Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fever Pitch

This week I was faced with the choice of buying new underwear or more records. Guess which I picked? The holes in my underwear aren't that bad yet. And if I didn't pick up the limited edition black-on-black pressing of Queens of the Stone Age's Like Clockwork or the first pressing of Deafheaven's Sunbather, I'd likely be paying a lot more for them later. That's how my mind was working, or not working. Of course, it was really a false choice. I could've bought new underwear and more records. It was just a matter of going beyond my self-imposed spending budget. It was also revealing that I chose records before underwear. If it ever turned out to be a real choice, say, when I'm living off a measly Social Security check, I'd be darning the holes in my underwear. That's what I've learned about myself this week.

The idea that I had to choose between underwear and records was, I think, my subconscious mind pointing out to me the absurd point my record collecting has reached. I blew a lot money on records this month. There could be several explanations or rationalizations, one of which might have to do with the cataloging I've been doing. I've realized that many of the records I've bought have appreciated in value, some considerably. This seemed to justify buying more records. One's underwear never appreciates in value, unless you happen to convince President Obama or Derek Jeter to wear and then return your underwear and you could somehow authenticate that. No, this is the wrong way of thinking. It's better not to think of records as a commodity. That's a fool's game. I need to take out my numbered, pink vinyl copy of Madonna's Confession's on the Dance Floor and place it in a prominent spot in my listening room. It's been a great source of shame, because I bought it, not because I had any interest in the music, but purely as a speculative play. It hasn't appreciated in value at all. I need Madonna's pink leotarded ass to mock the schmuck that I was to buy the album. That should break this fever.

Tomorrow is a work holiday. I plan on making a trip to Kohl's.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Swedish Pop Music Break: Jens Lekman

Jens, the wedding singer:

and singing in someone's living room:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bloody Expensive Black Sabbath

Who would've thought there were so many well-heeled Black Sabbath fans. As I've tried to procure an original UK pressing of Paranoid, I'm learning one needs to have a lot of cash on hand to get a clean copy. Recently I bid on one on eBay and lost out by $7. The winning bid was $198, not including postage from Britain. Why would I be willing to pay nearly $200 for a UK original pressing when I have a clean US original pressing? Because the UK pressings sound so much better than the US pressings. It's the country-of-origin rule. The UK records were made from the original master tapes. The US records were made from inferior copy tapes. The difference is huge for Black Sabbath records. I want to hear that chunka-chunka, heavy metal sludge in high fidelity.

I picked up an original UK pressing of Volume IV in a record shop in Soho on my last visit to London a couple of years ago. That's when I discovered the truth. In addition to the sound quality, the Vertigo record label is as cool as it gets. Even more so when it's spinning on the platter. One of my collecting goals is to get the first four Black Sabbath albums on the original UK Vertigo label.

Shortly after I returned from London, I came across an original UK pressing of Black Sabbath's first album at Amoeba. I didn't blink at paying $100 for it, which is the most I've paid for a single record. It turned out to be an even better decision than I thought, because this copy turned out to be a rare early pressing with "A Philips Record Product" on the label. This signifies the very earliest pressing, as the label was switched shortly after the record was released. I had no idea at the time. It doesn't really matter to me, but it matters to well-heeled Black Sabbath record collectors. And I mean really well-heeled. I've been tracking UK Vertigo Paranoid sales on eBay for the past few weeks. A near mint copy sold for over $1,000. That's crazy money for a rock record. As far as Paranoid, the most desirable copies have inside the gatefold a credit to "Jim Simpson, Big Bear Management", which signifies the very earliest pressing, just like the "A Philips Record Product" on the label does for the first album.

I've resorted to eBay, because in all the time I've spent at record stores and swaps, the only original UK Vertigo pressing of a Black Sabbath album I've come across is the one I bought at Amoeba. Well, I think I've procured a UK Vertigo pressing of Paranoid on eBay. It was newly listed as a "Buy It Now" item. The counter on the page indicated I was the 8th person to view the page. The posted photo of the album cover showed quite a bit of ring wear. The photo of the label showed it was clearly an original pressing. The item description was sparse, describing the vinyl as in very good condition with slight surface marks. That could mean anything. There was no mention of the "Jim Simpson" credit. The seller didn't seem too knowledgeable, as he was mainly a bookseller. For $69 shipped from the UK, I took a gamble and bought it. We'll see how it turns out in a couple weeks when the UK Vertigo Paranoid arrives on these shores.

Monday, February 10, 2014

rocky's e-commerce business

I've started cataloging my record collection on the Discogs website. It's saved me a whole a lot of time, because the website has data on most albums ever released. It's just a matter clicking on the pressing I have and then entering the condition of the record and any personal notes. It's still a lot of work. I've completed my jazz collection (around 800 LPs) and just started my pop/rock collection, which may be three times the size of the jazz collection.

Discogs is also a platform for buying and selling records online. Using historic data on past sales, the website calculates the low end, median, and high end value of one's record collection. I know already that, aside from my house, my record collection is my most valuable possession.

As I've been cataloging my records, I've been culling records that I want to get rid of. I've been dividing them into three piles by their value. There's the less than $10 pile, the $10-30 pile, and the probably-more-than-$30 pile. I took the first pile to a friend who owns a record store, a really nice guy who always gives me a discount when I buy his already reasonably priced records. I just gave him the box of records. When he asked me how much I wanted for the records, I told him, "it's gratis." He looked at me quizzically, either confused by the word or the concept.

I've started listing records from the over-$30 pile on the Discogs website for sale. Five have been listed. So far, two have sold. My first sale was a German pressing of Pearl Jam's Ten that was rendered redundant when I found an original US pressing. It was returned to its country of origin, bought by a guy in Germany. I basically recouped what I paid for it. My second sale was an original pressing of Smashing Pumpkins' Gish. I had two copies. It was priced below its market value. Someone got a deal on it and rocky made a 5-fold profit. Everyone wins! We'll see how this e-commerce business turns out, whether it's worth the hassle and potential headaches.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Sticker Shock

At the last record swap I attended, I was shocked that a dealer was selling the Replacements' Let It Be album for $75. Usually dealers at record swaps price their records realistically, sometimes at a bargain, sometimes a little optimistically. But $75 for Let It Be seemed completely out of the ball park. I figured $15-20 was the fair value of this album. After all, it's not a rare record. Although it wasn't a popular album on the level of Joshua Tree, I'm sure it sold a lot back in the days when one's only choices of media were vinyl or cassette. So, I went on to eBay to check how much Let It Be was selling for. Sure enough, $75 is in line with the typical selling price. In fact, there were copies that sold for $175 and $200. Wow! I think we've entered bubble territory for vinyl records. (BTW rocky has a minty original pressing of Let It Be, as well as every other Replacements album, that he won't be parting with.)

On Listening to U2 Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is acclaimed as one of the greatest rock albums. It's ranked #27 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. I have to admit that a part of me likes U2, but my affinity for U2 has a limit. I blame Bono. The aspect I like about U2 is their rock romantic grandeur. In this respect, U2 is a lot like Bruce Springsteen, who I love, at least the Springsteen before Born in the USA. However, unlike Springsteen, U2's grandeur has a profoundly impersonal stamp to it. As I listen to Joshua Tree, I'm impressed by how abstract it is. Even when Bono uses "I", it comes across as an abstract "I". Bono keeps his distance from the listener. He's the observer sharing his observations. Even when he's singing passionately, he's not emoting from within; it's about external circumstances. You can compare this perspective with Springsteen post Born in the USA. As superstardom distances the singer from the experiences of the common man, he latches on to external causes to stir his passions. Springsteen isn't able to sing about feeling love riding the Tilt-a-Whirl any more; he has to sing about Tom Joad now. It's apparent Bono was like this from the start. It seems only logical that he's become the ever-sunglass-wearing rock star championing humanitarian cause.