Just for the record
A bi-weekly vinyl review
The vinyl renaissance continues apace. UK industry figures released last month reveal that, during the last months of 2017, LPs accounted for one in every 10 sales of music in a physical format in Britain. Sales there had increased 26.8% year on year, a level not seen since the heady days of Nirvana’s Nevermind album in the early 1990s.There is, alas, a downside: according to The Guardian, the demand for records by “dad rock” artists, the so-called “heritage acts”, and blockbuster stars like Adele and Ed Sheeran are delaying new releases by up-and-coming acts on edgier, independent labels.The problem, it seems, is a global shortage of record pressing plants. Many closed in the 1990s when it appeared that the compact disc had rendered the format obsolete. Those that remained in operation to cater for a dwindling audience are now under tremendous pressure, particularly where the “old stuff” is concerned.
The demand for remastered reissues of old releases from such artists as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, among others, suggest that a significant portion of vinyl’s market are those old toppies who threw away their records when CDs hit the scene, and are now buying them all over again.It’s an expensive pursuit, especially when it comes to the deluxe boxed set. Amazon.com, for example, is selling Bob Dylan’s The Original Mono Recordings for almost R2,000. The Beatles’ In Mono box set is about three times that. And that’s before postage and import duties.Local dealers report that, while there has been a resurgence of trade in vinyl, it has not matched the levels experienced in Europe and North America. But the second-hand market does appear to be thriving, and vinyl fairs are now popping up in all the major cities.This column hopes to be a fortnightly miscellany covering the vinyl scene. I’ll be reporting on the major forthcoming releases — both new and reissues — as well as deal with other related vinyl matters. Details of forthcoming conventions, auctions and record store events will, wherever possibly, be shared. Lastly, we hope to assist the neophyte in building a half-way decent collection.
NEW RELEASESRoxy Music’s eponymous 1972 debut is getting the full bells-and-whistles reissue treatment, including a remastered vinyl edition.
Ditto Fleetwood Mac’s self-titled, breakthrough 1975 release.
Folk aficionados may want to watch out for the Bert Jansch box sets, Man I’d Rather Be (Parts 1 and 2), which bundle together the legendary guitarist’s first eight LPs.The Visitor, a new album from Neil Young + Promise Of The Real, takes a mighty swipe at The Donald and others.
Indie icons Belle And Sebastian return with How To Solve Our Human Problems, a collection of tunes spread over three EPs.
Calexico’s The Thread That Keeps Us sees the group swapping the Arizona desert for the hills of San Fransisco with pleasing results.
There’s more big hearts-on-sleeves stuff with U2’s Songs of Experience.You may also want to watch out of LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream. It topped most critics’ polls for 2017 (as did The National’s Sleep Well Beast).
Both Valerie June’s The Order Of Time and Rhiannon Giddens’s Freedom Road are worth pursuing.HEN’S TEETH
There are rarer records, but because Janis and Elvis, a greatly sought-after Elvis Presley item, was a South Africa-only release, it seems an ideal candidate to kick off our hardcore collector’s corner.Johannesburg-based Teal Records had the licence to issue RCA Records locally and, in 1956, decided to test the market with product from two new RCA acts, rockabilly-country singer Janis Martin and Presley. The ten-inch LP Teal released featured four songs each from both singers. Presley’s tracks were recorded in 1955, from his time at Sun Records, while Martin’s were more recent RCA singles. Legend has it the record was released on a Friday and then promptly withdrawn the next day at the insistence of Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, who was furious that Martin was billed ahead of his client on the cover.A Croatian dealer is selling a near mint original (catalogue number T31 077) for €1,900 (about R28,000). Cheaper copies are available, but these are 1985 French RCA reissues (catalogue numbers either NJ89763 or 130253).
THE ESSENTIAL LIBRARY
Marvin Gaye: What’s Going On (Motown, 1971)
Motown boss Berry Gordy didn’t like it at first. When he heard the title track, in September 1970, he told Gaye it was “the worst thing I heard in my life”. Since the 1965 Watts riots, the singer had been troubled by social unrest in the US. He told Gordy he wanted to do a protest album. “Marvin, don’t be ridiculous,” Gordy replied. “That’s taking things too far.”
Gaye stubbornly released the song, in January 1971, without Gordy’s knowledge. It was a hit, the fastest-selling Motown single at the time, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. A stunned Gordy gave Gaye carte blanche with that protest album.The result was a groundbreaking masterpiece, a thematic collection of nine songs, sung from the point of view of a black Vietnam veteran returning home to be confronted by racism, injustice and urban decay. Gaye’s lyrics deal with drug abuse, poverty, the war in Asia and, rather presciently, the ecology and global warming. But there is also hope and spiritual yearning here, in one of soul music’s greatest achievements.
In 1985, What’s Going On was voted the best album of all time by NME critics. A 1999 critics’ list by The Guardian called it the “greatest album of the 20th century”. It was re-released on 180g vinyl in 2016.
CRATE DIVING GUIDELINES
Or, how to buy and store second-hand vinyl.
Firstly, check that the sleeve and album match up. People do get ripped off. That might be the cover of a Bob Marley album, but is that a Bob Marley record inside? Is it even the right Bob Marley record? (Catalogue numbers on the sleeve and the disc’s label, or “sticker”, must match.)
Check the condition of both record and sleeve. Dealers use a universal grading system: “M” is “mint”, usually a sealed factory product; “NM” or “M-” is “near mint”, pristine and rarely played; “X” is “excellent”, an item that has been cared for, with very minor or no scratches, a well-looked after item; “VG” is “very good”, some surface noise; “G” is “good”, lots of wear and tear, but playable, and an average quality item; and “F” is “fair”, usually rubbish.
Look for a clean sheen on the vinyl. Any marking should be obvious. If the original release included a lyric sheet, poster, stickers and other extras, check if they’ve been included. Such missing items devalue the record.
Vinyl should be stored upright in a cool dry place, away from direct sunlight as covers fade and, crucially, records warp.