June 11, 2007

About the Concept

Filed under: — norm. @ 4:17 pm

I have loved records ever since I sat listening to them on my parent’s green shag carpet as a child. Even long after they fell out of style, I have always relished the vinyl record experience. Listening to a record to me is what recorded music is about–personal, tangible, physical, involving.

I don’t look at records as an anachronism, but I haven’t been oblivious to the changing times. When I was young and first able to buy recorded music, I bought cassette tapes that I could play in my walkman and later in my van. Eventually I got a CD player and amassed a large collection of CDs. But I also went out and bought a turntable before I even had a stereo to connect it to. When my friends and I would go out looking for new music, I would always buy the LP rather than the CD if I could find it, which I frequently did. I hit the independent stores that carried them regularly to check the new releases. Most of the initial purchases I made when I started shopping online were records. One of my first websites was extolling the virtues of the vinyl.

Once I had a running knowledge of the inventories of all the record stores in my area, I started looking elsewhere to find more and more esoteric and eccentric albums. Most people didn’t think the big black plastic disks had any value beyond decorative anymore–at least other than vintage Beatles or Elvis records. I didn’t want records to hang on my wall; I wanted them to listen to. I never really considered myself a true collector, because collectors care about value and condition; I only cared that it wouldn’t skip when I played it. I would go to antique stores and thrift shops that were selling them as curios and take home the strangest ones I could find. I’d go to garage sales and find a few that I’d like, but end up offering them ten bucks for the whole stack and take it all home.

Eventually people caught on that I was into vinyl, and I didn’t even have to buy them. Family and friends would say, “Hey, I’ve got a bunch of old LPs at my house that nobody ever listens to; you can have them.” I would gladly take them and add them to my shelves—shelves that I bought specifically because the foot-square cubicles were perfectly sized for records.

As time passed, I got busier and more on the move, and didn’t have as much time to shop for or listen to records. I still loved them and listened to them, but most of the music I was playing was coming from my laptop or iPod. I missed the experience of sliding a record out of the sleeve flipping it over; hearing the needle fall and find the groove.

Then my son was born, and it forced me to slow down a little, spend more time in one place. Listening to music with him was a natural; it calmed us both down and let us do something together, even from those very first days at home. It didn’t take me long to figure out that he liked music, and if I put a record on and rocked him in my arms to the beat, he would usually be asleep by the end of side one. It was a great way that I could bond with him while reconnecting with my record collection.

After a while I had played a lot of the normal, straight-up rock and roll LPs that I have, and about that same time, I received a stack of albums from my wife’s aunt. As I looked through them to see what treasures they might hold, I realized I had all these strange and funny old records, many of which I hadn’t even gotten around to listening to. I started playing them for my son, who is too young to know what irony is. It occurred to me that while of course these albums were funny and strange, they were also made to listen to; after all, all these records that I got secondhand were bought firsthand at some point. Somebody got them because they wanted to listen to them, not because they were kitschy or weird or unintentionally humorous.

I realize there are plenty of websites out there devoted to odd old records but most of them are in the “worst album covers” vein and don’t really talk about what’s on the record. Of course the sometimes bizarre covers are part of the charm of these records, but it’s not limited to that in my mind. I want to share the entire experience of the record; the cover, the dust jacket, the label, and of course the music. I am reviewing the packaging and the music as part of the whole, because these are, after all, physical objects; the sound waves are physically inscribed on to the platter.

My reviews aren’t meant to be taken too seriously, so if I make fun of an album you know and love, please remember this is just one man’s point of view. Ratings are to be taken with a grain of salt; I simply include them to sum up my personal opinion of the experience of a particular record. I’m not trying to make any recommendations, and I certainly don’t think anyone will run out and try to buy any of them, even if they could be readily found.

So I hope you enjoy perusing my record collection with me. And remember, records are meant to be listened to, so if you have some in your attic or basement, first, go get them out before they get warped or moldy, and second, play and enjoy them! And if you don’t have a turntable anymore, I know someone who might take them off your hands…

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