The Life of Vinyl in the Material World
By Freddie Bond
I walked into my local HMV store just after Christmas. I was surprised its doors were still open as I thought HMV had gone bust last year, so I assessed the vinyl section which, to my surprise, was larger than I ever remembered it being. Shelves lined the room, famous faces and names with their own sections, all tightly packed in shrink wrap and glistening in the early afternoon winter sun. Just out of interest, I was looking for Hak Baker’s new album Worlds End FM, and finally found it in the HipHop and R&B section. I didn’t buy it as I was just curious and looking round the shop. Vinyl has become more and more popular over the last couple of years, with sales peaking those of CDs for the first time since 1987. My interest and fascination with vinyl began during the first lockdown, where I set up shop on eBay and traded second hand records. It was immensely fulfilling and I, for a short while, was penned “Stattooh!” by my family for being able to recall the serial numbers of certain Beatles LPs from the 1960s. Therefore, flipping through the vinyl section of HMV had me pondering on the price of vinyl in the digital world and why it is still so appealing. In this piece, I will discuss my brush with second hand selling of vinyl and why the “Vinyl Boom” has maintained its increasing popularity.
The Vinyl LP album format spawned a host of fabulous personal pieces of Art which, as the consumer, took on a life of themselves. The Beatles’ White Album has been wonderfully described as a blank canvas, with the 12” slate being taken to by many Beatles fans, looking to decorate their very own psychedelic square. The interactive length Artist’s in the 1960s and 1970s went to (which must have cost the record label a bomb) to connect with fans is remarkable. Hawkwind’s flurry of albums in the seventies contained marvellous “fold out” covers. Creating a large poster effect, Warrior on the Edge of Time (1975) folded out into a double-sided image, one of a fantastical mountain scene with a knight on horseback and a pink moon, on the flipside a Viking style shield. Warhol’s work with the Velvet Underground and the Rolling Stones spawned interactive Art pieces involving a peelable banana and a real zip. His work in these cases materially expressed the mood for experimentation and that of pushing the boat out during that period. The oil painting for In the Court of the Crimson King by King Crimson was completed not long before the Artist, Barry Godber’s unexpected death. That arresting image of a contorted open-mouthed face is still widely used in music shops and posters alike. The honourable mentions list for the greatest LP Artworks is endless, but they do prove a point in the so-called superiority of vinyl and perhaps why its popularity is increasing today. But the huge price tags on some vinyl sets and reissues is staggering. There were records in HMV that if you flicked through a record shop’s stock you would find for half the price, some even cheaper. With digital music already at our fingertips, why reissue some records which sold in their thousands and were reproduced excessively brand new? Should we not encourage new vinylheads to scour the record stores and second-hand shops for these already highly accessible pieces? It whiffs of the capitalist machine continuing to grind on and as always, we the consumer, get the lesser end of the deal.
During the lockdown of 2020 I started selling Vinyl to keep my spirits up and to busy myself. I had no idea that the little business venture I’d started out with would turn, in the months of lockdown, into a full-blown record shop. I sold around 2500 records in that period, with many genres and ages completing my vinyl stock. Primarily though, I sold rock and pop albums from the seventies and eighties as these proved the most popular and lucrative. I had before lockdown just got into vinyl and had begun creating my own setup and collection. I would scour my local charity shops and record shops but with lockdown bringing the closure of my favourite stores, moved my hunting primarily online. To say my eBay wantlist was longer than that of Father Christmas would be an understatement. I would stay up late watching auctions and talking to sellers about potential collections I would buy. They ranged from small personal collections to shops attempting to sell off their entire catalogues. I would purchase these collections, divide them up and listen to the more valuable pieces to check their condition and overall sound quality, ready to be graded, photographed and put up on eBay. This opened my mind to hundreds of artists and albums I had never laid eyes on before. I remember vividly staying up very late listening to first editions of John Coltrane’s 1961 album My Favourite Things or the ultra-rare UK press of The Stooges 1969 debut The Stooges, which lucky for me, I found in a collection in mint condition. Other gems I stumbled upon included a factory sample of the Beatles 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or a very early “Plum Press” of the 1969 Led Zeppelin debut Led Zeppelin I to name just a few. Looking back now I wish I had told my seventeen-year-old self to keep an excel spreadsheet of every LP I sold as this would make for intriguing reading. One thing I particularly enjoyed about the job was the interactions I would have with members of the public selling their own pasts on the internet. People would explain to me where they bought this album or that single, or that they remembered dancing to this one at a friend’s house back in the sixties. Some records would even contain drawings, letters, fan mail and photographs in them. Records were a key part of people’s lives before the digital collection with many having names written on the labels of their favourite LPs, as to not lose them at a party or gathering. It was all these personal touches that helped me fall in love with selling second hand vinyl and that in my head I felt that these items, whatever they were, had had long journeys of their own before they ever fell into my hands.
Though I no longer sell vinyl records as the boom has priced me out of the market, I still, whenever I pop into a charity shop or second-hand store, flick through the vinyl section. I know from experience that in charity shops you can, after flicking through numerous Val Doonican, Perry Como and Andy Williams LPs stumble upon gems for a wildly slashed price. For me as well, it was always about the hunt. If I found a record and I felt as though I’d got it for a steal and I really had to look for it, I tended to feel more attached to it and sentimental. It is always a nice exercise to remind oneself where they found all these weird and wonderful records. So, if in the future you find yourself on the lookout for vinyl and you’re bored of it being so easy, get into the nook and crannies of these types of shops and you never know what you will unearth, maybe a gem, or maybe yet another Leo Sayer LP from some grandmas dusty old collection.
Hawkwind’s 1975 album the Warrior on the Edge of Time. (Amazing fold out cover Art!)
The Velvet Underground and Nico 1967 Vinyl with Peelable Banana.
The Rolling Stones doing a photoshoot to promote their 1971 album Sticky Fingers. Cover art by Andy Warhol. (Featured a fully functional zip, which yes would get stuck!!)