If you’re looking to put the needle down for the first time, these simple guidelines should help you take that leap forward into LPs.
1. Never throw out your semi-embarrassing teenaged records (even when they include Ozzy Osbourne’s “Speak of the Devil.”)
Yes, that is probably raspberry jam and not the inside of a bat’s head. But give the man credit for trying. Some records aren’t high art. They’re postcards. I always get a shiver when I hear Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” or Chicago’s “Hard to Say I’m Sorry.” Suddenly, I’m 13 again and Jenny Geracht is just barely tolerating a stiff-armed slow dance.
If you scour my collection, you’ll certainly find all the stuff I’m proud of – Joni Mitchell, the Clash, Thelonious Monk, Fritz Wunderlich, D’Angelo (white vinyl!), the Kinks, Public Enemy – but you’ll also find the core of my Columbia House Record Club acquisitions. Some Def Leppard, Tears for Fears and, yes, Oingo Boingo.
2. Buying a turntable: Beware of cute record players that look old.
You’ve seen them at Urban Outfitters. Those cute, little, brightly colored Crosley turntables. And they’re only $79! Only one problem: They’re terrible. They don’t just sound bad. They are built so poorly that you’ll find your records playing slightly slower or faster before long. And what’s more, record geeks tell me the tonearms on the players are so heavy they’ll wear down your vinyl. You wouldn’t cook your Thanksgiving pies in a Holly Hobbie Electric Bake oven. Don’t let your records get ground down on a toy turntable. If you want portable, look for a used Califone, which you can find online for as little as $50. (Audiophiles will complain about these as well, but I think they’re being too picky.) If you want a separate turntable that plugs into a receiver, go retro. My Dual 1219 ($160 from a Russian dude I found on Craiglist) works perfectly fine and it has a wood-grained finish.
3. You’re a collector, not a hoarder.
No music lover wants to find the skull of his missing cat behind a stack of John Denver records. So unless nostalgia applies, let go of one-hit wonders and pap with no connection to your past. You don’t need Debby Boone’s “You Light Up My Life” or Men Without Hats. That’s what Spotify is for. Be willing to set some vinyl free. Because Captain & Tennille and the Feelies just can’t live together.
4. Storage. No milk crates. This isn’t your dorm room.
If you believe that every proper home needs bookshelves, this should be easy. Make the bottom shelf the record space. Organize them alphabetically for convenience. (Though you don’t need to separate by genre. That’s anal.) You also don’t need every record on display. Take the B-level vinyl – yes, Bad Company and anything by Andrew Lloyd Webber – and maintain a neat, portable shelf in the basement. My main vinyl supply is in two spots. That aforementioned bottom shelf in the living room and a pair of thick shelves made of rough-hewn pine and iron brackets (for the excessive weight) in my office. Keep your records off the floor because there is nothing more painful than a Staple Singers LP that’s been spoiled by a burst pipe.
5. Art matters.
There isn’t much I need to say here. Just sit back and stare.
Lambert/Hendricks/Ross: “Sing a Song of Basie”
The Cars: “The Cars”
Miles Davis: “Bitches Brew”
The Clash: “London Calling”
Robert Craft and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra:Berg/Webern/Schoenberg
6. The super-geeky record-cleaning machine.
Remember when I said you don’t have to spend a lot on your turntable? Well, here’s my irrational flip side. You’ll pick up records that are dusty or look like they’ve been smeared by a Quarter Pounder With Cheese. The best solution? A record-cleaning machine. I’ve been told/lectured that soapy water does just fine, but does the sink have a special vacuum arm that lowers itself on your vinyl and sucks off the special alcohol-cleaning scrub? I think not. The VPI HW 16.5 isn’t cheap. It can run you, new, close to $750. But if you’re lucky – and I was – you can find a used model that’s perfectly good for half that price. Happy listening, kids!
Thanks to Chicago Tribune for this article.