This weekend marks the return of the annual Record Store Day. As luck would have it, I recently started buying vinyl albums. While collecting vinyl is new to me, the act of collecting music is not. I’ve owned music in pretty much every format over the years but I was a bit too young to ever actually own my own records as a kid. Growing up in the ‘80s, I jumped right into the cassette tape era. My first tape (Men at Work, Cargo) was a present for my 8th or 9th birthday. I can’t remember which; these things tend to get a bit fuzzy as of late.
What I do remember is the joy of actually owning a physical copy my favorite band’s recording.
That’s right, for a short period in 1983, Men at Work was my favorite band. So what?!
“Settle Down and Eat Your Peas and Gravy, My Boy.” What lyrics!
“This is the story of Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive.” What imagination!
Not all of my cassettes were the proper studio pre-packaged release. Most of my tapes were homemade mixes filled with songs recorded from the radio. They didn’t have lyrics sheets or cool covers but it was still a physical possession. Plus, there was an enormous amount of fun that went along with my secret cassette naming and cataloging schemes. Only I could know that OMD’s “If You Leave” was on Side B of the tape labeled Radio Goo Goo Ga Ga. It was the song after Paul Hardcastle’s “19” but right before “Somebody’s Watchin’ Me” by Rockwell.
Whether it was cassettes in the ‘80s or CDs in the ‘90s I truly enjoyed the music collecting process. I loved it all, especially the anticipation of the trip to the music store. A lot of forethought went into these trips. This is a typical example of the pre-trip deliberations going on in my head or with friends:
Q: Are you going to buy Led Zeppelin I or II?
A: I like more songs on Led Zeppelin II.
Q: Aren’t you kind of tired of it though? You’ve been listening to my copy a lot lately.
A: Ok, Led Zeppelin I it is.
Q: What if the store doesn’t have Led Zeppelin I?
A: Well, then maybe I’ll have to look at the new Cult album with “Fire Woman” on it.
Q: That’s a great song! Any other good songs on that album?
A: I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just stick with Led Zeppelin. Physical Graffiti is awesome.
Q: That’s a double disc. You have enough money?
A: Ooh. No. Well maybe I’ll get that Love and Rockets album. You know, the really good one.
Q: Earth, Sun, Moon. Yeah that’s great. You can almost never find that one in the store though. What if they don’t have it?
And on and on and on, until the fateful day that I made it to the music store and all that planning went completely out the window when I bought the last copy of Alice Cooper’s Trash album because they played the song “Poison” over the store’s overhead speakers.
The process was easier in the early 2000s as I got older and my musical tastes matured along with my wallet. It wasn’t unheard of for me to walk out of the store with 3-4 CDs. I often stuck to the old adage, “Something old (Al Green, Greatest Hits), something new (Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin), something borrowed (Used copy of The Sugarcubes, Stick Around For Joy) and something blue (John Coltrane, Blues Train.)
Things went on smoothly like this until I started relying more and more on my computer and iPod for entertainment. Pretty soon, I had any song in the world available to me. Complete discographies of forgotten artists could be on my hard drive in the click of a mouse. That’s when a different form of music collecting took over my life. I was a full on file hoarder. No amount of MP3s could satisfy my hunger. I downloaded album upon album of songs that I’ve still never listened to. If I ever feel a need to visit the collected works of Thin Lizzy, I can. That day probably won’t come but… you never know. Every now and then, I think that I should spend some time and clean up my disc drives but I can’t ever seem to delete many files. That copy of Everclear, So Much for the Afterglow isn’t hurting anything in there. I’ll probably never play it but again…you never know.
Up until last year, I still had many of my old CDs, cassette tapes and even a few albums I picked up along the way from friends and family.
Mostly, these items just collected dust in my basement. I had an old turntable but ended up giving it away to a relative in need. Knowing this info, my mother bought me a new turntable as an early Xmas present. I had a pretty good time spinning my old records but didn’t really think about collecting again. On a whim, I stopped into an old record store, actually it was the very store I used to buy all of my CDs back in the 90s. I asked the guy at the counter if they had any vinyl. He chuckled and waved his arms like Vanna White, drawing my attention to the entire store.
“Look around you, man. We have vinyl everywhere. Old. New. Whatever you want.”
He was right. They had it all. Before I knew it, I had spent an hour digging through record shelves and I was holding a stack of albums both new and used. The rest of the day I had an oddly pleasant feeling rooted back to my record store experience. I’d forgotten how fun it could be searching through the bins for anything that piqued my interest. I’d forgotten the excited feeling you get after you leave the store with your purchases. I’d forgotten how I always removed the items from the bag as soon as I got in my car and looked over the album cover and read the liner notes. Something had been awakened inside of me.
In the months since then, I’ve made multiple trips to different record stores. If I’m ever going to be out of town, I frequently look online the day before I leave to see if there are any stores in the area. In my travels, I’ve found that there are basically 3 types of stores:
1. The stores that have used albums at a decent price and sell new albums at ridiculously high prices.
2. The stores that have new albums at a decent price and sell used albums at ridiculously high prices.
3. The stores that reek of incense or patchouli and sell everything at a decent price.
All three types of store can suit your album collecting needs depending on what you are after. My favorite store is type #3. I prefer purchasing quantity over quality and have a high tolerance level for overpowering fragrances designed to mask the smell of the “sticky icky.”
Now to be clear, I’m not one of those hardcore audiophile weirdos. Many of the albums I buy are less than perfect. I don’t minds a few pops and hisses. The imperfections can actually make the listening experience a bit more enjoyable. I also don’t that think the MP3 is inferior or that vinyl is the one true audio format. I love technology as much or more than the next guy. My wireless SONOS system probably gets more use that my record player. Sometimes you can’t beat the ease and versatility of digital formats.
With Record Store Day 2014 is coming up this weekend, maybe this would be a good time for many of you readers out there to pop into your local record store (if you can find one) and dip your toe into the album collecting pool. (I really can’t recommend The War On Drugs, Lost in the Dream enough. Great sound on vinyl.) Like me, that one visit could be the spark that ignites an album buying habit you though had long been burnt out.