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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

I've Got That On Vinyl

By Richard Flohil.

OK, people, the meme below was sent to me by a friend in Ottawa, and I felt a flush of smug righteousness — and some embarrassment — because there’s a fair chance I DO have it on vinyl.

Old records by English jazz bands that I brought to Canada when I came in 1957. Three dozen Duke Ellington discs, and a 10-inch classic by Bennie Moten’s band from Kansas City. Bessie Smith and Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding and Sam & Dave, lots of Emmylou Harris (including her very first record, made long before she met Gram Parsons). Oh, and how about those Monty Python albums, including the one with three “sides” on a single record. And all sorts of beautiful brand new vinyl, too — from Bettye Lavette and John Prine to a four-record box set of classics by Randy Newman.

My vinyl collection isn’t that big — maybe 1,600 records, and there are maybe 2,500 more CDs, as well as a couple of hundred cassette tapes. Just so that you know, CDs breed at night; if you put two of them touching each other, there’ll be a third one there in the morning. I have researched this, because I am running out of shelf space, and it’s only noon and my friend Holger Petersen just sent me two more of his new releases on his Stony Plain label, and I’m thinking I might make space in the bathroom for more shelves…

Seriously, the value of U.S. vinyl sales exceeded that of CDs, for the first time, in the first half of this year. Vinyl collectors spent $232 million (compared to the $130 million spent on CDs) — and that sounds impressive until you realize that in that same period 72 million U.S. music buyers spent $4.8 BILLION on music streaming services.

So, apparently, the CD is “over” in the same way that the long-playing record was declared outdated, inefficient and redundant in the early ‘80s. Cars no longer have CD players built into the dashboards, most folks have long forgotten where they put their machines (probably in a cupboard with their VHS player), and many record companies have given up releasing their music in any “physical” format; they upload it to streaming services and hope for the best. Sam’s and A&A have gone, Toronto — the fourth largest urban area in North America has — maybe — a dozen record stores.

These places (in my city, say hello to Soundscapes and Kops and Sonic Boom and Rotate This) are the last refuge of those of us who still want to HOLD music, read sleeve notes, and sacredly indulge in the in the ritual of placing a record on a turntable, gently dropping the needle at the edge of the record, or pressing “play” as the CD player tray slides into place.

Nobody has described the obsessive compulsive disorder that record collectors suffer better than Amanda Petrusich. This writer’s brilliant book on the middle-aged, white, determined collectors who persistently tracked down almost every one of the thousands of 78-rpm records made in the 1920s and ‘30s, is called Not for Sale at Any Price, and you should read it.

Collectors can’t help themselves. My friend Holger Petersen in Edmonton, Alberta, asked me not to say how many records he has in his two adjacent houses, but he did tell me that he reinforced the main floor of one of them with extra beams on the basement to minimise the risk of collapse. The music industry writer and publicist Larry Leblanc has been amassing his collection since he was a young teenager. He says he has 40,000 albums and CDs in his house in suburban Toronto, which I insist (only half-jokingly) will one day subside to Australia with a terrible sucking noise, given the sheer weight of it all.

And owning a record collection is only half of it. How do you FILE your records? One collector has his vinyl arranged by the colour of the records’ spines — his shelves begin on the left with black and cover the entire rainbow spectrum until several yards later the collection’s white-spined records complete the visual array. Hard to find a specific record, I suppose.

The late Jeff Healey, one of the greatest blues rock guitarists ever and blind since infancy, collected 78 r.p.m. dance music records and had 27,000 of them. Stacked along reinforced shelves on four walls of his basement, they were not in paper or cardboard sleeves, yet he could find any individual record in seconds, take it off the shelf, run his hands over the surface, and hand you the disc. I asked his dad how the blind guy did it, and he sighed and said “Jeff doesn’t have a brain in his head, you know. He’s got a computer in there…”

Most of us, however, file our records alphabetically, and usually by genre (mine are divided by blues, jazz, classical, black gospel music and “everything else” which covers rock, pop, country, spoken word etc.). If I have 60 Louis Armstrong records (vinyl and CD) they’re arranged, left to right, in the order they were recorded, from the ‘20s through to the ‘60s. Often, we’ll put press kits, photographs, newspaper clippings and other ephemera in the sleeves of the vinyl records.

I’ve not even talked about how you PLAY the records — collecting high-end audio equipment, perfectly calibrated turntables, fail-proof CD players and so on is an even more expensive business than acquiring a fabulous record collection. My advice: keep away from audiophile stores — that can lead to bankruptcy, and I’m just not going to go there.

But it’s the lure of POSSESSION if the incentive that keeps us seeking one more record, one more rarity, one more “must-have” piece of amazing music..

So, is collecting records a hobby, a burden, a fetish, or an addiction?

I’m settling for the latter.

And I’m finally planning to enrol in a 12-step programme, if I can find sponsors to help me.


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