Record Collecting: The Ideal vs The Reality

The false ideal [L] and the grim reality [R] ...but dig that Flying Lizards 12"

The false ideal [L] and the grim reality [R] …but dig that Flying Lizards 12″ in the bin!

When I was a youth, collecting music was easy. You bought 45s and albums. By the time I was in high school, things got more complex. There was then an awareness of import records, which cost more but had thrills not easily gotten at the local head shop/record store. Especially as the Post-Punk wave swept through the late seventies/early eighties.

By the time I was in college, collecting went like this: I bought the album, and I got 12″ singles with different versions of A-sides and some B-sides/remixes on a 12″ disc for good measure. After a few years, one could have albums worth of non-LP material from your favorite bands in this way. These got recorded to cassette tapes at the time. In a best case scenario, I could record an album to one side of a C-90 with the other side used to A/B sides that differed from the album versions so all of the recordings relating to an artist’s album period could sit on a single tape for prime listening. I always taped my albums and listened to the tape to preserve my “master” [the LP] from wear and tear. Putting B-sides and remixes on the other side of the tape made for a powerful package of listening.

By 1985, I had moved to the CD format and it became primary in the course of a year. I could now buy the album on CD, but 12″ singles hung on for a year or two. By 1986, the first CD singles began filtering into my hands. Now I had the rare material by my favorites on the same CD format as the albums I also collected. I didn’t need to record these to tape and like the CD format, I could play my “master” without wearing it out.

By the early 90s I had an epiphany that not everything was going to be released on CD format. It had been around for almost a decade and there were still huge gaps in material available. After several years of not buying vinyl, I became more interested in getting the vinyl that was not being released to CD. I was also aware that CD recording would soon be a reality. In the late 80s, Radio Shack [Tandy] gave a press release for a CD-R technology they called T.H.O.R. [Tandy Home Optical Recording] but having the pre-release announcement jinxed them and it never came to market. Either that or the RIAA leaned on them pretty hard! But I could see the writing on the wall. I would now buy vinyl with the thought given to recording it to CD myself if the labels wouldn’t.

ultravox rarevol1UKCDAOn occasion, there would be releases that complemented the CDs I already had with all of an artist’s B-sides released to a special CD. In 1993/1994 Chrysalis/EMI released two volumes of “Rare” for Ultravox that notched up almost all of their rarities. Their straight albums were all on CD in my Record Cell, so this was as close to perfect as I could hope for. I had the discrete albums, plus coherent, well compiled collections of everything else, with the exception of their 12″ remix A-sides. But even those got a special disc eventually.

1994 also marked the time that my place of work got their first CD burner. This was an exterior SCSI device that only worked [partially] with DOS software. It was the size of a VCR of the time period. At least. The work we bought it for was stillborn, so it sat in a closet for five years. Having been amortized, I asked if I could give it a good home and got my first CD burner. I soon began making CDs of the albums that were still conspicuously absent on CD, but soon directed my attention towards all of those loose rarities on 12″ singles by that groups that I loved and collected. I could now compile boxed sets o’god as I called them. The first of these was an incomplete 4xCD set with Simple Minds tracks not their first eight or so albums.

I had the “Themes” sets of CD singles, but listening to those was inconvenient with 3 CDs worth of music spread over 20 discs! Adding insult to injury, none of Simple Minds’ crucial Arista rarities [to say nothing of their one-off single as Johnny and the Self-Abusers] were on these Virgin issued sets. My set complemented the straight albums and contained almost anything not strictly on them. I liked listening to a discreet chunk of material showing their progress through time apart from their well known albums. But it was almost the 21st century. The Internet was now informing my record collecting.

By the late 90s, buying music via eye-straining ads in Goldmine was no longer happening.  Ebay was a way to get records you didn’t know you needed last week by bands you had been collecting for 20 years. Then the burgeoning availability of discographical information on the web exploded the previous knowledge about a band’s releases by a factor of five. All of a sudden, “complete” collections were laughably inadequate! This time coincided with a new focus on the 7″ single. Import 7″ers were usually superseded in my collecting by the 12″ which had better sound and more music. But now it was easy to see where there was more music to be had on 7″ single, that was in many cases different from the same material on 12 inch.

This was particularly the case from the mid 80s through the early 90s with UK releases, when chart-rigging was commonplace vis a mind-numbing variety of formats. It was not uncommon for singles to be issued as:

  • 7″ single
  • 7″ colored vinyl
  • 7″ poster sleeve
  • 7″ picture disc
  • 7 shaped picture disc
  • 12″ single
  • 12″ remix single [after ZTT pioneered this approach an infinite amount of 12″ remix singles were possible]
  • 12″ poster sleeve
  • CD single #1
  • CD single #2
  • holographic CD single
  • cassette single

This meant that the fans who wanted everything had to pony up serious cash to get all of the formats, which might only have a single exclusive track amongst them. Buying a release in several formats counted as several sales; buoying the single up the charts [in theory]. Whether you as a fan/collector found this fun or merely exploitive was probably down to how much cash you had at hand. By the early 90s, the British photographic Institute put their foot down and now this practice is but a memory. If you want to read the current rules they are to be found here.

So by 2000 I was buying up singles in formats I ignored in the late 80s to compile CDs of rarities of my favorite artists. By the early years of the new century several things happened. CD singles became scarce. As part of the blight hitting the CD by the horror of peer-to-peer networks, the days of 7″, two different CD singles plus 12″ that had stabilized as the de riguer single formats in the 90s dried up. Then rarities by favorite artists wee being added to deluxe edition re-issues, in many cases as 2xCDs with the straight album on disc one, with the bonus material on disc two. Just like my old C-90s and all I had to do was to buy the album yet again.

The last ten years saw me bulking up on CDs of several albums by core collection artists as they were reissued, in some cases less than a decade after they were initially issued, in new expanded formats. I don’t have much money in these end times, so I have to pick and choose my targets carefully. The list of 60-80 artists I collect got scaled back considerably, to boot. As we enter 2013, it’s feels like 1983 in the case of the new OMD album. The first single from it is in a single physical format: a 12″ single. The remixes will be a download package. There is no CD single. So I will once again be buying the album and its singles on 12″ but I will now have to buy downloads if I want to “have it all.” This fallen world of record collecting is never perfect. And at the end of the day, I will always be the final word in how I curate and comprehend an artist’s body of work. As long as the target keeps moving, this Monk will still be counting the remixes that can dance on the head of a pin.

– 30 –

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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8 Responses to Record Collecting: The Ideal vs The Reality

  1. Echorich says:

    There are possibly no better memories in the back of my mind than those high school afternoons spent going through every single bin at Metro Records in Little Neck, NY. From the moment I entered the store it was “hey there! bring over anything you want me to play…” Those were heady times.
    My first cd player was a SONY model that was aprox 15″ x15″ by 2″. It had 30 track buttons, the normal play, pause, stop, fast forward, back track and skip forward and backward buttons as well.
    My second was a SONY 6 disc drawer changer that tended to throw off amazing amounts of heat.
    The nice thing about this disc changer was that it had a 3″ cd impression – probably because it was a SONY technology.
    But buying cd’s was never experience that buying vinyl was. In the late 80’s when I became VERY caught up in the NY and London House scene, I was back to scouring vinyl specialists for the latest House mixes and imports.
    Today, my vinyl purchasing is down to a handful of releases a year, I only buy CD’s that will really mean something to me, and the rest of my music is fully digital.
    I find that I use the interweb as my new music store. I search the blogs, the label sites, the mp3 record stores for whats new or what I might discover. But it’s very solitary and not really satisfying in the way real record collecting was once for me.
    I know I’ll never stop collecting and I know I’ll always play my vinyl – it’s why I bought it. You know, I think it’s time to get a new turntable – it’s been 10 yrs.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I need a new stylus! It’s been three years! When did I enjoy collecting music the most? The college years. I was more savvy and the music was peaking in my first two year of college. But I really liked the 2xCD5 era of singles. A lot of stuff on 2xCD5s! But it could get costly, as chas_m alludes to. An import CD was $15-20 with each single variant being $10. Three to four singles per album translated into $60-80 to get all of the B-sides/remixes from each album, with the whole shebang sitting around $100 per album release period! Multiply by the 50-60 groups I collected and… you do the math!

      What was the most intense record collecting experience I ever had? Well, that was just 11 years ago. I’ll let chas_m tell you about that time in D.C.


  2. chas_m says:

    Oh the memories of eye-straining Goldmine ads!! With my little yellow highlighter I would mark up every issue with everything I wanted, then pare down to what I might be able to afford, and then finally to what I would actually order. I still love getting CDs in the mail — I paid for them so long ago that it’s more like a gift from Past Me to Future Me, which is THE BEST.

    I remember the first actual CD single I bought and where I bought it — after much skepticism over this new format. It was The WonderStuff’s Welcome to the Cheap Seats EP (CD1 of 2, I got the #2 one much later) in 1992 from a flea market in MABLETON, CITY OF TOMORROW!!! Up until then I had been sticking to vinyl because of the larger cover art and worrying about the creeping infestation of tiny shinies.

    I quickly got over my fear and spent the rest of the 90s and much of the early 2000’s buying CDs like they were going out of style. Nowadays I wonder why they haven’t been superseded! I tried to keep up with the double-CD singles thing of the 90s but it wore me out in most cases. And I stopped buying new albums for the most part in the early aughts because most of them would come out a few years later remastered/deluxe/bonus galore editions etc. That schtick still drives me nuts, though I did splurge on the newest TMBG release just recently and OF COURSE the deluxe Bowie disc (not the Japanese one — yet!).

    I guess I’m not a great collector in the sense of needing to have every release, but I do want to eventually collect every “released” song of the core artists I admire, so I guess I “have the gene” for it (demos etc are strictly optional but I love em when they are very different from the finished version). I don’t go for every variant on a 12 or identical albums pressed in different countries but if there are rarities to be had (or the remix is terrific) then I’m all in.

    Nowadays I am separated from my main collection (which is in storage — I would need a bigger place to house it here!) and only occasionally buy records or CDs, and then mostly plugging gaps in my collections when I find a bargain, though I do still buy new music from time to time. For me the main thrill of collecting is to hear new music from artists I admire, but I have to admit the artwork of a single or album cover is part of the thrill.


  3. Echorich says:

    First CD purchased – How To Be A Zillionaire by ABC, second – Hounds of Love by Kate Bush. It all spilled over like rushing water after that.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – 1st CD[s] purchased: OMD “Architecture + Morality” and Kate Bush “Lionheart.” Both used as I was saving for a CD player. Later that week I got ABC “Lexicon Of Love,” [also used]and was shocked to hear that the last sax notes on “All Of My heart” were now GONE.


      • Taffy says:

        Oh my, i didnt buy a CD player til early 1990, and consequently my first CD purchase was a current album I hadn’t seen on vinyl – The Sundays “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic.” It took me a little while to realize that vinyl was indeed dying and CDs were the way of the, um, future. Hence I didn’t start re-buying my vinyl on CDs for awhile. But except for “collectable” singles, I never bought another piece of vinyl from 1990 on. I pretty much hate downloading, although it’s a fact of life, but I buy CDs frequently to this day.


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Taffy – I followed the development of the CD closely and was on that sucker at the point when I could barely afford it. I remember seeing the first import CDs I’d give a damn about; Ultravox “Quartet” in the glass counter at Record City ca. 1983. Of course, in those days it was mostly Billy Joel and Full Colon [Phil Collins – zing]! My first CD player was Radio Shack’s 1st model when it went on ’85 clearance… for $500! I was such an early adopter of technology back then! Those days are gone, ha! In the mid-80s I couldn’t wait for HDTV and it’s been here now for what… a decade or more and I still haven’t seen it!!


      • Echorich says:

        I left a very important cd out – Rage In Eden, bought at the same time as the first two. The amazing thing to me was that How To Be A Zillionaire was recorded DAD – Digital Recording, Analog Mix and Digital Master. Fry and White knew how to spend record company money!
        I waited until one of the first remasters of Lexicon Of Love to finally purchase it on cd because I had heard so many horror stories of the Phonogram cd masters over the years.


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