‘Tis a funny thing, this notion of collecting records…. Especially for those of us who count ourselves among the audiophile cognoscenti, pursuers of that holy grail of good sound and all that goes with it…
Many of us often spend large quantities of hard-earned dollars seeking out the best versions of new releases as well as re-issues of favorite albums from the past, often times music we grew up with and still cherish.
And while I will be the last person to criticize somebody for spending good money on a reissue, or even a pristine edition found at a pricey collectors shop, I do wonder at times if there is a breaking point for some of these things. You know… that moment where the gap between the cost and the actual entertainment contained within said product being purchased is far too deep and wide.
The “value proposition,” as its known in the marketing world…
From the television and movie making universe, a phrase has come into everyday usage — “jumping the shark” — in reference to a wacky moment in the mid-1970s hit TV series Happy Days. In that episode, one of the lead characters (a lovable tough guy hoodlum named Fonzie) is thrust into a ludicrous situation which finds him on waterskis, in a bathing suit, and wearing his leather jacket while being pulled by a motorboat to jump over a confined shark. This was a defining moment where many agreed that the show had run its course and that the program’s writers had run out of steam.
That said, I do wonder if there are some “jump the shark” moments in the audio world. Now, in writing this article, I mean no disrespect to any of the artists or the manufacturers or (especially) the people buying those items. But I do think it’s interesting to take a step back and look at the big picture behind some of these releases and ponder: what were they thinking?
I will acknowledge that this opinion piece is purely subjective and that there may be some folks who really do want the best quality version of their favorite guilty pleasures at any price. Heck, even using a phrase like “guilty pleasure” can be misconstrued as derogatory. That isn’t the intent of this article. In fact, you are reading the writing of a man who went all the way to Los Angeles from San Francisco in search of an SACD copy of The Carpenters’ Greatest Hits (with its fairly stunning 5.1 surround sound mix on it!). So, I will never judge anyone negatively for what they like to listen to.
I even reviewed that Carpenters disc here on Audiophilereview (click here to jump to it)!
All that said…
On a recent Record Store Day my music buddy Frank and I were chuckling when we saw the new release list included none other than Herman’s Hermits and their 1967 psychedelic-era album called Blaze. Frank defended the album, saying that it was actually pretty good and that I should check it out sometime; as I respect his opinion, this shut me up on this topic for a while and simultaneously pinned that recommendation to the back of my head.
Well, that time to check it out arrived a few months ago when I did I find one of the new edition copies of Blaze in a discount section of one of my favorite local music stores – – 1234 Go Records – – a seemingly audiophile version of said Herman’s Hermit’s album, pressed on thick black 180-gram vinyl and spinning at 45 RPM. I knew there is also a fun colored vinyl version (clear, I think) out there as well, but … well… the mind still reels a bit over the concept of an audiophile Hermans’s Hermits release?
Don’t get me wrong — I love Herman’s Hermits’ early hits.They were a fine pop band out of the British Invasion and had many fun and memorable hits. This album, however, was made toward the end of their run as hit making machine so — like many bands from that period — they were stretching out in 1967, offering up a more creative and mature side to their music.
Since Blaze was only three dollars, I bought it and finally give it a good listen or three. And true to Frank,’s recommendation, it’s not a bad record at all. It’s actually quite enjoyable, if a tad forgettable in the context of everything else that came out that year. Its actually closer in feel and vibe to The Kinks’ 1968 opus The Village Green Preservation Society than The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but all the touch-stones of the period are there including a “Penny Lane”-esque song about a place in London called “Green Street Green.” This album is possibly closer still in feel (and length) to The Beatles’ Rubber Soul (from 1965, the US version especially!) in both its sound and directness, so if you ever liked singer Peter Noone’s voice and the vibe of his band, do check this album out.
Getting back to that “jump the shark” factor, I still have to question whether this album really needed to be put out on a 180-gram, 45 RPM 12-inch LP selling for, probably upwards of $20- $25 when first released? I question this especially for an album that is a common sighting in most used record stores and thrift shops in the bargain bins for $1 – $2. Obviously the creators of this pressing liked the album so much that they assumed at least 1500 audiophiles would want to get it (that is how many were pressed according to the Record Store Day website).
Unfortunately, Herman’s Hermits’ fan base was most likely teenage girls and boys in the early 60s amidst that first wave of the British Invasion, many of whom probably owned their hit singles like “I’m Henry The Eighth, I Am” and “I’m Into Something Good.” Those are classic pop singles from the era. By 1967, Blaze was pretty much overshadowed by The Beatles, The Monkees, Jimi Hendrix and all the music coming out of San Francisco and Los Angeles that year. The times were indeed a-changin’…
]]>So… perhaps — just perhaps — a standard vinyl reissue of the album created with love and care but offered at a much lower price point might have sold through a bit more to a wider audience — and not ended up stalling on the shelves, ultimately remaindered for $3 (close to the price of those aforementioned bargain bin copies I frequently see, by the way).
Likewise, I have seen audiophile releases by 60s acts like Paul Revere and The Raiders – – a group which made some great sounding rock pop records — languishing in the bins at some music stores. Thirty dollars for a reissue like this, even one pressed at RTI, seems steep when you can commonly find nice condition original pressings going for $10 to $15 on the collectors market. It seems a bit much even for me, a fan and collector of albums and singles by the band.
Reissues by The Zombies are highly desirable as original pressings are scarce here in the US; but thankfully, those are selling for more reasonable prices, well under $20.
In my ongoing quest to find great sounding recordings I have tried some of the high-end audiophile releases of older pop acts just to see what they’re about, especially when I find them cheap. For example, I own an SACD of Herman’s Hermits’ greatest hits (called Retrospective) that I found used fairly inexpensively. And you know what? It sounds quite nice for the price I paid for it (about $8). There are at the time of this writing two copies for sale up on Amazon for $60 and $150 each!! Frankly I’d be just as happy with an original pressing found in a thrift shop or record store bargain bin for $2. But to spend anything more than $10 on that sort of thing is … well…a bit of jumping the shark!
And yes, I reviewed that SACD here …
Indie artists seem to get it: I’ve purchased some reissues of relatively “LoFi” records from the 1990’s that sound just ducky! I love my copies of the releases by Martin Newell’s Cleaners From Venus which I picked up because they were priced very fairly at about $15 on standard weight but fine sounding vinyl (I reviewed one of them which you can read here). Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand has been reissued and that is a great value (usually selling for around $18-20) given the album’s influence and — again — relative scarcity on the vinyl market.
Wrapping up, this is less of a review and more like an open letter to all the record labels which are no doubt struggling trying to find a balance between servicing a resurgent market for vintage recordings and the basic commercial notion of “making a buck.” My thought is that they should really consider the album, and the market for that album, closely. So, instead of charging $25 for old records being put on fancy 180-gram vinyl — music that may be sonically limited to begin with given the time period it was made — why not offer them on standard weight vinyl which will sound just fine for most of the hard core fan base. Selling it at a lower price will give more people a chance to hear these fun records at a price they can afford.
I say all this because I have heard complaints from other collectors across the country about the seemingly exorbitant pricing of many of the reissues, many of which have disappointed fans to the point where some are refraining from purchasing them.
Putting vintage recordings back in the marketplace to meet the demands of collectors, musicologists, newbie-music fans and even nostalgic fans from back in the day is a wonderful thing. Making the recordings affordable and appealing to more people is a noble undertaking. Case in point: working with Universal, the Frank Zappa estate was able to issue the popular album Joe’s Garage as a deluxe three LP set, fully remastered (by Bernie Grundman!), manufactured at one of the best pressing plants in the world (Pallas in Germany!) and delivered to retail at a list price of about $37 (thats what its selling for on Amazon as I write this). So that comes out to about $12 per disc, which is totally reasonable! And, this reissue sounds great, by the way (per my review here)!
Most everyone likes getting a “new” record. But, there is a certain cut-off point where just putting out a record at a high price to capitalize on a perceived wave of interest can ultimately be self defeating. With websites like eBay and Discogs servicing collectors globally, and new used record stores popping up in key markets regionally, this trade off is a significant consideration for many consumer.
The value proposition…
Lets hope that the labels and artists keep the market flowing with quality vinyl releases that everyone can afford and enjoy for decades to come.