Jacket Rings

off_broadway_webOff Broadway

I’ve had this album since 1979.

Its great Chicago-based ‘power pop,’ which is a term used for bands in the late ’70s / early ’80s that didn’t quite fit in the punk (‘new wave’) genre that was grabbing hold at that time. It ranks right up there with the Shoes Present Tense, the Records The Records, the Kind’s Pain and Pleasure, the Knack’s Get the Knack, 20/20’s Look Out!, and the Kings Are Here.

But Off Broadway’s debut, On, is really hard to find in used bins and I feel bad for anyone who can’t get their hands on this bubblegum masterpiece. My theory is that if anyone has it, they’re simply not letting it go.

Besides, as far as collectability goes, my Off Broadway’s LP jacket has the dreaded ‘ring’ wear, which is that circular mark that magically appears as the disc actually pushes against the sleeve from the inside and leaves an indelible mark on the jacket.

Uptight collectors hate ring wear. But if I saw my Off Broadway On sitting in a bin and the vinyl looked clean, hells yeah I’d buy it. Am I listening to the music or looking at the cover?

Funny but I recently found Off Broadway’s second album, Quick Turns (1980), and dropped $3.99 on it simply because I needed the sequel. But I’ve only spun it a couple of times. It’s not that it’s a bad record – in fact, it’s almost as good as On. Its even recorded better than On. Only it just isn’t as compulsively listenable.

Sophomore slump? Too much of a hurry to get to the big time? Lead singer Cliff Johnson’s reported arrogance? Metal-y guitar solos that don’t quite fit the power pop M.O.? Who knows?

You’ll easily find Quick Turns. The hunt is really on for Off Broadway’s On.

© 2016 Chris Barry


Who the Fuck is Williams?

buckingham_nicks_webLindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks
Buckingham Nicks
PD 5058

When collecting vinyl, ‘holy grails’ are a dime a dozen because we all have a bunch of them. A grail record is one that you’ve been searching for forever or is maybe an LP you once had and lost and now finding it represents a link back to a time in your life good or bad. Or maybe its an album that is perceived as highly collectible and you want it for yourself (the most popular ‘grail’ is that infamous Beatles Yesterday and Today ‘butcher cover,’ which probably isn’t as rare as people think).

Or maybe you’re more of an obscurist like Paul Major, who prefers independent label vinyl (reaching way back) and has no time for what most of us consider ‘collectible.’

Either way, we all have our own personal grails and one of mine has been the Buckingham Nicks LP, the one Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks recorded at Sound City back in the early 70s (the record was released in 1973) and the one Mick Fleetwood heard when he approached the duo about joining Fleetwood Mac in like its trillionth incarnation (B and N said yes and the band went on to explosive heights and fantastic drug-fueled and interpersonal drama).

I’d never seen Buckingham Nicks in used stores and bins (although I recall it when I was a teen buying records first run back in the 70s/80s). I had also never heard a cut off of the record but I knew I wanted it anyway, especially after seeing that Dave Grohl doc, Sound City.

So when I finally found Buckingham Nicks at Purple Dog Records in Naperville, IL, for the low price of $12, I grabbed it from the shelf, my heart beating a step faster for having finally found this thing. I pulled the record out of the sleeve to give it a visual inspection (you can do this) before purchasing because if the thing was scratched to shit, I wasn’t buying it just to have it.

The tracks looked okay except the first cut seemed a little worse for the wear. I asked the owner of the store to play it (and you can do this too), and – to my shock – the vinyl played absolutely clean. So I told the owner it was a no-brainer, I’d take it.

That said, I now had to consider the shape of the jacket. And, frankly, for a lot of collectors, this particular one would’ve been a deal breaker because somebody named Williams scrawled his name across Lindsey Buckingham’s left shoulder in black Sharpie.

This is an issue with collectors – unless the artist signs an album, an owner probably shouldn’t do this. But I can see why people feel compelled to do so – they think by putting their name on it, it’ll somehow signify ‘true ownership’ and when they loan it out, the borrower will feel obligated to return it to the person who chicken-scratched across the jacket. Of course, anyone who’s loaned out a record has probably learned the hard way that they’ll never see it again, regardless of putting their John Hancock on it. And, anyone who has ever borrowed a record from a friend probably knows they’ll never return it to its rightful owner (I still have a copy of Steely Dan’s Katy Lied I borrowed from a chum back in 1978 – thanks John!).

Anyway, I personally don’t care if someone writes their name on a jacket or a label. In fact, I find it charming — knowing that this material item actually has some sort of past. And I always wonder, when I encounter a ‘signed’ record, who the fuck is the person who signed it and do they ever think of the record – that I now own – and wonder where the hell it went?

So, ultimately, I finally have my Buckingham Nicks but with a ‘Williams’ autograph. Now I don’t know who the fuck you are Williams, but your Buckingham Nicks finally found a good home.

And, oh by the way, Buckingham Nicks is really good.

© 2016 Chris Barry

Front Cover is a Life-Size Photomosaic

th_web2Talking Heads
More Songs About Buildings and Food
Sire Records

Talking Heads records shouldn’t be passed up if you’re lucky enough to find them out there in the wild. Especially their pre-Remain in Light output, which is material that is must-have quirky.

More Songs About Buildings and Food was the band’s first with producer Brian Eno, who knew just how to exploit lead singer David Byrne’s hyperactive persona and choppy guitar riffs – in fact, this is an electric guitar record. But in ’78 you didn’t hear electric guitar played the way it is on this album.

If you have it, put it on and listen with ears from 1978 – its a mind-bender. And, if you did hear it back then it was probably worrisome and troubling and disturbing – though its none of these things now in 2016. What did you listen to in ’78? If you were STUCK, like me, you probably listened to Charlie Daniels, Jackson Browne or any other sounds of safety. I’m sorry I missed that whole CBGB influence but I was raised in suburban Geneva, IL and, unless you were slightly more adventurous (or had a sibling or friend who was), Talking Heads wasn’t even on the radar.

My first exposure to Talking Heads was in 1980 when I bought Remain in Light and my life changed because of this record. I started there and moved to the band’s obscure live double LP The Name of this Band is Talking Heads and then, in ’83, Speaking in Tongues. Then I jumped back to Fear of Music because, for me, post-Speaking in Tongues (except Stop Making Sense), the Heads became too radio-friendly and their fan base annoyed me – ‘music for college-bred intellectuals’ and the like. Not the Heads fault, certainly, but the ‘fans’ turned me off to the band.

So when I ran into More Songs About Buildings and Food at my local Naperville Half Price Books, I actually debated with myself if I should drop $10 on this or $10 in PIL’s Album.

So I asked myself – which album will probably have more listenable longevity for me. Album has the fantastic song Rise and the players on the record include Steve Vai and Ginger Baker. Lydon’s voice is also stellar on this disc. It has been on my hit-list for a long time.

Yet…my mind went back to my initial love for the Heads and, since this was their first excursion with Eno and was before Remain in Light and included the coolest rendition of Take Me to the River…and the iconic jacket artwork, which is a life-size photomosaic of Talking Heads that consisted of 529 close-up Polaroids….plus I’ve never seen it in local used stores until this encounter at HPB..and, oh yeah, The Big Country…so, shithead, I thought…More Songs About Buildings and Food is the clear winner.

There won’t be any debate of this sort when I finally encounter Talking Heads: 77. PIL or not…

© 2016 Chris Barry

In praise of the $1.00 LP

PC 9781

Purple Dog Records in Naperville, IL recently had an ‘overstock’ sale to liquidate albums of which they have too many.

And what a sale it was – 10 records for 10 bucks.

But – and this is where record collecting can get tough (or fun depending on your perspective) – you had to dig through 5 huge plastic bins of dreck in the hopes of finding treasure.

Most of the albums were beat to shit, jackets peeled, torn and frayed. Lots of apparent water damage. Record after record by the likes of Johnny Mathis, Herb Alpert, John Denver, Carly Simon and Barbra Streisand. I never knew Dan Fogelberg released as many records as he did until I started digging through overstock bins.

I came across Santana’s first release (called Santana) and the jacket looked like it had sustained some minor water damage – the paper board was rippled but the artwork (which was developed by Lee Conklin and is iconic), looked okay. Frankly, water damaged records can actually be fine – the jackets may be shot but the vinyl may not be impacted at all. Unless they were kept in a humid room in the wet jackets and stacked flat on top of other albums with wet jackets, which can cause warpage. And warped records should be avoided at almost all costs. I hate warped records.

And, even though Santana was a buck and I’ve wanted it since my sister used to spin it all the time during the early 70s, I wasn’t going to grab it if the vinyl had any visible signs of damage. When I checked it (and you can pull records out of their sleeves to check them before you buy them), the vinyl looked fine – dusty but without any deep scratches or pock marks. And no visible signs of warpage (you may not know this until you put it on your turntable).

So, for a dollar, I couldn’t lose.

When I played it on my Audio-Technica turntable at home I was surprised that there was virtually no noise on the run-on groove (that silent groove before the first song on either side of the LP starts) – and that’s always a good sign. But, even if that track has some speckled noise, it wouldn’t have necessarily been a deal breaker. And the record wasn’t warped.

In fact, I really lucked out on this LP – its playability is almost perfect with the occasional pop or click, which I don’t mind. The bass is heavier than I expected but that’s probably due to production than playability.

The one thing I do think about when playing Santana is how it had to have blown minds back in 1969. Its hard rock edge didn’t really dominate the airwaves back then. But the band did play Woodstock and the song Evil Ways was a Top 10 hit (it’s still a classic rock radio staple) yet, as whole, the record is an ethnic journey like no other at that time.

Santana is timeless.

© 2016 Chris Barry



ummagumma_webPink Floyd

Besides my hard and fast rule that I don’t purchase any used vinyl that’s filled with scuffs and divots just to have the record (whether a buck or $50 or $500), there are bands that – if I find a decent used copy – I simply don’t pass up (if I can afford them).

You gotta pick your poison.

I snag up any used Bob Marley records (if the vinyl’s in good shape) asap. Why? Because used Marley is rarely out there (as they say) ‘in the wild.’ I grabbed up a Natty Dread at a local record store called Purple Dog Records in Naperville, IL. For $15 large and clean vinyl, I was thrilled to even see one of these sitting on the shelf.

Same with the Cure. Anything used by the “oppressively dispirited” band almost never makes its way into a second-hand shop. I was lucky when I got both Faith and Pornography on vinyl – both on the Fiction label and both pristine. Again, Purple Dog records had this score. The cool thing? The owner of Purple Dog private messaged me on Facebook telling me these two Cures had just come in and he remembered me telling him that if he ever ran into anything by this band, to let me know. And he did! So it does pay to get to know your local record store owner…

Now – I paid a little more than I normally would for these records (I think around $30 apiece) BUT I knew how hard they were to find (I didn’t want reissues – though I’m sure Cure reissues are spectacular) so I bit the bullet and felt guilty for doing so on the drive home. But then I put them on the table and my guilt slowly melted away…

Another band that I snag up immediately is Pink Floyd. But almost always used Floyd is beat beyond recognition. And people that have Pink Floyd in their collections rarely give them up.

That said, I recently found an unbelievably clean Ummagumma at 2nd and Charles in Naperville for $6.50. EMI/Harvest label, gatefold, unmarked vinyl.

I certainly couldn’t argue with the price on this one, even though it’s not necessarily a Floyd fan favorite.

But for me? Perfect.

© 2016 Chris Barry


Jacket Covers

The Who By Numbers
MCA 37002

who_numbers_webIf I bought used vinyl based on jacket cover condition, I’d be miserable.

I got into this ‘collecting’ thing for the music. I don’t buy LPs based on anything but condition of the vinyl itself. If I pull a record out of its sleeve before purchasing and its loaded with scratches, scuffs, dirt, water residue – even if it’s a buck or less – I won’t buy it.

So if the vinyl’s good and I’ve been wanting the record – score.

What about the jacket? Hardcore purists won’t buy an album if the cover’s a little trashed – even if the vinyl’s good. No dog ears, no stains, no ‘autographs’ by previous owners.

But here’s an example of vinyl coming first – my copy of The Who By Numbers.

If you look at the photo of the jacket, you’ll see all sorts of collectible deal breakers. Its loaded with stains – either coffee or Coke splotches shot-gunned all over the thing.

Then, whoever owned it previously, decided to connect the dots on John, Pete, Keith and Roger. I suppose, when this thing was first released, doing so was a common temptation and some kids succumbed. The illustration was rendered by Who bassist John Entwistle so, in a sense, connecting the dots was kind of sacrilegious.

This record – not rare by any stretch – is easy to find at just about any store that sells used. But it’s actually tough to track down with the vinyl in playable condition and when I bought it, I’d been wanting to beef up my Who collection, especially 70s period Who when the boys were kicking and screaming down the addiction rabbit hole with Keith Moon leading the way.

I didn’t debate buying this based on the jacket condition – I just wanted to play it. And I haven’t been disappointed. It sounds great the way producer Glyn Johns intended it – heavy and clean.

© 2016 Chris Barry

Fly Like An Eagle

Steve Miller Band

fly_miller_webThis is a wonky head trip, with Miller in full technological vibe (guitar, synths and all) for what that’s worth mid-70s style (worth a lot I’m sayin’ cuz this thing’s recorded so well it streams up the needle, through the cart, along the tone arm, and then literally jumps outta your speakers) and, I swear, on the most lysergic cut, Wild Mountain Honey, I’m hearing a sitar floating amongst other cosmic sonic delights.

Not psychedelic but a perfect bong spin.

And check out that Robert Smith-like Cure rhythm guitar driving Serenade just hanging below Miller’s vocals, which melt all buttery over the proceedings. This is vocal authority pure and simple and its a shame this kinda stuff seems dated when compared to today’s auto-tune digital dreck.

Guest shots on this loopy opus include James Cotton blowin’ harp on the blues infusion Sweet Maree and Les Dudek stroking slide guitar on the album closer The Window.

So, like everything, this just sounds way best on vinyl but, here’s the deal, finding a clean version at your local LP dealer is almost impossible. Kids back in ’76 were prone to all kinds of vinyl abuse, smearing their hash oil greased fingers all over the grooves, not to mention dropping the needle without regard any old place on the circle. I’ve seen copies of this with such deep divots, I’d almost written it off as never making its way back (that’s right…back) into my collection. Sure, you’ll see it in used bins everywhere, but pull it outta the sleeve and inspect it. Even if you see it on the $1 shelves, don’t buy it if its all scratched up – you’ll be pissed when it itches its way around the platter.

The copy I landed was found at Half Price Books in Naperville, IL. I gave it a thorough once over before dropping a cool $5.99 on this beast, making sure there wasn’t a nick on it and the vinyl shone deep black. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll spin smooth. Not long ago I picked up what looked like a pristine Springsteen Tunnel of Love only to have it sound like it was covered in sand paper.

But, for the most part a good rule of thumb is that good looks are typically key to a swell ride. In the case of my recently acquired Fly Like An Eagle, this one soars.

© 2016 Chris Barry