It’s embarrassing for me to admit this, but adversity builds character: This year will mark my first participation in Record Store Day. There. I said it. While the idea of dragging buyers back to bricks-and-mortar stores to buy records, find community, and actually look each other in the eye is, in every respect, a great idea, and one that should be championed by all fans of vinyl, with me the concept has fallen flat. I’ve never been fond of crowds, and this event always made me think I’d have to line up in hopes of getting any of those limited editions.
Lineups are anathema to me. I don’t line up for anything, and I’ll go far out of my way to avoid a line. But a new record store has opened up just around the corner from me, here on the east side of downtown Toronto, Ontario -- it’s on my way home, with convenient parking just around the corner. Pop Music is the brainchild of the proprietor, Derek Antonio, and it’s a bit different from the five or so other record stores within spitting distance of my home. Rather than focus on used records, as do most other record stores, Pop Music stocks only new vinyl. Antonio used to be a buyer for HMV, the big-ass CD chain of yore. He’s well grounded in the machinations of the retail music business, and he’s used those smarts to stock Pop Music with a well-curated selection of records. There’s a very nice mixture of new releases and high-end reissues, and Antonio knows the lineage of every one of them.
Recently, as I thumbed through the bins, I pulled up a Wax Time reissue of a Cannonball Adderley album. “What’s with this?”
“Ah, yes, those,” Antonio sighed. “I get those reissues in only when I can’t find a better copy.” He acknowledged that Wax Times are public-domain pressings, and that the sound quality can be sketchy. “But it’s such a great album, people deserve to be able to hear it. And it’s the only way to get that title on vinyl.”
I prodded him about another reissue: Joni Mitchell’s Blue.
“That’s a great copy,” he said. “It’s pressed in Germany.”
I relayed to Antonio my displeasure at the thought of lining up with the great unwashed on Record Store Day 2018 -- Saturday, April 21, which loomed as we spoke.
“I’d love to put stuff aside for you,” Antonio said. “But Record Store Day is a thing. It’s supposed to be first come, first served, and they monitor social media, listen to complaints from customers . . .” He looked uncomfortable for a second. I glanced outside the store, half expecting to see a shotgun microphone pointed in our direction from the window of a parked car. “Besides, lining up is the right thing to do so that everyone gets a shot at these albums.
“But it’s probably not going to be crazy-busy here, not like over in the cool section of town, so there’s a good chance you’ll get whatever you’re looking for. Tell me what you want, and I’ll keep you posted and let you know how many I’m getting.”
Well, there you go. I resigned myself to an early Saturday morning on April 21 and began surveying the RSD 2018 .pdf list. Page after page, and 98% of the titles had absolutely no meaning to me. While I was well aware that we owe much of our precious vinyl resurgence to youngsters with lush beards, it took this list of artists utterly unknown to me to drive the fact home.
Oh, sure, I recognized a few titles. My eyes instantly glommed on to a 7” Led Zeppelin single, on yellow vinyl no less: remixes of “Rock and Roll” and “Friends,” two of my favorite tracks. A no-brainer.
Scrolling farther down, I was briefly tempted by a few other titles, but I felt I was trying to find something I wanted to buy. Perhaps one 45rpm single would be enough for me to earn my laminated RSD wallet card.
Then I struck gold. Down near the end of the list, in the “W” section, were the three Tom Waits albums comprising Orphans, originally released on three CDs or seven LPs: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards, each on two LPs, and pressed on colored vinyl! You can’t imagine how happy this made me. I’d missed out years ago on the original vinyl boxed set (2009), and have kicked myself ever since, watching on Discogs as its price climbed, year after year. Here was my second chance. Orphans is a magical collection that I’ve enjoyed on CD ever since its release (Anti-, 2006). Ostensibly it’s a collection of outtakes, which suggests that it’s subpar material, but that’s just not so. Some of my favorite Waits songs appear only on these three albums. Of course, there are some clunkers, but for the most part it’s a wonderful, cohesive collection.
Yes, colored vinyl. I know, I know -- conventional wisdom says that black vinyl sounds best. But my US pressing of Simple Minds’ New Gold Dream, on clear marbled vinyl, sounds just fantastic, as do several of my other colored-vinyl pressings. The sheer nature of this find made my mouth water as I anticipated the off-the-charts cool factor of these fruit-flavored records.
I e-mailed Antonio about the Waits albums. He responded that he’d ordered six of each title, so I should be good. He also said that he was ordering a bunch of copies of that Led Zep single.
I’d made my choices, and my local record store was getting them.
And so, on Saturday morning, I lined up. A 7:45 a.m. arrival for Pop Music’s 8 a.m. opening seemed reasonable, and -- in retrospect -- so it seemed to everyone else in this quadrant of the city. The line already stretched about 30 deep when I arrived, and continued to lengthen. Despite my hatred of lines, I began to get excited. The attendees were mostly a homogeneous group of middle-aged, out-of-shape record enthusiasts, but there were also some bearded hipsters and young women. I struck up a conversation with the next person to arrive, Dennis. When he said he was there only for the Tom Waits albums, and I said that’s what I was lining up for, he looked a little sick. After all, I was right in front of him, with 30 more people in front of me. I’m sure he imagined me snapping up the last copies as he cried like a little girl.
Given that two-thirds of those in line looked just like me, I wasn’t confident, either, that there would be any copies left by the time I got inside. My wait became less excited than anxious. Pop Music is on the small side, and Antonio was limiting the number of customers in the store to ten -- when one left, the next in line was admitted. As my turn neared, I could see through a window the three Orphans albums on a shelf. Then I was admitted. I shouldered my way in and snapped them up -- the last ones on the shelf. But I could see Dennis, his face pressed up against the glass. I flagged Antonio down. “Do you have more of these?”
“Sure do,” he said. When I gave Dennis the thumbs-up through the window, the relief on his face was almost comical. I laughed to myself, imagining how I’d feel if our roles had been reversed.
My primary mission now accomplished, I began browsing. The Led Zep singles were right there in front of me, so I added one to the pile. On a whim, I grabbed a picture disc of Madonna, her first album (for my daughter, I told myself). The next line was for checkout. A neighbor, Rob, was ahead of me in the checkout line. I took a look at his haul. Among some other things I didn’t recognize, he’d snagged a mono reissue of Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn. That seemed like a good idea. I reached over and grabbed one for myself.
After inflicting a $250 dent on my Visa card (I also bought a Rush T-shirt), Rob and I walked down to Tiny Record Shop, a few blocks from Pop Music, and took a look around. They had a number of the same RSD releases of course, but Tiny also stocks a metric shit-ton of juicy Japanese pressings, though those were unfortunately out of my self-imposed price range. After browsing but not buying anything else, I scampered home and opened up the first Waits album, Bastards, pressed on gray vinyl. As I dropped the needle, it immediately skipped in through about half the first song. Again I tried. Again, the same result. Closer examination through a loupe (it’s hard to see what’s going on in colored, marbled vinyl) showed that the lead-in groove was far longer than usual, and the grooves were uncharacteristically far apart. Dropping the needle way farther in worked fine.
The sound quality was excellent -- better than my CD copy: rich, dimensional sound, dead silent, with low surface noise and no ticks. As good as vinyl gets. The Led Zeppelin single is beautifully packaged, and the yellow vinyl is neat, but the sound quality wasn’t anything to write home about, and the remixes add no real value, as far as I’m concerned. But still, it’s a neat thing, and that’s what Record Store Day is really about, right? Acquiring more cool stuff. I feel that I’ve triumphed. The successful hunter brings home his kill.
Now that I’m an RSD veteran, I feel I’ve broken through my snobbishness and can see how this event actually does bring vinyl enthusiasts together and -- just as important -- builds in some extra enthusiasm for this sport. Next year, I think I’ll do it again. It’s clear to me now that we all should.
. . . Jason Thorpe