I Love the Smell of Vinyl in the Morning

Vinyl Record Day commemorates Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph on August 12, 1877. In 2007 and 2008, I coordinated blogswarms in honor of the day—enlisting a number of like-minded bloggers to write about some aspect of their vinyl experience, all on the same day. Before the 2007 observance, I contacted a foundation dedicated to the celebration and preservation of vinyl through its website, telling them what I planned to do. I never heard anything in response, but I linked to their website on my final rundown post.

In the runup to 2008, I got an angry e-mail from a guy who claimed to be the creator of the foundation, accusing me of stealing his group’s event. I wrote back saying that I intended no such thing—that I shared his group’s goals and wanted to further them any way I could. This seemed to placate him a little, so I asked if he’d consent to an e-mail interview about his foundation to be published on Vinyl Record Day. He said he would—but my future e-mails went unanswered, and the blogswarm went on without him.

Come 2009, I decided it was up to the foundation to promote its own event, and I didn’t organize a blogswarm. But they didn’t do anything—and they haven’t done anything. The foundation’s website doesn’t seem to have been updated since 2009. And since then, Record Store Day, an event with similar goals, has become vastly more important than Vinyl Record Day.

You snooze, you lose.

My contribution to the 2008 swarm is on the flipside, along with links that will take you to the other posts from the swarms in both years. Most of the posts should still be live, although any posted tracks have likely expired.

Continue reading “I Love the Smell of Vinyl in the Morning”

Top 5: Record Store Day

Saturday April 16 is Record Store Day, “a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally.” If you live in a major metropolitan area or a college town, there’s likely at least one good record store to shop—and by “good,” I mean a place that carries the music you can’t find anywhere else, a place whose stacks and racks are stocked with surprises, a place where you can kill an hour browsing and feel fulfilled even if you don’t buy anything. That there are only 700 such places left in the United States is sad, because those of us of a certain age can remember when you could buy records everywhere. Here are five places from my past.

1. S&O TV: My first record store, in my hometown. The owners sold TVs, stereo equipment, and records up front while they fixed TVs in the back. (I went to school with their kids.) It was there that I bought my first 45s, laying down 95 cents for “Domino” and “One Toke Over the Line” and the rest, until I stopped buying singles long about 1973.

2. Gibson’s Discount Store: Singles were cheaper at Gibson’s—only 88 cents—but the selection wasn’t quite as good. It was at Gibson’s that I was introduced to the phenomenon of the cutout. I became a denizen of the cutout bins, not just at Gibson’s but everywhere I could find them. As much as I loved music, I loved getting it at a discount even more. (Tomorrow’s Rock Flashback post at WNEW.com will talk a little more about cutouts.)

3. Schultz Pharmacy: Gibson’s had records because some rack jobber provided the rack and stocked the merchandise. This is why you could often buy records in drug stores, department stores, and even at service stations back in the day. I bought several albums over the years at Schultz Pharmacy in my hometown, where they kept the record rack right between the greeting cards and the jewelry counter.

4. Victor Music: On Sunday afternoons, the family would pile into the car and drive an hour to the mall in Madison. Victor Music was the store of all stores at the mall. It’s the place I see in my head when I imagine the quintessential record store of the 1970s: dim lighting, dark carpeting, big speakers cranking loud, and rack after rack after rack of albums, singles, cassettes, and 8-tracks. Victor Music also sold the stuff to play your music on. If I’m recalling correctly, I bought my big honkin’ Channel Master 8-track deck there.

5. Victrola: In the mid 80s, I lived in a small college town in Illinois, which was home to Victrola, which might be the greatest record store I have ever known. It was owned by a grumpy ex-hippie who offered a vast and impressive selection of music, in print, cutout, and used, and I spent a staggering amount of my limited take-home pay there. If you couldn’t find something you wanted, you could ask him to get it, but then you’d have to talk to him.

I am not the record fanatic I used to be. I’ve embraced other ways of acquiring music now, the very methods that are driving record stores to extinction. But I still visit Madison’s Exclusive Company a couple of times a year, and I occasionally dip into some of the used shops around town, because some old flames never burn out.

Here’s a single I bought at S&O TV 40 years ago this spring. It’s not the actual record—I purged a few singles from my collection over a decade ago (which I’ve regretted ever since) and my copy of this was one of ’em—but it’s a song I handed over my 95 cents to get, a decision I didn’t make lightly back then.

“Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You”/Wilson Pickett (buy Wilson Pickett here)

Time and Distance

And now for something completely different: a post about what we won’t be doing here this week.

First: today is Vinyl Record Day, the 132nd anniversary of the invention of the phonograph. In 2007 and 2008, I coordinated a celebratory event with contributing blogs from everywhere. This year, my lone contribution to the day is at WNEW.com, although I expect some of the bloggers who participated in the Vinyl Record Day observance the last couple of years will have things to say today as well. (You can find links to those blogs via the 2008 blogswarm posts here and the 2007 posts here.)

Second: the 40th anniversary of Woodstock is this weekend. I won’t be writing about it here, because I haven’t got anything else to say about it. At WNEW.com, I wrote about it last year, and I revisited the various Woodstock anniversary concerts earlier this year. (The Research Garage is all over it, however.) I am interested in attempts to find one or more of the babies allegedly born during the festival, although I don’t believe anyone’s come forward yet.

We’ve been awash in 40th anniversaries lately—the Stonewall Riots, Chappaquiddick, the Apollo 11 landing, the Tate/LaBianca murders, the shooting of the Abbey Road cover photo. And after Woodstock, there are the anniversaries Hurricane Camille, the My Lai massacre, the Chicago Eight trial and the Days of Rage, the Miracle Mets, Altamont. . . . You could say that the hits just keep on comin’.

Here’s something tenuously related to thoughts about the passage of time: Steely Dan is out on tour again this summer, and they’ve unveiled a new arrangement of a classic track. I don’t think it’s particularly great, but it’s damn sure different, and I admire the band’s efforts to freshen up the stuff they’ve been playing since the 70s. (The Eagles ought to try it.)

I’ve removed the title from the mp3 tag so you’ll have to listen to it to find out what it is.

Steely Dan mystery track, live in Italy 2009 (bootleg)

There Will Now Be a Short Intermission

I’m taking the day off today and letting some of my favorite bloggers do the heavy lifting instead.

–Any Major Dude With Half a Heart recognizes the greatness of early 70s soul.

–At Bloggerhythms, Charlie picks 10 lesser-known/underrated Beatles songs.

–Barely Awake in Frog Pajamas welcomes you to July 36th.

–SHHH/Peaceful breaks down the American Top 40 broadcast from July 26, 1980.

–The latest entry in the annals of dumb corporate marketing decisions: Radio Shack dropping “radio” from its name. At Inside Music Media, Jerry Del Colliano finds a parallel in the radio industry itself.

–From Cracked, “Seven Songs From Your Grandpa’s Day That Would Make Eminem Blush.” For aficionados of the dirty blues, and not safe for work.

–Yesterday at WNEW.com, I wrote about the history of American Bandstand.

Also, if you have never been over to the Research Garage, check it out today, since there’s nothing more to see here.

Except this: I have recently received a couple of inquiries from fellow bloggers about a Vinyl Record Day event for this year. We have celebrated VRD the last couple of years on August 12 with a blogswarm, coordinated by me, but I’m not doing it this year. While I’m completely in favor of the celebration and preservation of music on vinyl, its up to the VRD Foundation to promote its own event. If it will.

By the Numbers

I’m still coming down from Vinyl Record Day. (Perhaps I’m stoned on the fluid I sometimes use to clean the most stubbornly dirty discs in my library, but I don’t think so.) It was tremendously entertaining and endlessly fascinating to see how the different bloggers involved responded to a pretty simple challenge: Write something about vinyl. One thing’s clear: You probably know a bit more about each of us as people than you did before. That’s one of the unexpected side benefits of blogging, I find—the way people become almost three-dimensional to you based on what they write about, how they write about it, and the music they listen to.

The only one of the Vinyl Record Day bloggers I’ve met in the real world is Willie of Davewillieradio, whom I’ve known for nearly 30 years. (Closed circuit to Willie: Christ, we’re old.) Jeff of AM, Then FM is located a few hours away from me in Green Bay, but we’ve never met. True story: Years ago, Jeff published an e-mail newsletter about the Green Bay Packers. I was a subscriber from 1996 until he discontinued it earlier this decade. Sometime in 2005, he found his way to this blog and left a comment. When I figured out he was the same Jeff of newsletter fame, it was a weird sensation. Who knew the World Wide Web would turn out to be like a small town?

The rest of the participants are scattered across the United States from California to New York, in the UK, and even in Germany. (Did I miss any other countries?) There’s no guarantee that we’ll meet in the real world, although I am guessing if any of us got together in a barroom with a respectable beer list and/or a respectable jukebox, the staff would be turning on the lights and putting the chairs up before we were ready to leave. But even if our relationships stay virtual, we’re all inaugural members of the Vinyl Record Appreciation Society, the new category on my blogroll. And I think that when next August 12 rolls around, we’ll swarm again.

And Now, Music: By definition, vinyl collectors in a digital world tend to prize the rare and obscure, if only because we’ve already bought all the widely available and famous. I found a couple of things in the digital world yesterday that I’ve been looking for a long time. Coincidentally, both bands have numbers instead of names. The first one, 707, was on the radio 25 years ago this week. If you saw REO Speedwagon on tour in 1981, you may have seen 707 also, since they opened many of the shows on that tour. Their song “Mega Force” peaked at Number 62 in Billboard on July 31, 1982, and youi’d be forgiven for thinking it was by Journey. The second obscurity is a single from 1979 that missed the Hot 100 entirely. The group was called 1994, and it circled in Aerosmith’s orbit. Brad Whitford reportedly played some live gigs with them, and their two albums were produced by longtime Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas. We didn’t play their record for very long on our college radio station—just long enough for the hook to embed itself in my brain, where it’s stayed for 28 years. It isn’t as great as I remembered, but it’s such a rare bit of brain-fuzz that I decided to post it anyhow.

I bet Willie remembers it.

“Please Stand By”/1994 (1994’s debut album is in print, but Please Stand By appears not to be. There are a few copies at eBay.)

“Mega Force”/707 (buy it here)

Vinyl Record Rundown

(Final update.)

Today (Sunday, August 12) is Vinyl Record Day, the anniversary of the date in 1877 on which Edison invented the phonograph, and focus of an effort to preserve and celebrate vinyl as a music medium. This weekend, a crateful of music bloggers is banding together to celebrate Vinyl Record Day. Visit them all; you won’t be sorry. Some of them have put up multiple posts, because once you start, it feels too good to stop.

We’ll give the last word on Vinyl Record Day (on what is still Sunday afternoon here in the States) to Vincent at Fufu Stew, who put up an additional post memorializing his favorite vinyl shopping haunts from days gone by. To that list I could add places like S&O TV, Gibson’s Discount Store, and Victrola—and you probably have yours as well. (Some of the participating bloggers mentioned their favorite stores in their posts. If you’d like to add yours, put ’em in the comments.)

They said the Internet would make us into all loners—but this event proves that there’s a strong community of vinyl-heads out there, in several countries, on at least two continents. It’s been a blast for me to correspond with all the participants over the last few weeks, and to read what everyone’s contributed. My thanks to everybody who wrote, and to everybody who’s reading. We’ll do this again sometime, guaranteed.