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Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:46 am
by Adam Blake
Trying to catch up on some writing. I am guessing I am not the only one on SoTW afflicted in this way (if it is an affliction) so I thought I would post this here in the hope that it might raise a smile and maybe a grimace or two of recognition. Would love to hear any other forumista's similar experiences.



When I was born in July 1960 my Godmother, Kristine Howarth, gave me a copy of “Rocking Goose” by Johnny and The Hurricanes. I didn’t see much of her after that – she and my parents went their separate ways – but to all intents and purposes her work was done. Charged with overseeing my spiritual wellbeing, she could surely not have picked a better place to start. “Rocking Goose” is a fantastic record, and I still have it and play it and cherish it.

By the time I was eighteen months old my parents were showing off to their friends my ability to operate their gramophone. My earliest memories are all connected with records and record players: watching the records go round, making sure the needle didn’t overshoot the playout groove and scratch the label. This last was called “going onto the side” and was the worst thing that could possibly happen when playing records and had to be guarded against at all times. It was especially critical when it came to 78s, as it could all happen so fast. When I was two, another friend of my parents, Derek Hunt, gave me my very own old wind up mechanical gramophone and a bunch of 78s to go with it. Changing the steel needles, keeping the crank handle up to pressure, memorizing every detail of the record labels (and making sure they never went onto the side) all became part of my everyday pre-school routine.

My father worked at the BBC and was friendly with a fellow named Neville Workman who worked on “Top Of The Pops” when it first started in 1964. Having told Neville about his four-year-old son’s obsession with records, Neville invited my father into his office and motioned him towards a filing cabinet that was full of demo 45s.
“Help yourself”, he said. “Give ‘em to your son.”
That was when my collection really began. There must have been close on a hundred 45s – all with ‘Demonstration Disc – Not For Sale’ on the labels – and I would pore over them and absorb their every detail as I played them all one after another. (To my great shame and sadness, I stupidly swapped them all for a Beatles LP when I was eleven.)
At this stage I wasn’t all that bothered about the quality of the music but by the time I was six I cared enough to cajole my parents into buying me a copy of “Happy Jack” by The Who. I had seen them perform this on television and, apart from getting hooked on the chorus, I had been most impressed by the talcum powder on Keith Moon’s drums. When I got the record, I was excited by the fact that it was on a label I hadn’t seen before (Reaction) and that the groups name was above and bigger than the name of the songs. A year or so later I begged for “Hole In My Shoe” by Traffic. This cost a princely 7/6 and came in a beautiful pink sleeve with Island printed on it to match the beautiful pink Island label. When I wasn’t playing it I would gaze at it, overflowing with joy and pride of ownership. Another year or so later I remember accompanying my mother on a shopping trip to Church Street market off the Edgware Road where she bought a copy of “Hey Jude” by The Beatles as a present for my father. This was the most exciting record yet: a shiny black sleeve with Apple written on it in little green letters, and the record itself? Breathtaking: on one side a green apple and on the other the same apple cut in half. Everything about this record was extraordinary. The ‘A’ side went on at least twice as long as any other record in our home (of course I was intimately acquainted with all the details of my parents records as well as my own) and some of the details printed on the ‘B’ side were typed in black over black so you couldn’t read them unless you held the label up to the light at a certain angle. I was eight by this time and very impressed.

Then, I am ashamed to say, football took over for a couple of years. I never lost interest in records but they definitely took a back seat to football. But then, when I was ten, records regained their supremacy in my life and again, it was a shopping trip to Church Street market with my mum that did it. There was a little stall there that sold records. We stopped to look. They were selling ‘ex-jukebox’ and returned stock 45s for 30 new pence each (six shillings). My mum bought a couple for herself and my dad and for me she bought “Let It Be” by The Beatles – knowing how much I liked The Beatles and of course the beautiful Apple label (although this one had been spoiled somewhat by having had the centre pushed out). Shortly after that, I went out and bought “Hot Love” by T.Rex. New. With my own money. It had a picture of a fly on the label. It cost me 50p. That was the turning point. After that and to this day, virtually every bit of spare cash I’ve had has gone on records.

That stall in Church Street market was a godsend. Every week I would turn up with my pocket money of 30p and buy a 45. In addition to the 30p singles they had a big stash of albums for £1.25 – mono editions that were unwanted as the world turned stereo – and sometimes I would save up and buy one, each week praying that it wouldn’t have been sold before I had enough money (I have a recurring time machine fantasy to go back there with grown up money and buy the lot.) I got a Rolling Stones album called “Between The Buttons” for £1.00 because the cover was creased. It was a strange record (it still is), it didn’t sound much like the 45 of “Brown Sugar” I had recently purchased, but still I absorbed its every detail. I would wander up and down Church Street market, in and out of all the junk shops, and peruse every stack of records I could find. One time I was sorting through a pile of 78s when the proprietor asked me if I was really interested in old records. When I confirmed that I was VERY interested in old records he gave me a pile of jazz 78s as a present. I was overwhelmed. I could barely carry them home. In that pile was Clara Smith, Louis Armstrong, Muggsy Spanier and a record that changed my life: “Down The Road Apiece” by the Will Bradley Trio. (My father was very jealous.)

As I hit my teens, Pop was my official religion but shortly after that, like many a grammar school smartarse, I got bitten by wanting to appear cool and knowledgeable and I fell into the open arms of Prog Rock. In some ways, this was a regression to childhood as the sleeves and designs of these records were so elaborate they were an entertainment in themselves. Roger Dean’s covers for Yes, Jethro Tull’s fold-outs, the spinning wheel of “Led Zeppelin III”, Martin Sharp’s acid fantasies for Cream, the optical illusion of “In And Out Of Focus” – all these became like totems to me and by the time I was fifteen I had more or less stopped buying singles. Then, I got a Saturday job handing out leaflets in Portobello Road. When I would finish the job, I would look in on a record stall in a clothes shop (in those days, many clothes shops - boutiques, as they were known - would have a stall that sold records). This stall sold bootlegs. These fascinated me (they still do), illicit records, illegal records, things you weren’t supposed to be able to hear. They were expensive but I would sometimes scrape enough money to buy one. The proprietor was a friendly soul who wouldn’t mind playing things for me even when it was obvious I couldn’t afford them. One week in 1976 I went in and he was playing a 45 – an EP to be precise. He was chuckling and when it got the to the end he played it again. It was the first time I had ever seen him playing a 45, and the EP format (two songs a side) was completely out of circulation at the time. But just like an old EP from the 60s (I owned a few) this had a laminated picture sleeve. “Speedball”, it was called, by a group called The Count Bishops. It stopped me in my tracks. The songs were short and very fast and all cover versions. They sounded like the early Rolling Stones but brought up to date. “Speedball” changed everything. I started buying 45s again. Punks began appearing on the streets. The rules changed virtually overnight. “I could do this”, I thought to myself. But that’s another story…

Then, in the 80s, as we all know, the record industry did something snide and underhand to us record buyers: compact disc. It was the greatest marketing coup in the history of the industry: get millions of people to buy something they already have at a higher price in a different format. I never fell for it. I held out against CD’s as long as possible. Who cares if they sound good? Since when did the odd scratch or crackle matter when compared to the joys of labels and sleeves and big pictures and fat shiny grooves which change colour in the loud bits? Particularly offensive to me was what the CD revolution did to the Pop single. Suddenly there were no more ‘B’sides! The ‘B’ side was such an important part of the ritual of the 45. You bought the record because you liked (loved) the ‘A’ side. Some records were SO GREAT you never even played the ‘B’ side. But it was there, waiting for you. It was a completely unknown quantity (unless it was a track off an album you already knew). The ‘B’ side was a place for an artist to put something for fans, something that maybe wasn’t on the album, maybe something special like a live track or a cover version. Sometimes the ‘B’ side was even better than the ‘A’ side! (Cue at least half a dozen Beatles singles) But with CD’s, not only could you not turn them over but more often than not, the ‘B’ side was just a crummy re-mix of the ‘A’ side. This contradicted every instinct I ever had about the Pop single: THE WHOLE POINT ABOUT A POP SINGLE IS THAT IT IS A SONG WHICH IS SO IMPORTANT IT HAS TO HAVE A WHOLE RECORD ALL TO ITSELF! Inferior re-mixes undermined this concept. A scam was being perpetrated on the public. (Nowadays, of course, the public have voted with their wallets and the CD single is dead, and the album format hanging on by its fingernails. The individual track is once again king but a digital download, be it legal or illegal, is not a record. You can’t hold it in your hand, you certainly can’t turn it over or watch it go round to make sure it doesn’t go onto the side. More often than not, it doesn’t even sound that good.)

So I rebelled. When I hit my late 30s I decided to stop being coy about it and just celebrate my collecting of old singles. I don’t care about being an anorak, in fact I am rather proud of it. The hell with it. I like singles. Specifically, I like singles from the mid 50s to the late 70s – the golden age of pop and rock’n’roll (or at least, my take on it). I like to get the original pressings whenever possible because that’s what you would have got if you’d been there at the time. If it’s an American record, I like the American pressing, if British then British (strangely enough, a survivor from my Prog days, my copy of “Focus 3” is Dutch but I swear that was a happy accident.) The 45 is the format in which the music was originally meant to be heard. And of course, the graphics are wonderful, magical, signposts from another age (whatever happened to Fran The Fan? Did The Frantics ever get a record deal? These are very real questions that need addressing) when the world was younger and I was young and everything was possible – even apples on record labels.

So why am I obsessed with records? I haven’t a clue. Not an earthly. These days I have even gone back to the 78s where I started 50 odd years ago. I would like to hear from anyone else similarly afflicted, hear their tales, but for myself it has gone all my life, since before I could read or write. I still cannot pass a record shop without going in – it’s a Pavlovian response. More than once now, I have been pleased to find a record, buy it, get it home, only to find I already have a copy. Obviously the music is most of it, but only most of it. The labels, the sleeves, the smell of records, the feel of them, it’s a complete experience. And I can’t see it ever ending.

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 6:41 am
by will vine
I'm happy to kick off what I'm sure will become a huge wave of recognition Adam. It got me early too and I know that it's a lifelong affliction. I'm grateful that I don't have that most aggressive form of the disease - completist syndrome. The best records I ever had are the ones I sold, traded, or gave away never to see again and the collection I have here now is an uncatalogued ragbag that includes some unspeakably "bad" stuff. Edging into my seventh decade I might have expected to content myself with the small group jazz stuff or the sedate folk and country but it does sometimes feel weird to find myself still trapped in Boogie Wonderland and The Land of A Thousand Dances. If I'm honest the big 12 inch platter has become a bit of a chore to put on and take off but it's a bigger chore to digitise it all so our house is a place of wonder for my two grandsons who at 8 years old and 2 are becoming goggle-eyed-interested at these remarkable old objects. Little Alfie (8) tells me proudly he's got the Blue album by The Beatles and he's hoping to get the Red for his birthday. My tears well up. Am I pleased or sorry for him?

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 8:52 am
by Alan Balfour
Obsessed with records? Moi? Perish the thought. This is just one wall...... ... rk=tab_pro

Image shot about 20 years go.

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 2:14 pm
by kas
THAT bad, Adam? Terrific reading. I share the agony of foolishly parting with rare treasures. That must have happened to all obsessives at some point. Of course you sometimes gain a treasure or two that way too. I gave away a "20 greatest hits of" LP by Chuck Berry for Pink Floyd's original Meddle - and sometime later bought a proper Berry anthology, obviously. Never could quite make that same person part with his copy of "Pictures of Matchstick Men" though.

And flea markets can bring impossible finds very near you. I once picked up an original Jacques Brel LP that, as a catalogue sticker testified, had been part of the French Cultural Center collection in NYC.

I have found that my obsession these days builds around records that have a story (like that Brel record). Like those two early Beatles 45's (on Finnish Parlophone) of my uncle, that I discovered lying in an old oven stored in our attic. Scratchy, but they still almost blew out our cheapo speakers...

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 7:39 pm
by AndyM
Extracts from the inordinately long post I could write.........

(a) The first singles that were mine were not actually bought by me. A family friend was emigrating to Australia and gave me (aged four or five) his singles, as I was already an enthusiastic pop song fan. Twenty or so, all with 'K.East' written in biro on the centre of the label, confirming they had been the property of Kenny East. Kenny was a big Helen Shapiro fan, loyally buying her in-decline singles as well as her big hits, so I became one too. He had a bit of a thing for female vocalists, which is how I also acquired 'Bobby's Girl' by Susan Maughan (which, spooky coincidence alert, I saw mimed to by a drag act in the first gay pub I even went into, fifteen years later), Carole King's 'It Might As Well Rain Until September', and a totally obscure comedy/twist/yodelling single called 'Ooh 'E Didn't' by Jan and Kelly. (Any info about that one very gratefully received). Kenny also liked Joe Meek, so I got an original 7-inch of 'Telstar' and 'Girl Bride' by Geoff Goddard, Meek's songwriting partner. I often wonder just why Kenny emigrated......

(b) The singles I remember with the most intensity were the ones I bought (usually from the record counter in Boots, Lewisham, or Starrs Electrical, just along from Surrey Docks tube station) in the few months after getting my first record player. It was a gift, bought on weekly instalments from my Auntie Georgina's catalogue, in mid-1971. Being able to sit in my bedroom on my own, playing records, was transformative. So endlessly, endlessly the same small group of singles got played, their number increasing by one or two every couple of weeks. Free's 'My Brother Jake', Curved Air's 'Back Street Luv', Redbone's 'The Witch Queen of New Orleans', (prog alert!!!) Barclay James Harvest's 'Mocking Bird', Jethro Tull's 'Life is a Long Song' (an EP, in a picture sleeve), East of Eden's 'Jig-A-Jig', Sakkarin's 'Sugar Sugar' (which was Jonathan King's ''''heavy metal'''' spoof of The Archies classic), John Kongos' 'He's Gonna Step On You Again' and 'Tokoloshe Man'.

I now feel very old.........

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 8:03 pm
by Adam Blake
That's great, chaps. Thank you. (Hem-hem, we are all very old...)

Among my first singles was a comedy routine called "I Might Have Known" pts.1 & 2 by someone called Philip Lowrie on Ember records, musical director one John Barrie. An unbelievably sexist piece of "Northern" fluff, that I presumed failed dismally. If anyone has any more info on that, I would be fascinated to know it.

(Andy - didn't you think the Sakkarin version of "Sugar Sugar" was even better than The Archies? And the 'B' side of "Back Street Luv" was "Everdance" if memory serves, which was even better than the 'A' side!!)

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 8:22 pm
by AndyM
Philip Lowrie played Dennis Tanner in the early years of 'Coronation Street' (and now plays him again).

Used to think Sakkarin was better, but I now know the foolishness of this stance.

Would have to check for B-side of BSL, don't really recall it.

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 8:25 pm
by NormanD
And doesn't it just keep on and on - the vinyl dependency that just never lessens?

Why, just this morning, a casual rummage through a charity shop brought me two scratched and sleeveless 45s by Geoff Muldaur and Miriam Makeba. I wasn't even looking. They were there. It had to happen.

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 8:26 pm
by john poole
Adam Blake wrote:Among my first singles was a comedy routine called "I Might Have Known" pts.1 & 2 by someone called Philip Lowrie on Ember records, musical director one John Barrie. An unbelievably sexist piece of "Northern" fluff, that I presumed failed dismally. If anyone has any more info on that, I would be fascinated to know it.

I guessed someone writing a book about Coronation Street would know that he was the actor who played Dennis Tanner - record producer by John Barry and written by Barry Cawtheray

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 9:02 pm
by Adam Blake
Gad!! Thank you. I blush with shame as my aunt used to produce "Coronation Street".
(God, maybe that's why I have the 45...)

Meanwhile, and possibly making its first appearance here on SoTW, the 'B' side of "Back Street Luv" - the wonderful "Everdance"! That violin tune still works for me.

(Norman: I am about to descend upon the 2nd hand record shops here in Arcata. What I love about record hunting here is that the crap is different. I am sure you know what I mean.)

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 9:09 pm
by AndyM
Oh yes, that one. Still prefer the A-side!

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 10:31 am
by Jamie Renton
Thanks for posting such a great piece of writing Adam. The guitar playing world's gain is journalism's loss.

Yesterday I was in Honest Jon's record shop on Portobello Rd. They were playing some 70s reggae and I knew straight away it was on vinyl. It had that warm bassy sound that no other format can come close to. Yes CDs sound brighter and cleaner, but who the hell wants that (well a lot of people apparently...but they're wrong!)

I use CDs and downloads nowadays and like them well enough. But nothing compares to vinyl love.

And sales of vinyl are on the up too, I read recently. Both my daughters got turntables for Christmas and have been plundering my record collection ever since.

Now, if only I had the nerve to DJ with records (I worry I'd give the phrase "scratching" a whole new meaning).

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 5:18 pm
by will vine
Adam Blake wrote: I got a Rolling Stones album called “Between The Buttons” for £1.00 because the cover was creased. It was a strange record (it still is), it didn’t sound much like the 45 of “Brown Sugar” I had recently purchased, but still I absorbed its every detail.

It certainly was strange. Remember this?

Something Happened To Me Yesterday

On listening you might not be naturally inclined to see it through to the end but the last minute is....words fail me.

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 6:21 pm
by john poole
The first Rolling Stones LP I owned, and still one of my favourites.

Re: Why Am I Obsessed With Records?

PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2013 9:02 pm
by Adam Blake
"Between The Buttons" has had an unfairly bad rep for many years and "Something Happened To Me Yesterday" is one of the most truthful LSD songs ever written. The Stones in their psychedelic pop phase is, in some ways, when I like them best.