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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Then I made a mistake, caused by poor memory and a gorgeous cover. I bought this.
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.
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.
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.
It even contained the original booklet with stills from the film.
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.
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.
And after I saw them at the Liverpool International Music Festival the other week. Who could resist this?
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.
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.