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Every Picture Tells A Story, Or, How I Recreated My Record Collection, and Then Some

Issue 145

Today’s renaissance of vinyl as a chosen physical music format represents an opportunity for baby boomers to recapture their collective youth. In the 1970s, record stores were the place to hang out and learn about music and life. I foolishly sold most of my 4,000-LP collection in 2010, and within two years realized what a colossal mistake I had made. I’ve spent the past eight years rebuilding much of what I previously owned, and then some.

About three quarters of the records came from the used bins of about a dozen stores in and around Long Island, although most were culled from Record Reserve in Northport, NY, where Jack Kerouac once spent time drinking at the still-operating local watering hole Gunther’s Tap Room. From 2015 to 2019, I’d spell Record Reserve’s proprietor Tim Clair occasionally. When I was a teenager I always wanted to work in a record store, and instead was delegated to the dairy department of the Big Apple supermarket in Commack. Never too late, indeed.

I remember that first day working at Record Reserve, when I pulled out a dozen used records from the bins, playing guest DJ. Tim, of course, paid me in records, my modus operandi. Pretty soon I replicated my healthy Elvis Costello section, for example.

 

Elvis Costello, This Year's Model.

Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model.

 

I’d met Tim in mid-2012, when I sold two boxes of CDs, Mojo magazines and other memorabilia that had been in storage, and which didn’t get sold in earlier purges that had resulted in me shedding 3,800 LPs, 3,000 CDs, and 2,000 DVDs. Sure, it was a decluttering moment of CD digitizing-to-iTunes madness, and wrongly concluding that my iPod was sufficient for satisfying my music consumption needs.

While Tim tallied what he was going to pay me, I perused Tim’s dollar bin and picked out an intriguing vintage burlesque jazz record on Cameo-Parkway. The music didn’t disappoint. I felt like Al Pacino in Godfather 3. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

A year later, I bought my first new vinyl LP, Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black, replacing a CD that had gone missing. I vowed to follow the same strategy I had when I bought my first CD player in 1985: to only buy on Compact Disc what I didn’t have on vinyl. Well, that idea didn’t last long then, or more recently either. Enticing deluxe vinyl reissues in recent years of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, et al. couldn’t be passed up. Staples for which I hadn’t found original LPs – Nick Drake, the Velvet Underground, Kate Bush, Tom Waits, Neil Young, and Pink Floyd, to name a few – found a home on my shelves. The burgeoning collection spread out to three rooms in my house. I had to delete the Discogs app from my phone because I was using it too much.

 

The pandemic prompted numerous online purchases to keep my habit going.

A move back to Manhattan in June 2020 presented new possibilities for new store trips once they reopened. Recent visits have included trips to two New York City stores: Moodies Records in the Bronx and Record City in Brooklyn. (Moodies Records is Black-owned, and at one time, there were hundreds of Black-owned record stores in the US; now, according to Record Store Day, there are 32.) During my most recent retail pilgrimage, I found missing pieces for my collection, from when I was a teenager in the mid-1970s, to curios that appealed to my quest to widen my cultural horizons.

Speaking of which, my first grab during this recent sojourn was the soundtrack to the 1975 play For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf. As a rebellious high schooler who ironically now teaches English composition to college freshmen, I always appreciated the spelling of the last word. My eyes widened when I found Tribute to Uncle Ray, an album by 11-year-old Stevie Wonder singing Ray Charles, which is every bit as good as you can imagine. Having absolutely adored Me’Shell Ndegéocello’s album Bitter on CD, I vaguely remembered the dance track “If That’s Your Boyfriend (He Wasn’t Last Night)”; I found a 12-inch that featured a half-dozen remixes.

 

Shifting over to the rock section, I picked up a record I had been thinking about the previous week, a double-LP Beach Boys budget collection, High Water, featuring “Good Vibrations,” “God Only Knows,” “I Get Around,” and more favorites of my 15-year-old self, such as “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena.” I never before owned the 1973 Jerry Lee Lewis LP, The Killer Rocks On, but when I saw it had covers of my two favorite Joe South songs, “Walk A Mile in My Shoes” and “Games People Play,” there was no way I could leave without it. I also found a UK pressing of a Strawbs compilation I never owned which I couldn’t pass up, since they were one of my concert favorites during my early college years.

Having recently seen Questlove’s Summer of Soul documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, when I was shopping at Moodies, I couldn’t pass up Fifth Dimension’s The Age of Aquarius. I already had their live album. We have indeed become our parents. My dad, who died in December 2019, always had a thing for Marilyn McCoo. Another pickup was a low-budget Rod Stewart release with the same mid-1960s tracks I already had from a different compilation album, but both records cashed in on his Faces/Every Picture Tells A Story-era early 1970s fame with a rooster haircut cover illustration or photograph. It’s the type of record that only a completist would covet.

 

The 5th Dimension, The Age of Aquarius.

 

Next up was a German near-mint pressing of Steppenwolf Live, originally released in 1970. The greatest hits – “Born to Be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” and “The Pusher” – were sandwiched onto Side Two, just as I had remembered it. The extended workout “Monster,” with its prominent bass line riff, opened Side Three, also just as I’d left it. This stuff apparently gets laid into your brain’s DNA.

Two weeks ago, I spent several hours at Tim’s new space in Northport, and it was just like old times, trading concert stories with fellow regular patron “Beatle Ted” Iarocci (he met John Lennon and I met Paul McCartney), as Tim played us the newly reissued outtakes from George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass. The love of record stores is not one of them.

"Beatle Ted" Iarocci, Tim Clair and Larry Jaffee at Record Reserve, Northport, New York, August 2021.

“Beatle Ted” Iarocci, Tim Clair and Larry Jaffee at Record Reserve, Northport, New York, August 2021.

It was my first trip back to Long Island since May 16, 2021, when I had attended the long-running record fair at the VFW Hall in Massapequa. After that show I had come back with a bag of records (although I can’t remember the contents). It was the first record show I’d attended since October 2019 in Burbank, California.

No wonder I just had to buy another record cabinet.

Larry Jaffee is the author of the forthcoming book, Resurrection: How Record Store Day Led to the Most Improbable Comeback of the 21st Century, to be published in April 2022. Jaffee is also co-founder of Making Vinyl (https://makingvinyl.com), a B2B conference celebrating the rebirth of the vinyl manufacturing industry.

 

Header image: Record City, Brooklyn, New York, from the Record City website.

7 comments on “Every Picture Tells A Story, Or, How I Recreated My Record Collection, and Then Some”

  1. The problem with very popular albums like “Age of Aquarius” is it is nearly impossible to find a good copy.

    Seemingly everyone who used their copy as a placemat or frisbee sold theirs to used record stores years ago and those who took good care of theirs held onto them as every copy I can find of this, the Carpenters albums and many other popular “everyone had one” titles are in such bad shape even Discogs sellers wouldn’t list them as G or VG.

  2. Hi Larry,

    I enjoyed your article. 5 years ago, I gave away my 3,000+ pristine LP collection to a good friend as part of a turntable and electronics trade without money being exchanged.

    In my case, I definitely wanted to recreate my collection. However I only wanted specific cherry picked tracks and also wanted to avoid warehousing physical media. All of sudden, the idea of a paid music streaming service seemed ideal.

    Today, I have something like 30,000 cherry picked tunes in about 100 playlists within YouTube Music. Now I only listen to the music that I have an emotional connection. These include all the soundtracks of my life as well as thousands of newly discovered tracks I would never even know about or have access to if I had to buy whole LP’s or CD’s to find them. And of course new music Fridays are a wonderful discovery opportunity. I never miss. So for my needs, this was the match made in heaven. Just different strokes.

    Nonetheless, I applaud the return of vinyl as it further promotes the enjoyment of music and unquestionably, life enhancement, which is what it’s all about.

    Keep up the great work!

  3. Great article, Larry, and a tribute to our local bricks & mortar record shops! So many of us who lived through the CD/MP3 age have undertaken the rebuilding of former record collections after stupidly giving them away. However, the second time around was almost better for me. Just the experience of handling a newly-purchased used-copy of my favorite album always made me wonder if I was the original owner of that record. The smell and feel of paper sleeves and jackets is still intoxicating, and it puts me back 40 years to the time I built my first collection.

  4. Enjoyed the article, so many of us have cleared space by selling our music only to get rebitten by the bug only worse! If you’re back in the Massapequa area there is a cool little record store in Amityville called High Fidelity Records that has a good guy owner and a nice selection of used records and other mediums that is constantly changing so it’s been a fun place to drop in on every month or so as I rebuild.
    Cheers, Jim

  5. As much as I enjoyed it, I’ve cut way back on vinyl purchases. Quite honestly, when buying locally, I was rejecting about 60% of the records I bought due to excessive wear–they looked clean, but you can’t see wear. I have a pile of at least 100 records that are either going to get donated to the record store on the corner, or tossed in the trash. So I’ve stopped buying $5 titles I didn’t need, just because they were on vinyl.

    That and the quality of new vinyl pressings has in my opinion gotten worse–the last three Blue Notes I purchased were full of all sorts of pops and ticks that I could do without. I keep finding myself putting more new vinyl in my carts at various online stores, but end up reminding myself that they are almost always a disappointment. (The real treats are some of the releases from labels like Analogue Productions or ORG, whose masterings are worth the price.)

    I prefer high-res downloads these days. But I still buy a good amount of vinyl. In particular, I buy records for which there were never a digital release, or were on CD for such a limited time (usually in another country) that any remaining copies are north of $100. And I only buy new old stock sealed records, which eliminates the issue of groove burn. I’ve heard others complain about buying sealed records, but out of the many I’ve purchased, only two or three have been bad–one was cracked, another was noisy, and a third was so far off-center that it was unlistenable. If something I want is not available sealed, I have to roll the dice and hope for the best. My last shipment, from Japan, had two NM (near mint) records in it. One cleaned up and played beautifully. The other? You guessed it…visually flawless, and ruined by groove burn.

    Discogs is my sickness also. I usually have a couple dozen in my cart at any given time. Part of me laments not being able to buy these locally and support the local stores, but the selection is so much more expanded that I have no choice but to order them in from all parts of the world. These are items the local stores see rarely, if at all.

  6. Great article, Larry. I can relate, although I never dumped my 5,000+ LPs. That said, I deeply regret trading in certain albums – where am I going to find a copy of AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock” in the same condition as the one I let go?
    For a fun and amazing read, check out “Old Records Never Die” by Eric Spitznagel. It’s the tale of a quest to find the exact copy of Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet” that he used to own but traded away. It had a girl’s phone number written on it and a distinctive skip in one of the songs. Record stores, swap meets, and garage sales all figure in his search.

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