Many of us hang onto our stuff long after we’ve stopped using it because it has strong memories associated with it. Here’s a pile of record albums I took to the CD/ music shop this week because I haven’t listened to them in years, and the folks there are actually paying cash for vinyl. Sure, it’s only 5% to 10% of what I paid for most of these albums in the first place, but I can’t be bothered with trying to sell my old music online.
To say that I’m not a technologically up-to-date person any more is a vast understatement. I could not care less about owning an Ipod and paying to upload songs, and I still like CDs. But I’m finally getting rid of my record albums – decades after most of my friends unloaded theirs – because the vinyl is heavy and bulky, thus a pain to move, and I haven’t listened to some of this stuff in years. As the decluttering/ organizing experts tell us, if you keep schlepping things you aren’t using, you’re wasting time and energy that can be devoted to pursuits that make you happy. If I suddenly get the urge to listen to a particular song, as I do from time to time, that’s what YouTube is for. The only disadvantage of YouTube and CDs: the cover art is smaller. But I guess everything except fast-food servings is tinier these days.
Another up side to ditching the records: the (cute) clerk at our local non-chain music shop enjoyed going through them to see how much store credit they’d offer me. Apparently he doesn’t see many collections that include Billie Holiday, the Beatles, boatloads of ’80s new wave, and quite a bit of ’70s lesbian folk music. That’s me, Ms. Eclectic!
This is not a comprehensive survey of my favorite music; it’s just some reminiscing before I clean out my living room record bin.
- The Cure, Japanese Whispers, 1983: Long before The Cure was discovered by every goth kid on the planet, they had an indie-new wave fan base of young folks who liked to hit the dance floor to do “The Walk.” This album brings back fond memories of spinning records on my college radio show and dancing in a New York City nightclub with a cute Dominicano college classmate I had a crush on. We used to dance to “Let’s Go to Bed” while avoiding doing so – each of us had a girlfriend. Hm, both 1983 and crushes seem to be recurring themes as I go through my old vinyl…
- The (English) Beat, Special Beat Service, 1982: Same boy, same crush, different song: “Save It for Later”: “Two dozen other stupid reasons/ why we should suffer for this/ don’t bother trying to explain them/ just hold my hand while I come/ to a decision on it…” The group had a mellower, more mature sound on this album than on their first two. The Beat shot the video for this song in the Cavern Club in Liverpool; their saxophonist had played with Desmond Dekker and with the Beatles. Nuff said.
- Speaking of whom… Yes, I’m starting to get rid of my Beatles albums. Anyone who knew me in high school might be shocked – I was a Beatles fanatic who scraped together allowance and babysitting money to buy original Apple records from classmates who were scraping together cash to buy guitars for their boy bands. But do I really need those “posthumous” compilation albums I haven’t listened to since, uh, 1985? Goodbye, Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl and Love Songs; thanks for the memories. Selling the remastered Japanese virgin vinyl copy of Abbey Road is more painful, but still doable. Sigh.
- Eurythmics, Touch, 1983: What queer who came of age in the 1980s can forget Annie Lennox’s carrot-colored crewcut and smoky vocals, her women’s makeup and men’s suits on Top of the Pops and the Grammy Awards show? The lyrics were pretty simple and Dave Stewart’s electronic keyboard noodling typical of the era, but her voice, her face… Folks of all genders were going ga-ga over Annie. Great cover photo, too. “Fallin’ on my head like a memory…”
- The Police, Outlandos d’Amour, 1979: Pretentious title, amazing songs. Yeah, they’re British white boys who stole Black music forms and made ’em palatable for the white masses. So did the Beatles. Watching The Police’s ’80s videos now is embarrassing, but the music is still high-energy fun. “Can’t Stand Losing You” is a suicide comedy classic, sort of the young-punk musical version of Harold and Maude. And I still can’t hear the name Roxanne without recalling that dumb plea to a hooker from her boyfriend who thinks only he should own her.
- Elton John, Honky Chauteau, 1972: Wait a minute – “I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself” might be the best suicide comedy classic. But it lacks the irony that only Sting could inject. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is still a lovely tune, but I think “Honky Cat” and “Rocket Man” haven’t aged as gracefully – this vinyl was pressed long before humans were sending rovers to Mars.
- John Lennon, Some Time in New York City, 1972: Widely acknowledged as Lennon’s worst album, a humorless political tract. He said at the time that he wanted to record albums that resembled newspapers, with songs written and released quickly to comment on current events – thus the cover designed to look like the New York Times. Interesting concept; too bad the melodies were uninspired and the lyrics turgid. Maybe I hung onto this record for so long because I was amused by the pre-Photoshop cover shot of a naked Nixon and Chairman Mao cuttin’ a rug at a sock hop.
- Phranc, I Enjoy Being a Girl, 1989: From the collection of Boulder, Colorado’s alternative radio station, KGNU. Worth keeping for years simply for the cover photo, a gorgeous head-and-shoulders shot of Phranc sporting her famous flattop, makeup (!), and a bright red turtleneck, gazing dreamily into the distance and holding a glass of very white milk. I love the ironic “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” and “Take Off Your Swastika” is still a good anti-fascist-skinhead anthem. This album reminds me of seeing her in concert in Boulder in the mid-’90s at a venue on The Hill. Unfortunately, Phranc never made it big, even on the indie or lesbian circuit – about a dozen of us turned out for the show that night, so I got to simultaneously drool over her and try to hide my adulation. A lesbian friend from Iowa teased me about it: “Oh, I suppose you think Leslie Feinberg is hot, too.” Well, as a matter of fact, I did, at least in the ’90s. Funny, a couple of decades later, young trans guys are the hottest thing goin’ on Seven Sisters campuses – so I got the last laugh.
- Cat Stevens, Greatest Hits, 1975 (I think): Long before he was Yusuf Islam, the man could write a good pop song. I spent years getting melancholy to “Wild World,” and I still like his version of “Peace Train” better than any cover recorded since.
- Toots and the Maytals, Funky Kingston, 1973: A classic. Why am I getting rid of this? Oh, yeah, YouTube. Brings back memories of riding around the back roads of Western New York with my former creative writing adjunct after smoking black hash with his dealer. The best version of a John Denver song ever, “Country Road.” West Jamaica, Western New York… Hey, in those days, I took whatever I could get.
- Suzanne Vega, self-titled, 1985: A co-worker upon whom I had a crush that year was really into this album, so being a good little codependent, I got into it too. But hey, so did millions of other music fans. Her tales of queens, knights, soldiers, movie stars, and prostitutes seemed fresh back then; now I blame her for the spate of whiny, little-girl-voiced singer-songwriters with which we’ve been plagued since. And the roles available to women in her songs were anachronistic in ’85: “little girl, wife, mistress, lady fair”? Come on! “If I had met you on some journey…” I’d probably have slapped the acoustic guitar out of your slim white hands.
The compilations and EPs (extended plays)
- Elton John Band featuring John Lennon and the Muscle Shoals Horns, 1981: Great versions of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” recorded at Madison Square Garden during Lennon’s 18-month, drug-soaked separation from Yoko Ono and affair with May Pang. (I can’t believe I still remember this stuff 32 years after my Beatles obsession gave way to other adolescent passions. I guess my long-term memory is intact.)
- Fun Boy Three, “Our Lips Are Sealed,” 1983: Fun Boy Three was a multiracial, British band, formed by former members of the Specials, that lasted only two years, but they produced some interesting music. I kept this one for years just for the version in Urdu. To say that this was my first exposure to a language besides the three taught in my working-class, suburban high school is an understatement. I bought this long-play more as a reaction against the sticky-sweet, Top 40 version by the Go-Gos, but ended up loving it – the British accents, the darker instrumentation. And the Urdu.
- Rounder Folk 2, 1990-something: Another one from KGNU days in Boulder; I used to love to play this and dance with my cat Sam in my dumpy little $300 studio apartment in a basement on The Hill. It’s probably worth keeping simply because I’ve driven so many ex-lovers mad by playing Cathy Fink’s cover of “I’d Like to Be a Cowgirl” (“but ooh, I’m scared o’ cows!”).
- The Secret Policeman’s Ball, 1980: The recording of a 1979 Amnesty International benefit concert in London. Perhaps the beginning of the acoustic cover version trend, with Tom Robinson singing “Glad to Be Gay” – something he refused to do when he was promoting a new album when I saw him in concert in Rochester at the famous Triangle Theater in 1980. And the very drunk Pete Townshend does acoustic versions of “Pinball Wizard,” and “Drowned” from Quadrophenia. One of the quieter albums I owned in those days.