Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Record Store Day: Yea or Nay?

We just celebrated Record Store Day 2015, and for a couple weeks on both sides there have been arguments about whether the concept is serving or hurting the people it’s designed for. The local independent record store and smaller labels. The question from the labels side is whether or not they can get vinyl records produced in time, because the pressing plants are so bogged down pressing bigger orders for the major labels. One might also wonder who actually needs a vinyl copy of the soundtrack for The Darjeerling Limited? For the record stores across the world (yes…Record Store Day is celebrated in other countries too, with appropriate product) the problem is how much stock to bring in, and what to do with whatever you get. The stores can order specific titles but may not receive what they order, due to limited quantities, and arbitrary decisions.

For the weeks leading up to Saturday April 18th, I had carefully perused the printed list of promised swag, noting my favourites and assessing just how many of these I would buy, and what my priorities would be. For instance, if I was lucky enough to find the 3 Kinks 45s at the same time as the 3 Jeff Beck 45s would I buy all 6 at a staggering $16.49 each? Would I just hold out hope that I stumbled upon one of 5,000 Robert Plant Live 10” EPs or hunt down John Prine’s September ’78 12” whose edition was only 1,250? There were 4,525 copies of Johnny Cash's Koncert v Praze LPs (and I saw many copies of these on my travels) and 5,600 copies of The Zombies' R.I.P. album (no store I tried had this one). I wrote down my top ten on a wrinkled piece of paper that I shoved into my wallet. I would just search for the titles on that list. Then we came closer to D-Day, or RSD, and it turned out that I was committed to a job from 9 til noon and would have to miss the opening bell! I would likely miss the cream of the crop too! That’s the way life goes sometimes. There were some 440 titles available for purchase, 7” singles, 10” records and 12” LPs (and a few CDs). Some would be exclusive to RSD either never released in this format or reissues of classic records, some limited run or regional releases sent only to the artist’s home state (or at least places where they were best known). Others were called RSD first releases which would be sold in vinyl editions on this special day but later released on CD or regular vinyl. Quite often the RSD release is on coloured vinyl, which looks fantastic spinning around your turntable. Each record store would receive a selection of titles, no store would get everything. This means the intrepid collector needs to work at finding what he wants.

I fulfilled my obligation by 11:30 and jumped into the car to head for Cheapies Record Store. I had good luck finding the Dave & Phil Alvin double 10” set last year and thought this would be the place to start. No place to park, so I continued on to Dr. Disc. The lineup had been all the way down the street to the corner when I drove by at 8:30, but by noon there were only a few stragglers, latecomers like me, filling out a form with our requests. Mark, the owner, has a system whereby he only allows a certain number of shoppers in the store at a time. You take an inventory sheet with code numbers for each product and transfer your want list to a slip of paper. Hand this in to the cashier who searches the stock (kept behind the counter) and she calls your name when she’s filled your order. I missed out on The Zombies' R.I.P. (reportedly the British band’s unreleased followup to Odessey and Oracle). This material has been available on CD for years, but today’s release was the first time on vinyl. They also didn’t have The Who’s 45 of "Be Lucky" b/w "I Can’t Explain," or Joe Strummer’s band The 101ers LP. All I got from the good Dr. was an EP by the Pretty Things, a band that was even uglier than The Rolling Stones, in a replica 1964 sleeve. Small success, time to move on.

I drove to Dundas next, Records on Wheels. It’s a smaller town, fewer fanatics I hoped. Still they were pretty busy for Saturday lunchtime. I scored Robert Plant’s More Roar, a 10” EP recorded live on last year’s tour with the Sensational Space Shifters. It features 3 songs, one a medley of "Who Do You Love," "Mona" and "Whole Lotta Love." At $20, it’s a decent collectible. I also found Blue Mountain Eagle, an album by a band started by the drummer of Buffalo Springfield who was replaced by the time they recorded these songs for ATCO Records in 1970. Country rock with lots of guitar in a heavy cardboard, very colourful sleeve. Nice! But they didn’t have any singles, and that’s what I was looking for. Next I was off to Burlington to check out Sunrise Records. They often have a large selection, because they’re part of a chain of independents. This means they have bigger buying power while still qualifying as independent because they’re not owned by a conglomerate. I saw bins of records in the middle of the store, but not the merchandise I was looking for. Aha, it was on the walls on both sides of the store. I accidentally knocked over a couple of LPs on to the floor, and as I bent to pick them up I saw the 101ers, Joe Strummer’s band before The Clash. It was a double 12” on red vinyl, to match last year’s Joe Strummer and the Pogues double, and to sit alongside an earlier RSD double LP of Joe and the Mescaleros Live. That one was black vinyl, but packaged in a clear vinyl sleeve. I have them all now.

They had two of the three Kink’s 45s but although the replica sleeves are gorgeous I passed them by. You can only buy so much. I found The Who single, several copies. It too is in a clear vinyl sleeve and the record it the art, a red, white and blue target. They have a box set of 5 Small Faces singles that were released in France, but it’s $100 and the songs are all on the 2 CD Best of the Small Faces set I have at home. At least the Who single has a new song. Then I spied something I wasn’t expecting. It’s a gatefold 7” of Dire Straits original demos from 1977. Two discs from the Charlie Gillett session. Eminently collectible and I understood it was only going to be released in the UK. On the other side of the room I located something called Sessions '64!!, a 10” yellow vinyl EP with early Brian Wilson productions of The Honeys, The Castells and The Timers. Who could resist such a find? Then, finally on the bottom shelf, hiding behind a half down other titles I discover a 10” single of  Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues" by Steve Earle, flip it over and there’s "Terraplane Blues" by Johnson himself. It was a great way to end Record Store Day.

Record Store Day comes once a year, in April. In the fall there’s Black Friday which is a slightly scaled down version for Christmas shopping, but the reality is that every day is Record Store Day. Especially for people like me. Even if I am not going to buy, I love perusing the racks just to see what’s new, and what old things I might have missed. The people who work in these stores know what they’re talking about too. They don’t look at you sideways when you ask if the 101ers album had been previously available on vinyl. Or if there was a chance that the Zombies LP might come in later. They simply make a note of your request, “We’ll call you if it comes in.”

I’ve been living RSD most of my life ever since I first picked up a copy of The Beatles' Twist and Shout LP released only in Canada on Capitol Records at Robinson’s at the Centre Mall. (Well, my Mom bought it for us.) When we got it home it turned out that our record player only played 78s! My Dad took care of that, but we had to wait a week to hear The Beatles. I recall clearly coming home from school, my Dad was picking up the record player with the new turntable installed, he should be here soon. Then…"Anna" the first song on side one. Paradise. It’s been like that for fifty years! Record Store Day. Yea or Nay? A definite two thumbs up from where I sit.

– David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas, Ontario with his wife. 

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