavy rotation the spring of 1983, when I received a Walkman for my birthday and fired up the headphones for a walk to a nearby baseball field for a pickup game. Yes, the fact that I was walking to play pickup baseball ages me, I know. And yes, I remember these details. That’s because I’m a supreme music geek and not at all ashamed to admit it.

What I remember about that day is not just the portability of the listening experience, but the quality of the sound that was being piped into my ears. Grant’s “Oy!” and what sounded like a revving motorcycle kicking off what would become an unlikely hit for the reggae performer. And the layered synthesizers and electronic drums of Dolby’s novelty hit. Cassettes never sounded so good.

The Associated Press reported that the Walkman will continue to be produced in China and distributed in the U.S., Europe and some Asian countries. Digital Walkmans are also being made with models that display lyrics and have improved digital noise-canceling technology.

“Still, if you’re looking to chisel a date in the Walkman’s tombstone, then Oct. 25, 2010, is as good as any,” the AP wrote. “For many, that it’s taken this long is surprising: ‘They were still making those?’ Perhaps Oct. 23, 2001, the day the iPod was launched, is the better date of expiration.”

An astounding 220 million have been sold since the first model, the TPS-L2, debuted in July 1979. It retailed for … wait for it … $200. (I’m reminded of a very funny scene in “The Wedding Singer,” set in the 1980s, when Glenn (Matthew Glave) shows off the new compact disc player he picked up for Julia, his girlfriend (Drew Barrymore), and in impressing upon her the momentousness of the acquisition reveals the retail price of $700.)

Sony founders Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka developed the Walkman, with the novel idea at the time of making it a device for playback, not recording. In the process, as other commentators have noted, they can conceivably lay claim to spawning the mixtape, the death of the album and the birth of earbuds.

That and a lot of nostalgia.