Saturday (April 16) was ‘Record Store Day’ internationally, so it seems like a good time to reminisce about the good old days of searching out those rare (and often scratched) black vinyl gemstones in grubby old shops that really seemed as dirty and dark as a real mine.
My first record purchase was actually made as a birthday pressie from my parents. It was ‘Bits & Pieces’ – a pop masterpiece from the oft under-rated Dave Clark Five. (Up there with Freddie & the Dreamers for forgotten heroes of my musical youth). The shop, indeed every house that stood around it, has now been replaced – ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy like – by a main road (and there isn’t even a restaurant at the end for consolation). By the time I was old enough to actually enter such shops on my own, which had less to do with age but rather more to do with having enough pocket money to actually buy anything, there were two shops in the same road selling records. Imagine that today people, two shops selling more than the top twenty in the same Street never mind the same city. Add the Top Twenty’ specialists like Woolworths and Weston Harts (who?) and the likelihood of spending all your candy money on black plastic was high – a healthy alternative to all that sugar, records should have been subsidized by the National Health Service.
You had to be wary too. Tom, owner and sole employee of the local second-hand record shop, had a needle arm on his record player so heavy that it could easily get a tune from a flowerpot. It was an uphill task convincing him that your recent acquisition from his shelves of ‘Thick as a brick’ was more brick than disc. I always suspected that everything he sold spent at least a month beforehand hanging in the window. Even Motorhead LP covers would have delicate pastel shades through Toms careful tomato like ‘nurturing’ in baking hot Summer windows, Which makes me think of the Beatles Museum that until a few years back was situated in a back road near Cologne South Railway Station. Was that really a genuine handsigned (by the whole Fab Four) first pressing of ‘Revolver’ fading away to nothing in the heat of the midday sun? It certainly makes me wish I’d investigated the covers of my discs from Tom more closely, for possible last signs of a ‘Love from John’ or a ‘Best wishes from Mick’ or even a ‘Thanks!’ from Dave Clark.
So there I was Spring cleaning in the cellar this weekend, when I came across the last remnants of my vinyl past. The collectors items like ‘10CC’ signed by the original band before they splintered into ‘too’ clever (Godley & Crème) and ‘too poppy’ (Gouldman & Stewart). There’s a signed John Miles there too – with a finger smudge from John’s bass player that renders it almost worthless to everyone but me. A rather natty looking solo Phil Lynott picture disc that I once turned into a clock via the similarly natty little kit that Weston Harts (them again?) used to sell. There’s a two part picture disc from ‘Out in the Fields’ featuring Gary Moore on one disc and Phil on the other that interlocked like jigsaw pieces after you’d bought them both separately of course. Not surprising then that this song made the Top Twenty – everyone bought it twice.
I remember the arrival of CD’s and the amazed Newspaper critics fawning on about suddenly being able to hear John Lennon wipe his glasses during takes the sound was so amazing. It seemed hardly credible then that every five years the Beatles would be re-released with ‘improved’ sound quality. I mean, when and how will we really know it’s perfect? When we can hear the blood running in those Liverpudlian arteries?… and don’t start me on the old argument that Vinyl made music souund better than the actual real sound of the music (work that one out if you can?
Whatever your views on sound quality though there’s no disputing that CD cover art is smaller. There’s a wonderful black & white portrait of Ewan MacColl on a disc of his. I have the disc on CD but how can I throw the vinyl away when the 12” portrait looks so much better? Back in the carton and back in the cellar with it then, and back in the local record store on Monday too. Okay, so it’s now a CD store. Only oldies like me call it a ‘record’ store, although technically it’s recordings, so technically I’m showing my intelligence rather than my age I like to think.
The ‘clunk’ of CD’s as you riff through them instore might not be quite as satisfying as the ‘chuff!’ of vinyl disc covers but it’s still a whole lot more satisfying than the ‘_’ sound of a data downloading onto your hard drive – and even a CD cover is better than no cover at all.
Bottom line – support your local record store – unless the owners name is Tom.