Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘record collecting’

A Short Treatise on How to Listen to a Large Record Collection

In 1979, music, record collecting, records, Uncategorized on May 19, 2016 at 1:50 am

 

 

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Everybody likes a good treatise, right? Treatises are so much nicer than manifestos, which can come across as quite bossy, you know?

Unless, the manifesto is Roxy Music’s 1979 album, Manifesto. Many people may, in fact, enjoy listening to Manifesto more than they’d enjoy reading any given treatise.

Sadly, Roxy Music never recorded an album called Treatise.  If they had, then at least we could compare Manifesto to Treatise to decide which was the better Roxy Music album.

Anyway.

This is a treatise about how to approach listening to a large record collection. It’s not some kind of big deal statement, like a manifesto might be. It’s really just a set of suggestions. As it happens, I am listening to Roxy Music’s Manifesto while writing this treatise, but that is largely a coincidence.

I have been collecting record now for more than 40 years. I do not remember a time in my life when I didn’t have at least a few 45s and an album or two to play on a toy record player. Clearly, I enjoy experiencing recorded sound as it has been preserved on vinyl and  (to a lesser aesthetic extent) compact disc. But sometimes my brain can go into vapor lock simply trying to decide what to listen to at any given time. At these times, having a systematic approach to listening to records can be helpful.

Here are some strategies for listening to a large record collection.

  • Listen to what you want. This is the ultimate no-brainer, right? Just listen to what you want. Provided you can figure out what that is.
  • Listen to what you listened to in high school. Have you ever met someone who listens exclusively to what they listened to in high school? Or maybe college? You could go that route.
  • Listen to the same favorite records you always listen to. If I had to, I could probably list 40 or 50 records that I return to often and just listen to them for the rest of my life.
  • Focus on a certain year. Pick a certain year–say 1979and focus on listening only to records from that year, at least until you think you’ve gotten that year figured out.
  • Focus on a certain artist. Listen to everything you’ve got by one particular artist. Then move on to another artist.
  • Focus on a certain genre. This is all well and good, but pinning certain artists/albums down to one specific genre can be slippery business.
  • Roll your 20-sided dice. Use a chance operation to determine what you listen to at any given time.

These are all just suggestions. If this were more of a manifesto, I’d boldly tell you how I plan on approaching this conundrum. But given that it’s a treatise, I’m just going to put this out there and let readers decide for themselves what to do. Meanwhile, I may occasionally check in to report on what my recent listening habits have been.

 

 

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“Don’t Go To The Malls!!” A Record Store Day Tribute to Sounds of Market

In 1980s, Friendship, memoir, Music/Memory, record collecting, Record Store Day, record stores, records on April 16, 2016 at 11:16 am

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Today is Record Store Day 2016. To celebrate, I may stop by Deep Groove Records, here in Phoenixville, to say hi to my friend Frank, who owns the store. But I thought I’d also reach back and republish the following entry from my old blog site. It is about Sounds of Market, one of the classic record stores in my life. Sounds of Market closed for good a few years ago, but this is how I felt about it after I visited in February 2008.

When Rick, Greg and I first met, it was all about the music. They were freshmen at college and I was going into my third year when we all wound up on the same dorm floor. Listening to music, talking about music, acquiring music and talking about acquiring music were the first bonds we shared as friends. As time went on other common interests would reveal themselves for the three of us, as well as various things that Rick and Greg would be into, or me and Greg or me and Rick, but at first, music was the driver of our early friendships.

Of course, back in the mid-1980s, the compact disc had just been introduced and no one yet connected the letters “M” and “P” and the number “3” to music. If you wanted to find music, you actually had to go to a record store and the record stores of center city Philadelphia played a great role in all of this music bonding that Rick, Greg and I shared. I had been acquianted with these stores since starting at Temple University and even a little bit earlier than that.

I remember one Saturday afternoon when I was a senior in high school, participating in a radio internship program at KYW, the leading newsradio station in the city. I walked down Market Street from KYW to the Penn Center train station that day and I was completely beguiled by the stores I passed along the way, stores with names like Funk-O-Mart. Exotic music, then often referred to as “urban,” spilled out of the doorways of these stores, but I’m not sure I was ready at that point to walk in and find out what was inside. This was music that sounded very intriguing to me, but I wasn’t yet certain if I was “allowed” to like it.

By the time I met Rick and Greg though, I had been visiting the center city record stores for awhile and I was quite happy to now have a couple of guys who were usually just as ready for a trip downtown as I was.

These trips would often take place on Friday afternoons, but also on Tuesdays, the day when new albums were released. The journey on the Broad Street subway line would usually take place after classes, though it may have occasionally happened that classes would be skipped if something particularly hot, like say Prince’s Parade album or the Rolling Stones’ Dirty Work (which I believe Greg, a big Stones fan, bought on his birthday) or even Yes’ Big Generator or Heart’s Bad Animals albums, were set for release that day.

Our first stop once we hit the City Hall area would usually be the Sounds of Market store at 13th and Chestnut Street. Sounds of Market was a chain of three stores, another being at 11th and Ludlow and the third being…well, I can’t remember where the third one was, but I know it exisited. All of the Sounds of Market stores were run by people with vaguely Middle Eastern accents, though I don’t think I ever accurately determined the ethnicity of the folks running the stores. I do remember that at the 13th and Chestnut store, one of the managers would exhort all of us shoppers to buy more music and would warn us, “Don’t go to the malls” for our music buying needs.

He was right about that, of course. Sounds of Market had it all over Listening Booth or Sam Goody in terms of selection and (especially) price. Records were typically a few dollars cheaper and the promos that they sold (on the sly, I would guess) were even cheaper than that. I remember one day I went in and bought a new album that I didn’t even know was coming out, for $3.99. I didn’t know much about it, but I knew the artist so I figured for four bucks I’d give the album a shot. It was Graceland by Paul Simon.

With the price and selection, Sounds of Market encouraged adventurous listening. Rick and I once went downtown vowing to each buy five new albums by artists that we were only vaguely familiar with. I remember that we both bought The Sound of Music by the dBs (largely, in my case, at the instigation of my friend Ed’s stellar review of it). I bought a Fetchin’ Bones album and Rick bought Game Theory’s Lolita Nation that day as well.

Another time, on some kind of ridiculous whim that was fairly common to all of us in those days, Greg bought two huge hit albums of the era–Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA–simply because he disliked both artists and wanted to make fun of their ubiquity by buying into it. Or something like that. Somewhere around here I have a photo of Greg, sporting a Phil Collins album (the cover of which eventually became a scratch board for his and his wife Kim’s cat) and a smug expression on his face. Sure, the logic behind his purchases that day was twisted but the whole thing became an event and I’ll bet even today Greg might listen to “Sussudio” now and then, had he not given me his record collection on my 40th birthday. Speaking of which, here is the Phil Collins album cover in question (note the scratch marks; clearly it was Collins and not Mr. Ted Nugent who gave Greg and Kim’s cat “Cat Scratch Fever”):

This is the building that used to be Sounds of Market at 13th and Chestnut. It’s currently vacant [at least it was in February 2008]:

Once we were done shopping at 13th and Chestnut, we’d head up to the 11th and Ludlow location. At that time, audio equipment was sold in the front with the records in the back. The staff here was just as entertaining as at the other store. Once, while the very brilliant Prince b-side “Shockadelica” was playing, one of the regular clerks played an air guitar solo that eventually had the guy sliding across the floor on his knees. I wonder if that guy has discovered Guitar Hero; he’d be a natural at it. Incidentally, Prince b-sides, in all their flaming weirdness and glory, were the perfect soundtrack to the Sounds of Market experience.

And, of course, Doug E. Fresh’s “The Show” would always sound just right at Sounds of Market.

The 11th and Ludlow Sounds of Market still exists and here it is, just this week [Note: that is to say in February 2008. And of course, in April 2016 SoM no longer exists.]:

The exterior looks pretty much the same way it did 20 years ago, but inside it’s a different story. The audio equipment is still upfront on the first floor, but the back section that used to house the music is now empty. You need to go up to the second floor to check out the hip-hop and rhythm and blues and world music sections, while the rock, folk, jazz and blues sections are all the way up on the third floor.

Obviously there is no vinyl to be found, but that’s not the only big difference. Everything now seems just a bit more sedate and sterile than it did when I was frequenting Sounds of Market. The music isn’t playing quite as loud as it did back then, the salesmen don’t exhort you to spend your cash and clearly no one on staff needs to wear kneepads in the event they are moved to slide across the floor while air-jamming to a Prince b-side. The selection is predictably fabulous and the prices are still cheaper than the malls (if there are indeed music stores at malls anymore), but only marginally so.

So, the store is still there, but for me anyway, the adventure is gone. I’m still looking for new interesting music and sometimes I even find it, but stores like Sounds of Market don’t have any role in that quest.

That’s OK though. I still have the music I picked up “back in the day” at Sounds of Market and, more importantly, I still have the friendships. Which is really what the Sounds of Market experience was all about anyway.

Plus I still have Greg’s copy of No Jacket Required, which will come in handy if we ever get a cat.

Singles Night

In pop music, record collecting, records, Uncategorized on April 10, 2016 at 1:06 pm

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Last night was Singles Night at our house. It was kind of a big deal.

The occasion? My friend, singer/songwriter Cliff Hillis, released a brand new 45 r.p.m. single, “Love Not War” b/w “The Buddha’s Belly,” this week. Both excellent tunes and well worth hearing (go to Cliff’s website to learn more).

Cliff had a big to-do at a local café on Friday night to introduce the single. Sadly, I was too busy falling asleep to attend the show, which by all accounts was fantastic. However, I did drop by Cliff and his wife Beth’s place yesterday and picked up the single. And, while the idea of a 45 in this millennium might seem retro (speaking of which, check out Beth’s excellent website!), Cliff is, in his way, a thoroughly modern guy, since he’s including a download of his complete seven-song Love Not War e.p. with the 45. It’s the best of both worlds.

I played both sides of Cliff’s single a few times yesterday, then declared that we’d be having a Singles Night. I rustled up a cool stack o’ wax from my vinyl collection and we listened to ’em one-by-one.

And that’s the beauty of the 45 r.p.m. single, which I seriously consider to be one of the most important cultural inventions of the 20th century. Introduced in 1949, singles became of the bedrock of popular music, allowing fans of many musical genres to grab their favorite songs in a convenient format, at a reasonable price. It’s no accident that rock’n’roll exploded within 10 years of the invention of the 45. Rock music, and all permutations thereof, owe their existence to the humble 45.

In addition to Cliff’s new tunes, we reached back to 1987 to hear “Radio Americana” by Johnny Rhythm and the Dimestore 45s (see: you could buy 45s in a dimestore. How cool was that?). This is one of my friend Ed Masley’s — aka Johnny Rhythm — great early tunes (and believe me, he’s been writing great tunes ever since, with his previous band, The Frampton Brothers, and his current combo, The Breakup Society). “Radio Americana” is a song about how corporate radio stifles the musical variety heard on the airwaves. While satellite radio may have alleviated that problem to a degree, a spin through terrestrial commercial radio — I (Heart) Radio, anyone? — will point to the notion that Ed’s song is as relevant as ever.

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Singles Night was great, but it was while drinking coffee this morning that I listened to what I believe is still the crowning achievement of the 45 as an artistic medium: “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” by the Beatles.

Artistically, of course, this Beatles single is a triumph: we are talking about artistic breakthroughs for both Lennon and McCartney. But, what is so thrilling to me about “Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” is the conceptual beauty of the record. Two songs, both delving deeply into the childhood memories of the composer.

“Penny Lane”: stately, almost baroque, filled with physical detail, a catalogue of precise memories, Paul’s memories of the external world surrounding him a child. Above all, McCartneyesque.

“Strawberry Fields Forever”: swirling, psychedelic, almost no physical detail, a catalogue of internal feelings, John’s impressionistic reflections on the internal world of his childhood. Above all, Lennonesque.

Two songs, seemingly worlds apart from each other, brought together on the lowly 45 r.p.m. single, and making perfect, profound sense together. Pop music as art and memoir and, yes, as pop music, all at once.

Here’s our playlist from Singles Night. Hopefully we’ll do it again sometime soon.

“Radio Americana”/”Doin’ Time” — Johnny Rhythm and the Dimestore 45s

“Love Not War”/”The Buddha’s Belly” — Cliff Hillis

“Penny Lane”/”Strawberry Fields Forever” — The Beatles

“Narrator” — Hindu Love Gods

“Perdido” — Three Suns

“Cool Places” — Sparks and Jane Wiedlin

“Friends” — Whodini

“I Gotta Hole in My Heart That Goes All the Way to China” — Cyndi Lauper

“She’s Always in My Hair” — Prince

“The Big Hurt” — Miss Tony Fisher

“Kiss Me Deadly” — Lita Ford

“Rock the Boat” — The Hues Corporation

“Elenore” — The Turtles

“Eight Miles High” — Hüsker Dü

“Let The Music Play” — Shannon

“Make a Circuit with Me” — Polecats

“Harlem Nocturne” — Earl Bostic

 

 

 

Shady Dog Record Store Day

In Music/Memory on April 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Earlier this week, I had been writing notes on my lifelong history with record stores, to celebrate yesterday’s Record Store Day. I didn’t finish that bit of musical/cultural memoir in time, but I’ll finish it up soon.

In the meantime, I did want to note that I spent a few hours at Shady Dog Records in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, yesterday and that was a great store to spend the sixth annual Record Store Day. The joint was hopping with record lovers and this is what was happening:

A father and a very young son (I’m thinking not even seven years old) were talking about the Clash, the Pogues and Pink Floyd.

Two teenage boys called their parents on a cell phone to find out if Mom and/or Dad wanted the boys to pick anything up for them.

A twentysomething guy holding a vinyl copy of Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and saying, “It would be cool to have some Dylan on vinyl.” I recommended that he buy that copy of Nashville Skyline and I’m pretty certain he did.

Another guy in his 20s, buying his first Miles Davis LP. I’m not sure which one it was, though it was not Kind of Blue. “And next time, you can pick up Kind of Blue,” the clerk advised.

Several dads and/or moms with young kids browsing the record and CD racks.

A customer and one of the owners having a conversation in which they were poetically comparing watching a major league baseball pitcher in action to watching jazz pianist Bill Evans play.

In addition to all of this, I picked up a few CDs and some very cheap albums. I could tell you about these CDs and records, in great detail, but in a big way, the specifics of my purchase isn’t the point.

I am not here to bash the Internet, music downloading, social media or anything else. Modern life has all kinds of advantages, many of which I appreciate every day. But the reason Record Store Day is special is not the “exclusive” releases that are gobbled up by fans as soon as the stores open. And, while ostensibly, Record Store Day is helping the stores make a few bucks (and I genuinely hope that RSD was indeed good to Shady Dog’s bottom line), it’s not just about money.

A place like Shady Dog Records gives people who really love music a place to meet (in person!) and share that enthusiasm with their friends and family, as well as with people they’ve just met. That is what Record Store Day is about and, by that yardstick, Record Store Day 2013 at Shady Dog Records was a roaring success.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

Children's book author, ghostwriter, content creator, editor.

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