Times have changed in the vinyl record business. When CD’s became ubiquitous in the the late 80’s early 90’s, the the demand for compact discs soared due to their ease of play and portability. The vinyl market crashed, and records could literally be had for pennies, or nothing as listeners divested themselves of collections accumulated over years mouldered in basements, were given away, sold off in music stores, or were sent off to landfills.
I know this story well. I had 350-400 records. Most lived in my garage until my son, Patrick, and his friends, were old enough to be interested in them. They took some-some good titles too-and some were sent away. I’m down to about half of what I once had, including some bad titles (that belonged to my wife!!) My dough went to building my CD collection, and I have many, many that I’ve ripped to my computer. Now I’m looking at the room they suck up and am trying to figure what I can reasonably part with.
About ten years ago talk about vinyl turned to its warm, analog sound over digital’s compressed, harder sound. I began to listen, but didn’t do much about it. I had an old, awful stereo, not much interest in adding to another space-sucker like records. But, about four years that began to change. Pat invited me off to do Record Store Days in the spring and I just got interested. I picked up used records here and there, mostly because they were cheap. I targeted bands I’d always loved for quick pick-ups. Great albums could be had for two, three, four bucks.
Today, it’s different. Everything is different. Going to used record stores is usually not a great place to buy cheap records. Good, vintage records are no longer as available and they are definitely no longer cheap. In many cases, used records form about half of the inventory of a used store as they increasingly add repressings of classic rock on high quality vinyl.
So, here I am trying to learn the business of finding cheap, but good versions of the records I hope to add to my growing pile o’vinyl.
First, I’m a great believe in finding great supporting resources. I used to use print copies of Rock encyclopedias by Rolling Stone and MusicHound that were always out of date and took up lots of room on my bookshelf. Now I can just Google “best records by whoever and get information from fan sites or the Pitchfork blog. Rolling Stone has their online best of lists . . . but I just gotta wonder.
But, the most important record-buying resource you can have is Discogs. This is a great multi-purpose site with tools that allow you to catalog your record collection by manufacturer’s number and by condition. Discogs allows a want list (together with all the e-mails pointing to sellers that can fulfill my wildest vinyl wishes.) It’s a great tool for completeists, because every version of every record is listed. That in itself can be a challenge, since there are 378 different releases of Dark Side of the Moon on many different media. Last, and probably most important, Discogs is a marketplace. Records and other music media are bought and sold. Usually not cheap, but you can pick and choose condition and media from all over the world. I’ve purchased two records through Discogs and was quite pleased with the condition and the service.
But if you’re really serious about enlarging your vinyl collection without getting into major feuds with your significant other, or considering a second mortgage on your house, you have to be all in for the hunt. Thrift shops, garage and estate sales must be your friend. Yeah, I know, it’s hard for me too. At this point I have begun hitting the local thrift shops in Puyallup. There are about five of them-Value Village, a couple of Goodwills, St. Vincent DePaul, and Treasure Quest. In addition to that there are a couple of locations that specialize in estate sales or impounded goodies from storage units.
Almost every shop I go to I can count on finding:
Christmas records–the annual Firestone Christmas record is ubiquitous and I’m sure you can have a complete collection cheap.
Lawrence Welk AND The Lennon Sisters
Tons of inspirational music (at least it’s inspirational to somebody)
Collections of records by Andy Williams, Frank Fontaine, John Gary, and other luminaries of the 50’s and 60’s era
Beautiful music by Ferrante and Teischer, Mantovani, Phase 4 collections. You know, all the stuff your parents used to listen to.
What I never count on finding: A Beatles Butcher Block cover of Yesterday and Today. You’re competing with other collectors/buyers who are looking for the same things you are. So finding something of value to you is something to look forward to.
They’re out there. I spent a couple of hours driving around Puyallup on Saturday and came up with these albums:
1. Prisoner in Disguise by Linda Ronstadt. In the ’70’s I was an enthusiastic Ronstadt fan, and saw her in concert in the Kingdome in 1976. The Kingdome was a huge echo chamber so the concert was lousy, but I always loved her voice. Tragic that. due to Parkinson’s Disease, Ronstadt sings no more. I bought this record new once upon a time, and I have no idea where it went. Perfect record, perfect cover, 99 cents.
2. Meddle by Pink Floyd. This was one of the albums directly preceding Dark Side of the Moon, On the Canadian Harvest label. Pristeen cover and disc. 99 cents.
3. Concerto for Small Group and Orchestra by Deep Purple and The London Philharmonic Orchestra. Yes you read that right. Another Canadian pressing on Harvest. I haven’t listened to this yet, but it should be pretty interesting. Richie Blackmore, Ian Gillian and the boys are all there. Another perfect album and cover for 99 cents.
4. Everybody Likes Some Kind of Music by Billy Preston. Never heard of Billy? The keyboardist backed up all your favorite performers in the 60’s, including The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Ray Charles and more. He put out quite a few solo albums. This one is from 1973, was in great shape and cost less than a buck.
Is this the usual haul I come up with? Absolutely not. It was a very good day. I went in to Tacoma yesterday to check out some shops and came away with nothing, not even close.
Which brings me to my last point, and that is: establish some rules for yourself in sorting through used vinyl:
Condition matters: I buy records to listen to the music. I’m not a collector, have limited space and am not a completist. I don’t need place holder copies of vinyl. I always check the condition of a record. If there are visible scratches or scuffs, I stay away. Be sure the album is straight, no warps. There’s nothing quite like watching a record on a platter with the tonearm looking like it’s on a roller coaster.
Every record needs a dust jacket. Every record is or was sold with a dust cover. You know. Those often flimsy paper envelopes inside the album cover that protect the vinyl. Records without covers are like a flare that signify warning-there are likely scuffs and scratches a-go-go. I won’t even look at ’em.
Be Picky. There’s all kinds of stuff out there. Does it fit in your collection. Is it a record you really want to listen to? As I’ve gotten older, my musical tastes have broadened. Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, certain funk artists and others interest me in a way they didn’t twenty years ago. But that doesn’t mean I need to pick up the same John Denver records I had in high school. Don’t console yourself by buying records you don’t really want, that you won’t listen to and will simply take up valuable space.
Finally, in sharing my experiences, I’ve begun following a blog called Mark’s 365 Days of Vinyl. Author Mark, who also has some ties to the Northwest, reviews some of his awesome purchases in the used/thrift store vinyl treasure hunt. Short, interesting, and often very fun entries.