Thursday, 23 January 2014

January 2014

The January 2014 blogs feature a look at the classic Genesis 1974 LP "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway", selected Elvis compilation albums and part 1 of my 'novel within a website', "How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting". To look at any of these blogs, click the relevant link to your right.

"Glory Glory Hallelujah"

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Classic Albums No.13: The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have listened to this album. Sometimes, I think that I have memorized it so well, that whenever I listen to it again, it just goes in one ear and out the other, and it doesn’t really have any effect. But then, if I sit down and REALLY listen to it, I am reminded again of this one fact - that this album is a work of genius.

Released in 1974, Genesis’ sixth album was the last to feature Peter Gabriel. It was also their last truly classic album, although there was still enough prog on “Wind And Wuthering” and “And Then There Were Three” to keep the old guard happy. It was also their first double LP, and their first true concept album. And it elevated them to Prog-god status, only for Gabriel to walk as soon as the subsequent tour came to a close. In some respects, “The Lamb” is so monumental, so “high art”, that it is difficult to know quite where the band could have gone from here had he stayed. At least by leaving, the rest of the band were able to (slowly) reinvent themselves as stadium filling popstars.

Ever since the slightly fey sound that dominated their 1969 album “From Genesis To Revelation”, Genesis - via a series of Spinal Tap-esque lineup changes - began to make more impressive, powerful, and groundbreakingly unusual music as the 70s progressed. There was a huge leap in quality and confidence from the debut to the follow up, 1970’s excellent, but generally under-rated, “Trespass”, and by the time they reached 1972’s “Foxtrot”, they were at the top of their game. Dominated by the epic 23 minute long “Supper’s Ready”, this record represented Genesis at their most complex and inventive.

Album number five, 1973’s “Selling England By The Pound”, didn’t feature anything quite as lengthy, although it did seem to have a single theme running through it, unlike the previous records - one of Englishness, with songs referencing ‘Moonlit Knights’ and Epping Forest. “The Lamb”, in many respects, was designed almost as an extension of the single theme approach, whilst also conversely being the polar opposite of the Englishness of it’s predecessor.

The band had made the decision to make an album that told a story, with Mike Rutherford having designs on making an album based on the story “The Little Prince”. Peter Gabriel didn’t like it, thinking it was twee, and had his own story, that of New York street punk Rael and his Dungeons and Dragons style quest to ‘rescue’ his brother John, via a series of oddball set pieces, including details of a debut sexual conquest in “Counting Out Time” and the “removal“ of his, erm, “equipment“ by a Dr Dyper on “The Colony Of Slippermen“. The story seemed to be based underneath the streets of New York (the reference to Broadway), and the climax involved Rael having to make a choice between going ‘overground’ back to the city, or staying in this weird underworld to save his brother from certain peril. Gabriel, as lead singer, managed to get the rest of the band to “agree” to his request, and work began on the album in early 1974. By setting the story in New York, it was therefore also the flipside to the English countryside vibe offered up by “Selling England”.

Very early on in proceedings, Gabriel was approached by filmmaker William Friedkin, who was intrigued by the abstract story Gabriel had written for the rear cover sleeve notes on the recently released “Genesis Live” album. The two discussed a possible film project, and Gabriel asked the remainder of the band if work could be put on hold whilst he pursued his celluloid dream. With the rest of the band having little to do other than be in the band, they refused. Gabriel, angered as to why his request had been turned down (it probably gave him the impression that the others thought the band was a “job”, and that as an “employee”, you couldn’t just not turn up), promptly quit the group. The remaining quartet made the decision to carry on, and meagre progress was made on what seemed to now be looking like a new album upon which the singer had gone missing. However, relatively soon after the event, Friedkin admitted some guilt at having accidentally helped to break the band into two, and after the film project ground to a halt, Gabriel rejoined the group. What this did show, was that if there was previously an unbreakable bond in the band, then Gabriel proved it could be broken quite easily. This would prove to be an important event in the resultant months that followed.

The album was more or less pieced together by the two parts of the band - Gabriel, having come up with the entire story, wrote more or less everything for the record, claiming that it was akin to writing a novel, and that it would have made no sense for somebody else to try and assist with something that was in his head, and his head alone. The remaining band members were thus tasked with creating all of the musical side of the record, although guitarist Steve Hackett had little involvement - the album is probably a bit more keyboard driven than the earlier records, and so Banks, Rutherford and Collins ended up contributing more.

So what was the album about? Well, given that Rael’s quest to find his brother ends with him rescuing him from the rapids, only for John to turn and face his brother where upon Rael finds himself looking at a mirror image of himself, it seems to be about schizophrenia. But maybe that’s too simple. You would be well advised to read the “Annotated Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” article at, where the lyrics are printed in chunks alongside parts of the original story that Gabriel wrote and had printed as part of the album artwork, along with thoughts or observations about what each part of each song seemed to refer to. Heavy stuff, but entertaining.

Musically, “The Lamb” differs in style from what had come before. Previously, Genesis had veered close to the folky side of British music, a lot of those earlier LP’s had combined Hackett’s aggressive guitar lines and Banks’ thrilling keyboard flourishes with far more pastoral, and genteel, moments. Many songs were lengthy, in part, because they were often three or four different songs pieced together. But “The Lamb” was more muscular in it’s sound - the noise generated on “In The Cage” or “Back in NYC” a far cry from the poppy bounce of “Harold The Barrel” or the hey-nonny-no acoustic strum of “Harlequin”. The beauty that filled up those earlier records was being replaced, at times, by something more raucous and in your face on “The Lamb”.

There are few genuinely lengthy pieces on here, aside from “Slippermen”. Instead, each side of the record featured a lot of cross fading, and each quarter was mostly made up of shorter songs designed to create one much longer piece. Several songs were quite short, often instrumental segments seemingly designed to link one song to another, whilst Gabriel wrote more lyrics than the band had envisaged, and the group thus had to come up with extra songs to fit the words to, such as side 1 closer “The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging”.

The Friedkin incident was one of two notable pointers as to the future of the band. The other was that Gabriel’s wife was having difficulties with her first pregnancy, meaning he was mostly absent from writing and rehearsal sessions. As such, the album was being worked on by Gabriel in one corner, and the rest of the band in the other. This, combined with Gabriel’s singular vision of what the album was about, caused problems at times - where the music had been composed and Gabriel’s lyrics added to it, the rest of the band would sometimes alter the lyrics Gabriel had written to better fit that piece of music. Gabriel was unimpressed whenever this occurred.

The band had been given a deadline within which to complete the album, and as such, some of Gabriel’s ideas were never fully realized, or were not explored properly, meaning several pieces of lyrics are so obscure, it is difficult to know what Gabriel was trying to convey. By the time the album was complete, Gabriel had made the decision to leave the band - a combination of family issues, and a sense that he and the rest of the band were no longer ‘on the same page’. But all five members agreed to tour first, and Gabriel’s departure was only announced after the final Lamb show took place in Besnacon in France on May 22nd 1975.

The original LP was released with a semi personalised catalogue number, CGS 101, and was housed in a gatefold sleeve. Original copies also included a competition insert, which on one side featured photos of albums from the Charisma back catalogue, and on the other, a competition entry form where you had to work out the names of a Charisma artist from a jumbled up set of letters in order to be in with a chance to win a cool £1000. Thankfully, this was made easier by the fact that the answers were all artists mentioned elsewhere on the insert. The original pressings were on Charisma’s “Mad Hatter and Bunny” labels, but latter period repressings exist on the blue “Mad Hatter only” design.

The two slabs of vinyl were housed in individual inner sleeves, complete with lyrics on each. In the middle of each side of the inners was an arty, 45 degree angled, “design” - each different on each side of each inner sleeve - which no doubt meant ‘something’. Each slab of vinyl had it’s own catalogue number (CG1 and CG2), and each inner had one or the other catalogue number printed bottom right on the front of each one, ensuring you returned your vinyl to the “correct“ inner sleeve. The lyrics were printed around the central design image, but carried over from one inner to the other, so the lyrics for most of “The Chamber Of 32 Doors” were on the second inner sleeve, despite the song itself being on CG1.

Sides 1 and 3 were on standard Charisma labels, but the same label design was used for sides 2 and 4 - an image of Rael smashing through a pane of glass, and thus featured both the CG1 and CG2 catalogue numbers printed on the label. In other words, you would only know which side you were playing by either actually playing it, or by flipping it over to see if you were holding Record 1 or Record 2.

The story of Rael was printed on the inside of the gatefold. Alongside the specially shot images that adorned the front and rear covers, were more photos, giving the impression the album was some sort of soundtrack to a movie, or TV show, with photos representing the chamber of 32 doors, the rapids, etc, etc. Gabriel’s story ended with the line “it’s over to you”, the first word being printed in italics to cross reference with the title of the final song, “It”. There then followed the credits, and, in order to ensure there was no void space in the artwork, the opening lines of the story were reprinted again, deliberately cutting off midway through one of the sentences. Different editions of the LP from different countries featured different credits, and thus the repeated story cut off in different places in different territories.

The album was reissued on CD in 1985. This edition of the album, sadly, is very shabby design wise. First up, the original “Genesis” logo has gone, replaced instead by a logo using a more standardised font which is placed further up the sleeve - it is actually printed inside a grey border that surrounds the front image. The original photo is still in situ, but the album title is also altered graphics-wise, too being printed in a new font inside the border - this time at the very bottom. This leaves a greater expanse of white when compared to the original, part of which is taken up by the tacky “this compact disc is not digitally recorded”. Thanks. Given it was taped in 1974, I could have guessed that myself. Put simply, it looks awful.

The rear cover is not much better, the original - and brilliant - triple photo montage on the back replaced by a close up version of the rapids photo from inside the gatefold of the original vinyl album. The inner booklet does, however, reproduce the rear cover photo on the rear of the booklet - minus the track listing that was on the original - and the same “altered” front cover design is also reproduced on the front of the booklet.

One nice touch though, is that the four sides of the inner sleeves, with the lyrics, have been faithfully reproduced in the booklet, whilst Gabriel’s story is also reprinted (but the inside of the gatefold is not reproduced, I suppose because it would have made the story impossible to read), so is printed in a simpler style in full. As you might expect, many of the photos used on the original are absent. Also unlike the original, no attempt has been made to fill up the void space that follows the story and credits, and so there is a white ‘gap’ at the end of the text at the back of the booklet.

In 1991, a boxset was released by Virgin (TPAK 17) which included reissues of both “The Lamb” and “Selling England” as picture CD’s (the latter also suffered from having it’s front cover tampered with, although the “new” logo as seen on “The Lamb” is used on “Selling England” as well, so there is actually an element of continuity). Although the boxset, of course, includes only two albums, there are three discs, and the back of the box lists the songs as if you are getting three albums, as if the two halves of “The Lamb” had been released in separate editions, with everything on sides 3 and 4 listed under the banner “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway II”.

“The Lamb” was performed in it’s entirety on the tour that followed. A show at the Shrine Auditorium on 24th January 1975 was taped for US radio and was later included in the 1998 boxset “Archive 1967-1975”. It was claimed in the sleeve notes that the final song was not recorded in full, and to make up for this, the original studio mix was revamped with some new Gabriel vocals. However, this story is nonsense, as tapes of the entire show - full album and encore performances of “Watcher Of The Skies“ and “The Musical Box“ - are doing the rounds. This link worked last time I looked:

Although never regulars in the UK singles charts, two 45’s were lifted from the album in the band’s homeland. A reworked “Counting Out Time”, with a totally new intro, appeared as CB 238, backed with a slightly different version of LP track “Riding The Scree” (the intro differs from the LP mix again), and was followed by “The Carpet Crawlers”, CB 251, which included a live version of “The Waiting Room”, taken from the Shrine gig - and thus now officially available again on the “Archive” box (although I understand the mixes of both sides of the single differ from the albums on which they appear). The b-side was actually titled “The Waiting Room (Evil Jam)”, as the origins of the song stemmed from a jamming session. As an aside, a reformed Genesis reworked the a-side for a compilation album in 1999, and although “The Carpet Crawlers 1999” never got released as a single in the UK (it did appear across Europe), it did reach the promo CD stage here, where it was included in radio edit form.

“The Lamb”, along with pretty much the entire Genesis back catalogue, got reissued a few years back, with a bonus DVD. However, video footage from the period is virtually non existent, meaning the DVD included features absolutely NOTHING from the actual album, but instead some early 1974 TV footage of a couple of oldies (excerpts of fan filmed bootleg footage was included). There does also exist a normal, remastered, standard edition and so anybody missing this album from their collection, should be able to track down this version of the album if nothing else for under a tenner.

You could argue, that in some respects, “The Lamb” was a major sidestep for the band. The decision to largely ditch the lengthy multi-part songs that had become their trademark, and replace them with shorter, sharper tunes (in the main) almost sort of predicted the more pop route they would take without Gabriel. But the sheer ambition of the record overrules this. What we are dealing with here, in effect, is one long 100 minute song. The band may have taken to performing only selected tracks from it in later years (the 1982 reunion show with Gabriel even saw them playing them in what seemed to be random order) but it works better as a whole.

Although much has been made of the more aggressive tone of the album, the highpoints are really from all over the place. The buzz-saw throb of the opening title track sets the scene for the overall vibe of the record, but soon enough, the inventive nature of the band’s past is soon apparent - the quiet opening section of “Fly On A Windshield” explodes into a beautiful roar, Hackett’s guitar (I presume it is him) filling the air as Banks’ keyboard lines bounce around the background. (PS. For the rest of this article, we shall assume all guitar licks are Hackett’s, for ease of use, although Rutherford played both bass and a 12-string Electric on the LP).

I love the lyrics of “Broadway Melody Of 1974”, where Gabriel runs through a list of pop culture references - “Lenny Bruce declares a truce, and plays his other hand...Groucho with his movies trailing stands alone with his punch line failing...Klu Klux Klan serve hot soul food and the band plays “In The Mood“...there’s Howard Hughes in Blue Suede Shoes, smiling at the majorettes smoking Winston Cigarettes”. On any other album, the ethereal “Cuckoo Cocoon” might seem slight, but here it provides a good link into the pounding “In The Cage”, which has a gloriously noisy middle section, Banks again pushing the keys to their melodic limit, as Gabriel spits his lyrics across the cacophony of sound - “outside the cage I see my brother John...I cry out Help! before he can be gone...and I shout out John Please Help Me!...I’m helpless in my violent rage”. It’s the first really epic piece on the record, and after it ends, a beautiful, bubbling keyboard driven instrumental passage fades in, more evidence of just how beautifully melodic Gabriel-era Genesis often were.

“The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging” stomps along, building and building to a growling, almost grotesque, snarl of a finish, before side 2 starts with the spiky new wave strut of “Back In NYC”. Again, as Banks’ keyboards flit around the room, Gabriel scowls away over the top - “you’re sitting in your comfort, you don’t believe I’m real...your progressive hypocrites hand out their trash, but it was mine in the first place so I’ll burn it to ash”. It is followed by the stunning instrumental “Hairless Heart”, where the keyboard sounds feel like they’ve been beamed down from heaven - the music on this record is just as important as Gabriel’s words.

To be fair, I could live without the rinky dink naughty pop nonsense of “Counting Out Time”, a song where we go from the sublime to the ridiculous to the sublime, because the propulsive beauty of “The Carpet Crawlers” follows straight after - there are few things better in life than hearing Gabriel whisper the opening line “there is lambs wool under my naked feet, the wool is soft and warm, gives off some kind of heat” whilst Banks again conjures up some magical keyboard riffs. Almost as impressive is “The Chamber Of 32 Doors”, which alternates between a rhythmic strut in the start of the verses, a genteel laid back vibe in the latter part of the verses (it always sounds to me like the band taped this bit in a church) and the twanging thump of the choruses. The advantage of this album being too long to fit onto one CD, is that the natural halfway break you got on the LP is still here as this song closes CD1 - the final section, more or less Gabriel singing without any backing, is all the more effective when it is followed by that wall of silence you get as you prepare to change discs/records - “this chamber of so many doors, I’ve nowhere to hide, I’d give you all of my dreams if you’d help me find a door that doesn’t lead me back again...take me away”. It’s a stunning climax to the first portion.

“Lillywhite Lilith” is one of several songs that has it’s origins in an earlier, unfinished, Genesis piece, and it recalls the earlier period of the band - it doesn’t quite follow the verse chorus verse formula, the big booming pop sound of the first 90 seconds then changing track completely to a finish with a keyboard filled, rather quiet, rumble, as Rael is taken into another nightmarish scenario (“she leaves me in my darkness, I have to face my fear”). It goes straight into the psychotic madness that is “The Waiting Room”, lots of odd noises eventually transforming into a groovy jam, with Banks - yet again - at the peak of his powers.

“Anyway” is driven by a beautiful piano motif, and with Gabriel’s voice sounding fragile (“all the pumping’s nearly over for my sweetheart”), creates a beautiful piece of music. There is a glorious piano solo in the middle before Hackett pulls off a stunning solo which helps propel the music skyward, before it slows and quietens down for the final verse - again, some of the lyrics are wonderfully descriptive, helping you to try and keep up with the story (“the doorbell rings and it’s “Good Morning Rael, so sorry you had to wait, it won’t be long yeah, she’s very rarely late“”). The stomp of “Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist” leads into another work of beauty, the heavenly “The Lamia”, which again opens with a beautiful piano run, as an almost inaudible Gabriel cries in a high pitched voice “the scent grows richer, he knows he must be near”. Gabriel’s vocals throughout this are stunning, and the way he delivers lines such as “struck by beauty, gripped in fright” like a little boy lost one minute, then “it is the scent of garlic that lingers on my chocolate fingers!” with a sense of fear and aggression the next, is quite remarkable.

Side 3 climaxes with “Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats” - for three minutes, it sort of hovers in the background, as Hackett plays the same simple set of chords, as if it is some kind of morse code being sent out across the oceans, to try and entice somebody to come back to shore. Every so often, a choir of voices will harmonise with the guitar, creating something so beautiful, it is nothing short of perfection.

We finally get to the first song that consists of multiple parts, “The Colony Of Slippermen”. Whilst the subject matter is just as, well, arguably childish as that in “Counting Out Time”, it’s executed better because the music is more muscular at one point, more “Genesis”-like in others - just listen to the glorious sounds emanating from Banks’s keyboards as Gabriel finishes the “supersize blackbird that sure can fly!” line. The shimmering “Ravine”, again an instrumental used a la “Hairless Heart” to link two songs, is glorious - the sound of a wild west movie being transported to the streets beneath New York City.

We are now on the final stretch, and things don’t let up. “The Light Dies Down On Broadway” cleverly references two earlier songs from the LP - the title is borrowed of course from the opening title track, whilst the melody and chords in the verse echo those in the chorus of “The Lamia”. It was the one song on the LP whose lyrics were provided, in full, by somebody other than Gabriel, and the re-use of music from elsewhere on the record is really quite brilliant - it helps to bind the different sides of the album together. It’s a beautiful sounding piece of music, and is the point at which Rael has to decide whether or not to save his brother. He decides to do so, and so we are thrown headfirst into the time signature changing madness of “Riding The Scree”. Banks’ keyboards are in full flight again, and the lengthy opening passage is designed to try and paint a picture of Rael trying to find a pathway towards where his brother is stranded; when the opening line finally kicks in - “Struggling down the slope, there’s not much hope” - Gabriel’s voice is hidden quite significantly in the mix, maybe done on purpose to try and convey the sense of urgency that the story is trying to convey.

“Here I Go” whispers Gabriel at the end, and another mighty Tony Banks keyboard solo roars out of the speakers as Rael dives down into the water. He is pulled downstream past John and the song slows down, and fades out, before the stunning “In The Rapids” begins. Again, Gabriel can barely be heard as he describes the situation in the river (“moving down the water, John is drifting out of sight”), and the song recalls the melodic pull of early Genesis once more - minimalist guitar lines, Collins eventually getting into a simple but effective drum pattern, as Rael finally grabs hold of his brother (“I’m waiting for John to be carried past, we hold together and shoot the rapids fast”). As the song approaches the finale, Gabriel’s vocals become more urgent as the band kicks it up a notch, until the horror of what Rael uncovers is finally revealed (“something’s changed, that’s not your face, it’s mine...It’s Mine!”)

A space age style keyboard noise shoots past, finishing “In The Rapids” and starting up “It”, a bouncy romp of a final song, which sounds like an attempt to give an optimistic finish to what seems to have been a rather depressing and heartbreaking story. Notable for featuring the name of the song in each line of lyrics, or at least as part of a word in each line of lyrics (“just a little bit of it can bring you up or is walking on the moon, leaving your cocoon”), it shuffles along with a groove that isn’t characteristic Genesis, but is marked by some nifty Hackett riffs and a roaring melodic rush that is definitely the band’s trademark. “It’s only knock and know all but I like it” Gabriel repeats again and again as the song fades out, and Rael’s story - whatever it is - ends. As does Gabriel’s time with the band.

So what would the band have done after “The Lamb” if Gabriel was still with them? They would have had the same problem The Who had in trying to top “Tommy”. But fate had played it’s hand, and by 1976, a new four piece version of the group was dropping some of the prog for pop, and Gabriel was seemingly in hiding. It thus stood as the band’s grand statement, the final fling by the original incarnation of the group. And as good as some of the later albums were, they never managed to make another record quite as good as this one.

“The Lamb”, and Gabriel era Genesis in general, is spectacular. Rarely namechecked by anybody, it still stands as a monumental achievement, a gloriously alternative piece of rock music, and the pinnacle of a band who had spent the first half of the seventies making genuinely progressive, and groundbreaking, left field music. I have said it before, and I will say it again - this is real alternative rock, not Keane or Snow Patrol style “indie music”, and yet is never too avant garde or pompous to grate, but instead is regularly exciting, thrilling, weird and beautiful. Of course, if your knowledge of Genesis ends with “Invisible Touch”, or your awareness of Gabriel stretches no further than “Sledgehammer”, then prepare to have your mind blown if you have never heard this record, and decide to check it out. Maybe at times, by trying to stretch it out over a double LP, it struggles to maintain the quality levels to a consistently high standard at times, but there is enough genius on this album to overcome this minor quibble. Without doubt, a high point of 70s Prog, and a benchmark for all alternative music that followed. If you own this album, you probably agree with me. Or at least, you should do. But if not, as Gabriel says in his story of Rael, whether or not you decide to try and discover just why some people have raved about this record for the last 40 years, well, it’s over to you.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Elvis Compilations: A Selection

The disparate nature in which Elvis’s recordings surfaced was probably done, at the time, to maximise profits. After all, a new single with a new song on, not to be found on any current album, was likely to sell better than a single which offered nothing rare. Meanwhile, the EP material that surfaced for several of the movies made in the 60s took a while before much of it was given a proper home on CD, thus confusing matters even more.

If you look at Elvis’s Wikipedia discography page, it refers to such and such album being his “tenth LP”, and jumbles up Camden releases with the RCA Victor ones. Which makes things even more baffling. But once you start to look at some of the best of sets, you can at least start to piece together where the hits appeared later on, and then work the studio, soundtrack and budget albums around it.

I thought it would make sense, as the final article of my Elvis triple, to zero in on some of the more interesting comps that have appeared in the last sixty years. Most of the comps that made the 1996 boxset are looked at, primarily because one of them was “altered” by the German arm of RCA so it differed from the original UK release, but I have also included important releases that were issued from the 70s onwards by RCA Victor. It’s by no means definitive, but I hope that it makes the situation regarding Elvis on 45 (and beyond) a bit easier to understand.

Gold Records Volumes 1-5

It makes sense to look at these en masse, especially given that there is a boxset from 2011 which includes all of them in one place, even though the timeframe between volume 1 and volume 5 spans some twenty six years (5xCD, Sony 88697 928882).

As the title(s) suggests, these compilations were based around Elvis hits which had sold enough to be certified “gold”. Four were released during the 50s and 60s, and thus appeared in the 96 box, and as referred to last month, between them, housed a sizeable chunk of Elvis a-sides that had been issued in the UK.

In America, chart positions were also applied to B-sides, partly because radio play played a factor, which explains how some flipsides were also certified as gold, and thus were also eligible for inclusion on these releases. As a result of this, tracks like “Treat Me Nice” (the flip of “Jailhouse Rock”) made Volume 1. Volume 4 was issued in the mid sixties, by which time some of the material appearing on these sets was not what you might call “famous” Elvis material, and B-sides filled up quite a bit of the set (“Ask Me”, “Just Tell Her Jim Said Hello”).

Volume 5 was a posthumous release from 1984, and as such, went some way to bringing the story up to date, by covering the period from Volume 4 up to 1977. But because the records included all had to have sold enough to obtain a gold standard, this meant that some big latter period hits were included (“Suspicious Minds”, “Burning Love”) whilst others were thus missing (“Guitar Man”, “Always On My Mind”). This one also differed from earlier releases in that whilst the first four editions more or less consisted of non-album material, 45’s that had been lifted from an Elvis studio album were used on this one (such as “If You Talk in Your Sleep”, from 1975’s “Promised Land”).

In 1997, all five records were reissued in expanded form, adding other hits from the relevant period, which may or may not have gone gold, but generally, this was material easily available elsewhere already. “Volume 1” was expanded to include material from the Sun era, such as “That’s All Right”, whilst “Volume 5” included some more of the latter period hits, but still not all of them. As a result, despite the fact that the 2011 box includes these expanded versions and thus gives you some 90 tracks in total, it doesn’t actually operate as a complete overview of Elvis’s UK 45’s - but it’s a nice starting point, especially as a lot of the tracks on here were never included on any Elvis studio album.

For LP Fans Only

As the title suggests, this album was issued in 1959 to try and mop up some of the “missing” material that had eked out on 45, and was thus being included on an Elvis long player for the first time. Not only was it used to collect earlier non album singles that had failed to appear on LP (such as the Sun era recording “Mystery Train”) but also compiled some of the other Sun material that had not officially been available in the UK at that point at all, such as “That’s All Right”.

Also on here are early period tracks that appeared as B-sides, such as “I Was The One”, “My Baby Left Me”, “Playin’ For Keeps” and “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”. It was also later subject to an expanded reissue (CD, RCA ND 90359), with other material from the early days, although the inclusion of “Blue Suede Shoes” on the expanded edition was only done to try and tart the album up, as it was already easily available on Elvis’s debut LP. It’s even on the expanded “Gold Records 1” as well.

By this point, Elvis had been inducted into the army, and RCA would end up issuing two more compilations after this as Elvis’s next albums, given that no new material would be surfacing anytime soon, but there was plenty of stuff tucked away on 45 that could be exhumed to keep the label in profits.

A Date With Elvis

The second comp from 59, this one followed the same path as it’s predecessor - Sun material, UK flipsides like “Baby Let’s Play House”, along with EP material. Between them, the first two “Gold Records” releases (Volume 2 appeared after this in the fall of 59), “LP Fans” and this one included every non album A-side and non album B-side Elvis had released in the UK by the end of the decade. A lot of EP material was included as well.

For some reason, the German edition of the album (CD, RCA ND 90360) omitted several tracks that had originally appeared on the “Jailhouse Rock“ EP and which had made the UK version of the LP (“Baby I Don’t Care“, “Young And Beautiful“ and “I Want To Be Free“ - and also swapped one of the Sun recordings for another), and replaced them with the likes of “Blue Moon”, as well as adding extra tracks. Last time I looked on Amazon, the version you could buy was a version with the same track listing (and the 1996 boxset uses this variant edition as well), but anybody hoping to track down the missing material can find them on CD via the “King Of Rock N Roll : The Complete 50’s Masters” boxset, issued back in the early 90s but reissued in “book” form a couple of years ago (5xCD, Sony 87254 732020).

It is also worth pointing out that the material from the Sun era has resurfaced again and again over the years, even though most of the songs released on 45 in the USA had appeared in the UK soon after, and certainly, all ten songs had appeared by the end of 1976. Various outtakes then started to materialise at this point, and there is an “Elvis At Sun” album, issued in 2004 (CD, RCA 82876 61308 2), which puts them all in one place. In total, eighteen songs (including the ten from the singles) were recorded, some more than once, and anybody simply wanting to grab this stuff in one go is well advised to track this - easy to find - album down.

Jailhouse Rock

Already mentioned back in my original Elvis blogs in 2011, was the curious repackaging of the Elvis movie albums from the 1960s in the 1990s, before “proper“ reissues were conducted for most of them a few years ago. We also looked at how some EP’s later got expanded into album form.

Of course, Elvis had made several movies earlier on in his career, and whilst the likes of “Blue Hawaii” got normal soundtrack albums at the time, and appeared in the same format come the 1990s, a couple of other movies did not spawn full blown albums either, but instead, were the recipient of EP releases in the 1950s. The films concerned were “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock”, and one can only assume that no attempt to shoehorn these onto a “Double Features” style CD at the time was because the material, in the UK at least, had mostly appeared on “A Date With Elvis”. So what do you do if, like me, your “Date With Elvis” is the truncated German album and the “50‘s Masters“ boxset is slightly out of your price range?

Well, you buy this “soundtrack album after the event” release from 1997 to compensate (CD, RCA 07863 67453 2). To clarify, “Jailhouse Rock” was released as both a single and a 5 track EP, the latter release featuring four (at the time) exclusive recordings, and this CD includes all of the songs from these two releases, all four songs from the “Love Me Tender” EP (another release that shared it’s lead song with a UK 45 - the flipside of that single, not on this EP, called “Anyway You Want Me“, can be found on “Golden Records”), alongside the usual barrage of alternate takes of the same songs. I do believe you can find a hyper expensive edition if you so wish, but the relatively cheap CD referred to here is a good starting point.

Hits Of The 70s

In 1974, RCA released this best of (LP, RCA LPL1 7527), which I guess was done to try and update the history of Elvis on 45, given that “Gold Records 4” had been issued some six years previous, and Elvis had been quite productive since then. Again, it wasn’t a complete set, as space constraints probably played a part, but as for what made the album, well, you can’t complain - “The Wonder Of You”, “Always On My Mind”, “I Just Can’t Help Believin’”...truly awesome stuff.

In 2012, the Follow That Dream label reissued the album in expanded form - basically, every other Elvis a-side from the 70s up to and including “Way Down” were added, whilst a second CD includes the accompanying flipsides. Thrown in as a bonus is a red vinyl 7” of “My Way”, Elvis’s first posthumous 45, released later in 1977 as a promo tool for the “Elvis In Concert” LP. Whilst quite a lot of these songs were lifted from albums, or have appeared on various other best of sets (such as “It‘s A Matter Of Time“ on the budget “Burning Love“ record, or “Don‘t Cry Daddy“ on “Elvis 75”), there are still a few obscure tracks buried away here, such as “Where Did They Go Lord”.

It is worth pointing out that as with the “50’s Masters” boxset, a “70’s Masters” one also exists called “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” (5xCD, Sony 88697 856812), which has two CD’s also devoted to Elvis on 45 from the 1970-77 period. This box goes down an alternate route - “Mama Liked The Roses”, present and correct on the FTD album is missing, because it was taped in the 60s, whilst the songs are presented with the a-side, then the b-side, then the next a-side...and so on and so forth, before concluding with “Way Down” and “Pledging My Love”. The remaining discs are devoted to selected album tracks, outtakes and live (both previously and not previously available) material, including a rare live take of “The Impossible Dream“ previously tossed away on an earlier compilation. There is also a “60’s Masters” box, which is called...

From Nashville To Memphis

Now, I like this one. As mentioned before, dribs and drabs of Elvis material went AWOL when the soundtrack albums got “replaced” by the Double Features sets from the early 1990s, whilst the budget albums hid other rarities away quite well. But this set does a decent job of trying to get chunks of them into one place. Now, what with all those movies, the amount of material Elvis taped in the 60s was quite ridiculous, so this box concentrates on the non gospel, non movie-songs, material. The hits are here (as are those B-sides) but it’s the rarer stuff that makes this one worth the money (5xCD, Sony 88697 787832).

Virtually all of the “missing” tracks mentioned in my October 2011 movie albums blog are here - ie. “Western Union”, “Never Ending”, “You’ll Be Gone”, etc, etc. Only black marks are that “I’ll Remember You” appears here in unedited form (although some might see that as a selling point) but “Goin’ Home” from the “Speedway” LP is totally absent. It can be picked up on a bizarre 1991 CD from America coupling edited highlights from that LP and the “Clambake” album, in a tacky 1970s era sleeve if you so wish (CD, RCA CXD-3017), or it may simply be easier to track down a vinyl pressing of “Speedway“, as even though no CD reissue exists, it was reissued cheaply by RCA International in 1980, and copies of this repressing are only worth about £5-6.

Also on here is the obscure 1965 A-side, “Blue River”, along with some other stand alone A-sides like “Kentucky Rain”, and - as mentioned a couple of months back - the reasonably rare b-side “Fools Fall In Love”, one of the few flipsides that had not been hoovered up by the “Gold Records” releases. A lot of Elvis B-sides from the 60s were lifted from albums, but “Come What May” and “Hi Heel Sneakers” were not, and even though both appear in the box, they are - again - alternate mixes. Nice, but not a box ticking exercise. The aforementioned “Mama Liked The Roses” is on here though, which gets a thumbs up from me, as are a lot of flipsides which you may have already found on budget releases (such as “Rubberneckin’”).

Although designed to avoid the gospel stuff (a 2-CD set called “Amazing Grace” was issued at some point to stick all that stuff together), “Who Am I” from the 1971 Camden release “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is on here, as is “Too Much Monkey Business“ from the 1969 “Flaming Star“ album covered on this site a few months back. Most of the unreleased stuff appears at the end of disc 5, alternate takes of things such “In The Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds”.

Elvis Gospel

Come the 21st century, and RCA decided to put out a series of “themed” albums, ostensibly done as limited edition pressings, to mark Elvis’s arrival (sort of) into the millennium. There were twelve such releases, including several “hits” sets, although none of them included anything rare. The albums themselves were housed in card slipcases, whilst several were coupled up as 2-in-1 or 4-in-1 boxsets.

How easy these things are to find now, I don’t know. Certainly, look for “Elvis Gospel” on Amazon, and you will get various gospel comps, but not necessarily this one (CD, RCA 74321 765232). But as it’s the one I own, then it gets a mention here.

Of course, most of Elvis’s gospel tunes were issued on “How Great Thou Art”, “He Touched Me” and “His Hand In Mine”, and indeed, those records are used as the source for most of this LP. But you also get the “Where Could I Go”/”Up Above My Head”/”Saved” medley from the NBC show, “Peace In The Valley” from the 1957 EP of the same name (all of which was then put onto the “Elvis Christmas Album“) and “We Call On Him”, a mid 60s B-side available on some other comps, but still relatively obscure.

In 2006, another series of themed albums such as “Elvis Rock” appeared, and although there was no “new” version of this one, a similarly themed “Elvis Inspirational” was one of the six titles that RCA released. These ones also are getting increasingly hard to find.

Elvis 56

Once you get past the studio albums, live albums, budget albums, compilations and movie albums, there is still more Elvis to find. Unreleased material from the vaults really started to emerge in the mid 70s, when a series of unreleased recordings appeared on an LP called “A Legendary Performer Volume 1” - which as the title suggests, spawned several later volumes. Later ones ramped up the amount of outtakes, with “Volume 4” from 1983 including an early version of “One Night” entitled “One Night Of Sin”, later included as the bonus track on the 2005 reissue of said 45.

The amount of compilations that have been released with previously unheard material is something I can’t even begin to talk about, mainly because - certainly when you include all the FTD albums - I don’t own hardly any of them. So all I can do is mention the odd ones I do have, like this one.

Although the theme of the album might seem a bit random, “Elvis 56” (CD, RCA 07863 65135 2) relates to the fact that 1956 was the year in which Elvis released his first UK 45 on HMV, and his first RCA Victor LP in the USA. What this one included, in the main, was highlights from the first two studio albums where the material had been taped in 56, and selected single material, along with a previously unreleased take of “Heartbreak Hotel”. My copy is a reissue to tie in with the “30 #1 Hits” promo campaign, and the packaging of it is beautiful and unusual, for it’s a non-Japanese album that has an obi strip attached to the outside.

Where do you go once you’ve got this one? Well, you could try 2003’s “2nd To None” (RCA, 82876 57085 2), a follow up to the “30 #1 Hits” release, which includes the previously unreleased “I’m A Roustabout”, along with the remixed version of “Rubberneckin’”. As for the Follow That Dream releases, well, there are so many it’s now mind boggling, your best bet is to look at the official Elvis FTD site to see which ones take your fancy.

Newspaper Freebies

A few of these knocking about as well. I think I have already mentioned the free “Christmas Peace” album in my original March 11 blog, and there are a few more in existence. There is probably more than just one Elvis record called “Love Songs” (such as the RCA International LP, cat number NE 1062), but The Mail on Sunday issued a 15 tracker in Feb 2011, just in time for Valentines Day (CD, Upfront UPLVSNG001), which you might be able to find in a charity shop where they put all those newspaper freebies in a big box, and it takes ages to go through them all. Nothing rare on it, but some nifty big hits again.

When the “30 #1’s” campaign was up and running, The Mail also issued the “Before Anyone Did Anything Elvis Did Everything” freebie, a 10 track disc consisting of live recordings from a boxset called “Close Up” and stand alone 45’s like “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “Suspicious Minds”. Two versions of this one exist - the original from 2003 (CD, RCA ELVIS 01), and a revamped one from 2004 to help plug “2nd To None” (CD, RCA ELVIIS 01).

When live Elvis material from the 50s first appeared many years ago, bits and pieces were shoehorned onto RCA issued comps, which were probably of great interest at the time. Post copyright expiry time, this stuff has now appeared routinely on albums like “Louisiana Hayride” whilst at least one newspaper freebie has been issued with some of this material, as part of a bizarre 2-CD set which when “completed”, featured Elvis on Disc 1 and Tom Jones on Disc 2 (CD, DMEPTJ CD01)! This was issued by the Daily Mirror, whose sister paper the Sunday Mirror also put out a “Legends” CD two years later in 2007 (CD, DMLCD 01) which included 10 oldies, padded out with several songs by random, unsigned acts, something that for some reason occurred routinely in the UK a few years back - whereas you don’t really get ANY newspaper freebies anymore.

More Hits Albums

Where do you start? Well, maybe with the glorious 1975ish Reader’s Digest mail order release “Greatest Hits” (7xLP, RCA GELV-6A), issued in conjunction with RCA so it comes complete with proper RCA labels, but with a “Reader’s Digest” legend as part of the label. It’s a 7-LP box, six themed albums in their own sleeves, and a “bonus” LP with booklet. The six main albums have parts of a photo of Elvis on the rear which, when placed in the correct order on the floor, or on a table, complete a much larger picture of The King. There are some 100+ tracks on here, including oddities like the aforementioned EP rarity “Baby I Don’t Care”, rockers like “Long Legged Girl” and enormous hits like the masterful “An American Trilogy”, my favourite Elvis record ever. Much of it is in reprocessed stereo, but it all looks quite charming.

“Elvis 75” has been mentioned before (3xCD, RCA 88697 619482), issued to mark what would have been Elvis‘s 75th birthday. There are in fact a few comps issued in very similar titles, but the one I am talking about is the officially endorsed RCA one from 2010, which is a quite comprehensive - 75 song - run through the singles including “My Way”, the remixed “A Little Less Conversation” and climaxing with “That’s All Right”. Top drawer.

There are numerous ones that never made it onto CD, or if they did, were superseded by later comps that covered the same ground, such as “Elvis At His Best” (2xLP, RCA SDL 004), “Elvis Sings Country Favourites” (Cassette, Reader’s Digest ROC 91405, which according to my notes was pressed in Scotland!), and “From The Heart” (Cassette, RCA PK 90642). There are also at least two variations of the “Elvis’ 40 Greatest” hits set, including an RCA pressing on pink vinyl (2xLP, RCA PL 42691(2)). A shout must also go out to the beautifully designed “The Real Elvis” (3xCD, RCA 88697 915472), a recent 90 track plough through the early days, with a few rarities included (“A Cane And A High Starched Collar” from one of the DF albums, “Young And Beautiful” from the “Jailhouse Rock” EP), but nothing not available already. A single disc version also exists, but given that both are budget releases, it shouldn’t break the bank either way.

Jason has left the building.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

How I Learned To Hate Record Collecting: Part 1 - In The Beginning...

A record collecting site with an article called “how I learned to hate record collecting”. An inflammatory statement designed to get attention? Or an honest, and at times slightly heartbreaking, look at the marketing techniques of the record labels?

Don’t get me wrong, I love music. I love physical formats, be it vinyl, tape or CD. We have Slade's "Old New Borrowed And Blue" on 8-track in this house, Simon And Garfunkel's "Bookends" on Reel to Reel. There is the second Gloria Estefan hits set on Minidisc, despite nobody having a Minidisc player, and there are now-defunct laserdiscs around here somewhere. I am violently opposed to the concept of downloading (bootlegs excepted of course). But ever since the mid 90s, the sheer bloody minded cheek of the record companies has known no bounds. The hobby of record collecting has become frustrating, never ending, and driven by obsessive profiteering. Even as iTunes puts the final nails in the coffin of the 45, the labels are finding other ways to make money.

When I first started collecting records properly in late 1990, there seemed to be only a finite number of records you needed to buy. Perhaps I was na├»ve in thinking this, but - especially with the bands who were no longer with us - it seemed as though you could, with a bit of time and effort, get everything you needed by a particular band or singer. As a fan, you obviously wanted everything they had recorded - you wanted every album, every single and every “best of” and live LP. Bootlegs were in the back of your mind, but that’s another story. In 1994, The Who - at the time “on hold” - released a boxset called “30 Years Of Maximum R&B”, which included a UK and US singles and albums discography. There was quite a bit there, but it seemed “achievable” to track the essentials down. Indeed, as the years rolled by, various things listed came into my hands, and often at minimal cost - “The Ox” album, the Who/Hendrix split LP, the two different “Won’t Get Fooled Again” singles. And with the band inactive, it seemed as though once you finally got it all, then that was that.

The boxset included some previously unreleased live material. There was a page in the boxset detailing these recordings, with an explanation over what had been included and why, and why the stuff that hadn’t been included, couldn’t be. Tapes of certain shows were deemed “unusable”. The consensus was, this is the best you’ll ever get.

But then a year later, more material from the famous 1970 Leeds Uni gig got the green light, and a 40 minute long LP reappeared as a 75 minute long LP. Then, in 2001, the rest of the gig followed suit. And then, in 2010, the so called “unusable” gig taped the following night in Hull appeared in full as part of a boxset. And then, last year, a reissued “Tommy” came with a CD’s worth of “previously unheard live performances” of the album. When you go back and look at the sleeve notes in the boxset now, 20 years on, you wonder if somebody, basically, just made it up when they wrote it at the time.

This highlights the main problem we have nowadays, which is to do with product - there is too much of it. Stuff that previously would have been left in the vaults or in the hands of the bootleggers is now being passed off on officially available releases - the specialist Elvis Presley collectors label Follow That Dream has even released gigs where the sound quality is dubious, and where there are chunks of songs missing due to faulty source tapes - and you are being asked to pay £20 minimum for this stuff, because "the fans demand this material". But shouldn’t this lo-fi stuff be the sort of thing being offered up for free on Youtube?

It used to be so much simpler. First, there was the wax cylinder. Then, the 78rpm gramophone record. Then, in the 40s, we had the Long Playing Album. Usually the same size as the 78 but played at 33 and a third instead, and made of more durable material, it’s extended playing time allowed the artists of the day an opportunity to extend their repertoire beyond the limitations of the two song long 78. The 78 was joined by, then superseded by, the 45, the 7” vinyl single. And that was basically it from the 50s until the end of the 70s. A single, an album - often of entirely new material - and then maybe another single, and so on, and so forth. Expanded reissues did not exist. Multi formatted singles a thing of the future. Somebody would release a new record, and you simply bought it - or you didn’t.

OK, so there was also the EP, the extended play format. But it was a curio, in that nobody quite knew what it’s purpose was. Of the big four in the UK, only The Beatles issued them in large numbers. They were too expensive for the teenagers who normally bought the 45s, too “short” on material for the chin stroking album lovers. The Who released one EP of entirely new material in the mid 60s - then avoided the format like the plague thereafter. The Stones released two or three. The Kinks released five or six, but half of them were “Greatest Hits” collections of older songs people probably already had. Some EP’s thus sold poorly and became collectors items because, unlike the single or the album, it wasn’t being targeted at a particular audience. So again, you either bought the latest EP - or you didn’t. It was not really in competition with the other formats, and sort of fell out of favour anyway in the 70s.

Even after stereo sound was invented, the labels did not seem to be using it as though it was a stick to beat you with. Some albums were mixed differently in mono, purely because certain songs would sound better if they were altered to do so, and whilst the mono pressings of “Sell Out” and “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” would later become highly desirable because of their noticeably different sound on certain songs, this was not specifically done to try and get the public to buy the same album twice. After all, I am not sure these differences were even common knowledge at the time, and who would have thought about buying the same record twice in those days? If you had a new fangled stereo system, why would you buy anything other than a stereo LP? It’s like, if you own a Blu-Ray player, why would you buy a DVD? My sister did not buy mono and stereo copies of “Matthew And Son” when they first came out, and I doubt many people did either.

And even after the invention of the Cassette and the Eight Track cartridge, things did not change. Eight Tracks were especially popular in the US, where motorcars had an 8-track player fitted inside, and some releases, again, later on, became of interest to collectors as songs had had to be edited to “fit” onto the format, but this had never been done to try and reel the punters in - it was just the way it was. You might not even be able to find a machine to play them on now anyway.

To be honest with you, by the mid 70s, record collecting had actually become a bit grey. The Who, once prolific hit single makers and flipside creators, basically stopped doing B-sides altogether, and instead, post “Tommy”, became increasingly an albums band. 1975’s “By Numbers” was promoted by a 45 with an album track on each side, hitherto unheard of in Who land. The Stones managed an average of one single per LP during the decade, usually with another album track on the flip as well and housed in an attractive, but “standardised”, company sleeve. They had managed only two “proper” b-sides by the end of the decade. Picture sleeves just weren’t the done thing in the UK at the time either. And when they were, cost grounds often prevented too many from being produced - the later pressings of Bowie’s “Starman” were not housed in an RCA sleeve to entice the completists who had the earlier, picture sleeved copies, it was simply cheaper to release them that way.

But Punk and Disco changed things. For the latter, the 12” single became king. For the former, the use of the picture sleeve on singles became standard practice. Times were changing. In the 80s, they invented the Compact Disc. Vinyl and Cassettes became it’s rival, and the three of them started battling it out for supremacy. Singles began appearing on formats other than vinyl, simply because they could. The eighties became the decade of excess, with the likes of Frankie Goes To Hollywood leading the charge, issuing multiple variants of everything. Although some artists never quite went down the same route, the powers that be thought it was all getting dangerously out of hand and began to place restrictions on the number of formats a single could be released upon. By 1995, the restrictions on what was eligible for the singles chart had become quite strict.

It seems as though, just as the grey 70s got coloured in by punk, that the record companies decided to fight back after this happened. 7” singles, on the verge of dying a death in 1995, began to reappear in large numbers the following year, firstly as a retro style throwback with nothing rare on them, but often pressed on coloured vinyl or in fancy packaging, then later with the “non album b-side“ concept fully back in place. Dance/pop crossover acts like Madonna and Pet Shop Boys began issuing singles on additional “non chart eligible” formats during the latter part of the 90s, usually on 12", an attempt by the labels to make money whilst allegedly offering something special ‘to the fans‘. Albums would be re-released in a “special tour edition” version, where an album you already owned would reappear six months later with a free “bonus EP of live material”.

With illegal downloading on the rise by 1999, bands started to release new albums on the day of release as a limited edition, usually with a “free second CD of previously unheard new recordings”, to try and get people to buy the record on this basis, as opposed to downloading the (normal) album from Napster. Meanwhile, the introduction of new single formats in 2000, like the DVD single, at a time when three formats were still the “official” limit, effectively killed the “freedom of choice” aspect that the 80’s, for all it’s excess, did at least offer - and singles started appearing on three formats, all with something “exclusive”, meaning that if you wanted to own everything your favourite band had to offer, you had to buy the same single three times to get it all. It all felt a bit more aggressive, from a marketing viewpoint, than what had happened before. Poor Nipper, previously he only had to listen to a 78 to hear the new music from his master, now he had to swap discs multiple times, often with the last song a poor demo of something that was originally quite good in the first place.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to beat the bootleggers, bands like Pearl Jam decided to officially release virtually EVERY show they played on CD, whilst groups where band members had died and had given up the ghost 30 years before, like The Doors, announced they had “discovered” hours and hours of tapes that would then be released, via the internet, on a series of forthcoming albums that, a decade later, were still trickling out. It all felt like there was just too much to buy.

When I first started buying records in my early teens (maybe earlier, I can't really remember), there was admittedly - of course - an occasional element of quirkiness involved in what I saw, records designed deliberately to entice the punters even back then. I grew up in a house of Bowie obsessives, and became one myself, and in the early 80s, bought some of the RCA “45rpm cash in” reissues where the a-side or b-side had not appeared on a Bowie LP. I quite liked the concept of the picture disc, and so bought “Drive In Saturday” (backed with the non-LP cover of “Round And Round”) on a 7” picture disc. I bought the “non UK” album “Bowie At The Tower Philadelphia”, a single slab of vinyl with half the “David Live” album on it, because at the time, I only owned the complete “David Live” on a copy made on a TDK tape of my sister’s vinyl original. But I was fascinated by the fact that it was made in Holland, so even after I finally bought a proper “David Live“, I was still quite pleased I had a copy. In late 1991, a Record Collector article about the “Top 200 Madonna Rarities” intrigued me, with it’s stories of acetates, uncut picture discs, foreign singles, promo only remixes, and the like. I was obsessed with Madonna and made the decision to try and hunt all of them down. Fat chance. But the “visual” aspect of the records was particularly appealing, and I began to apply certain collecting rules to records which would determine if I needed to buy them or not. If the record had new material, that was a no-brainer, but coloured vinyl and singles in different covers were in. I ended up in a record shop in Ramsgate in Christmas 1991 where I picked up the pink vinyl US edition of The Stranglers’ “Something Better Change” 7“, housed in a different cover to boot - a double whammy. It just felt like it was something “do-able” to try and buy this sort of stuff.

When I started to inhabit record shops on a regular basis during 1991, the popularity of ALL the formats of the time still allowed you an element of choice. So, you could buy some fancy picture disc if you wanted, but it would usually be another format where the really meaty stuff really was. Madonna’s “Crazy For You” reissue may well have appeared on five formats, but only two were of musical interest - the 12” and CD included a unique remix of “Into The Groove” that the others didn‘t. But the 7” was still popular with the ‘floating voter’ - people who wanted to own the hit they had heard on the radio, in the form they heard it on the radio - as it was cheap. The cassette was popular with the Walkman crowd. And so whilst the cool kids would radiate to the formats that went someway to rehabilitating the EP format, the others were of interest to the latest generation of pop kids. But as the nineties progressed, the “short play” formats fell out of favour as the new chart rules restricted the opportunities for their existence, whilst the technological cleverness of the CD saw it become the format of choice. In turn, single sales dipped as people moved away from vinyl and tapes, but refused to pay £2.99 for an EP when all they wanted was “the hit”. However, the labels carried on regardless, issuing as many formats as the rules would allow (plus more) with diminishing returns.

When iTunes solved the problems facing the floating voters, allowing them to buy “the hit” for less than a pound, the virtual killing of the physical single resulted in a catch 22 situation. Less singles were being made, demand dropped even further as shops stopped stocking them, meaning that when somebody did decide to issue a 45, few copies were to be pressed, and so the price had to be set unrealistically high to ensure the labels did not incur too big a loss, meaning that only the rich kids could actually afford it. If singles had been too expensive to start with, well, now, it was just stupid. And to make matters worse, it was the polar opposite of what had happened in the sixties, where the 45 was being pitched at people who only had pocket money to spend. Now, you needed a credit card just to buy the latest Arctic Monkeys single.

Which is where we are today. Record collecting has become an almost upper class hobby, where Boxsets of albums everybody already owns are appearing at £80 a pop. As the noughties progressed, the visual aspect of records being used to entice punters got joined, and then overtaken, by a seemingly never ending stream of B-sides and previously unreleased outtakes turning up on just about everything anybody ever released. Reissues of albums on CD that had already been reissued, earlier, on CD, appeared again and again. Artists who had never recorded a flipside in their life began filling up their latest CD Single with brand new remix after brand new remix. As I started to think twice about paying a fiver for a blue vinyl 7” single with nothing rare on, these started to get replaced by blue vinyl 7” singles which had “previously unheard outtakes” on the other side. And so as I tried to avoid buying certain records, the labels found ways to stop me from being able to do so.

It reached a point where virtually every single was appearing with an exclusive new B-side, where every album was being issued or reissued in “limited edition” form. There were very few “pointless” records being made, and where there were, you felt guilty about buying a bonus track less version of an album where a bonus track filled edition also existed. Because, going back to why you started collecting in the first place, you wanted to own everything your favourite band had recorded, etc etc etc.

It all got too much. Real life started to take over, and after I got married, I couldn’t bring myself to buy the latest coloured vinyl Biffy Clyro 7” because it was more than the price of an evening meal. As I too began to adopt the floating voter approach, and only bought singles by those for whom I more or less had the existing “set” (Madonna, Britney, Girls Aloud, The Stranglers, probably a few others), I began to firstly look at how you could plug the gaps caused by my non-purchases. Singles boxsets, for some artistes, were all the rage - and this site was launched in order to, piece by piece, look at them. And then as iTunes began to destroy the charts, as the floating voters poisoned the hit parade in the same way they had in 1985, I felt a twinge of nostalgia for the old 45 and began thinking, “perhaps I should start buying more of them again”. And in doing so, watched bemused as the latest (2 track) Morrissey 45 was priced up at £6.99 in my local HMV, whilst a copy of (an expanded) “Viva Hate” would be in the same shop for a fiver. The value for money aspect, simply, had gone straight out the window. I am still trying to keep up with the singles, and sometimes, the albums as well, but the days of buying a super deluxe boxset to get a disc full of “alternate takes” is possibly behind me.

This, in some respects, is why the site is called the "Music Collector" site, rather than the "Record Collector" site. I don't really care if you have a black and gold "Please Please Me", my CD edition plays the same songs thankyou very much. But record companies began to realise that record collecting was sometimes more about the records themselves, rather than the actual music, and so began to exploit the fanbases. Over the remainder of this year, I shall look in greater detail as to how this happened. How we got the ludicrous situation where a concept album like “Quadrophenia” got reissued as a boxset costing ten times as much as it did when I bought my copy in 1994, which included a DVD with “half” of the album only remixed in surround sound, because Pete ‘ran out of time to do the whole record’. "Quadrophenia", may I remind you, is an album you are supposed to listen to in order, in full, from start to finish. How we got to the ridiculous situation where the latest (physical) quite-nice Manics single appeared on two different 7” editions, between them costing more than the price of the near flawless “The Holy Bible”. I do love music. And I do love records. But record collecting? Well, that’s a long story. Tune in next month to see where it all started to go wrong...