Seventh grade was when I decided I had to have it all, everything Beatles, and that included every solo release and all releases from their almighty Apple label. You name it, I had it. Every LP and every 45 from the likes of Mary Hopkin, Badfinger, Jackie Lomax, Lon and Derek Van Eaton, etc. A lot of this stuff was available at G.C. Murphy, Woolworths, and Woolco’s record department budget bins, which was great because my funds were very limited. You could only make so much doing chores around the house and mowing the neighbors’ lawns.
I wasn’t going to find something like John Tavener’s The Whale in the budget bins. The Whale was an Apple spoken word album, originally scheduled for release on their Zapple label, a Beatles’ avant garde outlet that died a quick death after only two releases: John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Life With the Lions and George Harrison’s Electronic Sound (much of which was actually written and performed by the duo Beaver and Krause). A Charles Bukowski LP was in the works as well, and that too came to an end. Anyway, Tavener’s The Whale was available through mail order via a Beatles’ mail order outfit called Lord Sitar. I had to open my wallet a little wider for Lord Sitar, but at the time, it was worth it. Lord Sitar was always reliable, and all their records arrived sealed or clean as a whistle.
At some point or another, I finally got a copy of the Elephant’s Memory LP as well. The listening session for that particular record was more or less the straw that broke the camel’s back. For the last year or so, I was most probably the world’s youngest Beatles’ apologist, never quite understanding why they would get behind any of these Apple acts, but more than happy to defend their decision to release something like David Peel’s The Pope Smoke Dope. There had to be some reason for all this. They were the Beatles for Christ’s sake. There had to be some kind of magic in the grooves that I was missing.
Simply put, the Elephant’s Memory offering was unlistenable. I could barely make it through the first side. No way was I going to give the flip consideration. And to think that my hero of heroes, John Lennon, chose this group to work with him throughout a chunk of the early ’70s was totally horrifying. Why? He could have worked with any musicians in the world, and he chose to hook up with a bunch of rejects barely able to hold an audience’s attention at a neighborhood barbecue. And listening to the embarrassing, “still working on my chops,” farting saxophone of Memory’s Stan Bronstein strengthened my opinion that, for the most part, no white man should ever pick up a saxophone.
Talk about living hell!
I shut off my GE record player, took a deep breath, and decided then and there that the whole completist thing was nothing short of sheer lunacy. Not only was I wasting a ton of hard earned money, but I was also screwing up my taste mechanism. An Apple a day does not keep the doctor away. It was time for an immediate purge. Did I need to keep all the Beatles releases up to the compilation LP Hey Jude, initially called The Beatles Again, released right after Let it Be? You bet. Did I need to keep a single non-Beatle Apple LP release? Absolutely not. How about the non-Beatle Apple 45s? There were probably a handful or so that shouldn’t leave the house: four Badfinger winners, “Maybe Tomorrow” by the pre Badfinger Iveys (the B-side, “And her Daddy’s a Millionaire” was always a nice surprise), and James Taylor’s “Carolina in My Mind” backed with “Something’s Wrong,”another neat B-side. What about the Beatles’ solo LPs? Ram, Band on the Run, Plastic Ono Band, and Imagine, though it’s really kind of weak, would stay put.
One of my older brother’s burnout friends offered me 50 bucks for what I wasn’t keeping. When I told him that offer seemed kind of low, he replied, “50 and that’s it. All the good stuff is in your closet. That’s great money for a bunch of stuff that sucks.”
He was right. I took the money, and the first thing I bought with it was a book entitled Critic’s Choice: Paul Gambaccini Presents the Top 100 Albums. Critics from the US and UK presented their choices along with arguments for their inclusions. The book was published by Omnibus press. Omnibus was more or less known for their Beatles/Stones/Who In Their Own Words titles, solid bathroom reads, featuring great quotes, interviews, and pics.
It was time to get my taste mechanism back in gear, and I started it with James Brown’s Live at the Apollo, a pick of several critics in Gambaccini’s book. It looked real good. Like everything else rock related in south-central PA at the time, the record was nowhere to be had. At some point or another, my family made a trip to Media, PA to see my grandparents, and they took me to a Wee Three Records store at the Granite Run Mall. They had a reissue copy on the Solid Smoke label. Man, that was some feast after eating all those rotten apples. My ride with Gambaccini and the rock critics was going to be a good one.
In short, Gambaccini and company turned me on to a load of super stuff. And because I opted to hang with Gamabaccini and his crew, my taste mechanism eventually straightened itself out. It worked well enough to steer me away from some of the stuff the critics dug: Born to Run by Springsteen (too much rambling, not enough melody); Zappa’s We’re Only In It for the Money (not funny); Blood, Sweat and Tears’ S/T (really?); etc. It looked like I was on the right track again. At least, that’s what I thought.
Right after college, I got obsessed with Sun Records, and once again, I had to have it all. The end of that affair was similar to the epiphanous experience I had with Elephant’s Memory. Sun’s glory days ended around the same time Jerry Lee married his 13-year-old cousin, not because Jerry’s behavior brought the label down the shitter, but because the music began to blow. The songs, the performances, the production simply weren’t there, and all that continued to get worse when the whole company moved to a new building with a new studio that looked like something out of a Jetsons cartoon, but had a sterility that sucked the life out of everything recorded there. I gave a good listen to a bunch of the 45s Jerry Lee put out after “High School Confidential”: “Break Up,” “Lovin’ Up a Storm,” “Let’s Talk About Us.” They weren’t awful, but they weren’t anything to write home to grandma about either.
It was time to pare down another collection. You would have thought a learning curve would have kicked in by this point. Wrong again.
After my love affair with Sun ended, I started another one with the Peacock Recording Company, specifically their black gospel quartet series. I bought and bought and bought. Had to have it all. After awhile, once again, I had had enough. At some point around 1959, the head of Peacock, Don Robey (now, there’s a character) wanted more gambling money so he went after a more contemporary audience with cash to piss away. He canned his chief engineer and decided that electric bass and heavier drums would spice up the quartets It definitely worked for him but not for me. The tight harmony took a hit, as did melody, and the the Holy Spirit’s uncanny ability to continually whip Peacock’s lead quartet singers into a frenzy strengthened. That got old after 30 releases or so. In short, I kept all the 1700 catalog numbers and sold off just about all the 1800 numbers.
Brethren, now I turn to you. Have you too pulled the plug on someone or some label? If so, when and why?