Mar 242008

Before digital downloads and online stores, one had to physically visit a record store to purchase a record. If the record was really hard to find, such as an import, a whacked out independent release, or a bootleg, you might have to send money, through some complicated pre-PayPal system, to a complete stranger running a thumbnail ad in the back pages of Trouser Press. I was discussing all this with Townsman E. Pluribus Gergely over the weekend, and at this point in the discussion he grabbed the dinner table and uttered unmentionables at the memory of the hell and wad of cash he went through to buy bootleg cassettes of The Beach Boys‘ aborted Smile sessions.

Once purchased, we actually owned the record, for better and for worse. There was no ability to “just delete” if a track or an entire record sucked, no “morning after” pill for a bad purchase. The hard drive was the crates or rows of records stacked on a cheap shelving unit near your stereo. A record had to offend like no other for the owner to simply toss it or shoot it with a BB gun, as has been reported in past Rock Town Hall threads.

There was no eBay or on which we could post and sell our crap purchase without leaving the couch. Re-selling that bad purchase promised a gauntlet of record-nerd shame. In most cases, we had to go back to a record store, one that bought and sold used records – and most likely, to avoid admitting the added shame of having to give up on a record recently purchased, one that did not originally sell you the record you now wanted to sell in the first place – for the right to get about 20% of our initial investment, or a little more than that in trade-in value for a second chance at making a more satisfying purchase. Back in the day, we earned the right to truly hate an album. It was a royal pain in the ass to go through all that effort (and I was a city boy; imagine what my more rural brethren had to live through!) for nothing more than the pleasure of trade-in value.

Do you hear what I’m saying, Townspeople? Kids today don’t know what it means to have earned the right to hate an album! Do you have memories of failed record purchases and shameful re-sales to share? It may help us all. Thanks.


  12 Responses to “Once, We Earned the Right to Hate an Album”

  1. When I was a kid, I once returned a Rush album. When the clerk asked me why, I said it was terrible and that I wanted to exchange it.

    After requesting that I not pull such a stunt ever again, the store finally let me have Led Zeppelin IV, which I still proudly spin today.

  2. Mr. Moderator

    Good for you, Dr. John! I once had a similar experience in my early days with CDs, convincing a clerk at Sound of Market Street to let me exchange the first Funkadelic album for a later one, America Eats Its Young (I think that’s th title). When he asked me what was wrong with the first album, I said “It sounds like shit!” He put it on and asked me to identify what was wrong. I pretended it was poorly mastered compared with “my vinyl copy,” which I’d never actually owned. He grudgingly let me exchange it, but only for another Funkadelic album. I’m happy with the one I ended up with.

  3. Jimbo,

    A couple of things:

    1) My gang had a ball with your gang Saturday. We need to do it again real soon.

    2) E-mail me that recipe for the meat and potatoes. Not kidding around here. Both were phenomenal.

    3) Thinking about that whole “Smile” thing allowed me to remember yet another time when I would have gone as far as killing a few folks if it meant I would be granted access to some holy grail platter.

    4) When I was in high school, the local paper (a front page story was often about someone who shot a possum in their backyard) actually had a short article about a new Beatles LP that was going to be released by Capitol, “Sessions”, which would feature 12 previously unreleased tracks of studio quailty that weren’t on any bootlegs. I went apeshit immediately and notified my other Beatle buddy, Matt, about the news.

    Months went by -nothing. More months went by-nothing. Turns out the whole project wasn’t going to happen for some reason or another. Same old story.

    Just when I thought the whole thing was over, Matt gives me a call. He got a bootleg copy of the thing for 25 bucks -a LOT of money for a record when you’re in high school, at least for us. I zoomed over there, and stormed right up to my his bedroom – he had one of those great 70s stereo set-ups: lots of old Pioneer stuff -no Soundesign/Realistic shit. He just looked at me and said, “Listen to this!” He put on the alternate take of “I’m Looking Through You.” I just could not get over how friggin’ great the thing was, and the very idea that that was not deemed good enough by the 4 for a Beatles LP was just absolutely astounding to me. It reaffirmed every reason I had for believing that the Beatles were nothing short of God’s other sons.

    Sure there were a bunch of whatevers on there: Harrison tracks (big surprise), but the LP really delivered. Matt and I had shared a magical moment together -something our younger generation will never really experience due to the utter availability of everything at the touch of a button. Really appreciating something back then had so many more other factors that guided aesthetic value that it made the whole process of analyzing a record a whole lot more fun -regardless if those factors had little to do with the actual music. No more trips with your friends to the one record store in Washington or Philadelphia that has that one record you’ve just GOT to hear. It really is over. And it is quite sad.

    This generation really doesn’t know what it means to need music. None have told me about their last 4 hour trip to Palookaville to get a hold of a record that supposedly had life changing powers.

    I say, like you say, take it all away and let the younger generation show us how much it really means to them. In truth, it probably means very little.

    Again, thanks for the incredible company and meal. That gang of yours is an absolute delight.

    E. Pluribus

  4. alexmagic

    I don’t know where generational lines are being drawn, exactly, but the direction this conversation is taking has reminded me of waiting for the debut of “Free As A Bird” – literally sitting on the floor, watching a clock count down on TV for a new piece of Beatles music. Whatever people might think of how the song itself turned out, I’ll always be grateful for that amazing, unexpected moment of anticipation where I was finally able to experience the one piece of Beatles fandom that had otherwise been out of my reach.

    Generally, I agree with the notion that ease-of-availability vs. earning it (shades of John Houseman) probably takes something away from the enjoyment of younger generations, but I think another, likely related problem for the kids of today and tomorrow is how quickly the cycle moves for them. Bands can be hyped, heard, reviewed and judged online before an album ever even comes out. So it’s not only losing some of the physical journey in discovering an album but also having other people’s musical “discoveries” documented so quickly and freely. I would imagine a sense of “why bother?” would set in, hurting the motivation to find new sounds.

  5. Mr. Moderator

    The release of “Free as a Bird” works, Alexmagic. That was a bit before the days when every new release was available for free download weeks before the release hit the market. Not knowing your age or any otehr details about you, I can imagine how much that experienced enriched your love for the music.

    Anyone have mail order stories to tell? Interstate commerce in search of a holy grail purchase?

  6. My old room-mate, High School Mike, once took a Greyhound from Philly to some small town in western Mass whose mayor was a purveyor of ‘musique-concrete’ (maybe someone on RTH can put a name to this sketchy description…). Anyway, this civil servant/avant-garde musician was selling a limited release EP for one day only. Mike got there about an hour after they were sold out and came back the same day.

    That must have been pretty disappointing…

  7. Mr. Moderator

    Great story, Raggers! I remember Roomie High School Mike well. Think of how much more he loved his shitcore, I think that’s the proper term, after that experience!

  8. While it may be true that “we earned the right” to hate an album, the same lack of an immediate means of disposal could work in your favor. To wit:

    I purchased XTC’s “Black Sea” at a used record store in Newtown, PA in 1981, hated it and — rather than take it back, melt it, etc — filed it closest to the wall on the end of my pile-o-LP’s leaning thereupon. Almost exactly one year later, I played it again. Needless to say, it must have metamorphasized back there, because now I loved it.

    So I guess what I’m saying is, we earned the right to hate some albums, and some earned the right to be loved.

  9. BigSteve

    I’ll take ease of access and greater availability any day over plurbie having to walk ten miles through the snow to hear the rare Beatles bootleg.

  10. 2000 Man

    I always go looking for record stores when i go out of town. For a while it was just searching for bootlegs, but then I decided that I really only needed Stones bootlegs for the most part. It was always fun to find a place that had those TMOQ lp’s or odd European lp’s. They were expensive and I usually had to wait until the end of the visit to finally listen to them at home. I used to take a Hot Wacks book with me everywhere, and I’d even send them track listings and source and sound quality reviews for stuff not in their book.

    The mail order side of things was tough. Sometimes I got ripped off. Once I ordered a Scorpio cd, and Scorpio got busted. The guy I bought from was honest enough to tell me that he couldn’t get them just yet, but shady enough to tell me they were expected “any day” for months and months. I actually got them, though. Dead Parrot Disks was cheap and listed the most amazing stuff, but I think almost everyone got ripped off by them. Ordering from Europe was scary, but it was cool to get the stuff, and ordering from Japan was cool but they charged 45 bucks for a single cd, and 75 for doubles. I had mail order catalogs from all over.

    I like the way things are now. Bootlegs are free and if I truly can’t wait for something, I can usually just order it. All I have to do is pay way more than it’s really worth. I don’t go to record conventions and find out that Metal Machine Music sounds like a UHF channel with no broadcast on it, while I passed up scores of records I’ve never seen since (at least at a price I was willing to pay).

    I bought George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass in sixth grade. It cost a fortune, but Yessongs had gone so well for me I figured three albums was worth it. I opened it up in front of my friend’s dad, and it was three of the most beat up, trashed, greasy records I’d ever seen. My friend’s dad drove me back to the store and backed me up when I said the records were apparently used. The store let me trade it for a little DYN AM/FM portable radio that I took everywhere. I heard All Things Must Pass a few years later, and I think the radio was a better idea.

  11. saturnismine

    being a fan of unrest from the very start, i went to aka records, and bought mark robinson’s solo album from back in 2003 “origami and urbanism”.

    got home, dropped the needle, and heard about 40 seconds worth of “…..yoooooo…………esssssss…………”a”………..YOOOO…….ESSSSSSS………..”a”.”

    said to myself, “fuck this”. took it back to aka and said, straight up, “this album blows”. can i get something else?

    i walked out with “chutes too narrow” by the shins.

    maybe my judgement of robinson’s album was hasty, but i’ve been told since then that i was right. and i certainly hadn’t ‘earned’ the right to hate *that* particular album, but as i say, i had done my time as a major unrest fanboy.

    regardless, i was pleased to see that aka honored my right to hate that album.

  12. Mr. Moderator

    These tales of hating albums – and the great love that the isolated episodes of hatred inspired – are helping a lot of our readers. You should see the offlist messages I’ve received. Keep ’em coming!

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