Aug 072009

This thread won’t apply to everybody. For younger record nerds who have come of age in an era when downloads of just about any obscure album can be found for free on the web if you search long enough, there’s little risk in accumulating all the mp3s your heart desires. The anxieties that older rock nerds have experienced may not ring true. It must be nice.

Some of you have already walked down the endless path of the hardcore record collector. There’s no stopping you now, and if that’s the case, more power to you! A part of me wishes I hadn’t been scared off this path, but I was, by two once hard-to-find purchases I made when I was 18: a bootleg of the Sex Pistols‘ last show at San Francisco’s Winterland and Iggy Pop and The Stooges‘ semi-bootleg document of that band’s last show, Metallic K.O. As I said, today you could probably download these albums in the comfort of your home in less than 20 minutes. In 1981, a teenage boy without much cash to spare had to make a great investment of time and money to locate these albums and bring them home, with no opportunity to sample selected tracks for free on some blog. What if this bootleg I’m tempted to spend $20 on sucks? What if I hear more of the dude who illegally taped the show hooting and hollering for his favorite songs than I do the band?

Worse yet: What if the bootleg was a dreaded, DOA board mix, with little more than vocals and kick drum?

Along with those factors, it was stressful as a teenage boy to go to the semi-hidden bootleg bin in the back of some stores. It was a bit like trying to casually browse the porn mags at a bookstore or newstand. Some record nerds had more stomach for that section than I did – I’m sure I was among the wussiest of bootleg browsers – but let’s face it: it was against the law for record stores to sell those bootlegs. What if the store was raided!

I still go out on a limb every 5 years to take a chance on a rare, obscuro piece of vinyl, but this practice has never become a part of my usual obsessive pursuit of previously undiscovered music. Thanks to spending $40 circa-1981 dollars on a teenage boy’s budget on the Sex Pistols boot and Metallic K.O., I was comfortable, a few years later, resisting purchasing any bootleg of The Beach Boys’ aborted Smile album. A pre-blogging way to sample what I might have been getting myself into came courtesy of a bargain-bin 1983 purchase of the band’s Smiley Smile. If Smile was such a masterpiece-in-progress, I thought to myself, the compromised leftovers album should be a little better than this oddity!

Anyhow, maybe some of this rings true for you, maybe not. What I’m curious to hear about is whether you ever went out on a limb for a hard-to-find, expensive bootleg or rarity only to spin it and realize it was time you nip this growing obsession in the bud and be content spending the rest of your life in pursuit of thousands of slightly easier-to-acquire records. What was your specific sanity-saving end-of-the-line purchase?


  8 Responses to “The End of the Line, or Last Night a Bootleg Saved My Sanity”

  1. mockcarr

    I don’t think there was an end of the line moment for me at the time, I just had most examples of the types of Beatle bootlegs out there covered. Hamburg tapes, Decca audition, “Sessions” album (containing the throbbing early version of One After 909, How Do You Do It, If You’ve Got Troubles, Leave Me Kitten Alone, the harder version of I’m Looking Through You using a Suzy-Q riff), live 1963-66 stuff with girls screaming all over the top of it, radio recordings, and the mess of Let It Be era depressing “rehearsal” warmups of their roots favorites. I kind of knew I was being ripped off with an album called The Beatles vs. The Third Reich, which was just mostly Hamburg stuff I already had, but I’m not sorry really, since they are making fun of all those split challenge lps. I guess I kind of drew the line at an album of unreleased straight up demos/alternate versions, although there were some included incidentally with the rest of the bootlegs. Live stuff notwithstanding, I was always looking for a form of the “What A Shame
    Maryjane” song that legend says Lennon kept trying to put on every late period album. Man, that thing SUCKS. I’m glad there was a form of democracy in the band.

  2. BigSteve

    I probably had a similar experience with Metallic KO. My first Stooges album was Raw Power, hard to come by and bought as an import in one of those flimsy sleeves that were so different from the hard cardboard American LP sleeves. Someone I knew had the first two albums, and KO made it clear that if this kind of barrel scraping was being released there was no point in trying to find other Iggy recordings, because I already had the good stuff.

    Things are so different now. I recently came across a site that had a large collection of Dylan tracks — TV performances, tribute album appearances, promo tracks — eight CDs worth! And I think six CDs of similar stuff from Richard Thompson. I downloaded it all, but I haven’t even listened to it all yet, even though whenever I dipped into the files they were all pretty good. Now somebody else does the digging and just uploads it to a share site. It’s not the same.

  3. alexmagic

    “What’s The New Mary Jane?” was definitely a let down when I finally heard it on Anthology 3. I never ran into it on any of the bootlegs I’d heard, and only knew that it was recorded around the time of the White Album. The Happiness Is a Warm Gun/Why Don’t We Do It In The Road hybrid I’d let myself imagine it must have sounded like was definitely a lot cooler than what it turned out to be.

  4. diskojoe

    Mr. Mod, I remember seeing copies of that Metallic KO album in the Strawberries baragin bin in the late ’70s-early ’80s for $2.99.

    I never got too deeply into Kinks bootlegs, although I did buy (& still have) a pretty ginchy 2-album boot that complied single tracks that never appeared in their albums back in the day, including a real bluesy version of “Scrapheap City” which I prefer to the album version that appeared on a B-side & has never been reissued on CD.

  5. Hmmm, I can’t say that I’ve ever gone out on a limb for a record that was so rare that it threatened to incinerate the tiny stash of cash I had at any given time, but growing up I was at the mercy of a town where the local record shops wouldn’t always have the independent (and not-so-independent)releases I may have been interested in at the time–so mail order catalogs were a godsend. A good batch of the music I still own I wouldn’t own if I hadn’t had these outlets to choose things from, because my store was either clueless about certain selections, or if they weren’t, would jack the prices so high that it just made more sense to send the three stamps for the cut-and-paste catalog (often with the copier ink smeared on it, lol) and to just wait a couple weeks.

    Have I salivated over some hard-to-find, ridiculously obscure, out-of-print recording here and there? Oh, sure, especially if I know the band/soloist to be good for it. But rainbow colored vinyl for its own sake can only take you so far–and a gal’s gotta eat.


  6. I wasted hundreds of dollars on half-assed Springsteen bootleg (badly recorded shows, home demos, a “covers” record (with red vinyl)

    I finally found (a)people to trade with and a box of TDK C-90’s and (b) a subscription to Backstreets Magazine which rated the boots.

    The best boots I have were taped off the FM radio back when artists would broadcast an entire show. I would go to the show and pay a constantly “grounded” friend $20 to record the show for me and bring it to school the next day. His most important duty? to flip the tape IN BETWEEN songs

  7. That’s an awesome story, jungleland!

    I know that I have lamented the fact that I live in the sticks where bootlegs were hard to come by. There was a record store in Oxford, MS where you had to ask to “imports” so the clerk would pull a box of surprises from under the counter. Then they were overcharged and usually crappy. It’s a gamble.

    I remember when The Beatles Anthologies were coming out , there were alot of diehard Beatles complaining about the contents. Most were familiar with these artifacts as they had been released on countless numbers of bootlegs. At the time, I was thankful to get them as I did not know this material at all. It was a thrill to hear the outtakes and alternates that were almost mythical in my mind. I suppose that debate (Why did they choose this take when they could have chosen that one?) has died down and most of these things are readily available thanks to the internet.

    I did spend a small fortune on a Michael Nesmith radio special from 1979. Nesmith seems to be the one thing I’ve spent more cash on than anybody else. Witchita Train Whistle and his Live at the Palais records were bought with some hard-earned cash.

    Now, all of it is out there. The thrill of the search is a different one.


  8. 2000 Man

    I’ve got a ton of them. I really like them, and I liked the search as much ans anything else. The occasional surprise of colored vinyl was like getting something that wasn’t a lick on tattoo out of a box of Cracker Jack. Sure, they were more expensive than regular records (or cd’s, I have a ton of those, too), but sound quality isn’t everything. I quit getting other bands after awhile and just concentrated on The Stones. I made an AWESOME trade of about 5 boots by random popular bands that were long gone from the usual sources by then, and I took home around ten or twelve albums, some were picture disks and colored vinyl! I felt good about it anyway. You could get them at reasonable prices if you got to know the guys that sold them.

    One store in downtown Cleveland had them in a room in the back. You had to ask for “special interest records.” I knew a guy that sold them out of his car, and he’d call me or stop by the house when he got new stuff he thought I’d like. When the cd age came along, I had a couple of dependable mail order sources, one of which sent coupons so if you played your cards right, you could get one free with every five you bought. I had another store that would order things for me, but sometimes that took a year to come in.

    Nowadays with torrents it’s not nearly as much fun and I only grab major upgrades or studio outtakes that were never available. I’ll get a Dexateens or Lucero show now and then, if I find them, but I’m just not as interested. I’ve got plenty of concerts, and there’s other stuff I missed out on because I spent so much dough on boots. Do a search on ebay for TMOQ sometime. People are getting BIG money for some of those things!

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