The return to vinyl. What would you get first?

As you may know, three months ago I decided to step back in time and get some LPs again. It had been 23 years since I’d sold off my collection and I was missing the sound and the ceremony of them.

So I ordered a turntable and set off joyously on my LP search. I’ve already written about the places I went to find them, so today I thought I’d write a bit about the LPs themselves. Like, what LPs would you buy first after a quarter of a century’s separation from them?

'Seasons will pass you by' The beauty of the gatefold.

‘Seasons will pass you by’ The beauty of the gatefold.

As I set out I made only one condition. I would look for perfect albums. All good tracks, no fillers. Remembering all too clearly the numbers of my original haul of 3,000 or so that didn’t come anywhere near doing this. Even LPs by very, very good people could be very, very poor. Yes, you David Bowie (‘Tonight’) and even you Joni Mitchell (‘Dog eat dog’).

But I didn’t set out with a list, no point. Hunting mostly in charity shops or in record shops with relatively small vinyl sections, there was no point. It was a case of seeing what I could find.

‘So go on then, tell us, What did you find?’ I can hear you impatiently reading.

Well, first up, the day I ordered the turntable, was the only perfect album in our local Oxfam that particular day.

Paul Simon, 'Still crazy after all these years'

Paul Simon, ‘Still crazy after all these years’

And of course all we could do was look at it that first evening. A pleasure in itself of course, but much exceeded the next day after I’d been to Richer Sounds in Berry Street, picked up the turntable and set it up. So now we could play our one and only LP.

I took it out of its well-worn sleeve, carefully wiping the dust of years from it, placed it on the turntable, turned it on and carefully lowered the stylus into the run in grooves. For the first time in over two decades.

And there in the room was music. Beautifully sung, perfectly played. And Steve Gadd, drumming like no CD or other digital things have drummed in this house for all these years.

Twenty minutes of heaven, turn it over, twenty more, big gospel finish, then we played it again. Three months later we still think it’s perfect.

‘OK, what else then?’

Couple of days later Sarah returns from a Wirral trip triumphantly waving this over her head.

Volume 1 still to be found.

Volume 1 still to be found.

A good solution to the ‘only perfect albums’ requirement? A singles album by arguably the greatest singles band in history? A winner (takes it all).

My own searching soon turned up a disagreement.

Steely Dan, 'Katy Lied'

Steely Dan, ‘Katy Lied’

I haven’t even put my newly prized purchase on before Sarah dismisses it. ‘I don’t know any women who like Steely Dan’ she asserts. ‘Aja’s not too bad, but they’re too dense and, well, laddish.’ That’s me told.

Fortunately the same scout has turned this up too.

The vinyl04

Free, ‘Fire and Water’

A scratchy, pink label Island edition from 1970 and utterly glorious. I saw Free just after this came out at the Liverpool Stadium, a perfectly balanced band who existed for far too short a time.

Our sub-plot of ‘Let’s get some more stuff with Steve Gadd drumming on it’ soon turned up this, together with some more Paul Simon.

Rickie Lee Jones, 'Pirates'

Rickie Lee Jones, ‘Pirates’

Then I made a mistake, caused by poor memory and a gorgeous cover. I bought this.

Steve Winwood, 'Arc of a diver'

Steve Winwood, ‘Arc of a diver’

I’d remembered the beauty of the title track and ‘Spanish Dancer’ and ‘While you see a chance.’ But I’d forgotten that the rest of the album is no good at all, reaching its nadir by its third track, ‘Second-hand woman.’

“From a cut price lady to second-hand woman, You’re society’s slave babe, You’re an ugly rumour.”

How could I? Steve Winwood is a prime example of ‘Best of required.’ He’s made some great music since he left Traffic in the 1970s. But he’s never made a perfect album.

Then, phew, came a run of good luck.

Joni Mitchell, 'The hissing of summer lawns'

Joni Mitchell, ‘The hissing of summer lawns’

Dory Previn, 'Mythical kings and iguanas'

Dory Previn, ‘Mythical kings and iguanas’

Frank Sinatra, 'September of my years'. What a cover.

Frank Sinatra, ‘September of my years’. What a cover.

And, at last, one I’d had fixed in my mind as ‘perfect’ from the beginning. I’d got ‘Fulfillingness’ by now but this had been eluding me.

Stevie Wonder, 'Talking book'

Stevie Wonder, the sublime ‘Talking book’

Our local Oxfam on Smithdown Road was turning out to be a regular source and my next visit turned up a real gem. From 1957, the LP your Mum and Dad’s radiogram seemed to come ready supplied with back then.

'South Pacific' Original soundtrack

‘South Pacific’ Original soundtrack

It even contained the original booklet with stills from the film.

I'm gonna wash that man right out of my hair!

‘I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair!’

Sarah’s birthday was coming up and I knew she’d like an LP of her favourite early Elton John album ‘Madman across the water.’ I hadn’t come across it anywhere so I hunted round the internet. And frightened myself by finding a copy for £284! I mean, I love her and all that but come on. Fortunately someone else had it for £14, though, so I went for that.The vinyl13

Others? Well I think ‘Ariel’ by Kate Bush is about as beautiful a piece of music as a human being can make and it’s balm helped us through some very tough days a few years ago. But £249? I don’t think so. So I settled for this early ‘Best of’ for now, ’til the Kate market calms down.

Kate Bush, 'The whole story'

Kate Bush, ‘The whole story’

And after I saw them at the Liverpool International Music Festival the other week. Who could resist this?

As it says, '2nd honeymoon by Deaf School'

As it says, ‘2nd honeymoon by Deaf School’

And, finally, my only prog rock so far. First bought second-hand from Probe back in 1972 (Geoff Davies ‘What do you want to listen to that shit for?’) New and pristine this time from Piccadilly Records.

Yes, the glorious 'Close to the edge'

Yes, the glorious ‘Close to the edge’

So, some new but mostly not.

We’re having a lovely time with this, part of a deliberate slowing and gentling of our lives. We have loads of avenues still to look down, and are looking forward to both having a good rummage at the Record Fair in Lark Lane this coming Sunday. And many other record fairs to come.

When gems are found you’ll hear about them.

12 thoughts on “The return to vinyl. What would you get first?

  1. Liz

    Hi Ronnie and Sarah! I was at the Stadium FREE gig too. And I am a female Steely Dan fan ( fave song : BarryTown)
    Oh and I adore Stevie Winwood!xx

    Ps also saw Lindisfarne on the Stadium. I love the Fog on the Tyne album. Not sure it qualifies as perfect tho. But Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman deffo does!

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Well said Liz, Steely Dan are great aren’t they?

      And delighted you were at Free. I’ve never met anyone else who was. And thanks for the reminder about ‘Tea for the tillerman.’

    2. Liz

      In answer to What would you get first? Been mulling it over for ages and its too difficult. Too many great choices.

      One solution would be to get a sampler album like Rock Machine Turns You On ( 1968). Last track on that is Elmer Gantry’s Flames which I have never heard played on the radio or anywhere for many many years. Last time i heard it was a cover version by a band playing at the tiny little Asp Club by Walton Hospital in 1969. RMTYO also featured Time of the season by the Zombies and Sisters of Mercy ( Leonard Cohen) and Dylan’s I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight. Really good value!

      Great old days – spending all your cash on LPs, listening to them in friends’ parents’ “front rooms”…taking them to parties, lending them out and often never getting them back! XX

      1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

        This whole LP issue has clearly got under your skin Liz.

        The sampler idea is a good one. They have some classic ones in Cult Vinyl, last time I was in there I was having a look at ‘Bumpers’. So I’ll have a closer look next time.

        Also, though, we are enjoying quieter evenings of listening to one group or person for 40 minutes or so. I think this is a reaction to years of iTunes on random shuffle and huge playlists I’d put together on Spotify. Peace would reign until my inevitable weakness for some King Crimson or early Can would disrupt the prevailing mood and have Sarah spluttering in outrage!

      2. Ronnie Hughes Post author

        Someone else who’s given this whole delightful subject some considerable thought is my old friend Barry Ward. Barry has co-written several posts with me about music, as well as some of the top viewed posts on here about what food we were eating in the 1960s. Here’s what he’s sent me in an email:

        “I liked this week’s post about your recent vinyl purchases. A few random thoughts.I agree with so much about what you say, very few perfect albums but Paul Simon’s ‘Still Crazy’ and those mentioned by Free and Stevie Wonder certainly fit the bill. And you’re absolutely spot-on with the comment about ‘Best of’ compilations being right for certain artists. Steve Winwood being a prime example. (His ‘Revolutions’ compilation covers Spencer Davis, Traffic, Blind Faith and the pick of his solo output). I was pleased that he achieved some commercial success in the 1980’s with Back In The High Life, Valerie, Higher Love etc. even though the ’80’s production on these otherwise fine songs sounds horribly dated now. I went to see him around that time, and it was an excellent show, the highlight being an incendiary encore of ‘Gimme Some Loving’.

        Women not liking Steely Dan! Very true. I suspect, as a generalisation that the same applied to Cream, Led Zeppelin, Velvet Underground, most ‘prog’ and with the possible exception of Cat Stevens, the entire roster of the Island Record Label!

        I can recall in my initial attempts to persuade young ladies to ‘go out’ with me, circa 1969/1970 that I used to tentatively ask what kind of music they liked. Inevitably it was “chart stuff & Tamla Motown” (and nothing wrong with that) but I never found anyone around that time who really enjoyed sitting in the dark in someone’s mum & dad’s house whilst very loud rock music played through the speakers. In retrospect, an experience best shared with a bunch of like minded mates I think.

        Like yourself I went to many, many concerts in the early to mid 70’s, the choice of venues in Liverpool was amazing, but sadly never got to see Free. What a great band they were. The first time I heard them was when I bought the Island sampler ‘Nice Enough To Eat’ which if memory serves was the one after ‘You Can All Join In’ and before the ‘Bumpers’ one you mentioned in your post. I’ve still got it, along with all my vinyl from that era. That was a brilliant sampler, an introduction to previously unheard artists such as Nick Drake, Heavy Jelly, Dr Strangely Strange, and of course King Crimson with their terrifyingly heavy ’21st Century Schizoid Man’.

        When I first started going out with Ann (“I like chart stuff, Motown etc”) I attempted to ‘educate’ her about my far superior musical tastes! An early date at Chester Zoo was followed by a slap up meal at a Berni Inn (Prawn cocktail, rump steak with the inevitable side order of onion rings, black forest gateaux…all washed down with a half bottle of Blue Nun’ liebfraumilch ! Yes I was that sophisticated and knew how to treat a lady, even in those days…ha. ha). Then we went to a nearby pub. A bit of a dive, but it had a jukebox. I noticed that one of the records on it was ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. No, she’d not really heard much of Bob Dylan, I’d established. So I put it on for her and encouraged her to listen to the words. Perhaps anxious to please me, she said it sounded ‘quite good’. So I put it on again. Five times in a row. Half an hour later I was acutely aware that several of the other punters in the pub didn’t appear to be big fans of Bob, and were looking round for the culprit. At which point we left to get the last train home from Chester. You’ll be glad to learn however that Ann did develop a liking for Dylan. I never did find out if the regulars at that pub became converts though.

        Around the same time I’d bought ‘Transformer’ by Lou Reed, and you’ll no doubt recall that despite it’s lyrical content ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ became a big hit. The album was quite commercial compared with Lou’s previous and future output, and Ann loved most of the songs. So we went to see him at The Empire’. Imagine her response to him simulating a heroin injection during a 12 minute version of the VU song of the same name.

        I’ve recently ‘rediscovered’ the late Ronnie Lane, and have been playing his solo stuff a lot this week. Lovely acoustic, rural sounding songs with a lot of mandolins, fiddles etc. Marvellous….a very underrated artist. There was a great documentary about him on BBC4 a few years ago……if you didn’t see it, it’s well worth catching on YouTube.”

  2. Jan Hasak

    Thanks for the walk down nostalgia road. I’ve seen Elton John in concert as well as Stevie Wonder and Yes. They are truly amazing singers. Last night I went to a concert by some guys in a rock band who live in the same town in Texas as my son and were on tour. Mind you, I haven’t been to a concert in probably a year. But this is the first time I saw them selling vinyl since heaven knows when. They were asking $20 for the vinyl and only $10 for the CD. The vinyl costs more to press and produce, of course. I just had to share that with you–vinyl is definitely hot these days! Keep on collectin’. You won’t be sorry.

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Yes, it’s interesting how new vinyl is expensive, no doubt because of short production runs. But great to see it surviving. My big frustration with it is that albums are now too long, as they’re still being made to fill up CDs. So Sarah got the new Elton John album on vinyl and very good it is too. Except its spread over four sides of LPs with no more than 3 tracks on each side. Sort of like a double EP, remember them?

  3. Ronnie Hughes Post author

    Commenting on Barry’s lengthy set of thoughts above…

    On Steely Dan, thank goodness for Liz on here, possibly their only female fan? Strangely though I’ve known several women, including Sarah, who would rate Donald Fagen’s first solo album ‘The Nightfly’ as perfect.

    And I don’t know any song that would stand being played 5 times on the run like you did with ‘Like a rolling stone’. Surprised your relationship prospered after that. Mind you, who could resist a date that contains a zoo, a Berni Inn, Liebfraumilch and what sounds like a pop-quiz style interrogation about her musical taste? (Other readers will be pleased, if surprised, to learn that Ann and Barry are still together and have recently celebrated the birth of their first grandchild.)

  4. Lindsay53

    Hi Ronnie, Fab post!

    So many excellent memories. I’m a great Steely Dan fan too. Saw them in Liverpool sometime in the seventies, I think. Most excellent concert. Also a GREAT Yes fan. Our loft here still contains many great LP memories & we should spend some time, David & I, mulling over our respective LP collections…his, Led Zeppelin in full force (mine too contains some of theirs), mine Joni MItchell (untouchable), Hawkwind (I admit to it!!) Wishbone Ash (love it), Saturday Night Fever (first LP I bought with my college grant money), Mandolin Wind, Rod Stewart. All have strong memories attached.

    Love your eclectic tastes too, like South Pacific & Frank Sinatra. All good music, then & now. I’ve just been persuaded of the merits of Ray Anthony by my dad who is a big ballroom dancer. If you’re a dancer, he’s the one! Look forward to the next memory jerking post!X

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      OK that’s another female Steely Dan fan. Maybe Sarah’s in the minority.

      If you’ve both got a loft full of albums you owe it to yourselves to get some of them down and play them. They may not be as convenient as CDs, let alone MP3s, but they’re well worth the trouble and sound so much better. And no shame at all in being a Hawkwind fan!

  5. nevwebb

    Hi Ronnie,
    I was a DJ in the late ’70s / early ’80s in Liverpool (Satellite Disco) with my mate Les Clayton. We became pretty big supporting a few bands and providing the PA for a number of events in and around Liverpool. We started with LPs and a handful of singles and a few tapes and Les and I vowed we’d never be in a situation where someone requested a song which we didn’t have. Consequently we built up a huge collection of contemporary and popular singles and tracks and I sold the lot at the end of ’83 as I moved south for a job – I have regretted that decision to part with the collection ever since.
    I’d certainly go with Transformer and also an obvious choice of Dark Side of the Moon – plus very early Bowie – Hunky Dory, Man Who Sold the World and even Pinups.
    Good luck with you re-collecting.

    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Hi Nev, and welcome to here today.

      I do have Hunky Dory now, plus Diamond Dogs and Young Americans. Looking for Station to Station next. Haven’t got Transformer yet but did buy Berlin at our new Dig Vinyl in Bold Street on Saturday. And haven’t got Dark Side. I think I’ver heard it so much in my life I don’t actually need to listen to it any more! I would love to get Roger Waters Amused to Death though if I could only find it on vinyl.


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