Just Keep Spinning – Reflections on Music Collecting

A friend kindly recommended my latest film screening – So Wrong They’re Right, a low-budget indie VHS documentary on offbeat 8-track collector culture and the 8-Track Mind zine. I’ve been exploring UK hauntological music and art lately so the retro subject matter fit right in. It was great to hear Wally Pleasant’s “Rock n’ Roll Yard Sales” on the soundtrack.

And serendipitously, while watching the film a related short appeared in my social media feed – an informational demo film to educate consumers about the upcoming compact disc format produced in 1982.

And WFMU just shared that Atlas Obscura published a feature yesterday called, “Inside the World’s Best Collection of Unintentionally Funny VHS Tapes” with this hilarious short!

Much like the VHS culture documentaries, Rewind This and Adjust Your Tracking, the 8-track film made me reflect on my own music collector hobby and how in the past year I’ve really put the breaks on my vinyl habit. Unlike vinyl, most 8-tracks are practically given away and as interviewees of the film profess, they’ve had to plead with Goodwill store managers just to get them to put their 8-track stock on the sales floor. (There are exceptions, of course. Discogs currently offers over 8,000 8-tracks in its marketplace, the second-most-expensive of which is a mint tape of Trout Mask Replica presently priced at $1,500.00.)

Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica 8-Track Tape

But conversely, with vinyl, I’ve reached a point in my collecting where all the remaining titles on my wish list command $80-$550 apiece. And the days of scoring elusive original pressings of releases you’re after at your local VoA are long gone after the store’s inventories have been thoroughly picked over by eBayer resellers or by hipster employees who pull all the good stuff before it has a chance to hit the floor. And for my personal tastes, thrift shops have never been a good resource for the kind of content I seek.

Thankfully a lot of the rare early electronic, drone, and import tape music of the last century, and even of the 90s during vinyl’s darkest days, are being remastered and reissued by Dutch, German, and UK specialty labels, but with shipping you’re still looking at $60 minimum per release so I’ve resolved to reel in my habit and to spend more conservatively this past year.

It’s left me to wonder what the future holds for my hobby. I really enjoy the research and the unconventional subcultures surrounding the format, I just don’t know to what degree I can continue to participate in the acquisition and trade of the albums, themselves. And vinyl has been a significant part of my identity for many years, so I question how I’ll continue to occupy myself beyond this bizarre little pastime.

Thankfully, I have more music at present than I could experience in a lifetime, so at the very least I can kick back and enjoy exploring my archives. And I can continue to supplement my web-based research with more contextual studies from books specializing in my favorite genres. My next read will be Mars by 1980: The Story of Electronic Music by David Stubbs and should provide hours of reading enjoyment and hopefully an intimate understanding of a century of electronic sound.

Whether as a collector or just a researcher, this is indeed the finest time to be alive. Sites like Discogs and RYM provide instantaneous access to release data and listener reviews which previously took days or weeks of calls and form submissions to the LoC to obtain, and every day more and more fans upload thousands of hours or rare and exotic content from their collections to YouTube and file-sharing networks. It’s a curious phenomenon because when everything is accessible, nothing is rare. So, arguments for the paradox of choice aside, this is the greatest time in history for the inquiring listener. I plan to keep reading and listening, and maybe one day score a few of my remaining white whales.

Whatever your preferred format, be it 8-track, LP, cylinder, cassette, CD… just keep spinning.

Beefheart and More

It’s been a productive weekend for crate digging.  I started off at a local estate sale where I found a 1957 Harman Kardon PC-200 “Prelude” mono amplifier.

Harman Kardon Prelude PC-200

With the amp they let me throw in a few records, so I took home a Kraftwerk compilation called Exceller 8 and an early Hanna Barbera LP.  Exceller 8 features selections from the first four Kraftwerk albums, including the 3:09 edit of Autobahn which was popular on the radio at the time.  (The full version of Autobahn runs 22:30 as side 1 of the album of the same name.)  I already have the Autobahn and Radioactivity LPs, so this will serve as a nice intro to their earlier work.

Kraftwerk - Exceller 8

The Hanna Barbera album turned out to be among their first four records each released back in 1959 and the very first to feature the Quick Draw McGraw character.  The disc is titled Quick Draw McGraw and Huckleberry Hound – TV’s Favorite Cartoon Stars.  A mint copy has a Goldmine value of $150.

Quick Draw McGraw and Huckleberry Hound LP

The next morning at the local flea market I found an excellent copy of Steve Reich’s most famous record – Music For 18 Musicians.  Sadly, I was about a dollar fifty short of the $5 price tag, so I’ll have to pick it up the next time I find a copy.

Sunday I went to the antique mall and came across a number of discs I would have liked to have purchased.  First there was a double LP from Donovan I had not seen before, and then one of the few Leon Redbone discs I don’t already have – titled No Regrets.    My $2 instead went to Captain Beefheart’s Mirror Man LP.

Captain Beefheart - Mirror Man

In the last year I’ve passed up opportunities to buy original pressings of Beefheart’s Unconditionally Guaranteed and Strictly Personal albums.  I’ve also held all three volumes (6 LPs which never occupy the same room) of the Grow Fins collection in my hands but didn’t buy them, either.  So even though I had half of Mirror Man’s tracks on the Music in Sea Minor 10″ I couldn’t say no this time.

Captain Beefheart - Music In Sea Minor
I picked this one up in New York last year with an original copy of Trout Mask Replica

For images and detailed information about the 3 volume Grow Fins set on vinyl, visit the Captain Beefheart Radar Station here.  If you piece together the set online, it should run you just under $200.00.

Record Store Day (Revisit)

It’s been a busy week – I’ve picked up 50 new albums and am working on a post that will highlight a number of them.  In the meantime here’s a forgotten post from Record Store Day 2010 which fell through the cracks in the months between my old blog and the new site.

I hit various record shops in NYC that morning with a specific plan of action.

Record Store Map

Captain Beefheart - Trout Mask Replica
Trout Mask Replica (1969)

“A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast ‘n bulbous! Got me?”

I was blown away when I found this disc.  It’s been on my wish-list for quite some time, but it’s long out of print and highly sought-after, so I never thought I’d actually own a copy myself.

Matt Groening had this to say about Trout Mask Replica:

“I took it home and put it on… it was the worst drek I’d ever heard in my life. They’re not even trying!  They’re just playing randomly! And then I played it again and thought, it sounds horrible, but they mean it to sound this way. The third or fourth time it started to grow on me. And the fifth or sixth time… I loved it. And the seventh or eighth time I thought it was the greatest album ever made and I still do.”

The legendary John Peel once said that Beefheart “is the most important figure to emerge from the rock era of the 1960s and 1970s.  I heard echoes of his music in some of the records I listened to last week. And I’ll hear more echoes in the records I’ll listen to this week.”

He also called him “rock’s only real genius.”

Carl Sagan - A Glorious Dawn
Carl Sagan – A Glorious Dawn 7″ etched picture disc (2009)

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

Symphony of Science is a musical project designed to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form.  For the song “A Glorious Dawn,” speech recordings of astrophysicist Carl Sagan and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking were auto-tuned and set to music.  The result was not a kitschy novelty track, but a beautifully philosophical tune that stands quite well on its own.

As an added bonus, the b-side of the disc is etched with the image that appears on the Golden Record which was sent into space on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977.  (Sagan directed the committee that selected the sounds for the Voyager LP.)

Voyager Record

Barbara Feldon - "99" single
Barbara Feldon – 99/Max (1966)

A strange and unusual item… Barbara Feldon played the spy 99 on the ‘Get Smart’ TV show back in the 1960’s with Don Adams. Here she sings seductively about her prowess, and then, on the B side, about her secret passion for Max (Don Adams). The music is in the same vein as Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Boots Are Made For Walkin’.  I also have a recording of Beck performing this song live.  “99” is the most rare of all my Get Smart collectibles.

Fred Wesley & the Horny Horns - Say Blow by Blow Backwards
Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns – Say Blow By Blow Backwards (1979)

The Horny Horns involved many of the members of Parliament Funkadelic, with Fred Wesley on trombone, Maceo Parker on tenor and alto sax, and production by George Clinton and Bootsy Collins.  I found this disc beside a stack of Bootsy LPs, but I had to draw the line for the sake of my wallet.

Parliament - Chocolate City
Chocolate City (1975)

Another original pressing to add to my collection of all things P-Funk.  “God bless Chocolate City and its vanilla suburbs.”

JBs - Doing it to Death
J.B.’s – Doin’ It To Death (1973)

Just as I was leaving the shop where I picked up Trout Mask Replica, I took a quick look through the milk crates of “bargain bin” cheap LPs on a small table outside the store.  Astonishingly, stashed among the mostly disposable LPs was this copy of Doin’ It To Death, marked at $3!

This album also contains favorites like “More Peas” and “You Can Have Watergate Just Gimme Some Bucks and I’ll Be Straight.”