I will spare you the suspense, as I know that you’ve been perched on the edge of your chair all year—I finally completed Bucket List Item #63: Visit every record store in Pittsburgh, PA. Ironically, it was also chronologically the 63rd completed item on my yearly list. Take a moment to catch your breath, I know you’re super stoked, and I’ll complete a brief recap for you; but, first, something that may blow your socks off: vinyl collectors are ridiculous.
I knew this adventure would demand a large portion of the year, but I didn’t think that it would take all year. Nonetheless, I visited 19 individual record shops, browsed innumerable milk crates, and braved deep and dark hallways filled (from floor to ceiling, in some instances) with thousands and thousands of records. And, yes, there is a take-away message to all of my vinyl ramblings, from one suburb to the next—of which I will gladly share with you now.
Yes, vinyl collectors are ridiculous.
But before you revoke my Man Card, report me to the Vinyl Club of America Police Force, or label me a hypocrite, I must clarify my statement. For alternate perspectives on my love affair with the vinyl music format, feel free to hop around to Bouncing into Graceland (Day 03); Katy Perry, the Record Fairy (Day 09); Vinyl Junkie (Day 40); Collecting Snap, Crackle, and Pop (Day 79); Record Store Day (Day 87); or F is for Floyd (of the Pink Variety) (Day 96). You may notice that my preoccupation with circular 12-inch music is significant.
So back to my bold proclamation, with clarification. If you are simply a person who collects vinyl albums for no other reason than “just because I can,” you are ridiculous, and—I may add—just a bit foolish. What I have found, over the course of the year, is that my personal motives for collecting vinyl albums have changed. When I first began to collect records, I was of the mindset that resonated with “Quantity Over Quality” motives. I wanted lots, without concern for the actual recording. It wasn’t about hoarding albums, but more reflecting an attitude of “yes, I want to listen to that and that and that too!”
I kind of like where I ended up at the conclusion of this year, flipping through one plastic bin of dusty records or another. I’m more of a “Quality Over Quantity” kind of guy now, and this better represents the Why of why I started collecting vinyl to begin with. Wise sages say that hindsight is 20/20, and I must say that I agree with them—if only I could have heeded their warning several years ago. At this point, I own 530 vinyl albums. It’s such a precise number, but I know the exact figure because I’ve cataloged each title on my iPhone app. Of which, I’ve probably listened to a quarter of the titles. I now find myself desiring to prune my extensive collection, however long that process will require, and maintaining a collection of music that I truly love and enjoy in the vinyl format.
So what is defined as quality over quantity? I guess that’s also a very subjective question. The answer for me lies in the end result of my 2017 record collection. Within one year, I acquired less than ten albums—many of which were gifts from other people. It seems that I’ve transitioned into collecting albums that only bring me joy, happiness, and fulfillment. In many instances, the albums fill a gap in music that I really love (as is the case with finding Pink Floyd titles), or titles that hold deep nostalgic value (as is the case with today’s photo, but more on the 3rd Bass boys later).
Even with a mindset of collecting titles that are significant to you and your appreciation of music, the cost of vinyl albums should prohibit you from going nuts in a shop and buying one of those and six of those.
Mister Dee and Me, Part II.
In a summer-induced spree, my cousin and I visited a handful of record shops—adventures outlined in Mister Dee and Me (Day 141). Today’s narrative is a culmination in my record store expeditions, and my cousin (visiting from Arizona for Christmas break) was an integral component in completing my bucket list item for the year.
For the record (yeah, I just noticed the pun), I have no idea what he collects. I’ve noticed that he spends a significant amount of time flipping through Jack White or The White Stripes or Third Man Records titles. Beyond that, each of us have our own motives for shopping or browsing. From one store to the next, we separate to our sonic areas of interest, finally reconvening with a statement of “I’m ready to go, when you’re ready” to the other. I don’t believe that the art of record store exploration needs to be more complicated than that approach, and that’s why I like browsing stores with him.
Vinyl is the real deal. I’ve always felt like, until you buy the vinyl record, you don’t really own the album. And it’s not just me or a little pet thing or some kind of retro romantic thing from the past. It is still alive. ~ Jack White
We have dedicated a morning and afternoon to pursue the last seven stores on my punch list. The arc of travel spans Pittsburgh, and, from one neighborhood to the next, we systematically tackle all seven locations, with varying success. I guess that I am a bit of a record store snob, or perhaps I have just acquired a refined sense of balance. I clearly have my preferences: a small, non-chain store to a giant warehouse, eclectic house music over Top 40 Hits of Today, precise organization instead of boxed and random presentation of material, and a minimal sense of expertise (or perceived expertise) from the staff.
Is that too much to ask for? Seemingly, yes. Regardless, we visit all of the locations, with a relaxing lunch break wedged in the center of our day. My cousin, Mister Dee, purchases a bunch of records, and I don’t even care to count. I, on the other hand, end my day with a single $15 purchase.
The purchase of this specific album is a nod to the nostalgic days of my teenage years. In 1989, the hip hop trio named 3rd Bass released The Cactus Al/Bum—The Cactus Cee/D or The Cactus Cas/Ette, depending on your selected format. As a young man of only sixteen years, I loved hip hop and rap. While the musical genre isn’t my primary source of entertainment now, this is an illustration of how to simply own the facts of your youth—you can’t change the Who of who you were, you can only choose to forget or ignore.
Drumroll, please…datta datta datta…and the clear winner of Pittsburgh’s Record Store Challenge and Comparison is Juke Records which is located in Bloomfield. The retail store is small, but not tiny; precisely organized so that you can easily find music by artist and genre; balanced between current music and stuff that you’ve never head of before, but you should be listening to it; and honestly priced products, not obscenely marked up beyond online retailers.
Thanks Serch! / And now for the Prime Minister / Sinister Pete N-hi-hi-hi-hi-hi-hice! / Nice Nice Nice ~ Gas Face by 3rd Bass
Once I have some quiet time at home, I open the sealed package, and drop the needle on my brand new record: a brief instrumental followed by “Here’s my advice to all amateurs planning to give a performance / Speak up, and keep the act moving.” The rapped lyrics and upbeat tempo are significantly different than other preferred music—again, Pink Floyd for example—and the words can be likened to a foreign language, yet familiar like an old friend—after nearly 30 years, we have much to discuss and get caught up on.