Monday, November 30, 2009

Hipsters, boomers, audiophiles lead the vinyl revival

BUSINESS NOTEBOOK: Frame it, don't play it

By Roger Yohem, Inside Tucson Business

Ever heard of the Beatles “Butcher” album? Actually, the real question is have you ever seen it?

If you’ve got one stashed away, it’s worth several hundred dollars in Tucson. In a big city on either coast, you could be looking at a Grover Cleveland.

The grooves laid down on the actual vinyl disk by the Fab Four are worthless. No one really cares what the record actually sounds like. It’s the album cover that’s got some serious bling.

Despite the explosion of CDs, iTunes, and Internet music, it’s the out-of-print records, mistakes, classics, and outrageous covers that are highly collectible.

Scott Landrum, music buyer for Bookmans Used Book Store, 1930 E. Grant Road, recently took me on a little magical history tour of album collecting.

“The Holy Grail is the Beatles’ butcher cover,” he said.

In 1966, Capitol Records released “Yesterday and Today,” a collection of cuts from previous Beatles albums. On the album’s cover, the band posed in white butcher coats surrounded by bloody meat and body parts from plastic dolls.

Lore has it the London lads did it to snipe Capitol for chopping up their albums to repackage them. Although it was recalled quickly, many DJs and music critics had received the records early as promotional copies.
In his 13 years at Bookmans, Landrum has seen only one of the world-famous “butcher” covers - his own. He traded it in.

Collectors are not driven by novelty and nostalgia alone. There is a strong market for people who want the old 12-inch square covers as unique, frameable art. You don’t get that with a puny 5-inch by 5-inch CD.

Others want tunes from their favorite artists to fill gaps in their personal libraries. Many are aficionados, desperately seeking rare jazz, bebop and big band vinyl that, already rich in tenor, will grow in value.

Collecting is not just a passion for boomers who want to recapture their glory days. Many professional musicians still prefer LPs and a new generation of music lovers have sparked a vinyl revival.

“Although not as strong as past years, collecting vinyl is still very popular with the 20 and younger crowd. They buy a lot of punk rock, heavy metal and psyco-delic. They love the Clash and the Sex Pistols. They’re fascinated by the late 70s and early 80s,” said Landrum.

For the more discriminating buyer, ie., those with wads of Ben Franklins, discontinued, high-quality rare finds are always in play. For these fanatics, music and sound quality does matter.

“Most serious audiophiles have big collections and have been collecting for years. They like stuff from the bebop era. They want the great drummers of the past, even big band has appeal to them,” Landrum explained. “It’s been my experience that jazz aficionados really like things that are out of print.”

Album art got its start in 1939 when Columbia Records hired an art director named Alex Steinweiss. Thinking creatively, Steinweiss believed the studio could sell more records if the packaging were more eye-catching and striking.

Just for fun, I looked up some of my old albums on eBay. Not surprisingly, my box of late 1970s rock would only snag a buck or two each. What did surprise me was that eBay sells over three million records a year.

Some albums I’ve grabbed at garage sales for the art on the cover fetch a little more. My 1959 Sound of Music with Mary Martin on Broadway is worth $10. The Oklahoma cover, with Shirley Jones shown riding in the Surrey with the Fringe on Top, brings $5.

Rarely, Landrum sees some old 78-rpm, 10-inch records. Most have little value except for very old blues albums. Once, he matched up a collector with a 1920s-era cut for $600.

By chance, I found an old 78 in storage at home. It’s an Audiophile 13 by the Red Dougherty Trio from 1953. I even recognized some of the tunes: “Twelfth Street Rag,” “Who’s Sorry Now,” and “Sunny Side of the Street.” EBay had one copy for $8.

And to think after all these years, vinyl was deader than Elvis. Makes me wonder where I stashed all my B.B. King 8-track tapes.

A special thank you to Roger Yohem for allowing me to reprint his interesting feature
Posted with permission of Inside Tucson Business, original story published Nov. 30, 2009 by Roger Yohem.

Inside Tucson Business is online at

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