Daniel's Staff Pick: September 29, 2022

999: S/T LP (1978, United Artists Records)

For the past few weeks, I’ve been spending time visiting parts of my record collection I haven’t touched in years. What’s been getting me into these nooks and cranniesis something I like to think of as “playing records,” sort of the way little kids play with toys. This is something I used to be weirdly ashamed of, which would complicated the joy I get from it. However, I remember reading this book by Questlove of the Roots called Creative Quest a few years ago, and it advocated for something like this. I don’t know much about Questlove’s music, but something about Creative Quest caught my eye and made me want to read it… perhaps it was my inference that the book combined popular psychology (a semi-guilty pleasure of mine) with music, which is pretty much exactly what it did. In the book, Questlove advocated spending time just fiddling around with things—reorganizing his iTunes library, editing tags in his music files, rearranging his vinyl and CDs, etc.—without pressuring yourself to create or to get anything from the process except the intrinsic joy. There’s some invisible voice inside my head that says “it should be all about the music, MAN!” and that this sort of administrative work is, at best, a chore, and at worst something that distracts you from engaging with the music itself. However, with Questlove’s permission I’ve allowed myself to “play records” with no pressure to even listen to music. I’ve really enjoyed it, and it’s led me into interesting and under-appreciated parts of my collection.

A big project I’ve been engaged with for the past several months is reorganizing my vinyl. People often ask me how many records I have. I can’t tell you an exact number, but it’s around 4,000. While that’s a huge number for your average person, I think it’s a pretty slim and tidy collection by record store owner / music fanatic standards. I know plenty of people who have a lot more records than I do. Despite the relative tidiness of my collection, it long ago outgrew the shelving I have in my living room, which is where I like to keep my LPs. Once the shelves in the living room filled up, I put a couple of shelves I acquired with a collection in another room, and over the past few years I’ve filled those as well. The records in my living room are alphabetized and entered into my Discogs collection, but the records in the other room are not on Discogs and are alphabetized among themselves, sort of like a whole second record collection in the other room. The big project is to fold those records into my main collection and get them entered into Discogs, shelved, and alphabetized. It’s a big job, particularly when my day job often entails doing very similar tasks at work all day.

Another part of that reorganization project is re-sleeving all of my LPs. This is some nerdy ass shit. Previously, my LPs were in whatever polybag (or not) they came with, which seemed fine for a long time. Then a few years ago I bought a collection where everything was in these crazy nice 5mil crystal clear polypropylene sleeves from Sleeve City, what they call the “ultimate outer 5.0.” There was an extra bag of these sleeves in the collection, so I took them home and put a few of my most valuable and/or treasured records in them, and I was blown away. They made the records look beautiful. After I saw that, I took the sleeves off all the records in that collection and took them home. I decided I wanted to put all of my LPs in these sleeves, but when I ordered a batch from Sleeve City, my order sat unfulfilled for a couple of months until they finally canceled it. I checked the Sleeve City website every couple of weeks, but they were always on back-order. Of course, today, as I go to grab a link for this piece, they’re back in stock. However, I’ve moved on.

Giving up the Ultimate Outer 5.0 ghost, I searched other vendors for something similar. I knew I wanted the crystal clear polypropylene sleeves (rather than the slightly cloudier polyethylene sleeves we use at the shop), but no one sold them any thicker than 2 mil, and all the ones I tried at that weight had problems with seams splitting, particularly with gatefold or oversized LPs. Eventually I found a 2mil polypropylene sleeve I could live with from a company called Clear Bags, and I’m about 3/4 of the way through the re-sleeving process. Even though they’re not precisely what I wanted, they still look fantastic. Having my LPs in uniform plastic sleeves makes them look tidy on my shelves, and with these super clear polypropylene sleeves I can actually read the records’ spines. And when you pull the record off the shelf, it looks nearly as good as it does in the Ultimate Outer 5.0.

Re-sleeving my records has reminded me about a lot of records I’ve had for years but haven’t listened to in ages. It’s also brought to my attention several embarrassing gaps in my collection that I’ve been working to fill. How did I not have Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables on vinyl? Or Generic Flipper? Or Millions of Dead Cops? I’ve plugged those holes, but there are a lot of other common records I’m still after. Hit me up if you want to sell me copies of the first two UK Subs LPs, Zen Arcade, Black Flag’s In My Head… I could go on. I’ve also been having an intense internal struggle over whether I should splurge on a copy of Frankenchrist with the poster, or whether I should settle for a copy without one. It’s not like I’m going to hang that thing up.

Another thing I’ve been doing when I decide to “play records” is work on my digital music library. I have a shitload of music on my phone, but my digital music collection is totally separate from my physical music collection. I think this is because I use my phone to explore new music, while I reserve physical copies for records I want to go back to. Usually when I’m walking or driving and listening to music on my phone, I want to hear something new, but sometimes you just want to blast a classic on a long drive, and my digital music collection didn’t have many of my favorite records in it. So, I started the long process of getting a digital copy of everything in my physical collection into my digital library. It took an afternoon to get through all the numbers and A’s, but getting these titles on my phone has gotten me to listen to things I haven’t heard in ages. The first Acid Reflux EP rules! Absolut’s Hell’s Highest Power melted my fucking brain the other day. I also put on 999’s first album for the first time in many years.

I love 999, and I have a lot of their records. However, at some point I decided that High Energy Plan was my favorite, and that’s the one I always threw on when I wanted to hear 999. High Energy Plan is one of those mongrel records they used to make for overseas markets, compiling some (but not all) of the tracks from the band’s second album, Separates, with a couple of tracks from non-album singles. Usually these mongrel albums pale in comparison to the originals, but High Energy Plan is a back-to-front ripper, and it’s nice that it pops up often in the US, typically for $10-$15. Whenever I find a cheap copy in another store, I always buy it to re-sell at Sorry State to someone who likes the Buzzcocks or the Undertones.

Back to 999, though. It’s really good! There isn’t a dud on the record, and the hits are plenty. “Emergency” is a fucking belter that No Love used to experiment with covering, though we never performed it at a gig. “No Pity” is a high-energy rave-up a la the Damned’s first era, and “Me and My Desire” has a coy, sultry vibe that you don’t hear on too many punk records. I always got the impression that 999 had a pre-punk past, and I hear a lot of David Bowie and other glam / art rock in a track like “Me and My Desire.”

I remember picking up this LP at Amoeba on Haight Street in the early 2000s. I was on a cross-country trip with my ex-wife, and she was patient enough to let me visit a lot of record stores. I remember we were listening to lots of 999 on the long drives, and I had a premonition that I would find this album somewhere on that trip. That was a long shot since 999 has never been pressed in the US, but there it was waiting for me at Amoeba. I had a similar thing happen with Naked Raygun. I had every Naked Raygun LP except Basement Screams, and I was convinced I would find a copy in Chicago. Indeed, it was sitting there waiting for me at Reckless. I remember the $50 price tag stung a bit, but I rationalized it was OK to pay extra for a copy with local provenance. Looking at the Discogs prices now, I guess it turned out to be an OK deal.

OK, that’s enough for this week. What a long, rambling staff pick! Hopefully you gleaned something useful, and if nothing else, don’t feel guilty playing with your records!

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