I’ve always loved music. Buying music has always been one of my vices, together with purchasing books and wargaming miniatures. I’ve had hundreds of vinyl records, 8-tracks, cassettes, cd’s and loads of mp3 downloads. I know many today prefer streaming their music from the ‘net, but I’m one of those who prefers to own my music just in case the cloud comes crashing down and all my playlists are swallowed in a North Korean mega-attack on Spotify or iTunes.
At 59 I’m old enough to glory in the music medium of my youth, the vinyl record. Though I parted with many of my LP’s many years ago, I hung on to some great albums. I have-an original Decca issue of Tommy, by the Who, four London pressings of Rolling Stones albums including “Beggars Banquet” and “Let it Bleed,” a scarce “Yardbirds Live” LP with Jimmy Page on guitar. I also had some serious stinkers. They mostly sat in my garage, and then I moved them indoors to a bottom shelf of my bookcase, where they sat ignored and unheard.
A couple of years ago I began to read articles about the compression of data in digital recordings, and the loss of dynamic sound. Together with a Christmas gift of a basic Numark turntable, I began to think twice about my big vinyl discs with their attractive covers. I wrote about buying a copy of “Electric Warrior” by T-Rex and comparing it the CD and finding the quality of the record to be a much fuller, “warmer” sound. Though I began to pick up a record here and there, I avoided grabbing bunches of vinyl. It was more of a novelty at that point.
Things changed this summer when Lorri shared her inheritance with me, slipping me a few hundred dollars to do with as I pleased. I bought a 1978 Kenwood receiver and a pair of wonderful PolkAudio speakers. It’s the stereo I wish I had in college-40 watts per channel that absolutely fills my tiny 8′ X 8′ den. I bought the equipment for less than $300 at Hawthorne Stereo in North Seattle. I wouldn’t normally share this except they do such a great job selling and servicing used stereo equipment. They often have great sales, offer a good warranty and are generally supportive.
My Vinyl Collection
I have a pile of records. I’m not sure it’s a collection. Usually “collections” are completist. The owner is trying to acquire something or other-all the Beatles LP’s American and British, all the imports and the ’45’s. Not me. I’m really interested in acquiring the music I like, filling holes in the genres I enjoy.
Space limitations are another feature of collection. I’m always amazed at seeing photos of other folks walls of vinyl. In High Fidelity, my favorite John Cusack movie, he is a music store owner and his home is wall to wall records. I am quite envious. I don’t have that kind of space, mostly because I have lots of other possessions I love. But I have done some shuffling, gone to ikea and picked up a wall unit called Kallax. When the Kallax is filled, something will have to go, because there is no more room. I suspect I have room for about 200 or so records at the present time.
I’m not super picky about the nature of the recordings except that they be clean. Some folks think the pop of a scratch on a vinyl record somehow sounds cool. I don’t. I am happy to get original pressings when I can, but if they’re too scarce or expensive, I willing to buy the newer 180 gram vinyl re-masters. Not your father’s records, they are thicker and sturdier and sound just as good. I picked up a couple of the Led Zeppelin re-masters (“II” and “Zoso”), and a pair of Queen albums (“A Day at the Races” and “A Night at the Opera”) and am quite pleased. Nothing bugs me more than getting a record home and finding it is scratched or has a difficult-to-see edge warp.
What am I looking for?
I feel committed to representing Northwest music as much as possible. I’d like to have all the Wailers LP’s, the Sonics, the Kingsmen, the Galaxies, etc. I’m also fascinated with the Seattle “grunge” sound of the 90’s. This is tough, because aside from the bands that made a national reputation, those records had limited pressings. I have the re-mastered “Ten” by Pearl Jam and “In Utero” by Nirvana and they sound spectacular. But records by Green River, the Melvins, Screaming Trees and other important bands from that period made few vinyl issues in small pressings, and they’re spendy. I’m also very interested in looking at some of the early American punk bands, particularly The Ramones and The Patti Smith Group. Though I have a little bit on CD, I would prefer it on vinyl. I’m also beginning to explore some “classic country.” I confess, I used to completely dismiss country, but the good stuff-Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, maybe others I haven’t considered–is just good songwriting with a bit of a twang. And then there are just good records that belong in any mainstream collection. I’d love a copy of Paranoid by Black Sabbath, or the first couple of Pretenders albums, and rebuild my Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers collection that disappeared years ago. Sounds like more than 200 records to you too, doesnt’ it?
What can I NOT do?
I love to shop used record stores in Tacoma and Seattle. There are some great records to be had, but it’s important to avoid distractions if possible. I also slide into Goodwill from time to time because records are in good condition and only 99 cents, but impulse buying is bad will choke the small space I have.
Another no-no is buying anthologies: “greatest hits” and “best of . . .” collections. Those are nice shorthand and can help give a glimpse at a career, but original albums give a better all-around understanding of a musician’s quality. There are some collections that are great like the “Nuggets” series by Rhino/Elektra that give a glimpse inside a rock era, but generally I’ll avoid anthologies.
Finally, it is important not to try and recreate what I already have. The siren songs of record albums are tough to ignore, but I have something on the order of 400 or more CD’s (No, I don’t count them, I never do.) If I start to replace CD’s with vinyl records I’m doomed, both from a cost standpoint and a the position of preserving limited space. There are some times this will be a real lure I can’t resist. I can think of several albums right off the top-Astral Weeks and “Moondance” by Van Morrison, and Live at the Fillmore East by the Allman Brothers Band I’d love to have on an LP, and I may do that, but I’m screwed if I make those wholesale additions. Besides, I still have a car with a CD player for the foreseeable future, and it’s nice to have a change from NPR on the radio. Even so, I see a day when many of the compact discs will go, and their space will be taken by LP’s.
So what has my addiction brought me lately?
I managed to acquire the afore mentioned “Nuggets, vol 1” and “Nuggets, vol 2.” The former is a classic. The premise behind the records was to feature the work of pre-psychedelic American artists that usually had local success, but weren’t so well known nationally. These include The Standells from Boston, 13th Floor Elevators from Austin and a host of others. It’s a reissue on high grain vinyl, very nice. Ran across vol.2 by chance and haven’t listened to it yet, but it includes the classic “Strychnine” by Tacoma’s Sonics. There is a third album and I hope I get so lucky as to find it. I got the remastered “In Utero” for Christmas. It’s simply spectacular. A few songs are hard to listen to, but others-“All Apologies,” “Heart Shaped Box,” “Rape Me,” “Dumb”-are just unbelievable song writing and performances. Highly recommended, but not for the faint of wallet. Last, I happened across a copy of “Happy Trails” by San Francisco’s Quicksilver Messenger Service at Half Price Books. It’s #188 on the Rolling Stone top 500 albums of all time list. You’re joking right? It’s an interesting collection of psychedelic jam rock, but in the top 200? Don’t think so.
If purchasing vinyl has become a addiction, it beats other bad habits. It’s something I love to do with my son Pat. Record stores are great places to hang out–when I can get to them. And at my age, I have the willpower to walk out with nothing.