Best. Discumentary. Ever.


It began with a friend's status update on Facebook, proudly announcing the imminent arrival of a newly purchased turntable, anticipating the opportunity to play "vinyl records". (Bravo for not calling them 'vinyls'!)

She posted a very nice image of a Crosley turntable - on a shelf in a shop, looking nice and new, despite also looking like the kind of vintage turntable that would have the 'warm' sound of 'tubes'.

So I googled 'Crosley'. And discovered, courtesy of a phonophile's YouTube clip, that it's just one of any number of mass-produced turntables marketed under a vintage brand name, out of China. Affordable. It certainly wasn't this easy when I bought mine, a good 15-0dd years ago. Although, I'm a bit happier, in a smug sort of way, about my one: I bought an authentically old turntable - not as old as these new Crosleys are made to look - that had been reconditioned, along with an amp and pre-amp, from Egg Records. There was an old-age pensioner who used to recondition them. He looked a lot like Hoggle from Labyrinth.

 Bowie and hoggle2


After the phonophile's Crosley profile, I discovered this brilliant paean to the pleasures for collecting records. The best discumentary ever. Simply entitled Vinyl.

Now, no more talk; just watch:




A Hard Day's Nut: Chipmunks sing the Beatles



Today's record nerdery requires digging into my past.

My first introduction to the Chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore, took place back in about third grade (1980) with the heavily TV advertised album Chipmunk Punk. I probably didn't recognise any of the song snippets at the time - 'My Sharona' and 'Call Me' - because I was a daggy kid; I knew I loved the Beatles, but it'd still be a couple of years before I'd by my first record ('The Beatles Movie Medley' 7-inch single, with 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You' on the flip side, in a plain sleeve, from a shoebox full of singles at Mall Music, in 1982). So I wasn't going to know the 'punk' (actually 'new wave', if anything) songs like Blondie's 'Call Me' and 'My Sharona' by the Knack. (Okay, maybe Blondie are a punk band; the Knack weren't… much more than one-hit wonders in Australia at least. More on them in another blog, I promise! You can wait, I'm sure.)




What I didn't know about the Chipmunks back then was a lot. At least until some feature-length animations from later in the ’80s made it to television. Maybe there were some other cartoons that made it to Australian television. There was a boss guy called David Seville who yelled at Alvin a lot to keep him in line. In fact, there must have been a Christmas special, because I can remember parody lyrics to 'Deck the Halls' where Alvin sings, "Don't forget your gift to me…" that causes Seville to yell, "Alvin…!" while the Chipmunks are fa-la-la-la-la-ing.


I didn't know that David Seville was the 'real' voice of Ross Bagdasarian, who engineered the high-pitched musical shenanigans way back in 1958 - after he'd already had a hit with a similarly high-pitched novelty song, 'Witch Doctor', also under the name David Seville. (You know the song - with the 'Oo ee oo ah ah walla walla bing bang' chorus.)




Here's David performing it on The Ed Sullivan Show:



Bagdasarian/Seville's next single after 'Witch Doctor' was 'The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)' - where he got to use his novelty gimmick again. He performed that song on Ed Sullivan with hand puppets. It proved popular enough to warrant an album. By the time of Chipmunk Punk, David Seville was being played by Ross Bagdasarian, Jr.



As loathsome as The Chipmunks might be, just remember: without David Seville and The Chipmunks - or perhaps, just without 'The Witch Doctor - there'd be no David Bowie's 'Laughing Gnome'. And wouldn't the world be a poorer place then!



Here's another thing I didn't know about the Chipmunks: they originally looked like Chipmunks. Really.

Many years after Chipmunk Punk came out, I was working in a cool record shop called Egg Records, where I  stumbled upon a copy of Let's All Sing with the Chipmunks. An original pressing:


Original Chipmunks


I guess that's hardly earth-shattering news, seeing as the Chipmunks' most recent reboot sees them looking like chipmunks again. But after that album, the Chipmunks appeared in a comic book, and then on television in The Alvin Show, their images overhauled for these projects. (David Seville also got somewhat of a re-tweak). They now looked more like the Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera style of animation, popular at the time. The album was reissued, tying it in with The Alvin Show (as Theodore's libretto shows).




But that's not the only overhaul their image had - a few years later, Alvin and the Chipmunks were given Beatles wigs, Theodore lost the Alvin Show libretto (and Alvin and Theodore's right hands were slightly adapted) for an EP of Beatles covers.

I scored this at Revolve Records - an Erskineville emporium of eclectic vinyl, just a short walk away from Egg. Perhaps it was issued when the album and film of A Hard Day's Night were doing good business; everyone else was cashing in on the Beatles-led British Invasion in America, so why not the Chipmunks? No doublt the Beatles' version of 'A Hard Day's Night' had already topped the charts, since the cover of the record suggests this release shares the same title. But the  back cover and the record label gives the title as The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits, with 'All My Loving', 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'Do You Want To Know A Secret' comprising the rest of the tracklisting.




So how faithful are the arrangements to the originals? Are they rockin' quartet recordings, or orchestral versions with sped-up vocals over the top? Do you want to know a secret? I've no idea. I've not listened to the record. Nor will I. I probably got it for the cover more than anything else. And the fact that it's an Indian pressing makes it a little more interesting. That's right; even though it's on the Liberty label, the fine print tells me it's "Made in India by: The Gramophone Co., Ltd. Calcutta". Technically, EMI - the parent company that owned Parlophone, to whom the Beatles were signed, was also The Gramophone Company, Ltd., (fine print on labels and covers would also have explained that, until EMI was restructured in the 1970s) so it's kind of fitting.

There was a full-length album of Beatles covers recorded. The vinyl proves quite expensive nowadays.




Before I let you get on with your life, I'd just like to point out that Theodore-in-a-Beatles-wig, in either version of the Chipmunks as Beatles, looks quite a lot like northern comic Eric Morecambe in a Beatles wig. (The Beatles appeared on The Morecambe & Wise Show in 1963; music hall comics Morecambe & Wise would go on to be the most successful television comics of their time.)





Ah… Soul

I apologise in advance for any offence perceived in or caused by some of the images in this blogpost.




Ask me what recording I'm most embarrassed to admit I own and you probably expect it's something Paul McCartney-related - because you probably belong to that demographic still convinced that Lennon was the genius who died too young, and Macca, the one who sold out too early. Although you'll wonder why I have so many pressings of the same single, that you can't tell the difference between (it's okay, I can). Or it's something by Yoko Ono, because, of course, she 'can't sing' and 'broke up the Beatles' and all that other nonsense that makes you a day-tripper, no matter how much you claim to love the Beatles.

Clearly, the most embarrassing recording I own, is a particular piece of vinyl dating - I assume - from the mid-'70s. It's an Australian compilation album, on the Majestic label, called Souled Out (Majestic NA 450).




Some background: Majestic was an Australian TV-advertised label. Like many other TV-advertised labels, it leased masters from other labels to put together top 40-type compilations of current hits, or hits of particular artists. Initially distributed - and then taken over - by K-Tel, Majestic (and then the Australian version of K-Tel) was the local version of K-Tel International, a label that originated in Canada. An abbreviation of 'Kives Television' - a Winnipeg, Manitoba station founded by Philip Kives - the label existed in order for the station to make money through mass-marketing. By the 1980s, K-Tel proved to be the biggest source of compilation albums in most of the markets it existed in. And - (this may come as a surprise) - it still exists, issuing music digitally. (Lousy mastering and poor pressings were the norm for TV-advertised albums; this is much less of a problem with digital downloads.)



Anyway, back to this particular embarrassing record. I haven't owned it all my life. I picked it up a few years ago, probably for a fiver from Egg Records in Newtown (or even their city store, while it still existed), most likely at the end of a shift behind the counter. In fact, I reckon I would have paid less than five dollars for it; it would have been in the five-dollar rack, but the beauty of the Egg Records five-dollar rack is that you can have ten records for $25, and that's probably what I would have done to secure this particular specimen.



It's an Australian pressing. I doubt it could exist in any other territory. Because it claims to be a compilation of 'soul music' (ie black artists performing black music). There are a handful of artist photos around the border - but the central image is an illustration. A 'caricature', if you will. It's a horrible blackface golliwog image, wielding an acoustic guitar at a microphone.




Perhaps you could could perpetrate so racist a record cover anywhere in the world in the '70s. But remember, many Aussies were still scratching their heads in recent years, not quite understanding how or why a Michael Jackson parody on one of the reheated soufflé editions of Hey Hey It's Saturday was racist. It was a Red Faces sketch utilising blackface, leaving Harry Connick, Jnr with the reddest face of all. Meanwhile, mainstream media was still trying to work out how or why it was racist. That was in 2009. This record in the 1970s? I wasn't old enough to remember ads for it, or how it went down. I'm sure there was no furore in Australia back then.

I'm not questioning the offensiveness of the image, and I accept I'm as guilty of racism, presenting it here, even though I do so 'ironically'. I know I should destroy or discard the album. It's not quite like owning Nazi paraphernalia, but it differs in degree, not kind. I have friends who have walked out of potential employers' offices when they've spotted a golliwog doll on a shelf; I don't react so strongly, but I also haven't spent a lifetime being harassed by cops and fellow citizenry purely because of the colour of my skin. I do feel a bit guilty owning the record and bringing attention to it.

However, if you've read this far without having to close your browser, please allow me the indulgence to continue.


Souled out muso


Much as you'd rather put out your eyes, or at least wash them with methylated spirits, please take a moment to consider the image. For starters, note the shiny mirror-ball disco boots. Note also the musician's classic "keep on truckin'" pose, as made famous by Robert Crumb.




Of course, Crumb's also famous for his portraits musicians - a series of images collected as R Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country.

Had the 'soul' genre of the music not been illustrated by blackface caricature, the cover would be 'cutting edge'. Ish. Instead it's a rather rude misappropriation of Crumb's work.




And then there's the title pun. 'Souled out' is supposed to sound like it's filled to the brim with soul music. But to have 'sold out' has negative connotations in the music biz.

The best part is one of the truly evocative tracks on the compilation is that proud clarion call by Aretha Franklin: 'Respect'. Pity they compilers of this release showed none to her and her fellow artists.

In conclusion, I can only regard this album as a compilation for people who kind of only sort of slightly like soul - you know, the mainstream cross-over hits - without understanding any of the other cultural aspects or politics that go with it. And it can only exist in a culture that doesn't realise just how racist it is.

And yet, I hold onto the record, even though I know better. Should people walk out in disgust when they spot it on my shelf?

Shania Twain's Husband Swap - that don't impress me much

**this one’s got some naughty words, so beware**

It’s a strange thing, how, as you get older, you somehow learn to appreciate country music. Proper country music. The outlaw variety, with – as Frank Zappa said in the song ‘Truck Driver Divorce’ – ‘steel guitars crying all over it’… sung by proper country singers like Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash. But pre-American Recordings with Rick Rubin Johnny Cash. Certainly not Shania Twain country.

Shania Twain first appeared on the scene when I was still working in a top 40 chart music store. Or rather, its Classics and Jazz department (ie ‘classical music’ and jazz, but calling it ‘classics’ meant it could be show tunes and middle-of-the-road older stuff as well…)

I couldn’t help but give her a nickname. That’s what we did with all artists. New Kids On The Block were New Kids With No Cocks. Val Doonican was Val Croonagain. The Doors were The Bores (were they ever!) Neil Young, as time went on, lived up to his nickname of Neil Old. The Rolling Stones were the Strolling Bones. Kate Ceberano And Her Jazz Sextet were Kate See-no-bra And Her Tit Sex Jizz. Bob Dylan was Baaaaaaahhhhhhb Dylaaaaaaaahhhhhn (but you had to do his voice when you said it). And Shania Twain was… well, you had to pronounce her first name like an Aussie country bloke saying ‘showing ya', so it was like ‘sho’in ya’. Her name was Sho’inya Twat.

That has no bearing on this news story, reported by The Daily Beast, about Shania Twain shacking up with Frédéric Thiébaud, the pair having consoled each other after Marie-Anne Thiébaud nicked Twain’s hubby, Robert Lange.

Who’s That Little Old Man?

“I rang up on the fourteenth of the fifth about Gerry and the Pacemakers…” the customer began.

He was a little old man in little shorts that were pulled way too high. His clean-shaven face had those errant patches of wiry grey strands that old-timers inadvertently sport – small clumps of whiskers that had somehow managed to elude the razor. His Buddy Holly thick-rimmed glasses had flip-top shades in the ‘up’ position.

“And we were holding it for you?” I enquired, slowly rising from the stool behind the counter as he nodded. “Was it a CD or a record?” I asked, about to make my way to the far end of the space behind the counter, to the milk crates on their side that constitute the ‘hold’ box. “CD,” he replied.

“What name was it being held under?” I asked, as I pulled out all the CD-sized bags from the milk crates. Although I didn’t catch his name, I realised that as it was now the thirteenth of the month, anything put away on the fourteenth was at least a month old; if he had phoned to ask us to put it away, there was little chance that it would still be in the ‘hold’ box. But I checked each bag just to make sure.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” I explained to him back at the counter. “Our policy is to only hold something for a day without deposit. We need a deposit to hold it for a month. When did you say you rang us to hold it?”

“The fourteenth of the fifth.”

This time I actually heard him. “Fourteenth of May?” I said, disbelief in my voice. It was now mid-November. But he was an old-timer after all; there was probably nobody to bring him into the city. “I’m so sorry, Sir, there’s no way we’d keep something on hold for six months even with a deposit. But let me check to see if it’s still in stock.”

Only the items deemed ‘collectible’, ‘fragile’ or still shrink-wrapped actually contain their discs – they are kept behind the counter or in locked cabinets. All the other CD and DVD covers on display are empty cases, their discs filed — alphabetically by artist — in a set of drawers behind the counter. And, luckily, there was a Gerry and the Pacemakers disc in the drawer – Ferry ’Cross the Mersey, a live collection of the band’s best-known songs with an additional smattering of unlikely covers, recorded and released in the 80s. Although it took a while, I located the case and, inserting the disc, popped it on the counter in front of the customer.

“Here you go,” I said. “‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’.”

“Yes,” he said, “that’s it. ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’.”

“Yes,” I said, with a contented smile. “‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’. That will be ten dollars, thanks.”

“Isn’t it free?” the man asked me.

“I’m afraid not,” I said, proffering a brief courtesy laugh. “It’s ten dollars.”

I stopped laughing when I realised he was serious.

“I thought it would be free,” he said.

I felt myself stand a little taller, heard my voice hardening ever-so-slightly. This is an early step in a process of behaviour I regularly display that is best described as ‘turning into Basil Fawlty’. Under pressure, in retail, I frequently find myself turning into one of those tense, coiled, John Cleese characters that, on the verge of emotional explosion, enunciate every syllable through clenched teeth.

“I’m sorry, Sir, this is a shop,” I began to explain in a patronising tone. “The way a shop works is that I give you stuff in exchange for money. This is known, from my point-of-view, as ‘selling’. From your point-of-view, it is ‘buying’. So I cannot give you stock for free. You have to give me money for it.”

“Okay,” he said, never losing his pleasant, genial, shorts-too-high, some-whiskers-missed old man demeanor as he handed over two five-dollar notes.

I shook my head after he left, but didn’t have any time to think about it because I had a few customers in need of attention.

However, before long, the old man was back.

“Look,” he said, “I got to the corner and decided I don’t want it unless it’s free.”

I paused for a moment, attempting to process this information. But it was no use. “I’m sorry?” I demanded.

“Well,” he said, “I thought about it, and realised that it hasn’t been quite six months yet; this should still be free.”

“Tomorrow will be the fourteenth of November,” I explained, “six months after the fourteenth of May. We are shut tomorrow. This is as close to six months being up as we can get. But it doesn’t matter. I still don’t understand – why should the disc be free?”

“You said that you don’t need money after a day, but after six months…”

I took a deep, emphatic breath that cut him off.

“What I said was, we hold things for customers for a day without a deposit, or a month with a deposit. If we hold it for a day without a deposit, then you have to come in and buy it, or leave a deposit; if you leave a deposit, then, within the month, you have to come in and buy it, otherwise it goes back on the shelf.”

“Oh well, I don’t want it unless it’s free.”

Another deep breath.

“This is a shop,” I began again, carefully. “We sell stuff. Why should I be giving this to you for nothing? Do you go to other shops and ask for things for nothing?”

“No,” he said.

“Then why are you coming here to ask for free stuff from me?” I was uncomfortable. I didn’t understand. I really wanted to, but I didn’t.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I just thought of it.”

“You just thought you might come in here and ask for something for free?”


It was no use. Comprehension and I were not within spitting distance of one another. “Did somebody put you up to this?” I demanded, just in case.

“No. I just don’t want the CD anymore. I’d like my money back.”

“But I don’t understand. Why? You just bought it. I just sold it to you. Why should it be free?”

“I just think it should.”

On the verge of losing it, I tried one more time.

“I still don’t understand,” I began, relatively calmly. “Shops have been in existence almost from the beginning of time, and they all work the same way: you want something, you exchange something of value for it, in this case, money. When do you get stuff from shops for free?”

“Sometimes things are free,” he reasoned, hitching his shorts up that extra half a centimetre or so for emphasis as he delivered what he must have imagined was the clincher. “Sometimes you might win something when you go to the club. Then it’s free.”

I didn’t know anything about any clubs, but I knew about give-aways on th radio, so I tried to run with that example.

“Okay, so, say you ring a radio station and win something from them, they have to send it out to you.”


“So why are you trying to get this CD for nothing from a shop?”

“Because I thought it would be free.”

Now we were going in circles. Ten dollars was not enough justification to embrace the insanity that was slowly creeping over me. I wondered who’d believe me when, some time in the future, I try to re-tell this story.

“I’d really just like my money back,” the old man said. “If it isn’t free, I just don’t want it.”

I’ve never been in this position before, but I’d been near enough to it to know that no matter how you try to rationalise what has happened, no matter how calmly and sensibly you attempt to reason, there is no way out, really. It’s much easier just to give in.

“You know what?” I said, “I’m gonna give you your money back, and then I want you to leave this shop and not come back. Is that okay with you?”

“Yes,” he said, all genial shorts-too-high old man again.

I took ten dollars out of the cash register. But before I handed it over I decided to have one more go.

“Okay. Let me try to understand. Six months ago you rang us and asked us to hold a ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’ CD for you.”


“You wanted it then?”


“But you don’t want it now.”


“Because we didn’t keep it on ‘hold’ for you.”

“That’s right.”

“Would you want it now if it was still on ‘hold’ for you?”



“Okay,” I said, taking the plastic bag with the compact disc in it over to the ‘hold’ box, and then sauntering back to the counter.

“Hello, Sir,” I said pleasantly, as though I’d only just caught sight of him. “I suppose you would like the ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’ CD we’ve had on hold for you for nearly six months.” Before he could trick me by saying “no”, I dashed to the ‘hold’ box for the disc, and handed it to him. “Here it is, that’ll be ten dollars thank you, you wanted it, now you have it. The transaction is over.” I put the money back into the cash register as he shook his head and walked out, a little older and somewhat less genial, his shorts still way too high.

I was reeling from the experience, and needed to tell someone about it in order to try to make sense of it, so I rang the boss. When I got to the “… and he thought it should be free,” part of the story, he said, “Why? Because it wasn’t delivered in thirty minutes?” He couldn’t make sense of it either.

Suddenly, a slightly younger, taller, bald man with a moustache underlining an aquiline nose — essentially the spitting image of Jerry’s Uncle Leo on Seinfeld — was standing at the counter with that damn Gerry and the Pacemakers CD.

“That old guy’s an idiot,” Uncle Leo announced, before I - goggle-eyed and open-mouthed - could say anything about the CD in his hand. I assumed he worked in one of the other music shops along the street and he was going to tell me that shorts-too-high old man had been performing his routine in there as well. I didn’t care. I’d gotten him to take the CD and give me money. The transaction was over.

“He certainly didn’t seem to understand the concept of ‘retail’,” I agreed, hoping Uncle Leo did. I didn’t want that bloody CD back.

“He won a competition for a free CD of his choice from the shop two doors down,” the man said, pulling a second, and, truth be told, better Gerry and the Pacemakers CD out of a bag.

Jesus H.M.A.S. Christ! Now it all made sense. The little old man had phoned six months ago about a Gerry and the Pacemakers CD that would be held for him to pick up for free, because you can win free stuff in competitions at clubs. He had won such a competition. It was just that MY SHOP WASN’T THE SHOP RUNNING A COMPETITION THROUGH THE CLUB!

All of this must have gone through my head in an instant, because my immediate reply consisted of the following sentence fragment:

“But I’ve just been…”

After a pause, I started to feel remorse. “I absolutely tortured…”

“Yeah, he’s an idiot,” Uncle Leo let me off the hook again.

“That’s as may be, but, knowing that he’s an idiot, shouldn’t you have come with him?” I demanded.

“I had to wait in the car,” he explained. “I was in a loading zone.”

“Oh, you bloody idiot...” I thought to myself, putting the CD on. “Life goes on day after day/Hearts torn in every way,” Gerry Marsden reminded me as I withdrew those ten dollars one last time from the cash register, defeated.


That shop I was in when visited by the little old man has subsequently closed. That fact that it was on a clear slide towards its ultimate end - too many 'ten-dollar shops' and eBay teaching everyone the cost of everything and the value of nothing - explains why I went to some length to become the sort of shop assistant who would impress Ronnie Barker’s ‘Arkwright’ character from Open All Hours.

However, imagine how much funnier the whole ‘theatre of the absurd’ incident would have been had we not had a Gerry and the Pacemakers CD in stock. Pants-too-high would have made me search the entire premises, ‘cheese shop sketch’-like, until I found something that he actually wanted… and then he would have wanted to have it for free!

What’s in a name?


Two days a week I work in a ‘High Fidelity’ kind of store, called Egg Records. Yesterday, while I’m tidying up the ‘soul’ section, I see, out of the corner of my eye, a little old man holding a Zappa album. It’s a copy of Absolutely Free, a first US pressing on the Verve label, and I'm pretty excited; we've got $50 (Australian) on it; that’s a nice one-off sale to make, and, more interestingly, although hardcore fans are willing to make such a purchase, such fans rarely happen to be little old men.

A little while later, the old man comes up to the counter holding a record in each hand. He brings the Zappa album forward and drawls, in an old man kind of drawl, “this one says ‘Absolutely Free’.”

“I'm sorry, Sir,” I reply, as straight-faced and polite as possible, “that is in fact the title of the album.” I point to the price tag, to show him as I tell him that it actually says ‘fifty dollars’.

So he hands the record to me. He doesn't want it at that price. He only wants it if it is absolutely free. 

“What about this one?” he drawls, proffering the record in his other hand. It turns out to be a Tom Waits album… the one called… (wait for it)… Small Change!


Before he can whip out some pocket shrapnel, I let him know that once again, ‘Small Change’ is the album title, so rather than forty-five cents, or thrupence, or whatever jangly combination happens to reside his coin pocket, the price, as stated on the price tag, is seventeen dollars.

I guess I’m just glad he hadn’t tried to purchase a copy of that live charity album that the Oxbridge mafia comedians like the Pythons, the Goodies, Peter Cook and Alan Bennett recorded for Amnesty International in the mid-70s. 

Its cover says ‘A Poke In The Eye (With A Sharp Stick)’!


Getting the Last Laugh


One day I noticed in the back room of Egg Records a big box full of – I don’t know – maybe a hundred different James Last records. I was impressed because I didn’t think there were a hundred different James Last records. There certainly doesn’t need to be a hundred different ones. Although I’ve never listened to even one James Last record, I’m certain they all are of the same ilk of ‘muzak’, and so are interchangeable. The best thing about seeing so many of them in one place is being able to marvel at the kitsch cover art.

When pressed, my boss Ric admitted that not only had he acquired a hundred-odd James Last records, he had also ended up with an equal amount of James Last CDs. “But I didn’t buy them,” he was at pains to assure me. He had certainly taken possession of them with a big collection that he had recently bought, but, he insisted, throughout the negotiation of the purchase, he was adamant that he didn’t want to buy any James Last records. And why would he buy them? He didn’t want them, they didn’t suit our shop, we surely couldn’t expect customers to buy them from us. But the seller was just as adamant: he wouldn’t sell his collection unless Ric bought the James Last records and CDs as part of it. “I’d already decided the amount I’d offer him for the collection,” Ric explained. “Then, I thought, if he makes me take the James Last stuff, I’d actually offer him less than if he agreed to keep them himself. So in the end, he lost money by making me take it.”

Fantastic. Although he didn’t know it, some guy had effectively paid us a wad of cash to get rid of his James Last collection.

But who has the last laugh here?

Egg Records is a pretty cool shop. Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead, like members of Spiritualized when they were in Sydney, shopped at Egg Records and raved about the store. Do we want to be a shop full of James Last records and CDs? Which musicians would rave about us then? Richard Clayderman, maybe. Klaus Wunderlich, if he hadn’t passed away.

I know ‘easy listening’ and ‘muzak’ have a place in society, particularly since ‘cocktail music’ was exonerated and rehabilitated a little while back. Even Albert Einstein argued that the uninitiated should listen to Mantovani’s schmaltzy renditions of classical music in order to prepare for giving the real thing a go. Perhaps one day DJs will flock to op shops to locate James Last, as they do to locate copies of moog albums and field recordings of peoples indigenous to third-world countries, in order to base dance grooves upon them. If so, we should hold on to these records until a time that they’re worth twenty bucks each. However, forgetting for a moment that we have recourse to intellectual discourse and instead taking musical appreciation back to first principles in order to appraise it with the passion and raw emotion that, for most music lovers, hooked us onto it in the first place, the question remains:

What on earth could we do with this shit?

I suggested we put them up on the wall and charge customers a buck for three darts, to chuck at them, maybe with prizes for the best shots.

The problem with this is, obviously, the charging of a buck for what must be every music-lover’s inaliable right: to chuck pointy projectiles at effigies of James Last. Besides which, there’d always be one moron who’d have someone’s eye out, and it would all end in tears.

Ric came up with a better idea: suspending black markers from the ceiling, and mounting a bunch of covers as a wall disply, customers are invited to deface the covers as they see fit. Once the selection has been defaced, they will be replaced with a fresh batch. How cool is that!

For a closer look at the covers that came out slightly less blurred when snapped in a hurry during the dead period shortly before closing on a dull day, click here. (If I can be bothered, I’ll have another go during another lull in the working day. Or not.)

Off The Record…

“How do they fit so many songs on something so small?” the customer enquired. He was holding a copy of The Beach Boys Greatest Hits, a twenty-track compilation, on compact disc. It was the late 80s , and although compact discs were still relatively new, the man was in his late twenties, so it was fair to assume that he knew what they were and, more or less, how they worked.

At that stage of the game, we music shop assistants were encouraged to politely enquire of the older customers, prior to taking their money, whether or not they in fact owned a CD player. It often saved a bit of bother later in the day when they’d return product they couldn’t possibly use. The best response I ever received was from a matronly old biddy in her lawn bowl whites. Her response to “have you got a CD player?” was to announce, “I have a washing machine!” Rather than listen to her list her whitegoods, I just let her go. She didn’t return disappointed, but the man in his late twenties did. “It’s not a record,” he explained, handing tThe Beach Boys Greatest Hits back to me. “No it isn’t,” I agreed. The proof, had anyone required it, was etched into the lacquered surface of the disc: an engraving that spiralled from the centre to the edge, left by the stylus that had skidded across its spinning surface.

Not that such a scratch should have interfered with the sound quality of the disc, if the initial news reports hailing the dawn of the digital music revolution were anything to go by. Early ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’-style stories – like the one about the surfing piglet and the rattle snake slithering across the desert with its head stuck in a beer can – appearing in the ‘human interest’ slot after the weather would show how you could smother a CD with tomato sauce, towel it off, bung it into the CD player and still enjoy perfect sound reproduction.

We soon learnt that CDs weren’t so indestructible, but they did prove more durable: by the mid-90s records were phased out in favour of the new format that took up less space, and, it was argued, offered better sound quality. It didn’t take long for the old format to be widely considered obsolete. I remember overhearing a little boy on the other side of a music shop counter trying to convince an incredulous playmate that his grandpa had “heaps of those big, old, black CDs that you have to stick needles into!”

By the mid-90s, a whole generation that had never bought or played a record was coming of age. Here was the first bunch of people in living memory whose vocabulary did not include terms such as ‘gatefold’, ‘flipside’ or ‘inner sleeve’; they were ignorant of the differences between seven- and twelve-inch singles; their hearts didn’t race at the at the merest whiff or trace of the heady and addictive smell of freshly pressed vinyl in a laminated cardboard cover. A whole generation who didn’t know the pleasure of collecting records. Meanwhile, their parents were busy updating their collections, replacing records with the equivalent CD titles.

Of course, vinyl enthusiasts disagreed that CDs offered better sound quality. If you took care of your records and had a decent sound system (ie a turntable, an amplifier and a set of speakers, each of which cost more than a CD player), your records sounded better than CDs because, they argued, the sound records produced was “warmer” – whatever that actually means. Besides, some instruments – particularly acoustic ones – had a tendency to sound “sterile” when recorded digitally.

Afforded the opportunity of hindsound (the aural equivalent of ‘hindsight’) it now can be said that, given a pressing in good condition and good equipment on which to play it, records can produce a comparable sound to compact discs. Furthermore, we are now allowed to admit that there were times when CD mastering left a lot to be desired – capturing and reproducing the limitations of the original recordings, such as tape hiss and signal loss, with the highest fidelity. It took a lot of technological jiggery-pokery to actually recreate that “warm” sound of a record. We know this, even if we still don’t quite know what “warm” means, because, in the case of some artists, their entire back catalogue has been or is being re-released for the third time with alleged better sound quality. By the time you’ve listened to your third copy of your favourite David Bowie, Elvis Costello or Rolling Stones album on CD, you really ought to know whether you’re actually getting your money’s worth this time. However, where vinyl enthusiasts have been vindicated most openly is in the case of original mono pressings of some classic albums. Listen to original mono pressings of Velvet Underground albums, or the Beatles’ ‘White Album’, or early Dylan, and if they don’t quite jump through the speakers and rip your bloody arms off the way Aunty Jack once promised to, they certainly box your ears – in the nicest possible way, of course.

While record collectors stuck by their favourite format, their lives were made difficult by the fact that new records had become an expensive indulgence stocked only by certain specialist stores, imported from overseas as the Australian dollar continued to lose ground on the foreign market. At least, for a time, they could find sought-after titles in second hand shops at a decent price. Meanwhile, a lot of other music lovers have subsequently started to come to their senses, realising that there is more to recorded music than just the music: there is also the packaging, and the sentimental value invested in it. While Japan has begun to reissue CDs in miniature replica album sleeves, complete with facsimile inner sleeves and posters, there are people who are keen to just own their favourite records again, with the cover art and sleevenotes they don’t have to go blind trying to enjoy, and – if pressed to admit it – that “warm” sound they still can't quite define. However, re-purchasing the records you once owned and loved is now an expensive exercise, and often a work-intensive one, taking place either on-line or in specialist collector stores. Demand has ensured that they are no longer as cheap as they were when you were replacing them with CDs. Despite this, discerning collectors turn down those compact discs because they still know full well:

“It’s not a record”.

Thinking about the habits of record buyers, and an unfortunate addiction to this here blogging business, led me to dust of this piece of writing that has been kicking around for a couple of years. It was composed during the lead-up to one of the Glebe Record Fairs (inaugurated and run by Egg Records) with the encouraging information of the owner that “we know people at newspapers and could maybe get you editorial”. As usual, it got me didley squat – but I’m quite happy with the writing that resulted, apart from the fact that after such a good start and an excellent (for me) series of gags, it ended weakly with no real conclusion. And in the end, even as a minor record collector, I don’t think that I agree with my ‘findings’ as such. I don’t particularly care much for mono first editions of anything, although mono editions of Beatles records interest me when the mixes or edits differ markedly to their stereo equivalents (the mono Sgt Pepper’s, for example, features a shorter version of ‘She’s Leaving Home’, in a higher key – well, it doesn’t really, it features the same one sped up a bit – as well as a number of other anomalies and variations; the mono ‘White Album’ has a shorter version of ‘Helter Skelter’ because it doesn’t fade back in after it fades out – unfortunately depriving monophiles of Ringo Starr’s shouted statement, “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”).

In addition to collecting Beatles song variations, some albums must be owned on vinyl purely for the packaging. The original pressing of the compilation album Monty Python’s Instant Record Collection, for example, came in an elaborate cover that could be folded and inserted in such a way as to resemble a whole pile of records. The Japanese ‘LP replica’ CD reissue has yet to be released.

Apart from that, I’m usually interested in owning different editions for the variations in artwork or content – there’s an English pressing of Cream’s Wheels of Fire, for example, that saw fit to ‘improve’ upon Martin Sharp’s excellent psychedelic artwork by printing it in negative and reversing the front and back covers. Thus, collecting vinyl mostly seems to come down to the medium rather than the music, but to explore this properly would require a whole other piece of writing.