I love MP3s. They let me listen to my favourite music wherever I am. They let me see what my best friends are listening to at any given time. They are also massively accessible and can significantly reduce the risk factor when trying out something new.
However, I also hate MP3s. Gone it seems are the days when people get excited about sleeve designs, lyrics and the hidden little gems you often find in the linear notes. Gone are the days when my mates and I used to spend literally hours in record shops, flicking through records, chatting to the staff about music and trying to find the next awesome thing. Gone also, and perhaps most importantly I think, are the days when music told stories.
And that is what this post is about - I wanted to share some of the stories behind some of my favourite bits of physical music, because stories are what give music it’s soul. I hope you enjoy reading and feel inspired to do something similar.
These are my fave Against Me! singles. They came out between the first and second LPs, and all my mates and me were massively caught up in the AM hype, so these were both super exciting. It's always nice when a band cares enough to re-record songs for singles, instead of just using the album version. Even nicer when some of the re-recordings are acoustic versions of electric songs, or visa versa. Awesome sleeve designs, as well as see-through orange and lickable-lollipop vinyl! Love it.
This was my first experience of what I like to call “special” vinyl - vinyl that looks better but sounds worse. I was about 15 or 16 and at some sort of BMX festival somewhere in the west of England, stoned out of my mind, and we were browsing through the second-hand-smelling record shops. Flicking through the punk section, a flash of red wax caught my eye. It have been my state of mind that found the marble effect so entrancing, but I bought it anyway and it’s still one of my faves today - arguably garage punk at it’s best. It’s also beautifully cut, and each side needs to be spun at different speeds.
During my first trip to my favourite city of all time, San Francisco, I'd planned a whole day of walking around the city, visiting all the cool record shops I’d made a list of. There was about 12 or so, and I’d drastically underestimated the distance - the first one, somewhere on Mission, took me an hour to walk to, and it was closed when I got there. I figured I’d wait for it to open (it was about 9:30am) and somehow ended up loitering with some Mexicans who were hanging on the corner (typically under a "no loitering" sign). I knew they were only entertaining me with their Mexican tales so they could pinch more of my Lucky Strikes, but I didn’t care. When the store eventually opened (about an hour later) I spent a surprisingly short amount of time inside - what I wanted was in the window anyway: The Ramones Eaten Alive! volume 2 - Live in New York in 1982 cut into the sexiest picture disk I've ever laid eyes on. I left the store proudly clutching my expensive purchase underarm, with a massive grin on my face and it took me an hour and a half to reach the next record store.
One of my best friends gave me this as he had two. It’s special for two reasons. A limited run of 1000 of these each had a different polaroid taken by the band stuck on the front - mine’s of the sleeve of the Wincing the Night Away LP leaning against a guitar amp. A pretty cool concept I think. Also the song “Phantom Limb” is a different version than that on the aforementioned album - it’s fast, upbeat and generally awesome.
A friend and I used to play in a two-piece acoustic band - the song “California Burritos” off this two song EP was our main inspiration. Every time we practiced we played this song, every time we stumbled out the pub we sang it to the streets at the top of our voices, but we never played it live for some reason. If there is a song to define that small part of my life, then this is it; it brings the memories back more than a set of photographs ever could.
NOFX have always been one of those staple bands you can rely on to release a good album, and the singles that come with them are always decent. I’ve included this particular one here not only because the song is ace, but because of the artwork. Despite my love of zombies, I’ve never been able to draw them. I still can’t to be honest, but this single made me try at least; I nearly went through a roll of tracing paper during one rainy Sunday afternoon.
When I lived in Bristol I worked on a few travelling record fairs with one of my best mates, who lived in Newport. We basically had to go to any given town somewhere in the west country, haul loads of boxes of heavy records out a van and set them up in a hall/warehouse/whatever. We then had to go around said (often shite) town, telling every Tom, Dick and Harry about the fact that they could buy proper music in town for that day only. The second half of the day was spent selling stuff, taking money etc
and we were paid £30 plus a record of our choice. I’d spotted this see-through picture disk of a Queers live show earlier in the day, and it was going to be mine. It was however, getting quite a lot of interest; I planned numerous ways to put people off it and actually had to say to one guy that it was a shite recording. Needless to say, I won it in the end, and I love it. It also features some of my favourite song titles ever, notably “Granola Head”, “Fuck You”, “Fuck the World”, and “I Hate Everything”.
Sometimes a seemingly average indie album has the power to make a selective few people fall in love with it. No one else will understand why you love it so much, and neither will you. The Stands’ Horse Fabulous is one of those albums for me; every one I play it to, people who generally like a good dose of Beatles-inspired North Western indie music, can’t get into it. But I love it, the melodies, the simplicity, the subtleties and the artwork. Oh the artwork - how beautiful it is. The LP and the singles (pictured) all follow the same conventions of graphic representations of stereo equipment, and when combined with the type, the whitespace, and of course the graphical ‘backs’ of the stereo equipment on the reverse side of the sleeves, is genius.
Because I was a bit skint when this LP came out, I had to download it - after all there was no way I could’ve waited a month to listen to it, especially following the genius that is Black Sheep Boy. As is common with music downloads, it soon blended into the vastness of an iTunes library, a place where it would get listened to, but never really treasured. Then, on one dreary day in the Erskine office (probably during the Dark Ages), Till it Kicks came on over Swinfield’s shuffle, and the feeling of elation that came over me was immense. The cold suddenly felt tepid, and the office seemed to brighten a little. The feeling spurred me immediately to spend one of my last tenners on this baby. I can also now say that if you haven’t heard OR on vinyl, then you really need to get to your local record store.