Here’s a list-game for fifty-something music fans, involving the need for a former immersion in the world of vinyl. It wouldn’t work in the modern age of democratic algorithms and digital democracy.
Let’s situate this game between, say, 1970 and 1976, when the vinyl format was arguably at its height of popularity and influence. Many of my friends had reasonably large collections of 33 rpm records, the so-called ‘album’. These tended to be ‘displayed’ not in cabinets or on shelves, but on the floor, propped up against a wall in columns of about two foot deep, enabling quick ‘browsing’ to occur when one was checking out someone’s collection. (this usually involved squatting down on one’s haunches, but, hey, we were all young then and this wasn’t as painful as it would be today, arthritis not being something to be factored in at that point). What always interested me was which records were to be found lurking at the back of these columns - new releases and purchases, obviously, and popular works could reliably be found towards the front, but the further back one flipped, sometimes the more interesting things could become. The thing was, however, that the ‘stragglers’, if you wanted to call them that,,were often fairly consistent. They were albums that had seemed a good idea at the time, but their fate was ultimately to provide a form of ballast to the ‘collection’, presumably never having been properly loved or appreciated, or had been desired objects at some point, but certainly no longer. Feeling somewhat sorry for an inanimate piece of vinyl was clearly a projective process that says a lot about my general state of mind.
Another thing to note, retrospectively, is that many of these records now have a modern-day cachet, ugly ducklings in their time, but eventually finding their way into a role in the flock. It’s an entertaining pastime for us vinyl obsessives (in and of the day) to recollect these albums that propped their fellows up at one point, and to reflect on how their status may have changed over the years. In some cases, obviously, their status proved to be an appropriate allocation of worth in the long term. Here are a few of my ‘back of the collection’ faves; it’s always interesting to hear what records other people remember as forming the ‘backside’ of record collections that we all used to come across from day to day:
Firstly, there were the cheapies - these were albums that were sold as bargains, often at around fifty pence, from what I remember. I do not include compilations such as Bumpers or Fill Your Head With Rock here (retrospectively, very decent Island Records and CBS collections), popular and soon-cast-aside though they were. I’m thinking of The Faust Tapes (a guaranteed contemporary back-of-collection occupant, which most people immediately hated at the time, but is now considered an avant-rock essential), Pink Floyd’s Relics (back before Syd Barrett became a cult object for rock anoracks) and Gong’s Camembert Electrique (which soon got lumped into a ‘trilogy’ with Angels Egg and You to form a rather clunky and unlikely triumvirate). Cheap and cheerfully stoned, the ‘avant’ part of these disc’s avant-rock pretensions soon paled for most purchasers, and they soon went to the back of the pack for a generation.
More to come in Part Two