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Black Sky Thinking

Digga Please! The Quietus <3 Record Store Day
John Doran , April 14th, 2011 07:28

Old man John Doran explains his love for vinyl and Quietus staff pick their top ten must have items on sale on Saturday

Recently, shiny apple-cheeked youngster Rick Martin posted a blog on NME about how he doesn't spend his pocket money on records anymore, preferring to splash out on drugs and clothes instead. Then when half the internet called him a bellend he issued another blog which blamed CDs for the Pitcairn Island affair.

Although certainly younger, shinier and higher pitched than me, Mr Martin is most certainly wrong about vinyl. He is wrong to presume that music exists in a vacuum. The notion of songs stripped from their physical format is, in some ways, like the idea of food with no smell or sex with no foreplay - essentially the same in terms of functionality but missing something that anyone with real understanding would deem essential. While there are those who buy vinyl for terrible reasons - to keep without playing in mint condition or for financial gain - a bunch of records that you like gathers meaning and history in a way that a bunch of MP3s simply won't. I can tell you the album I bought on my first holiday with my girlfriend (Motown Chartbusters Vol. 3) and when I see its mirrorball sleeve I immediately undergo a warm rush of Proustian recall. I can tell you the song we fell in love to (‘Stabbed In The Face’ by Wolf Eyes) which I’m reminded of every time I catch the sleeve on my shelves in the corner of my vision. No doubt I'll come to associate a record with my young son when he arrives in the next few days.

My 7” copy of ‘Ace Of Spades’ by Motorhead is battered and torn and is a bit scratched but there again my MP3 of the same song doesn’t say: “To John, stay lucky, from Lemmy” on the front. I’ve got a signed copy of ‘Reign In Blood’ by Slayer and I still feel slightly embarrassed to this day when I remember Kerry King shaking his head in disbelief at me and saying: “I ain’t signing a copy of this album with a fucking fountain pen, someone get me a sharpie.”

I used to be a fan of a band called One More Grain and they had a great song called ‘Tropical Mother In Law’. I felt slightly proud of myself for spotting that this was a reference to the rhythm it half-inched from Ernie K Doe’s ‘Mother In Law’ - a favourite vinyl platter of mine. Dan Quinn, the singer heard it on a jukebox in a pub in the East End where he lived when he was formulating the band. Ernie was a New Orleans soul singer who achieved modest fame in the 1960s (he released that ‘Here Come The Girls’ track that Boots The Chemists ruined a few years ago). I finally went on a pilgrimage to the "Nawlins" in 2007 to visit my good friend Andy who’d made his home there. His job, post hurricane, was helping to reopen local schools and persuade new teachers to move to the stricken city. On his day off we went to visit The Mother In Law Lounge, which was a tiny but brightly painted bar under Claiborne Avenue. This flyover you will know from the televised pictures transmitted round the globe in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, covered in bodies, surrounded by water glinting in the sunshine.

When we arrived the waters had retreated but the damage was still evident. I wanted to go and look next door at the St Louis graveyard, the scene of the acid trip in Easy Rider but several people had been murdered there within the previous few weeks so we went straight inside. As we entered a lot of people who were now homeless were rolling up their sleeping bags, stowing them under tables and heading out for work.

Inside, I drank with Ernie’s widow, who had done the bar up as a memorial to her late husband. He was there in spirit, or at least that’s how it felt after six shots of bourbon, surrounded by waxworks wearing his gold and purple stage suits. She was pleased that we’d come to the city to buy albums and watch bands. Music was, she said, the thing that would bring people back to the city. To restore its pride. Another patron that night was Guitar Slim Jr whose dad had played with Dr John, Lee Dorsey and Professor Longhair. He gave me the card of a record dealer who had a lock up full of vinyl out in Baton Rouge. We went there the next day and I bought an armful of albums; one blues compilation in particular would blow your balls clean off were you to hear it. Of course, you’ll just have to take my word for it as one, I’m not going to tell you what it’s called or who’s on it (this is the kind of album that only gets brought out when you're round my house and we're playing tunes into the small hours) and two, even if I did, you’d never find it as it doesn’t exist in MP3 form. (Believe me, I’ve spent long enough looking as I’d like it on my iPod - and please don’t mention those fucking horrific MP3 turntables that make all records sound either like a wasp farting in a margarine tub or as if they're being played out of a phone on the top deck of a bus.)

Every time I play that album and, yes, sniff its dusty cover, I’m taken back momentarily to a lock up in Louisiana.

That trip - taking in a hip hop store in Houston; the extreme metal specialists Aquarius and the gargantuan Amoeba in San Francisco and too many places to name in NYC as well as Louisiana - cost me $100 in excess baggage fees alone just to get all the booty back in to the UK. It was a once in life time kind of deal and took several years to plan and save up for. It did, I'll admit, put a serious dent in my drug and clothes budget for quite a while but then, I know where my priorities lie. Generally speaking however, buying vinyl is one of the few pleasures that’s pretty much cheap enough for anyone to indulge in - as long as they don’t like rare Beatles records or SunnO))). Believe it or not, before the advent of the MP3, people didn’t have to choose between clothes and records - as I’m pretty sure they don’t have to now. A crueler person than myself would suggest that someone who earns their living writing about music and is happy for exactly 0% of their wages to go back to the artists has a parasitical relationship to the art form and needs to readdress their priorities or whether they should be doing it full stop. Anyone who finds record shops off putting places can buy merch from gigs or from the loads of brilliant online stores there are out there like Norman’s, Boomkat or Bleep... although it sounds like they’ve probably based their prejudices on a really shit film starring John Cusack and Jack Black rather than actually visiting any record shops I’ve been to.

Ultimately though, sticking to MP3s sounds like denying oneself of the true pleasures of being a bona fide music fan for penny pinching, mean spirited and mealy mouthed reasons. For me vinyl is the medium for a trans-Atlantic conversation that has been going on between England and America (and Jamaica and Germany and Japan and Brazil and Norway etc) for the last half a century. It’s conversation that I'm excited to be a tiny part of.

But no doubt those shitty 112 k/bit rips of some album that you got from a torrent site on a hipster’s recommendation with no effort or forethought and downloaded at the click of a finger without having to leave your bedroom or invest any emotion, time or money in have just as important a place in your heart.

Barring the pieces of vinyl mentioned above, my favourite records include

  1. Pixies Doolittle. Signed by Frank Black. He drew a mad looking alien on it for me.
  2. The Rolling Stones ‘Miss You’ 12” in bubblegum pink vinyl. It's gayer than waking up with a cock in either ear and almost as pleasurable.
  3. Allen Ginsberg The Howl. A red vinyl album pressed up in 1957 to celebrate his famous poem being declared not obscene or pornographic by the courts of San Francisco.
  4. Original Cast Recording of Let My People Come - A Sexual Musical. Once heard, it’s hard to forget such songs as ‘I’m Gay’, ‘Come In My Mouth’ and ‘The Cunnilingus Champion Of Company C’.
  5. Radiohead The Bends. Signed by Chuckles and friends.
  6. Kraftwerk ‘Neon Lights’ 12”. In glow in the dark vinyl.
  7. ‘Kenny Everett’s The World’s Worst Record Show’. While there are some admittedly shit songs on this it does include The Trashmen’s 'Surfin’ Bird' and 'Transfusion' by Nervous Norvus which would be covered by The Fall. Comes on vomit coloured vinyl.
  8. Tubeway Army ‘Are “Friends” Electric?’ 7”. When I was 14 I had to spend a summer indoors after eye surgery and I played this pretty much constantly. This record achieved a sort of spiritual significance for me. It’s not worth anything financially but I couldn’t put a price on my copy of it nonetheless.
  9. Joy Division Unknown Pleasures. You can’t move for seeing this Peter Saville designed sleeve these days but it’s still worth remarking that the full impact of it (my favourite album art period) can only be got from the original vinyl. With the radiowave image faint and almost lost in an endless expanse of black - not even the CD does it justice, let alone a Jpeg.
  10. The Jesus And Mary Chain ‘Upside Down’ 7”. This is the record that ruined everything for me. I was a quiet, bookish 13-year-old and then I heard this on John Peel. I went out and bought it the next day and was a surly drunk speed freak dressed in tight fitting black clothes with spiky hair who didn’t talk to his parents by the time I got back from the shop. Still, top tune.

And Our Picks For Record Store Day

  1. Fela Kuti and the Africa 70 ‘Monday Morning In Lagos I & II’ Knitting Factory/MRI 7”
  2. Tracey Thorn You Are A Lover Strange Feeling green vinyl
  3. British Sea Power ‘Who’s In Control’ Rough Trade 7” double pack
  4. Various Artists Vorwärts MUTE vinyl and CD album
  5. Husband ‘Love Song’ Robot Elephant 12” marbled green vinyl
  6. Oval/Liturgy Kreak Thrill Jockey split LP
  7. Mastodon/ZZ Top ‘Just Been Paid’ WBR 7” yellow vinyl
  8. Of Montreal ‘The Past Is A Grotesque Animal’ Polyvinyl 12” vinyl
  9. Wild Beasts ‘Albatross’ Domino 7” vinyl
  10. The Flaming Lips Heady Nuggs: The First Five Warner Bros Records 1992 – 2002 Warner Bros Box set vinyl