This month - Martha Whitney Butler takes a look at vinyl records - far from forgotten and making a comeback
Turn Down For What? Recollections from a Record Collection
article and photographs below by Martha Whitney Butler
As I pull into my driveway after an exhausting day, I hear the clanging and banging of a good time going on in my house. The sound doesn't familiarize itself until I get to the steps. I roll my eyes into the back of my head (like a mature adult) as it dawns on me that my boyfriend is playing my Ray Charles record very loudly.
I open the door like a grumpy old codger ready to yell, "Turn that down!", only to find him dancing with another girl- our dog, Marley. He immediately grabs my hand and starts dancing circles around me as the dog jealously barks in the background. My heart is suddenly flooded with the unabashed piano playing of the blind musician who is singing, "I Got a Woman".
Suddenly, the house doesn't look as dirty, work didn't seem so exhausting, and the volume didn't seem so loud anymore. My attitude immediately shifts from, "Turn that down!" to "Turn Down For What?"
As soon as the needle hits the dust-filled groove that contains a Pandora's box of nostalgia that can sum up oh-so-many moments in my life- I'm hooked. I will sit and sustain for hours, until my bum numbs, poring through my alphabetically organized collection of what seems like 200+ vinyl records just to find one more song to take me back or propel me forward.
Each album represents a piece of me. Imagine a box full of styrofoam peanuts, then imagine that each peanut is a moment in my life. Then for every peanut, you also have a song. This is my carefully curated collection. A box of unrecyclable moments that can't be taken away once they've been produced- with an excellent soundtrack.
All of them ranging from childhood favorites like Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride", (listened to on the ride to school with my Dad) and even "The Pusher" that followed immediately after because we were never allowed to listen to it, but deliberately locked Dad out of the truck so we could fast-forward to it to catch a glimpse of profanity and giggle ourselves out of the seat.
Then to my HSMW (high school Martha Whitney) years where Black Sabbath reigned and "Sweet Leaf" was on constant rotation and is still a crowd-pleasing favorite to this day. College was full of the optimistic flower child sounds of Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" had to be played in concordance to The Wizard of Oz. Then to my entertaining phase that was saturated with Jazz from Miles Davis's "Bitches Brew", bandstand tunes from Pete Fountain (I own all of his albums), and the sultry foreign chansons of Edith Piaf.
Now more contemporary favorites have made their way into rotation. Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses, and Modest Mouse are almost completely worn through. Santigold sits waiting her turn along with A Tribe Called Quest, and Kendrick Lamar is a good friend who is at my beck and call. I'm always adding, always selling off the copies and crap, always scouring through mildewed-covered post-Katrina vinyl that someone gifted to me from their storage unit liquidation moment.
Just when I think I have it all, someone submits a request that I cannot fulfill and suddenly a fresh void is created, begging the question of "why I don't have a single Bob Dylan record?" I guess because my Dad thought he was a narcissist, but now I don't care, all I want is Bob Dylan and more Simon & Garfunkel while I'm in the folky mood.
My stash barely fits into it's cabinet as it is- even after a thorough cleansing of the records we don't listen to. Two records that I've never returned (basically stolen) sit there waiting to be reunited with their original owners- Woodstock (my friend Brad's) and Pink Floyd (my friend Todd's). Sorry guys, but good luck prying them from my cold, dead-head hands!
My set up is admirable. Being THE original hipster, I've been lugging it all around for a good part of my life. My record player sits in a gutted 1920s Sonora phonograph console that was purchased off of Craigslist for $40 and refinished by a friend. The record player itself was my grandmother's.
On top sits an early 1900s speaker gutted and rigged with a cheap radio speaker (thanks, Dad). Under it sits a working portable phonograph for which I have no records- but please feel free to contribute (*see my Adoption Program). At the shop I keep my latest addition- a bright coral-colored Crosley portable that I tote around like an oxygen tank. It's all so grand.
I blame my collecting condition on my Dad. Several years ago I found a stash of records that managed to make it though a couple of generations of my ever-multiplying cousins. Sly and the Family Stone had his name written on the cover as if he knew there would be future claim disputes. I knew my dad had been a cool long-haired dude with strawberry patches on his bell bottoms, but I had no idea he was a radio DJ in college.
This explained the cut corners of the covers (fun fact) and I was able to lay claim to Sly, Emitt Rhodes, and T. Rex. I swear swagger is a heavily dominant trait and I'm glad I inherited his coolness because Mom listened to Johnny Mathis (puke).
I also grew up with big band favorites from my grandfather's Reader's Digest record subscription. I listened to them often while my GranDot taught me how to Jitterbug. When I was 14, I bought two records at the local Goodwill: the "My Fair Lady" soundtrack and The Doors "Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mine" (no cover and scratched to Hell and back).
That was a pivotal moment in my life as that was the age I fell in love with Jim Morrison and could care less about being a lady. The butterflies had screamed at me. But the next record I purchased was Edith Piaf, because I'm a renowned Francophile and sooooo culturally enlightened. Then from there it was anything from Vivaldi to The Beatles.
One odd thing about my collection is that I have little regard for cover condition. I focus mainly on the record itself, it's content, and it's playability. As a measure of control, I require myself to love at least three songs on each one so that I can play it all the way through with no desire to skip a track because, let's face it, this ain't no Pandora Radio and thumbs up is the only option.
I hope you can't wait to get home and dig out your old vinyl. It's tres cool again. It's so cool now that they're converting MP3s to vinyl. And when you feel like you're getting to that age where music just becomes noise and the volume level becomes synonymous with your temper, think about Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's song "Almost Cut My Hair" and let your freak flag fly. You owe it to someone - *dramatic pause* - and that someone is you.
*Vinyl Adoption Program: If you have vinyl to spare, please contact me. I guarantee it a good home! 228.364.3091
Martha Whitney'sVinyl Rating System
T or Trippy - You'll enjoy this if you like Lord of the Rings, I mean REALLY like it, or faeries, rainbows, mythical creatures, and recreational... activities.
P or Puke - An album that triggers utter disdain, i.e. Johnny Mathis
S or Solid - A solid album. More good songs than bad.
J or Jam - Think guitar tangents that disappear into space and dance with celestial bodies, man.
B or Bandstand - Grandma and Grandpa's vinyl stash (that you love)
R or Rockin' - Just a rockin' record!
#Trending On My Turntable
Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young - Déjà Vu (I own two copies) (R)
Identity Vintage & VINYL - Yes! That's right! I.V. is adding thousands of vinyl records to their already fabulous vintage selection. Look for vintage and new Indie labels at their shop in the new year. Suzi Walters and her son are vinyl collectors and connoisseurs and they are sure to have something you'll love. Sharing a love of music, Suzi & son hope to participate in Record Store Day coming up in April and are looking forward to the new addition to their business.
***RETRACTION: Suzi is THE original hipster- but I'm still runner up.
The French Potager - Occasionally I will get them in or sell from my collection.
Magnolia Antiques - Browse through a huge shelf of mostly (good) old country. I once found some Johnny Cash in that stack. Some individual dealers have several as well.
MINT (M): Perfect! This record looks like it has just left the manufacturer, with NO flaws what so ever. It looks as though it had never been handled. No scuffs or scratches, blotches or stains. No stickers address labels, writing on the covers or labels. No tears or seam splits. No wear to the cover or record period! Age of the record has nothing to do with it.
NEAR MINT or NM, M- : this record appears virtually flawless A very minor scuff and very little else can appear on the vinyl. It should play without any noise over the flaw. The flaw is very hard to see. The cover looks as close to perfect with only minor signs of wear and or age. Minor impressions to the cover (due to the outer edge of the vinyl resting inside) may be acceptable, however the artwork is be as close to perfect as can be.
EXCELLENT or EX or VG++ : minor scuffs which are only slightly visible. There may be more than a few scuffs and NO Scratches COVER: Artwork is still as close to perfect as can be. Some impression to the cover (minor outer ring wear) but no ink wear! Some slight creases to the corners, but not wrinkled and obtrusive to the eye. The corners can show white (where the artwork pasted slick was) meaning, slight wear. No seam splits or writing on the cover or taped repairs can make this grade.
VERY GOOD PLUS or VG+ record shows wear, surface scuffs. The vinyl still has a great luster, but the flaws will be noticeable to the naked eye. If the flaws don't cause any surface noise, the vinyl can still make the VG+ grade. COVERS: A virtually clean cover, but may have small writing on it.The artwork looks clean with slightly more aging. The back of the cover usually gives away the age of the cover. Flat white paper will be somewhat yellow yet no stains or mildew from water damage. Some minor wear to the seams or spine, but no tears or holes popping through. The corners will be slightly dog eared yet no crackly bends, defacing the artwork. In essence, a VG+ cover should have no more than 3 flaws mentioned. VERY GOOD or VG: this record is a record that is good enough. They are not really going to look very good, but it will STILL play very good. there will almost always be some surface noise when they are played. The Dynamics should still be excellent, overpowering the surface noise. A VG record will appear well have been played but still have some luster. VG covers will look worn, used. There may be some seam splitting . There will be some ring wear, where the ink has begun to wear off. Giving the cover a look of snow falling. If the artwork looks snowy all over, it is less than VG condition. There may be some writing on the cover (still, no Large letters in magic marker). It will look aged and more yellowish due to contamination's in the air (sometimes looking like cigarette smoke). Still it should be decent.
GOOD or G A good record will look very well played, dull, grayish and possibly abused. However a Good record should still play. It will have distracting surface noise. Such as crackle that is continuous or some hiss. Will also have some loss of dynamics caused from grooves being worn. It should play without any skips or any obtrusively loud pops or repeated clicks, caused by deep scratches. Good means that it will play with some form of decency, so one can still enjoy the music even though you can still hear noise caused from the wear. A Good cover will have just about everything wrong with it. It will have seam splits (possibly taped repaired, but only with scotch tape. No duct tape or masking tape repairs. These are big turn offs. May have magic marker writing on the cover but still if they are in huge letters, it is a big turn off.In essence, the cover will looked virtually trashed, but some artwork will still be noticed. If the artwork is worn, it is POOR and the cover is worthless.
On a scale from 1 (Poor) to 10 (Perfect) the above gradings are equivalent to: MINT - 10, Near Mint - 8, Excellent - 7, Very Good Plus - 6 , Very Good - 5, Good - 2
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