First things first: I am not innocent on this matter. I did buy my share of these releases and probably buy next years “What’s Going On”-Issue with unreleased takes of breathing by Marvin in 4D sensurround sound. But with the “Record Store Day” turning into “Vinyl Tuesday” and the building of new pressing plants for vinyl, i am afraid we haven’t seen the peak of this yet. And that actually sounds like an anticlimax.
Record Collecting – the old way
Originally it was like this: Record collecting starts with the first purchase of a song you heard on the radio. Probably a sizeable hit or a new release by an already established artist in the style your are currently digging. So grab your pocket money, go inside the store, perhaps take the chance to listen to some other releases before the lady behind the counter looks you straight in the eye. But this time you’ve come prepared and put the money on the counter.
So after a few months of buying one or the other you build your collection. Perhaps make your own charts, take a look at the covers. Here in germany nearly all 7″ (45s) came with picture sleeves – most with the picture of the artist, sometimes some hideous graphics. So after a while you might change styles and/or your favourite artists but on a saturday there’s always something there to remind you to pick up your dose of vinyl.
“Serious” Collectors are always looking for exclusive B-Sides or promo releases, exclusive tracks on compilations, remixes or other one-offs. These are not played on the radio, seldom in the clubs or at private parties. For example the brillant “Erotic City” by Prince or the bleak – but good – “I don’t want to be your shadow” by the Psychedelic Furs – just to name two from my “P” Section. Perhaps you cannot stop and get into serious trouble – like collecting original northern soul releases (promo or issue? us or uk pressing? or even on acetate?). That will surely cost you “an arm and a leg” – if you can’t stand to be sneered at because you do play those look-a-like reissues instead.
But however ridiculous this record collecting certainly is (again, i am seriously affected myself), what does the Box Set stand for? First: it looks enormous, like an all important book. (Again, in germany, any text in a hard cover is automatically regarded as a cultural artefact of high significance) It is often lavishly packed with goodies, photos, badges, posters, a patch or badge and – wait for it – music! Every single track the artist had released around the time of the key release, every B-Side, every radio interview someone could get hold of has been stitched together to make this look big, bold, exclusive and worthy of some serious money. Often the regular price starts from 50 up 300 Euro for a box set.
Archaeology instead of music-loving
And when you’ve finally opened the box and have listened to the sixth rejected Version of “Moondance” or the unreleased stereo Mixes by Phil Spector while flipping through the lavish booklet – it somehow feels strange. This doesn’t have the spontaneuous lively feel of a new album or that cracking 12″ Drum’n’Bass-Banger. Or the first listen to a song that made you stop what you are doing – this is more like reading a history book, it’s archaeology instead of music-loving. And part of it is the never ending sound, the full picture in a heavy box that doesn’t let you connect and make the listening experience of some special tunes your own. We can only bow down for the “Art” the “Works” the “Importance”. So actually this is like the equivalent of “Emerson Lake & Palmer” not The Standells. And we don’t want that, do we?
If you are bold enough to honestly check your collection for the real cool music in your life that means something, it is very rarely an unreleased track or demo version released for the first time 50 years later. Because i still strongly believe that music is connecting to the time it was made. So an unreleased fifth Johnny-Rotten-led-Sex-Pistols-7″ would sound magical on paper – but it surely won’t have the same impact now then it might have had in 1976/77.
“Too many record collectors, not enough music lovers” – to borrow some words from Edwyn Collins.
P.S. And for us northern soul fanatics, deep inside we know most of those one-off acetates can’t beat the Four Tops or Isleys on melody, rhythm and style.