Frankly Speaking

Confessions of a Record Collector, Part Two

Issue 142

In Part One (Issue 137) I noted that many of us have made the transition from mere purchasers of record albums to hopelessly hooked vinyl collectors. For example, my friend Alex, who bought 3,500 albums last year alone. Or Les and George at Angry Mom Records in Ithaca, New York, who had to start a record store because their collections were getting too big for their homes.

In the last column I pointed out some of the telltale signs that you, too, have become an irredeemable vinyl obsessive. It usually starts insidiously, unnoticeably and with room for plausible deniability – until one day your eyes are burning from hours of looking at Goldmine, or you’ve set your alarm for 5:00 am to be the first at a garage sale advertising records, or…

You’re in the mood to play a certain record – and can’t find it. You’ve misfiled or misplaced it, which is doubly aggravating because, one, you really have to hear that record right now and not one of the thousands of other discs you own, and two, it sets your obsessive-compulsiveness into overdrive. All my records must be perfectly filed! Where is that record? Where is it? AAARRRGGHHHH!

 

From the Angry Mom Records website. Maybe she's mad because he's not holding the record by the edges.

From the Angry Mom Records website. Maybe she’s mad because he’s not holding the record by the edges.

 

Later, you’re out on that big first date, or trying to concentrate on something at work, or looking for the freeway exit, and all you can think about is that record and how you could possibly have been so stupid as to mis-file it.

A tangent to this is when you’re browsing through records and can’t remember whether or not you own a particular LP. You decide that you don’t, you buy it, and when you go to file it in your collection…realize you already have it. Maybe more than one copy. I’m sorry to have to break the news but the older you get, the worse this syndrome manifests itself.

There’s one allowable exception to having your records scrupulously filed. That’s the “new arrivals” stack. This is in fact a foolproof “tell” that someone’s a veteran vinylphile – that section of records, waiting to be played, usually on the floor, with the records leaning at ever-more-acute angles the closer they are to the beginning of the pile. Inevitably, they’re completely disorganized.

This “new arrivals” section may be 20 years old.

Speaking of multiple copies – of course you have more than one copy of your favorite records. I mean, come on. The anxiety of having just one copy of a treasured disc is unbearable. What if something were to happen to it? You need a backup or five. And with a record like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, there have been endless reissues, and you’ve been compelled to see if the latest remaster sounds better. So, you buy it again…and again…and again…

 

I've chosen a few rarities from my collection to accompany this article. Here's a UK London mono pressing of Roy Orbison's Crying, 1962. I've never seen another one.

I’ve chosen a few rarities from my collection to accompany this article. Here’s a UK London mono pressing of Roy Orbison’s Crying, 1962. I’ve never seen another one.

 

I buy multiples of certain records that are near and dear to me and rare, like the first Earth Opera album, or At The Sound Of The Bell by Pavlov’s Dog (I have at least six, including an impossibly rare test pressing that only gets played on very special occasions), or original Charisma Records pressings of Peter Gabriel-era Genesis albums, or Tal Farlow’s 1983 Cookin’ On All Burners (I’ve only found two).

You’ll also buy records you already own if they’re cheap. My daughter was amused to find out that I had seven copies of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. Well, one of them still had the $1.98 sticker on it. At that price, there’s no way I wasn’t going to buy it.

Then of course, there’s upgrade-itis. Like stamps and vintage automobiles, in record collecting, condition is everything. So, if you own a VG (Very Good) copy of Freak Out by The Mothers of Invention, you yearn for an Excellent or Near Mint one.

You are not only aware that the Goldmine rating system is the accepted standard, you subscribe to Goldmine, aka “The Music Collector’s Magazine.” Finding a sealed copy of a record is bliss. Assuming it’s not a counterfeit, and since you’re an inveterate record collector, you know that records can be re-sealed by unscrupulous parties. You’ve undoubtedly heard stories of fake “butcher” Yesterday and Today Beatles album covers.

 

A sealed copy of Triple Play Stereo, 1962. The left channel has pop music on it and the right channel has jazz. By adjusting your balance control you can blend the two in any combination. This has heavyweights like Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb and others playing on it.

A sealed copy of Triple Play Stereo, 1962. The left channel has pop music on it and the right channel has jazz. By adjusting your balance control you can blend the two in any combination. This has heavyweights like Freddie Hubbard, Bill Evans, Eric Dolphy, Ron Carter, Jimmy Cobb and others playing on it. Crazy, but it actually works.

 

Record Store Day? Yawn. You’ve already checked out the offerings online and there’s nothing of interest.

You spend more than you should on records. Check that – you spend more than you can afford. But that’s amateur-level stuff. You know you’re a serious record collector when you’ve had to make a choice between records or food.

In college I had little or negative money – thank goodness for the Faculty-Student Association check cashing service, which every student learned to manipulate when it came to the “float” between cashing a check with no money in your account, and making a deposit to cover it. There were times when a new release by a favorite artist came out, and I had to have the record – immediately. But I would only have a couple of bucks or less in my pocket. I’d go for the record over the meal pretty much every time. I mean, there would always be a friend you could mooch food from, but, for example, only one copy of the new Roxy Music album left at Just-A-Song. A corollary: convince your friend to buy the album, and then go over to their place to listen to it…whether they wanted you there or not. Hey, what are friends for?

Speaking of which: when you go to a record store, or record collectors’ show, or garage sale or thrift shop for that matter – you, um, maybe don’t want to go with your friends.

They might snap up that mint copy of the Reiner Living Stereo Scheherazade before you do! For less than $5! (Andy, if you’re reading this, you know who I’m taking about.) It’s fun to go to record hunting with your buddies, no denying that, but when you’re with a guy like Michael Fremer, who can blaze through stacks of records like a threshing machine, and waves that copy of Music for Bang, Baaroom and Harp in front of your face that he just plucked while you were stumbling through the Steve and Eydie albums, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.

You’ve developed the ability to blaze through stacks of records like a threshing machine. You might not notice that your wife or significant other has changed their hairstyle, but you’ve acquired the ability to flip through stacks of albums at a dizzying rate and come to a stop at a speed that defies the laws of physics when you see something interesting. This skill really comes in handy at a record show, where dozens of collectors who are just as rabid as you are descend upon the racks. I mean, what if they get to the record you’re really looking for before you do? And I can’t be the only one who has spent so much time flicking through record bins that their hands hurt. (If this hasn’t happened to you yet, it will.) Here’s where you develop the shameful but useful skill of placing a pile of records on the stack next to the one you’re looking through, effectively blocking access to that stack until you can get to it.

You may consider yourself to be the world’s worst negotiator – except when it comes to buying records. You never pay asking price. Or at the least, you unhesitatingly ask for a discount. I’ve found that many used-record sellers will work with you on price, especially if you buy in quantity. If you’re a hard-core collector, the incentive may not be so much in saving money than in freeing up more cash to buy more records. As in so many other areas of commerce, cash is Rey, Raja, Kingu, melech. Maybe you’re the type who is intimidated at the new car showroom, but you’re Chester Karrass when buying used LPs. This record collecting business can be a tough game.

 

Lou Reed, Metal Machine Music double-LP, 1975. I don't think you'll find many worn copies of this one. Available on streaming audio if you dare.

Lou Reed, Metal Machine Music double-LP, 1975. I don’t think you’ll find many worn copies of this one. Available on streaming audio if you dare.

 

To be continued…

Header image: Gary Wilson, You Think You Really Know Me, the legendary outsider music album. Only 600 copies of the original LP were pressed in 1977 and 1979. One recently sold on eBay for $1,594. Mine’s not for sale but fear not, it’s been reissued and available on streaming audio.

16 comments on “Confessions of a Record Collector, Part Two”

  1. Frank:
    If you have to pull the mattress over to make your bed, because the overflow record shelving you put in the bedroom is jammed next to your bed, does that make you a hopelessly hooked vinyl collector? Which is a world of difference from a psychotic hoarding disorder, because I have dividers not only abc, … xyz but fill in the blank ones for show tunes and sound tracks and mongolian throat singers. Any reassurance is greatly appreciated
    Hear ye ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQTAYvWFihc

    1. We may have to put this before the Record Collectors’ Anonymous tribunal (actually there isn’t such an organization…yet…), but I think you may qualify. Tripping over records in the bedroom…classic.

      I confess, I also have my records organized by category as well as alphabetically. I will have to address that in a future installment (believe me, the first two have not covered all the ground I plan to cover). I don’t have a section for Tuvan throat singing, though I have listened to it, but I do have a section for Hawaiian music…and it’s more than a few albums.

      1. Speaking of Show tunes, I think I have trouble right here in River City! And 37 items in the Hawaiian slack key guitar category. For classical do you list under composer or artist? I can’t find that Glenn Gould record I like to hum along to !

        By the way another great Copper Issue… Ladies and Gentlemen I don’t know how he does it!!!
        Week after week month after month, year after year… is this getting old I, feel old.

        Meanwhile Frank Doris the perpetual teenager . . . … .. .. . . ..

  2. Eerily similar symptoms can be detected by music lovers around the world who became entranced by music before the late 1980s when CDs were introduced. The vaccines of downloading and streaming suppressed the mutated version of the vinyl virus, which has now resurged among the young who marvel at the quaint technology that underlies the turntable and stylus and continues to wonder why they can’t program their playlists on it with their iPhones.

  3. Hey Frank,

    You captured the magic moment when I caught the record collector bug ( or should I say Flu?). Even after all the reissues of Scheherazade that I own (5 and counting), that original ($3) copy is the one I play most often. My other most treasured record is the six eye Kind of Blue that Michael Fremer found and let me have at one of NY record shows. Great article, I could practically smell the record dust!

    Andy

    1. Hi Andy, I figured you’d see the shout-out. I have a “six-eye” Kind of Blue also and oddly enough, my best-sounding Columbia version is a garden-variety “The Nice Price” pressing from the 1970s or 1980s that really shouldn’t be anything special.

      I am way overdue for a visit to Angry Mom Records. I have no doubt I’ll spend more than I can afford. Then I’ll be mooching off you for dinner and drinks!

    1. Oh my gosh, I have a Enoch Light section with Persuasive Percussion Volume I,II,II IV mostly recorded to 35 mm Film …The Greatest Advance in Sound ..since high fidelity was invented… the sprocket holes lock the speed perfectly. Whenever I played “Far Away Places” the Ex used to tell me to go. I believe it was subliminal marketing, Command Records command you to buy, great covers too. I remember the 1960 High Fidelity Show in New York City, almost every manufacturer used Command Records to demonstrate their products… Also I used the Enoch Light “Discotheque” album Dance..Dance..Dance to learn all the hip dancing styles of the day you know ..the Frug,the Watusi, the Wobble the Surf, the Hully Gully, the Hitchhiker, the Shake, the Monkey, the Alley Cat. But I could only do them to the record, nobody else’s music

      1. Yes, I think the consensus is that Command is a genre unto itself….dilemma solved. I feel much better now. The jury is still out on London Phase 4…but not on Stereo-Action. I have Stereo Action filed by themselves. When I was growing up near NYC there was a really cool record store that had everything filed by label and sublabel in numerical order. That is probably the way to do it. In some grand scheme of things it makes sense to have the Dixie Rebels filed next to Persuasive Percussion

  4. That is a dilemma! I have mine filed in my Command Records section but I can see the merits of either filing method. And, it’s nice to hear from someone else on the planet who actually HAS a Command Records section…

    1. Yes, they are currently in my Command section also (filed by label number), but I recently started an exotica percussion section and decided that the numerical sequence in the Command label section overrides the alphabetical section of the exotica percussion section, probably because I have about 100 or so Command titles and about 40 or so exotica percussion titles (not counting the Command percussion titles.) Command records have incredible sonic quality, especially the ones recorded on 35 mm film.

    2. Frank,
      Dr. Chester Karrass? The most successful speaker that negotiated $45.00 from me at a seminar back in the 70s? I reached an agreement and received the complete undercoating on my new Pinto for an extra $100.00

  5. Awesome lesson in being a record hoarder. It applies to a lot of other things in life if the expense account allows.
    Cars, tools, clothes, shoes, etc., etc.

  6. Hi Frank,

    I don’t know if I mentioned it in your last Confessions article, but I’ve cut way back on vinyl purchases. Much as I like digging through the bins in our local stores, I’d been rejecting at least six out of ten purchases due to an abundance of groove burn (wear). Nowadays I get more of a thrill finding true obscurities on Discogs, still sealed, and having them shipped in from faraway corners of the world. (My last LP purchase came from Japan. Sadly, of two records purchased, one had too much wear…again! Thankfully it was the one I didn’t care as much about.) These are records that have never been released digitally or, if they ever were, they were available so briefly that they’re impossible to find today.

    Mainly, the reason I buy these is to digitize them and put them on the server.

    And yes, I still do have a “new arrivals” pile, as adding new albums means I need to move some records around and purge others. My pile of purges and the rejects of worn records is growing quite a bit. I’ll probably donate them to the used record shop a couple of blocks away–we like supporting local businesses.

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