Record Store Road Show #1: Record Store Day 2017 – SRC Vinyl Niagara Falls, Ontario

IMG_20170423_193537989With my son’s friends and their families having planned a birthday party four months ahead, and my lack of memory for dates, I found myself in unfamiliar territory on RSD 2017. Instead of the usual 3- 4 stores I would hit in Toronto; I was down to one shop in Niagara Falls, Ontario and possibly another in Buffalo, New York if too many of my wish list titles were missed.

Having unpacked, and having absolutely no desire to fly down a mixture of plastic and H2O to scream “weeeeeeeeeeeeee,” as my aging back begs stop, I take note vote of a need for a different activity.  Just because I’m a geek in need of a walk, I use Google Maps to get me over to SRC Vinyl the night before Record Store Day so I can make sure I don’t get lost the following morning. Sunrises and I don’t have a good track record with established coherent thought, so having prior knowledge of where I’m going is helpful. Besides that, it gets me away from the water park and into a record store. The phone app takes me through an alley and a couple of residential streets before I arrive at a place that should have been a straight line with a single left. Any more directions and the damn phone would have taken me over the falls in a barrel.

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Every independent record store has a vibe of its own. A feel that can’t really be reproduced. There was a Milwaukee store that had a lot of open brick and a large shelving system suspended by chains from the ceiling. At the time, I saw it in the late 90’s, it was the best damn store I had ever seen. Just last year in St. Augustine, there is a place I visited that isn’t much bigger than postage stamp, but a cooler selection of new records than every store I had been to in Orlando.

The curious thing, every store seems to be measured by how closely the staff resembles the misfits of High Fidelity.  The Nick Hornby classic book, turned John Cusack/Jack Black movie, has become a music geek touch stone by which record stores seem to be judged. Honestly, people in RSD lines over the years keep bringing it up. Regardless of gender, race etc…, it seems that staff need the correct balance of knowledge and attitude to be taken seriously. In this case, it’s exactly what you expect. The staff are awesome. You ask questions and you’ll get real answers. Which is good, because half the fun of the record store is talking with like minded music geeks about any subject that crosses your mind… just because you speak the same language.

It’s probably about a thousand square feet, but the selection is much better than any similar sized store I’ve been at in mid size city. So, my expectations are pretty high for the following morning. Then again, as a teen I tried to convince my doctor I had an allergy to the rise of the sun as it puts me in a foul mood. Didn’t work, but I’m sure you see the point.

The thing is, standing in line for 75 minutes’, half asleep and cold with a cell phone in my hands playing a Settlers of Catan app in place of company, it can lead to odd observations that match that wee hours’ crabby attitude.

SRC is directly across the street from a funeral home that claims to be Canada’s first. (I’m picturing an advertisement along the lines of “Serving The Dead Since 1826,” but, ya know, I’m no ad exec.) In front of the entrance of that home is a large ornamental clock with their business name. Metaphors begin to swirl in my mind. Just what the hell does a funeral home with a clock in front of it say about life and death.

Time is limited?

Your time is coming?

Your time is due?

There is just so many useless thoughts that pop up as you stare at a clock in front of a funeral home. I mention this to the guy beside me, and he points out the ‘Gentleman’s Club’ beside the hotel for the newly deceased. “What do you make of that?” he says. All I can tell him is, “a comedian could make a thousand jokes. However, I’m just not that funny.” At that he laughs.

As with every RSD, there is always the passer by that approaches the random strangers with the second-hand smoke dancing around them and asks just why people are waiting outside a record store. The one non-smoker answers.

“Oh, is it a sale?”

“Not exactly. There selling new and limited release records.”

“Records. I have a bunch from when I was younger. I wonder what they’re worth? People still listen to records?”

“Yes.”

“I saw a news story about people buying records again, but I also heard people get music for free off the internet, so I couldn’t figure out why people still buy records.”

“Some people care about the quality of music and musicians getting payed I suppose.”

“Maybe. But why would I pay when I can get it for free. I’m off to get my Starbucks. Nice chatting.”

“Have a good day.”

The line moves forward just after that. SRC is extremely organized and ready. Going in we receive ballots for a Third Man Records package, and bang you are off to the races.

Now, lining up and being within the first dozen people is great, but it is an advantage that only lasts seconds. Right behind the few are the many, and they all have their lists too. Glimpsing at my own, I start to quickly scan the displays.

David Bowie – Cracked Actor… “THANK YOU!”

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Ramones – Singles Box… “That’s mine!”

The Cure – Acoustic Hits (picture disc)…  “Yep”

Big Star – Complete Third Box… “Oh yeah!”

Bruce Springsteen … “holy shit. That’s over a …. No thank you!”

The Smiths… Damn! Someone snags it as my hand is reaching out. By now the store is crowded and people are flipping through everything. With that I start to go into shelves.

S for Spoon…. “All right!”

N for Nilsson… “Oooooh, only one copy… and I got it… Awesome!”

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F for Flaming Lips… “Oh come on! It was a guaranteed Merry Christmas gift! A sure ‘you’re the best brother ever!’ DAMN!”

In line, ahead of me some ‘dillhole’ is trying to buy multiple copies of an RSD title, which of course, is strictly against the rules.

“Look, I could go through the line again, and then it wouldn’t be the same purchase!”

“I can’t sell you multiples!”

“Look, it’s just one extra.”

“I’m not allowed to do that.”

Let’s stop for one second here folks. She can’t sell him multiples. Really! RSD enforces this policy with banishment. Meaning they wouldn’t get to sell RSD titles again. You are asking a small business to give up thousands in sales so you can buy something for your buddy or flip it on e-bay. It isn’t going to happen, so don’t ask.

“It’s just…”

“Can’t do it. But I will put it back on the shelf for you.”

With that, the battle with the ‘me, myself and I customer’ ends and I get to make my purchase.

“You handled that well.” I remark.

Without a hint of cynicism, she replies “It’s my favourite day of the year… and that wasn’t bad at all.” As I pay in cash she apologizes for having to break open a roll of loonies. I remark, “Oh my god, how dare you cost me a couple seconds opening a roll of change. This is the worst day of my life and I blame you.” She chuckles politely at my horrible attempt at humour.

I get out of the store, and look at the clock. I feel the passport in my jacket pocket. There are several items I really want that, like with every RSD, the local store didn’t receive. It is just part of the experience. So, the question that hangs in the air. Do I cross a border? The stupid clock across the street taunts me.

Do you really have the time?

“Stupid f@#king clock and stupid f@#king metaphors” I say to the stupid f@#king pigeon at the side of the stupid f@#king road. The pigeon keeps pecking at the Tim Horton’s cup discarded ten feet from the garbage can. As I pick up the trash the pigeon takes flight landing on the timepiece to take a crap.

Back at the hotel, I call Record Theatre in Buffalo.

The additional titles I was looking for arrived but due to very busy nature of RSD they can’t say how many they have left, and certainly have no guarantees the titles will not be sold before my arrival. I’ve seen the pictures of RSD at Record Theatre. The lines are looooooooooong. If I could be near the front, it would be great, but arriving an hour after, or worse if the Peace Bridge has a big line, is not a positive prospect. Regardless, I text my former roommate to tell him I’ll be heading to Buffalo to look for some of the titles we missed out on. My wife looks at me with that “you’re seriously crossing the border!” look. The phone rings a few seconds later.

“I’m looking at Evan Dando’s Baby I’m Bored. It’s pricey but they have it.”

“What about Vic Chesnutt?”

He must have known it was my next question.

West of Rome?”

“Yeah.”

“In my hands if you need it.”

I take off the coat and place it on the bed. No border crossing this time. Then I realize, I have new records that have to sit 24 hours to be heard. Sitting in my ‘completely made for records backpack’ given to me for Christmas are records that have to wait.

In my mind, I scream “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” because, you know, one is not supposed to leave Robert Smith’s face contained in shrink wrap waiting for a turntable to spin on.

Despite my distance from home, it’s been another successful RSD.

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A Parenting Lesson & the Vic Chesnutt reissues…

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It can be difficult to explain pain to people. Words wrapped in metaphors trying to communicate the signals of nerve endings setting your brain alight. Both physical and mental anguish causing a torment that it often seems no one can relate with. I’ve visited these worlds from time to time; laid in a hospital bed and stared at the ceiling with a morphine high; taken pain killers to merely dull the excruciating; ingested medications to keep you from being overwhelmed by the thoughts manufactured by the prescriptions given for the original injury. I was a fan of Vic Chesnutt before I really understood these things, but I found a whole new appreciation once a calcified disc had pierced my sciatic nerve.

Recovering, I spent a great deal of time with Chesnutt’s early catalogue. Hearing it as if for the first time. It had become a part of the soundtrack of that time in my life. Songs that could be depended upon to show up right when I needed a good cry or laugh. His songs had given my own screwed up existence a voice I could recognize.

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Driving through the east coast of Canada over a three-week trip, Drunk, West of Rome, and Is The Actor Happy were in constant rotation. At one point, I had to stop the car in Fundy National Park as a porcupine had decided to point its quilled ass in my direction. Just as Chesnutt sang those ever so visual lyrics from “Dodge” … “I showed my behind so frequently, my dear old mother wouldn’t recognise me” the damn beast pulled its ‘pedestrian right of way’ bullshit, giving me its own version of the middle finger salute. A few seconds up the road a moose gives us a completely ambivalent look as if telling us that this particular occurrence happens everyday. A kind of “get over it” gaze of communication. Fuckin’ nature! Get over yourself!

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Fast forward seventeen years and my first born says “you’ve had this band on a lot, who is it?”

“Artist. Vic Chesnutt.”

“You going to see him in concert?”

“No. That really isn’t possible anymore. He died around the same time as Grandma and Grumpa.”

“From cancer like them…”

Now, I’ll be honest with ya… I kinda suck at this whole parenting thing. My thirteen-year-old son is the most empathetic child I have ever met. Having worked with and around kids since I was one myself, I can say this without the interference of parental pride. He is a soul that feels things deeply, and this conversation can’t end well. So basically, I’m stuck. He’s thirteen. Old enough to find out about things on his own. Dilemma, do I use this as a teachable moment, or just let it pass. As I said, I do suck at this.

“No.”

“A disease?”

“Are you sure you want to keep asking?”

“Why?”

Sigh. “This conversation could go to places you don’t like.”

“Was it a disease.”

How exactly do you answer this? I’m not a therapist. My own father wasn’t exactly the model of ‘after school special/ Dad of the year/ or ‘Dawson’s Creek’ perfectly scripted answers.

“Yes, but not in the way you are thinking.”

“Then what?”

Not sure how long I stared at my toes before I replied. It felt like enough time to have studied and gotten a psychology degree, but as I looked up my son was still standing in front of me with polar bear pajamas and a determined look.

“He overdosed on prescribed medications. Most people believe he committed suicide.”

“But…”

He teared up. I teared up. My nine-year-old walked down the stairs, looked at us, scoffed, went back up the stairs and started building his next Lego battle.

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I began speaking. Or maybe it was stammering. Perhaps pleading. Somewhere in the mix of trying to find words I talked about depression, physical pain, Canadian vs US health care, debt and back to depression. You know what… not a bit of it sufficed.

“Isn’t it wrong to do that, you know, kill yourself?”

My head began to hurt. “I don’t have a good answer for that. Some people will hold up a Bible and tell you it is a sin. Others will talk about how selfish it is to hurt the people you love by ending your own life. Personally, I don’t buy into that. I believe that mental illness… depression; it takes away the hope you have for a good future. It only leaves you with the impression that your pain needs to end, and that you are a burden on those who suffer through it beside you.”

“That doesn’t make sense!”

“What?”

“The burden thing. Mommy pays for you to be home with us. You’re not a burden. So what if he owes money.”

“Part of being an adult is the desire to be self sustaining. That our own life should not impede or lower the people we care about.”

“THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! When Grandma and Grumpa got sick you moved and took care of them didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Were they a burden?”

“No. I was exactly where I needed to be. Where I wanted to be. However, they didn’t see it that way. Grandma saw me leave my family to take care of her and it really bugged her.”

“That’s what I mean, if you were sick I would want to be with you.”

“I understand that. But it would suck to need or ask for help. That is how depression works. You forget that people really want to be there for you. You don’t want to ask for help. You don’t want to hold people back from their own lives. You just want to end the pain.”

He thought on it for a while.

“Doesn’t his music make you sad now?”

“Some of it always did. Some of it makes me laugh, some of it makes me cringe, sometimes he can make me laugh and cry in the same song. But I’m not really answering your question, right.”

“Yep.”

“Since grade one, you’ve had friends that have moved away.”

“Yeah.”

“When you think of them do you only think of the fact that they’re gone, or do you think of the fun you had when they were here?”

“The fun.”

“A person shouldn’t be defined by how they died, but by how they lived. Vic Chesnutt was an artist who I really appreciated. His music means a lot to me. Look, I’m not great at talking about this. It sucks that he died, especially how he died. But I still love the music he gave us to enjoy. I don’t hear his death, I hear his voice.”

That thought gets left hanging, and it just doesn’t feel like it should end on this note.

“You know, when I play my battered up old 12 string.”

“The one you bought from a weird old guy, and is difficult to tune because the neck was broken.”

“Yeah. I think of Chesnutt every time I play it.”

He catches me on this and calls me out. “You said the same thing about that guy in The Lemons and Wilco, and that lady Victoria.”

“Yeah. And it’s all true. I think about all those people. It’s just that they all have a unique voice. Not singing style. It is an overall, way of phrasing ideas that connects with me. I love that old piece of crap guitar because it doesn’t sound like any other guitar I’ve heard from anyone. Sometimes when I play it, I feel a whole range of emotions. All of them, coming from different places and all moments I wish I could bottle and stay in a little longer than is actually possible. The music ends, and even when I try to play it again, it just isn’t the same. The music that I keep playing, and paying for, it does that too. Those artists… Vic Chesnutt… they help me find moments that connect to … I don’t know… connect to living. To not being alone. Sometimes you can find moments like that on your own, but other times, it’s great artists that pull out those moments and share them.”

“You’re sounding all weird Dad.”

“I suppose I am.”

Anyway. The Vic Chesnutt reissues have caused a bit of a stir in the house. So far, the three that have arrived sound absolutely perfect. My complaint, has nothing to do with the quality, but rather the shipping costs. Despite much lower priced options available, most companies still choose methods that can nearly double the transaction price. For some of my favorite records I went and purchased the coloured vinyl. However, others will have to wait until they become available at my local record store before I can purchase them. Essentially, shipping is pricing me out of the market. Seeing the chat rooms, I’m not the only one.

P.S. West Of Rome will be out on Record Store Day 2017… next week folks.

Power or Pub Rock… screw the labels: Spoon – Hot Thoughts

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Very few bands garner my ever elusive “buy unheard” designation. That place where you drop cash on release day or do that advance order thing. With the popularity of music streaming sites and advance listens on popular music mag web pages, there isn’t much need for the mystery purchase. Regardless, Spoon remains one of the ‘only’ rock bands that actually matter. Whether it be their debut Girls Can Tell, the best-selling Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, my personal favorite Gimme Fiction, or even the half-hearted They Want My Soul, Spoon has remained not only one of the most consistently great bands of this new(ish) century, but also one of the most intriguing.

They don’t often give away the subjects of their songs, usually choosing to keep their cards close to the chest, but when they do… well damn! “Let them build a wall around us, I don’t care I’m going to tear it down…” are lyrics found on “Tear it Down” and coming from a bunch of Texans, it might as well be a declaration of war against ‘Forty-Five.’ Of course, the lyrics are veiled enough that one might see it another way… BUT COME ON – it was written during the f@#king Presidential Primaries.

The thing is, Britt Daniels could write just about anything and it would still allow you enough room to project just about anything you damn well please onto the lyrical theme. “Do I have to talk you into it?” is just open enough to be up for any interpretation. “For your love, my first caress/ your friends have came and went/ Coconut milk/ Coconut water/ You still like to tell me they’re the same/ and whom I to say.” “First Caress” could be a direct shot at a former lover, or a bunch of crap written in a journal that sounded good together… in all honesty it doesn’t matter, the end destination is a great ride.

Which is kinda (kinda isn’t a word, I know… but stay with me here) the point. Great rock ‘n’ roll can be open to interpretation; meaning everything to the writer and something completely different and equally important to the listener.  Yet, somehow these two places have common ground, and when I find Spoon to be at their greatest is when these diverging points mix seamlessly. The deeper meaning is secondary to the emotional reaction you have to it. Fuck the definitions and labels… how does it make you feel?

Now, if you are looking to pick this up on vinyl, then you have boat loads of choices… including a lucky lottery version. You can pre-order clear, purple and red. You can special order a pink copy from Urban Outfitters (1000 available). There is the regular black at your local record store….OR…

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If you did a pre-order from their label Matador, you may be one of the lucky !!!TWO!!!! to have received golden ticket green vinyl edition. One is being sold in the UK and the other in North America.

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I’d love to tell ya I’ve heard them all, but that just isn’t so. The pink Urban Outfitters is spinning on the turntable sounding like a mix between Duran Duran and a Texan version of Elton John (seriously… “I Ain’t The One” is just about as heartbreaking as “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”). Which is to say, it sounds fantastic and I’m assuming the others do too… but you know… you’ll have to buy it to find out.

All The colours of the fricin Rainbow?: Black Sabbath – Paranoid

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Even in 1970, Paranoid was a monster of a record. Released worldwide in every format of the time (yes that does mean 8 track), Black Sabbath put out what remains their quintessential album. The original vinyl can be found just about anywhere at decent prices by crate hoppers… with one HUGE exception. For whatever reason, Paranoid did not carry the same cover or even title in several countries including Israel. Instead it was called Attention with a ridiculous black and white cover of the band members faces.

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The only thing that remained of the art work was the swirl design on the record itself. While finding copies of Attention is not too difficult, your wallet will feel the punch if looking for the 1970 Israeli edition. Discogs has it priced over $300 CAD, and while ebay has inexpensive listings for copies from Yugoslavia and Germany there are none currently for that rare Israel disc. Of course, if you want a genuine first pressing from the US, that could also set you back several hundred as ebay will quickly direct you to one for over $400.

So, lets look at new editions that will not break the bank… yet.

In the last few years, Paranoid has had multiple vinyl releases in a bunch of colours that seem to match a small box of crayons. In 2010 NEMS gave us several different versions on 180 gram vinyl including a clear wax edition. The following year they added a red translucent vinyl edition to the collection and a picture disc.

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Jump ahead to 2015 and more colour fills the sky. Warner Brothers put out two editions for the general public. The first was a blue marble 180 gram disc with the other being a two disc black vinyl edition in a gatefold cover.

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At the same time, a limited 140 gram version of the record was being sold through Vinyl Me Please on a very cool purple vinyl disc that also included a poster and cocktail card.

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Simultaneously, NEMS jumped back into the rainbow by releasing a grey marbled 180 gram disc in Europe while UK label Sanctuary adding a light blue heavy weight wax version.

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Due to demand, 2016 saw more reprints from Warner of the Deluxe 2 disc set and blue vinyl. As far as I can tell from the music forums, people do not seem to like the NEMS sound quality. Per usual those same sources will tell you to search out the original pressings. However, I’m quite enjoying my Vinyl Me Please disc, and have gifted it as well. Anyway you decide to go…PLAY IT LOUD!!!

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10 Christmas Records (On Vinyl) to put Under the Tree in 2016

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Nat King Cole – The Christmas Song

Let’s face it, most Christmas music is really the same 30 songs repeated by various artists over the years for a little variation. Few artists can claim to have recorded the ‘quintessential’ version of any one tune. However, Nat King Cole is one of those few to have done so with “The Christmas Song” (quite a feat when you consider that there are literally hundreds of covers, ranging from Frank Sinatra to Christina Aguilera and even Twisted Sister.)  His take on the Mel Torme penned “The Christmas Song” is the one that everyone hears in their head and over the air when the holiday season rolls around. Also included are great renditions of “Deck The Halls”, “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing”, and other classics. You can find the standard black vinyl version in all of the usual record stores or, if you are looking to put that special something under the tree, a red and white split coloured wax version is available from Newbury Comics.

Christmas with the Chipmunks

Ok – sure, the lifespan of these particular rodents has far exceeded their “best before” date. However, there is no denying the syrupy pleasure derived from the high pitched glory of “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)”. As much as one can try to hide their embarrassment, these annoyingly cute over-sized rodents put a smile on the faces of those of us who like a bit of laughter included with holiday cheer. Throw this onto Red/Green split coloured vinyl (also at Newbury Comics) and you have a legitimate present to place under the tree.

The Beach Boys – Christmas Album

Funny how changing a few words on a hit song can turn it into an even bigger holiday classic. “Little Deuce Coupe” made it to #4 on the Billboard Charts while the re-written “Little Saint Nick” actually made it to #3 six months later. Side one of the record carries original material that actually stretched the Beach Boys (and more importantly, Brian Wilson) beyond the safety of their surf, cars and girls motif and into some interesting territory. Their harmonies on “Blue Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” are stellar. A limited run of 1000 copies on green translucent vinyl have been printed for this holiday season.

Bob & Doug McKenzie – Twelve Days Of Christmas

Rereleased only a few days ago as part of Black Friday/Record Store Day, the classic hoser Christmas tune can be found at your local record stores on a red 7” vinyl 45. Interjected into a holiday mix, it never fails to crack a wry smile on the faces of your festive guests. My kids (8 & 12) thought this was the greatest Christmas song ever as they experienced it for the first time the other day.

She & Him – Christmas Party

I’m guessing that the overwhelming success of 2011’s A Very She & Him Christmas has gotten Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward to reconvene for a second Christmas album entitled, Christmas Party. True to form, they playfully go through a diverse mix of holiday tunes as if they’re sitting in your own home to play them. Included are covers of Mariah Carey’s “All I want For Christmas Is You”, Vashti Bunyon’s “Coldest Night Of The Year” and Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph”. This new album can be found at record stores on red vinyl… complete with a Christmas card from the pair.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – It’s A Holiday Soul Party

Due to extraordinary demand, Daptone Records has completed a new printing of 2015’s It’s A Holiday Soul Party. Last year’s original release was limited to 10 thousand copies on red translucent vinyl while this new one is on green translucent vinyl and limited to 5000 copies. The late-great Jones and her Dap-Kings cover a few of the standards and mix it up with some astonishing originals. Particularly poignant is “Ain’t No Chimneys In The Projects” which is rather reminiscent of some similar James Brown social commentary on the season.

Frank Sinatra – White Christmas / The Christmas Waltz 7”

This is the year Sinatra would have turned 100. As part of Capitol Records’ celebration, we get this 7” of “White Christmas” and “The Christmas Waltz.” While the Bing Crosby version is the highest selling single song of all time (estimated sales of 100 Million according to the Guinness Book of World Records), the Sinatra cover peeked at #3 on the Billboard charts in 1948. Sure, the Crosby version is better known, but Sinatra’s voice on the Irving Berlin classic soars into places no one else could go… after all, he’s the Chairman of the board. This year’s 45 is on white vinyl.

Run DMC – Christmas In Hollis

A tribute to their home in Queens, “Christmas In Hollis” was originally released in 1987 as part of the first A Very Special Christmas, with the proceeds going to Special Olympics. “Christmas In Hollis” is definitely one of the coolest damn holiday songs to come down the chimney. Sampling Clarence Carter’s outstanding “Back Door Santa”, Run DMC powers through a rap in the city adventure that is full of Mom, money, Santa and a single dog pulling the sled. Another Black Friday/ Record Store Day release, “Christmas in Hollis” is on a 12” picture disc and limited to 3000 copies.

 

 

David Bazan – Dark Sacred Nights

Formerly going by the moniker of Pedro The Lion, David Bazan has been releasing Christmas singles for a number of years now. Wrapped in a cloak of melancholia and simple arrangements, Bazan plays the kind of Christmas music the goes with quiet conversations and sharing a bottle of wine. However, if you want this, you had better act quickly. Only 2000 copies of this record were printed on blue vinyl (with white snowflakes). His own website is sold out. His record companies’ website is sold out. It seems like the last available copies are from various Amazon sites.

Elvis Presley – Elvis Christmas Album

Sure, Presley was known as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, but his background growing up in the church made him especially well suited to put emotion into the holiday songbook. So much so, this particular Christmas record is the biggest selling holiday “album” of all time, with over 15 million being sold since its 1957 release. Rather than emphasizing the heavier aspects he was well known for, he stretches back to his gospel roots and makes a truly incredible record. You don’t need to be an Elvis fan to enjoy his renditions of “White Christmas”, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Blue Christmas.” Over the last few years this record has been reissued numerous times, with each new edition always selling quickly. The 2016 version is on 180-gram red transparent vinyl and would look great under the tree or spinning on the old turntable.

Big Star + Rock Hall = An Inductee That Would Really Matter… or… Big Star – Complete Columbia: Live at University of Missouri

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A friend asked me “Why, of all the albums being released on Record Store Day 2016, are you waiting in line for a 90’s live album from a 70’s band?” The tone and nature of the question was meant to be mocking, as he loves to have lively music debates, particularly ones that push my buttons. However, instead of just reacting, I took a deep breath and thought about it. Then, just to be annoying I told him I would ‘write the answer.’ (hehehe…)

The reasons are three-fold.

Like many people, the album I first attach to a band tends to have the greatest impact. While I heard songs by Big Star from time to time, it wasn’t until the release of Columbia that I had a complete work in front of me which represented the band as a whole. A world opened up. Here was a collection of songs that didn’t need to be ‘epic’ stories of human struggle (ie. Bruce Springsteen) or carry images of Mordor (ie. Led Zeppelin) to have powerful depth. They also didn’t include anthem-like clichés to get people fist pumping in the air (pick your own example, as there are so many). “In The Street”, “Back Of A Car” and “September Gurls” leapt out of my speakers and made my own angst seem to matter. These songs were simple coming-of-age tales detailing everyday experiences without the ‘syrup’ provided by many of the ‘so-called’ classic rock bands of the day. Instead, Big Star gave us the kind of tunes that made you want to pick up a guitar and learn to play. Furthermore, you found yourself singing, not in some vain attempt to impress or attract anyone, but as an outlet to express yourself. Which is perhaps why I had been hearing covers of their songs by other artists as time went on; The Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, The Bangles, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub and later Beck were all doing renditions of the songs of Alex Chilton or Chris Bell. The Replacements even wrote a song entitled “Alex Chilton”, dropping the line “never go far, without a little Big Star.” All of it was packed into this one album.

Next, this wasn’t an example of a band cashing in on fame. Big Star never had the kind of fame you could cash in on. Columbia was quite literally a concert put together by fans for fans and later released in a similar fashion. Two campus radio staffers at the University of Missouri quite literally asked Big Star alumni Jody Stephens if he would be willing to do a reunion show, and got a yes if Alex Chilton was up for it. Surprisingly, Chilton agreed and, with the addition of the Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow to cover for Chris Bell (deceased) and Andy Hummel (left the music business), the band played an amazing set to (merely) an estimated 200 people. Yet even with a small venue, they managed to attract much of the music world. That show got glowing write-ups in all the major music magazines of the day. It was pretty unanimous amongst the press that those not lucky enough to be in attendance had missed something special. Fortunately, this record gives us a glimpse of a show that has attained somewhat legendary status.

Finally, Columbia solidifies my absolute belief that Big Star should be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. All three of their initial studio releases (#1 Record, Radio City, Sister Lovers/Third) land consistently on various magazines’ Top Albums of all-time lists; all three are referenced by multiple generations of artists as being influential in their music; and all three are revered by fans lucky enough to have heard them as being close to their hearts. More importantly, their music has endured through the most insanely bad luck of any band in rock history. Their 1971 debut #1 Record was hailed as triumphant by music critics, but due to poor distribution and marketing by Stax, no one could find a copy to purchase, even when songs were played on the radio. Follow up Radio City suffered a similar fate, with Columbia records refusing to distribute the record because of a disagreement with their newly acquired Stax label. By the time Big Star released the gorgeous yet challenging Sister Lovers/Third, the band had completely disintegrated with only Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens remaining. They went their separate ways and that should have ended the story… but it didn’t.

Fans exchanged cassettes with Big Star tunes. Those in the know kept talking and searching until a market was created for re-releases. More than two decades removed from their first record and people were seeking them out based on little more than conversations and scratchy recordings emanating from a tape deck. By the early 90’s, Ryko had reissued Sister Lovers/Third and a put out a compilation of Chris Bell’s solo material, I Am The Cosmos. Then Columbia was released in 1993.  A tribute album was recorded by a virtual who’s who of 90’s alt-rock artists (ironically, it also suffered from bad luck and wasn’t released until years afterward). When Columbia was released, it may still have been hard to find the first two Big Star records in stores, but here were the songs; live, rough and glorious in their presentations. All members were taking on vocal duties, with Jon Auer doing an incredible job on the solo Chris Bell single “I Am The Cosmos.” As the 90’s continued, That 70’s Show used “In The Street” as their theme song and a new generation started to discover the band. Finally, their albums could be found in record stores.

Somehow, without radio backing or touring, people were seeking out this music.

Which brings me to the Rock Hall…

If, as I believe, rock ‘n’ roll is about more than money or popularity, then Big Star should be inducted and Columbia is a perfect example of why. Here is a band whose art transcended obscurity by nothing more than word of mouth and shared recordings. Without the help of corporate money and radio exposure, their music found a way to not only be heard, but in fact influence generations of future musicians. Hell, the entire sub-genre of “power-pop” can’t even be considered without Big Star being mentioned as its greatest practitioners. It is hard to picture the sounds of the 90’s alternative music scene without the influence of songs that Alex Chilton and Chris Bell provided. Then, you add the Big Star reunion to the mix.

Complete Columbia: Live at the University of Missouri 4/25/93 exemplifies the very idea that great music will find fans and that record sales are not as important as the art itself. On-stage that day in ’93 were two musicians who had created some music playing with two other musicians that had been directly inspired by it. Twenty years separating their careers, yet you could hear just how much Big Star had meant to the future of rock music. They weren’t just another band that you hummed along to distractedly on a transistor radio; they were the band you sought out and told anyone and everyone willing to listen that Big Star were “FUCKING AWESOME!!!”

So my friend… you ask me why I’m arriving early on RSD 2016 to line up for a copy of Columbia… or even, why they should be in the Rock Hall… well, it’s because Big Star created music that really matters… what other reason is there?

Now This Is What I’m Talkin’About!!! Or… Sufjan Stevens – Illinois 10th Anniversary edition

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Announced a few months ago, I had assumed early on that this “anniversary edition” of (the already classic) Illinois, would be like a few other artists – limited, advance order only and expensive. Music accolades aside, of which Illinois has received ‘many’, this is a first class vinyl reissue at a price that is downright inexpensive for what is included.

First, the cover features a new licensed picture of Marvel’s “Blue Marvel” replacing Superman on the original. While Superman is a household name, Blue Marvel is a relatively new comic hero that is just far ‘cooler’ than the DC man of steel. (Besides, licensing was an issue,)

Next you get a double two coloured 12” records in white and ‘Blue Marvel’ (blue with white splatter) and a star shaped red coloured vinyl single of “Chicago” in a tri-fold album sleeve.

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Finally, it is all at a price under $25.00 Canadian, and can be purchased at your local retailer.

When was first announced I missed the boat and thought I was out of luck. However, this edition is actually limited to ‘ten thousand copies.’ That is a good thing folks! The original pressing with the ‘Superman cover’ was limited to 5000. Interestingly, the Superman image had to be covered up by balloons because of copyright issues. When you see it now, it is because people peeled off the stickers to get at the actual cover. The thing sells – used – for over $150 on the reseller market.

Back in 2013, Newbury Comics released a double vinyl set in red and green wax. On that edition, the balloons were a legitimate image on the cover with Superman removed. Limited to 1000 copies, this reissue of Illinois is selling for over $130 and sold out quickly; which leads me to why I am so very happy with Asthmatic Kitty for this release.

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By printing 10000 copies, legitimate fans that missed out the first time can get an awesome package without breaking the bank. Call it a dream, but I wish more artists would go this route. Changing up the cover a bit and the colour of vinyl on the reissue, it gives old fans the collectability they desire and new fans a chance to get in and still have something unique. In a world where artists are losing money to streaming music, enticing consumers with an awesome tactile experience seems to be a great way to revive the physical market.