Some thoughts on record buying in Seattle

First, some housecleaning.  Yesterday was supposed to be the final post in David Bowie week.  However, a friend came into town and I ended up being more distracted than I thought I would be.  Also, there’s too much Bowie to fit into just a week, so further posts about Bowie will pop up at random, until we get to the end of his career.

Second, happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!  He was an important figure in the battle for civil rights, and, in our overly divisive climate, we should try to remember his legacy and attempt to be decent people.

OK, right, record buying in Seattle.  Back in the 90’s, when people were trading in vinyl for shiny little discs, records were at fire-sale prices.  And Seattle had a strong selection of imported records to buy, in addition to the more standard US releases.  So, I bought tons of them.  A basement flood wiped out a good portion of my collection, so I stopped buying vinyl altogether.  Upon relocating in 2015, and having a nice new listening space, I started buying vinyl again.  Vinyl makes you actually listen to something, instead of just throwing it on in the background.  It’s a tactile, interactive experience.

But, what was once an enjoyable, low-cost endeavor has now become an exercise in high-priced hilarity.  Too many records, that were pressed in large quantities, were being sold for marked-up prices.  How many Led Zeppelin albums were sold?  Millions of each, yeah?  So I shouldn’t see Led Zeppelin IV for 25 dollars.  That’s silly.  Especially when I can buy a new remaster (sounding the way Jimmy Page apparently wanted the records to sound at the time) for considerably less than 25 dollars.  I get the argument, that the originals sound better and more ‘genuine’ than any new remasters or pressings.  Honestly, I’ve run across a few that definitely sound better as original slabs – usually anything recorded cheaply or with analog synths prominent – but I’ve heard an equal number that sound exactly like an original pressing.  And forget any stray imports from back in the day.  Those are all definitely gone!

Part of the problem has to do with the website Discogs.  Don’t get me wrong, I love it, I use it, I purchase off of it, but what I’ve found is that local record dealers immediately go straight to a Discogs release page and set the price for the same piece of wax, in their shop, at least as expensive as the lowest-priced option on the Discogs website.  Sometimes (usually) 15-20% higher.  Now, the obvious problem with this is that, the guy selling on Discogs is probably selling out of his home, and can afford to sit on a piece of wax until someone decides to purchase from him/her.  A retail location, which needs to turn stock over frequently and keep customers coming back for more, doesn’t have the luxury of time.  You could argue that the increase in price offsets what you would pay in postage from a private seller, but most of them are willing to haggle a little bit on their base price – or just throw postage in for free if you grab multiple items from them.  I’d rather spend my money locally (and often do), but I’m not going to pay 30 for something I can get for 18 online.  Even with postage, I’m only paying 23, and with the tax on the same piece of wax for 30, I’m paying 33 dollars.

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I don’t want to ramble on too long about this, because I really could.  I’ll just wrap it up by saying that on Thursday I came across a Half-Speed Mastered edition of ELO’s Time album.  I’ve been grabbing up ELO records for about six months now when I run across them, and Time was the last one I wanted to acquire, so that was cool.  What was also cool was that this particular pressing sounds virtually unplayed, has amazing dynamic range, and was only 10 bucks.  The other record shop -right down the street (I won’t name names, no need to shame) -has had a scuffy copy sitting around for 5 months now, and they’re asking 20 bucks for it.  It’s all about knowing what something should be priced.  10 bucks for a half-speed master, totally worth it.  20 bucks for an inferior edition?  No, you cray cray.  Not to mention, ELO is another of those bands that sold tons of records.  Even ten bucks should be too much, but you have to be somewhat reasonable about your expectations if you’re gonna get into record purchasing.

ELO is a great band, but it took me a long time to admit that to myself.  Part of it is my avoidance of any big, commercial-sounding music from the 70’s (or any decade, really).  Now, however, I really dig them, despite the fact that they’re disco – they’re not ‘what the Beatles would have been in the 70’s’, or ‘progressive’ or whatever.  They’re disco, whether they or their fans want to admit it.  Or at least, they have disco tendencies (maybe they were disco-fied).  Time isn’t my favorite album of theirs, but it’s a solid listen, one far removed from any disco tendencies (they seem to have largely abandoned any traces of disco by the time they released the Xanadu collab with Olivia-Newton John). I’m glad I found a really clean copy for my collection.

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