One most wonderful thing about Guided By Voices (GBV) — Dayton, Ohio’s original “LoFi” indie rock heroes — is that they have such a rabid, dedicated following that they could easily spend the rest of their days living off of re-issues of their impossible to find early homespun releases.
I count myself among those rabid, dedicated fans who came on-board enthusiastically in the late 1990s when the singer in my old band gave me a copy of Bee Thousand. By the early 2000’s, I was full bore trying to collect any and every GBV release I could afford and get my hands on.
In 2005 the group reissued their elusive fifth album called Propeller which in many ways is ground zero for the GBV sound we know and love. In its first edition back in 1992 only 500 copies of this album were made, each with a different cover handmade by main singer and songwriter Robert Pollard with the band and their friends. As you can imagine each of these originals has gone on to be quite significant collectors items so getting your hands on one of the reissues was very appealing for most of us who never had a chance to even be close to one, much less owning a copy on vinyl. For years all I had was a CD with different cover art still.
I bought two of the vinyl reissues of Propeller back in the day — only two cover variants were recreated at that time— and only one of them I have opened to play. I’ve been pretty shocked to find that even these reissues have escalated in value. I shouldn’t really be surprised however as I know that GBV fans are no different than those of rock heroes past, from Buddy Holly and Dion & The Belmonts to The Beatles, The Kinks and The Who. The fans want all the good stuff and they take pride in their collections. They hold onto their rarities, so finding them available for resale is rare.
Word started getting out earlier this year about a new edition of Propeller which original label Scat Records reissued. Prompted by some fan posts on Facebook I realized that this would probably sell out soon — accordingly, I grabbed a copy the other day at Amoeba Music, the last one they had on the shelves. It has a different cover design than the other two that I have already plus it is pressed on pretty egg shell blue vinyl.
I quickly got over the first question when buying a duplicate limited edition release like this: whether or not I should open it? I opened it as I was curious. I am not worrying about devaluing it too much.
I hadn’t listened to Propeller in some time and the first thing I was taken with was how good it sounded. Many people still assume that GBV is all about LoFi cassette demos and such — and they still do that from time to time — but that is not always the case. And a lot of Propeller sounds like genuine studio recordings of some sort. It rocks remarkably well and is a great listen start to finish, an engaging listen right from the start with the fabulous faked crowd cheering “GBV! GBV! GBV!”
Oh, and in case you are wondering, this reissue sounds real good even on the colored vinyl. It was apparently made from the same metal stampers as the 2005 edition so the fidelity is real close (I loosely “A/B” compared them). The colored vinyl formulation makes my copy sound a little brighter, but we’re splitting ridiculously fine hairs here — remember, we’re talking about an album that is a collage of high fidelity studio takes, four-track cassette and other Lo Fi recording techniques, so there are inevitable ups and downs to the sonic landscape. That said, Propeller is a wonder to hear and very much a template for the brilliant Bee Thousand a couple years later. And if you haven’t heard that one yet, you really should. Both albums are a joy to explore.