My vinyl journey

I grew up with vinyl as my primary source of music. Then I went through The Great Vinyl Purge of 1989 and pared my collection down to a fraction of its original size. After that it was all about CDs--until The Great CD Purge of 2013, but that's beside the point.

Despite the fact that I have wholeheartedly embraced digital music, I still find myself buying old vinyl. "Why?" you ask? Well, I'll tell you.

First of all, I'm not a record collector. I really don't care about rarity or value or collectibility. Not in the least. I care about two things: compilations and weirdness.


To be precise, I look for the kinds of compilations that K-Tel, Ronco, and others released in the seventies. That is the decade where my musical awareness kicked in, and I listened to the radio almost obsessively. I heard all the hits of the day, and made it a point to listen to American Top 40 every weekend. I soaked it all in.

Today one can get compilations of seventies hits from myriad places, which is great. However, they provide an incomplete picture of the time. Think about it: if you want to release a compilation that will offer a good return on your investment, you'll want to include the most popular songs that most people will recognize. You want the songs that stood the test of time. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

The compilations I'm talking about were produced at the time (of course), and include not just songs that were already popular, but songs that the labels wanted to push to become hits. Songs that people hoped would keep them from being a one-hit wonder. Songs that, while they did get some radio play way back when, did not stand the test of time. Those are the things that interest me because I remember so many of them. The real joy, though, is finding good songs that I had completely forgotten about, but remember fondly. Those are the ones I treasure.


Somebody probably has the statistics somewhere, but only a tiny fraction of the LPs that were produced over the decades will ever find their way into the digital world--officially. That means that there are untold hours' worth of content out there that may never again see the light of day. Not that it all deserves to, certainly, but there's a lot that does.

For me, that means the weird stuff. Like an album of German drinking songs recorded live by a brass band at a beer garden in West Germany in the mid-sixties. Or Monkees songs arranged for and played by a string orchestra. How about a Christmas album by Pac-Man? Or an album of disco medleys for kids?

Nobody in their right mind would spend what it would take to professionally digitize and remaster those old gems and then release them. But a dork like me has no problem ripping them, cleaning them up, and importing them into iTunes.

Aside: I was one of the kids who went crazy for the original Star Wars back in 1977. When my parents took me to the mall and I saw the soundtrack album being sold for $3.99, I jumped on it. Then I got it home and played it. To my horror it wasn't the actual soundtrack, but a weird, hastily-produced knock-off by The Electric Moog Orchestra. Once I got past my initial disappointment, however, I discovered that it had its own unique charms. Even after I got the bona fide soundtrack (on 8-track tape, thank you), I ended up playing the knock-off LP far more often. That was one of the first things I digitized, and I still enjoy listening to its weirdness.


I know I said before that I'm only concerned about compilations and weirdness, but there is one more thing I look for in the cheap vinyl bins: John Gary. My mother was a big fan of singer John Gary back in the sixties. As popular as he was at the time, he has been largely forgotten. Today you'd be hard pressed to find many of his recordings on CD or for download. Some, of course, but not all.

When I found out that she still loves his music, I made it a point to buy whatever LPs of his I might find, digitize them, and give them to her. I think I'm up to seven or eight albums by now.

So that's my vinyl journey. One more thing before I end this: while I do still look for oddball records, I don't keep them. I digitize them, import them, then ship them off to Goodwill. After all, I'd much rather move hard drives than record crates.