Record shopping tips for the vinyl lover on your list.

And no, this is not my way of hinting at what I’d like for Christmas (though I never do turn down the gift of a record). This post is actually inspired for the many conversations I’ve had with people and the few gifts I’ve received.

Before we get to the what, let’s meditate briefly on the why:

The Experience

It starts with the album art. Records are pretty big, much more noticeable than cassette tapes or CDs, and as such have big cases. A person wouldn’t want to put shoddy art on a case that big so the result was decades of outstanding album art (go ahead, look at the cases for the lion’s share of new CDs and tell me how great the art is). It’s a gateway into the sonic world the artist wishes to create for us and, to me, this is a very important first step.

Second, without getting too much into the why, records actually do sound better. And no, I’m not saying it in the way a geriatric person might scoff at new technology. I love technology, dearly. And, as a composer, working in a digital medium has been a great big huge part of my life. However, because analog sound formats don’t consolidate the sound waves into ones and zeroes, records have a fuller warmer sound.

Third, and to me the most important, is the linear experience. Today people have the option to buy their music a song at a time. As such, you don’t see many of the unique structural elements such as bizarre instrumental tracks or experimental little things that made an album into a journey as opposed to 10-20 songs all lined up. It’s like watching a movie; You wouldn’t want to chop one of those up into little pieces and watch them out of order, would you?

Some Don’ts

Let me just start with Peter Frampton. There’s a joke in Wayne’s World 2 where Cassandra buys Wayne some records, one of which is Frampton Comes Alive, to which he jokes, “Everybody in the world has Frampton Comes Alive. If you lived in the suburbs you were issued it. It came in the mail with samples of Tide,”. This is funny because it’s not. Everyone really does have this album, I got mine at Jive Time in Fremont for 99¢. Great album, whoever you’re shopping for already has it.

For that matter, be very careful when shopping for classic rock albums. Here’s a hint, if you’re at a used record store, and certain rock artists seem to be overly available on the shelf, chances are your vinyl lover has already taken advantage of this fact.

Avoid compilations. “Best of” albums are alright, but they rob a person of the linear experience. Especially be careful with classical music. Only buy classical albums if a specific work is noted (ie. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier,).

And whatever you do, don’t ever buy seasonal or novelty records. Just don’t. You might find something clever/charming/funny but it’ll likely end up collecting dust. Buy CDs if you must go this route.

Some Do’s

If the package is not sealed, do look at the record. Dusty pops are a fine part of listening to a record, it really does add to the warmth of an album, but if you see many deep scratches then chances are this record will skip. This is not an endearing quality of vinyl, it’s just a pain.

Here’s another tip, don’t be afraid do go weird. Most people collect old rock albums, but feel free to broaden some horizons. Your Pink Floyd fan might enjoy a little Philip Glass or Steve Reich. Your Yes fan might take to Bach’s fugues like a duck to water. Get creative!

Feeling lost? Try looking at the artwork. I’ll admit to having used this trick for purchasing things like wine and *gasp* books. True, it won’t work every time, but at least your vinyl lover will have something pretty to look at.

Try buying new. “What’s that,” you say? Yes, many current albums are released on vinyl and it’s amazing how many people don’t know that. A word of caution though, there are places like Fred Meyer that have a small selection of like 20 new records for amazingly high prices. Ebay is a great tool, and did you know Amazon has a vinyl store? It takes a small bit of digging to find but, hey, look who just linked to it?

If you don’t know where to get em used, here are some suggestions. Thrift stores, pawn shops, yard sales, Craig’s list, the occasional antique store, and certain larger music chains, but not the ones you’d find in shopping malls.

And most of all have fun. This is very much why I embraced this format with enough passion to write this ginormous entry (with the sweet sounds of Frampton Comes Alive serenading me in the background, and I’m not making that up). So from me to you and the vinyl lover on your list, have a very merry Christmas. May you both have sweet sweet sounds aplenty to bring you into the new year!

-Z

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2 comments so far

  1. intelekshual on

    Easy Street has a pretty extensive vinyl selection, too.

  2. seasvcvacant on

    Yeah, I love Easy Street. Also Sonic Boom and Cellophane Square, I’ve not checked out Silver Platters yet.


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