Just for the record: Prince, Primal Scream and The Who
A bi-weekly vinyl review
It is well-established by now that vinyl records have been enjoying a rampant resurgence since their near obsolescence in the early 2000s and the market is continuing to grow. But new research reported by Forbes magazine suggests that this market may in fact be more than double the size of official industry figures.
There are principally two reasons for this: firstly, new vinyl sales are under-reported; and secondly, the sale of used vinyl is ignored altogether.
Regarding the former, it would appear that most independent retailers in the US don’t report their sales data, and this, presumably, is an international trend. Forbes states that about a third of all new vinyl is sold online. Of the 67% of new vinyl sales that take place in physical stores, as much as a third of sales go unreported, according to the magazine.
US sources have predicted that new vinyl sales will top the 18 million mark this year, and record an almost 20% growth in sales over the previous year. True, it is nowhere near the volume of the early 1980s, when vinyl sales in the US pulled in $2bn from 300 million units, but it is a significant market nonetheless. (This being the digital era, the industry tends to focus the bulk of its attention on streaming.)
The industry doesn’t bother to count used sales simply because it gets no revenue there; it cannot collect royalties for artists, songwriters or record labels. But it is a significant sector of the vinyl sales market. The two largest online marketplaces for used records are discogs.com and eBay. Together they list about eight million used records. (Discogs doesn’t distinguish between “new” and “used” records, but only lists their condition. Albums listed as “mint”, about a million, were not included in the above tally.)
Amazon.com is also getting into this market, and currently has about 900,000 used records for sale. Amazon, by the way, is the largest online seller of new vinyl, with about 300,000 new titles.
Sadly, the collapse of the SA Post Office means that these used record markets are lost to most of us. Most foreign traders won’t ship anything of value to this country because articles tend to get “lost” in the post.
On the other hand, though, online sales represent only a fraction of the used vinyl market. Local record collectors are still finding bargains in flea markets and vinyl fairs, and long may that continue.
Meanwhile, the reissue bandwagon is recording its third successive bumper year, with box set vinyl reissues by such artists as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Kate Bush, Bob Dylan, Guns N’ Roses, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and Soft Cell, among others. So far, the number of reissues in 2018 by mainstream artists has hit the 640 titles mark, which was the final tally for 2017, according to Forbes. This number will increase in the weeks prior to Christmas. But apart from the reappearance of classic albums, a lot of archival material is appearing on vinyl for the first time, such as Prince’s Piano & A Microphone 1983 (Warner Bros), which are the first recordings to be released from the artist’s massive private archive.
As a works-in-progress collection, it’s essential listening for Prince fans: here, alone at his piano, Prince runs through the gestation of future classics like Purple Rain, International Lover and 17 Days, as well as trying his hand at Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You and the traditional spiritual, Mary Don’t You Weep. BURIED TREASURE
There were two rock albums that changed the course of rock in 1991. One was Nirvana’s Nevermind (Geffen), which dragged grunge into the mainstream. The other was Primal Scream’s Screamadelica (Creation Records, reissued in 2015 by Sony), which did much the same for acid house, techno and rave culture.
Prior to the latter’s release, Primal Scream, a Glaswegian band fronted by singer Bobby Gillespie, were regarded as classic rock revivalists, but Screamadelica turned rock inside out by layering it onto modern club textures to produce a dub-drenched excursion into deep house and neo-psychedelia. It was so unlike anything they’d done before – or since – that some fans don’t even regard it as being a Primal Scream record but one by producer Andrew Weatherall. More importantly, with the passing of time Screamadelica has proved to be that rare beast: a dance record that has transcended the era in which it was made. Back in the day, though, it was such a massive success that the group were bound to disappoint with their next release.
And so they did: 1994’s Give Out But Don’t Give Up (Creation Records, reissued in 2015 by Music On Vinyl) boasted a couple of decent tracks, but on the whole was a tired and overly mannered imitation of early 1970s Rolling Stones. Heavily panned by the critics, Give Out almost destroyed the group.
Then, in 2016, guitarist Andrew Innes found a box of tapes while clearing out his basement, and suddenly remembered the band had recorded an entirely different version of the album with the legendary soul producer Tom Dowd and a team of crack session musicians in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Ardent Studios, Memphis. That album, hailed as a country-soul gem, is released this week as Give Out But Don’t Give Up: The Original Memphis Recordings (Sony).
You have to wonder, as The Times of London’s Will Hodgkinson put it: “How many drugs Primal Scream were on to forget they all got on an aeroplane, went to the Deep South, and made a whole album with the man who produced Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding?”
The truth was that the group were under pressure from Sony, who’d just bought Creation Records, to produce a worthy follow-up to Screamadelica. They were booked into London’s Roundhouse Studios with former Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller, who was then an alcoholic wreck. The sessions were dreadful, characterised by chaos and senseless jamming.
Eventually, it was suggested they work with Dowd, and the subsequent sessions at Muscle Shoals and Memphis were the opposite of the chaos in London. Working with drummer Roger Hawkins and bassist David Hood, another of the legendary US rhythm sections, they produced a perfect album – yet didn’t release it.
Gillespie told the Times: “I remember thinking: ‘This will be a downer record.’ After the euphoria of Screamadelica we were writing sad, slow songs because we were on a massive comedown. And there was no getting wasted because we were working with serious people. We had to step up.”
After the sessions, Gillespie and Innes spent a week in New Orleans, while Dowd worked on a mix of the album. When they heard the results, Gillespie and Innes were immediately struck by doubt – and began fiddling with the mix to such an extent that an entirely different album emerged. “It was so slick,” Innes said, “so well played that we panicked. It sounded too grown-up.” “We made a perfect album: three rockers, six ballads and a centrepiece. Then we replaced it with something patchy. We confused ourselves,” Gillespie added.
THE ESSENTIAL COLLECTION
News of Roger Daltrey’s forthcoming autobiography, Thanks a Lot Mr Kibblewhite: My Story, led me once again to my Who albums, and perhaps their most essential release, 1971’s Who’s Next (Track Record, reissued in 2017 by Universal).
Much of the album came from Lifehouse, an ambitious sci-fi rock opera that guitarist Pete Townshend abandoned after suffering a nervous breakdown, caused in part from working on a sequel to Tommy. Although there’s no discernible theme linking these songs, it is one of the strongest albums the group has ever made. There’s no other studio Who album that sounds as loud as this one. Or as unhinged. Yet, for all the rage and anger here, there is sorrow and regret, too. The fury of Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again, which open and close Who’s Next respectively, is perfectly matched by the ballads, The Song Is Over and Behind Blue Eyes. Mercifully, there’s none of the arty pretention of the rock opera, a form that Townshend pioneered and made his own. This is rock ’n’ roll, pure and simple.
Also worth seeking out is Live at Leeds (Track Record), a six-track album that was rush-released in 1970 while Townshend was working on that follow-up to Tommy. There’s no better record of how furiously volcanic The Who were on stage than this, and throughout the 1970s it provided a benchmark for live albums: pure, distilled power, clocking in at a mere 37 minutes.
Interestingly, it was one of the first records to acknowledge the existence of bootleg albums – by copying them. It was released in a plain brown stapled sleeve with a stamped title. Song titles, credits and other album notes were handwritten. The initial release also featured a poster, band photographs, various copies of the group’s contracts, as well as a lawyer’s letter demanding the band return musical equipment “borrowed” from a retailer. Mint and near mint copies, containing all the inserts, are changing hands for hundreds of dollars apiece. Live at Leeds was reissued by Polydor as a greatly expanded triple LP set in 2016. It is considerably cheaper.