Three years ago, I gave away my vinyl collection to a friend. Well, to be precise, I let him borrow all of my records on the condition that I could ask for them back at any time for three years. After that, he could keep them.
My idea at the time was that if I wasn’t ever listening to this stuff, why should I hold onto it? Shouldn’t music be more than a status symbol or fetish object? Over the last three years I can honestly say that there have only been a few times I wanted to hear something that I’d had on vinyl, but didn’t have on CD or MP3. And now I can’t even remember a single example. I’ll admit that about once a week, though, I’ll hear somebody mention something about some album and I’ll wistfully sigh, “I had that on vinyl…”
Whatever though. Who cares? All that shit’s just the trappings and what really matters is the music. And as my three-year trial run was running out, I decided I’d better make a final visit to my vinyl, and pull out a box of keepers. One box. I had tried to do that three years ago, but I quickly became overwhelmed and could never really come up with a set of criteria that made any sense. So I said fuck it, pulled out my autographed copy of James Brown’s Get On the Good Foot, and sent the rest away.
But this time I was able to do it. Over two hazy evenings in Ann Arbor, I pared down my record collection of approximately 1,000 albums to around 50 keepers.
When tackling a problem like this it is crucial, of course, to have a plan. With help from my pal, we came up with some basic principles for what would constitute a keeper.
#1. It must be good. That is, you have to enjoy actually listening to it.
#2. It must be unavailable in a properly mastered CD format.
#3. It should be somewhat rare.
My friend thought that all three should be true in order to justify keeping something, but I was a little looser. If something met two of the three requirements, that might be enough for me. So here’s what I ended up with:
• Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique (quadruple gatefold)
• Beastie Boys – Love American Style EP
These were both reissued by Grand Royal in the late nineties. They meet all three requirements. Plus, it’s fun to wrap the eight-panel gatefold of the panoramic cover shot around your head.
• The Beatles – 20×4 (bootleg)
Contains Paul McCartney playing two acoustic songs for Donovan (“Blackbird,” “Heather”), plus a bunch of other crap I don’t care about. I should probably just download a quality FLAC of the Post Card sessions and ditch this.
• The Beatles – White Album (white vinyl)
This was a gift from an older guy my high school girlfriend knew from the local community theatre. We visited him in Indianapolis for the time trials (with my girlfriend’s older sister as our chaperone), and they let us spend the night in the same bed. Chastely, of course, but we still somehow broke the bed. He was impressed and I was embarassed. He and I talked a lot about music as he had been a DJ and had a huge record collection. I was amazed by a French issue of the White Album on white vinyl; I had never seen anything like it, so he let me keep it.
He told me that if I ever wanted to be a DJ that I should read the newspaper every single day. This made absolutely no sense to me at the time. How did the news have anything to do with music??? Ah, to be 15 again… Dumbass kids. I still can’t believe my mom let me go on an overnight trip with a girl.
• Boxcar Willle
This was one of parents’ records. I don’t think it meets any of the three requirements, but I’m keeping it.
• The Bobby Charles Quartet
This was released on the Fenton label and is collectible for a certain group of dorks. Like me.
• The Cure – In Between Days 12″
• The Cure – Concert
These were Jolie’s from high school. And they’re cool.
• Del the Funkee Homosapien – Mistadobolina 12″
• Del the Funkee – Made in America 12″
Maybe I’m a sucker for twelve-inch singles. But to me, these are the reasons to have a vinyl collection. Weird remixes and kooky b-sides. Sure, someone like Beck will eventually release all his b-sides on the deluxe editions of his albums. But Del? Probably not.
• Fortune and Maltese – Live at Harvey’s (bootleg)
This is mostly unlistenable. Terribly recorded, just like an authentic 60s bootleg. But it contains the awesome, otherwise unreleased psychedelic masterpiece, “Chevy Man.”
• George Harrison – All Things Must Pass
After my mom died and I was clearing out the house I grew up in, I came across a small stack of her records tucked away in a cubby hole. This was on top.
• Michael Jackson – Thriller (picture disc)
Bought this back in the day. I saw the Jacksons at the Pontiac Silverdome on the Victory tour. I had a picture disc of that album, too, but that one didn’t meet requirement #1.
• Waylon Jennings – Ol’ Waylon
This was my dad’s album. And it contains ones of the best songs of all time, “Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)”. The only two things in life that make it worth livin’ / is guitars tuned good and firm feelin’ women.
• Luscious Jackson – In Search of Manny EP
The first release on Grand Royal Records. Classic.
• King Tammy – Welcome to the County Fair…Motherfucker
• Mock Turtles – And Then She Smiles 12″
From my Stone Roses phase. It’s a 1989 single on Imaginary Records. The album, Turtle Soup, did not make the cut.
• The Mountain Goats – Come, Come to the Sunset Tree
A vinyl-only, only-available-on-tour type thing. Contains the demos of several songs that would be recorded for The Sunset Tree and a couple of otherwise unreleased gems.
• Idris Muhammad – Power of Soul
“Loran’s Dance” is the sample under “To All the Girls” on Paul’s Boutique. Listening to the full, ten-minute version on vinyl through good speakers with a little buzz will almost make you want to stop listening to rock and roll and become a full-fledged jazzbo. Looks like it was remastered in 2002 (and again this year?), so I probably don’t actually need to keep this. But I will. Because it sounds so good. Plus, I like the fact that the album cover could probably get me sent to Guantanamo.
PS – If you can’t find this on vinyl, you owe it to yourself to at least download the song. And listen to it on speakers. Loud. With a little buzz.
• New York Dolls
I don’t care. This album does not belong on CD.
• Harry Nilsson – A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night
Another one of my parents’ albums. I have vivid memories of staring at the album cover, mesmerized by his burning thumb. This—along with Willie Nelson’s Stardust—was my introduction to the standards.
• Elvis Presley – Having Fun with Elvis On Stage
“A Talking Album Only.” This is a terrible, unlistenable collection of between-song banter and applause that Colonel Tom Parker shamelessly released on his own label and sold at concerts. Even more shamefully, RCA reissued it and marketed it to the general public. This meets requirements #2 and #3. But I’ll never listen to it. Ever.
• Public Enemy – Fight the Power 12″
Far superior to the remix released on Fear of a Black Planet.
• Jonathan Richman – Modern Lovers 88
Contains at least three Jojo classics: “When Harpo Played His Harp,” “Gail Loves Me,” and “I Love Hot Nights.” But I can’t really remember why this made the cut. It’s available on CD, and this is just a weird album to have as the only Jonathan Richman album in your collection… Anybody need it?
• The Bob Seger System – Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man
This is a great album that contains the fantastic anti-war song, “2 + 2 = ?” Not available on CD.
• The Smiths – This Charming Man 12″
• The Smiths – What Difference Does It Make 12″ (Terence Stamp cover)
• The Smiths – Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now 12″
• The Smiths – William, It Was Really Nothing 12″
• The Smiths – How Soon Is Now 12″
• The Smiths – Sheila Take a Bow 12″
In college, I sold off most of my Smiths collection to two sisters, but they must’ve already had these singles. Or I was asking too much for them, or something.
“This Charming Man” was the Holy Grail of my Smiths collection. I had searched for it for years, attending countless record shows, scouring record stores across America. Finally found it at a record show at the Holiday Inn. Can’t remember how much I paid for it, but it couldn’t have been much more than $40. But once I possessed it, I pretty much stopped obsessing over the Smiths. Everytime I pin down what I think I want, it slips away…
• Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Orange
Out of print. Why? It’s awesome. Take a whiff of my pant leg, baby!
• The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses
• The Stone Roses – She Bangs the Drums 12″
• The Stone Roses – I Wanna Be Adored 12″
Being a fan of the Smiths had taught me an important lesson: you’ve got to pick up the early singles before they go out of print! But by 1989, CD singles were gaining popularity, so most of my Roses stuff was on disc. Unfortunately.
• Uncle Tupelo – No Depression
• Uncle Tupelo – Still Feel Gone/March 16-20, 1992 (twofer)
UT’s debut has one of my all-time favorite album covers, so nicely printed with a matte finish. And even though these have been remastered and reissued on fantastic sounding CDs, I’m holding onto my vinyl.
• White Stripes – Elephant (promo)
This was the advance promo sent out to reviewers. Vinyl-only to supposedly prevent leaking mp3s. Jack apparently didn’t realize you could hook up a turntable to a computer. Which I immediately did, but I didn’t share them outside the GLONO team. And I still bought the CD when it was released. Sucker.
• Wilco – A.M. (red vinyl)
This one’s probably stupid to keep since it was probably recorded digitally and mastered for CD. But hey, red vinyl!
• Neil Young – Journey Through the Past
In my quest to possess Neil Young’s entire catalog, this album and Time Fades Away were the last two I picked up. It took me forever to find them. And just like before with the Smiths, as soon as I got them, my obsession faded away. Journey Through the Past is worth seeking out for a breathtaking live medley of CSNY’s “Find the Cost of Freedom” into “Ohio.” There’s also “Relativity Invitation,” a funny little conversation between Neil and a Jesus Freak.
• Various – Highs in the Mid Sixties (Volume 5: Michigan)
• Various – Highs in the Mid Sixties (Volume 6: Michigan Part Two)
• Various – Highs in the Mid Sixties (Volume 19: Michigan Part Three)
Sixties punk compilations. Some great stuff that’s otherwise unreleased (as far as I know).
• Ronco Presents The Greatest Hits of Walt Disney
This was mine from when I was a little kid, and I played it out. It’s all scratched up and ridiculous. But come on. How could I just let this end up in a dumpster? I loved it.
• How To CB: 500 CB Terms for Quick On the Road Reference
I kept this because there’s a part where the dude with the deep voice is reading a list of CB terms and their translations and he says, “Beaver: a woman.”
• Webster – Good Secrets! Bad Secrets! The Important New Recording That Teaches Children How To AVOID Molestation!
I could never be expected let go of this album permanently. It’s too awesome. And the fact that I’ve never listened to it all the way through and never will does not diminish its awesomeness.
So those are the albums that made the cut. There were several hundred that were dismissed with little thought. Most of these were classic rock albums from the 70s that I picked up in various 50-cent bins over the years. Other obvious rejects were things that I had originally picked up because I thought it looked funny but I knew I’d never want to listen to. But there were a few that I had pulled out and set in my “To keep” stack only to be rejected after my friend suggested that we ought to actually listen to them first.
• Doctor and the Medics – Laughing at the Pieces
I had this tape in high school and loved it. Their hit was a cover of “Spirit in the Sky” that peaked at #69 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1986. The follow-up was “Burn” and I loved it and the rest of the album. So much so that several years later when I was studying abroad in Scotland for a semester, I jumped at the chance to see a reunited Doctor and the Medics perform at my student union. Sadly, I was probably their biggest fan at the show. The other students were just there to get wasted and hook up. But I was there for the music. When the band came out, they still had the big hair but had ditched the clown makeup. Still had the tight leather pants, but middle-aged lovehandles were overflowing like muffin tops. I got shitfaced and had a great time at the show.
Had I not actually listened to the album again, I totally would’ve kept it. But fifteen seconds from the moment the needle hit the groove, the realization struck me that the music sucks. Bummer.
• Dick Hyman – Moog, the Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman
Beck samples this on Odelay, so I had to find it. But frankly, it’s just not good. Quirky, space-age lounge music. Not necessary.
• Stetsasonic – All That Jazz 12″
Still love this song. But you know what you don’t need? Multiple extended remixes of it.
• Five-Thirty – Abstain 12″
I remember thinking that this band sounded like “the Stone Roses with balls.” That’s what I used to say. Then I listened to it. Awful.
There were others, of course. But you get the idea…
The strange thing about culling my collection was that it wasn’t that difficult or emotional this time around. Sure, Highway to Hell sounds great on vinyl, but who needs it? Not me. I’d never listen to it anyway. I had it on vinyl for 15 years and never pulled it out of its sleeve. So to hell with it. I’ve got the MP3s, and even if I didn’t, I could find them immediately without even trying.
Looking back over the list, it’s a strange collection, not particularly representative of who I am as a music fan. I certainly could not DJ a good party for longer than an hour. But of course I’ll never need to. I’ve got enough music on my phone to keep a party hopping all night long and well into the next morning.
So I’ve got a goofy little stack of records on my bookshelf now. What used to take up around 20 cubic feet of shelf space has been reduced to less than a foot. Plus, of course, a hard drive. Which is where I store the bulk of the music I actually listen to. Ripped using EAC/LAME/V0, and backed up to an external drive.