On more than one occasion I have gone out to buy an album but come home with three, sometimes without the one I had initially intended to buy. I love shopping for them, trailing around record shops, looking at the cover and tracklisting on the way home and finally playing it. I also tend to strike up conversations with those behind the till if they look friendly enough. One recent encounter found me speaking about the brilliant Flamin’ Groovies album Teenage Head, to the middle aged owner of the store clearly more in to rockabilly if his hairstyle and clothing were anything to go by. Thankfully, with the original vinyl hanging on the wall, he too had great respect for one of the best records of 1971, a year not shy of great album releases. To be honest, I think he was just glad someone was in his shop on a Tuesday afternoon.
One of my most enjoyable album buying escapades happened recently when I tracked down two LP’s I’ve been seeking out on vinyl for years by one of my favourite songwriters, the (fairly) obscure American Bob Lind. The fact that I already had the songs on a CD released in 2007 was beside the point. I have searched record stores from New York to Berlin for his two albums from the sixties, Don’t Be Concerned and Photographs Of Feeling but eventually found them not far from my home in London, in the downstairs vinyl section of Flashback Records. My excitement was such that I let out a muffled scream of delight and felt I had to tell the woman behind the counter why I had a big smile on my face when handing over the cash (£9 for both, bargain of the century). As I finished explaining my delight she simply retorted “they’ve been waiting here for you”. I thought that was a great response as it encapsulates perfectly the notion that an album can feel like a cherished friend. They are there for you through the good and bad times and if chosen wisely will not let you down. I’ve yet to witness first hand the sight of three friends being sold for £10 in Fopp and admittedly whilst such an occurrence would at first appear strange and disconcerting, you would struggle to argue that it didn’t constitute tremendous value for money.
It’s easy to romanticise about albums but then again, surely music and romanticism go hand in hand more than say, romanticism and the painting and decorating industry. I say this as my one of my best friends has his own painting and decorating business. He doesn’t tend to talk about matt emulsion much over a drink, but get him started on the merits of Beck’s Sea Change and there’s no stopping him. Like him, it is also my favourite Beck album.
I still sit with friends, play albums and enthuse about them. If drink is involved, I am prone to the expression “it’s f***ing amazing!”, just three words, one an expletive, but they sum it all up. I have extolled the virtues of everything from The Beta Band’s Hot Shots II and Get Yer Ya Ya’s Out by the Stones, to Billie Holiday At Storyville and Tappa Zukie In Dub. There are many, many more besides and I hope many more nights like those still to be had. The conversations on such evenings have often turned in to great debates with matters deliberated over including how Adventure by Television never gets the credit it deserves because of always being in the shadow of Marquee Moon, the fact that Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica is totally overrated while Safe As Milk is undervalued and how during a certain point in the 1980’s, Boris Becker could rightly have been labelled Ivan Lendl’s bugbear. That last one has nothing to do with music but sometimes we stray off topic.
Incidentally, Adventure by Television is not only one of several albums I own on both CD and vinyl but also one of my two greatest charity shop finds. On the same day I uncovered the original Elektra vinyl together with lyric sheet I also came across Howlin’ Wolf’s “The Howlin’ Wolf” album which features the man himself backed with a full band doing psychedelic-esque rock versions of his songs. The album is more famous for the fact that Wolf didn’t like it and this disdain is referenced on the cover which reads – “This is Howlin’ Wolf’s new album. He doesn’t like it. He didn’t like his electric guitar at first either.” It’s actually very good indeed and worth the £10 that went straight to Oxfam. I still regret not buying The Fall album Shift-Work which was also there that day, what a hat trick that would have been. I made the classic charity shop error of intending to go back the next day and get it by which time of course it had already been snapped up.
I do embrace download culture, especially the purchasing of single tracks as we probably all own albums we bought because we had heard a great tune from it only to find out the rest of the album is a tad poor or on other occasions, utter rubbish. Also, it can be extremely difficult to find some songs without going online. The only way I got my hands on In Zaire by Johnny Wakelin or Paul Davidson’s reggae version of The Allman Brothers tune Midnight Rider was via Itunes. It was quick and easy and saved a lot of hassle trying to track down obscure physical formats featuring a particular song. There are some however that will only ever be found after a long hunt. I finally got my hands on the NF Porter track Keep On Keeping On from a bloke in Yorkshire who was selling the compilation soul album The Golden Torch Story on which the track is contained. Download culture has of course changed the way we listen to music and I think it’s a shame that listening to an album from start to finish is becoming increasingly less commonplace. There is much satisfaction to be had by playing an album in its entirety and the journey contained therein. I also like reading books from start to finish as opposed to just chapter 7.
At the end of each year, I publish my Albums Of The Year on my web site. I see this as firstly a chance to right some of the wrongs from the usual end of year polls in magazines but also and more importantly, an attempt to highlight some albums that never got the attention they deserved. In the last couple of years these have included Darker My Love’s Alive As You Are, The Middle East’s I Want That You Are Always Happy and The Warm Digits Keep Warm With The Warm Digits. It’s gratifying to introduce people to good music they haven’t yet heard and for them to let you know they like it, a highly enjoyable public service if you will. It’s also an excuse, not that one should be needed, to listen to as much music as possible and the album as a format to do so is incomparable.