Stop and Smell the Vinyl
BREAKING NEWS— On April 1 ABCKO records will release Herman’s Hermits: The American Albums, an eight-CD box set that replicates all of the band’s LPS as released in the United States from 1965 to 1969, complete with original liner notes and, considering the expected audience demographics, a custom magnifying glass.
This could actually happen. While there is a resurgence in vinyl and a continuing interest in 1960s releases, replicating them on CD completely misses the point. No CD box set will ever restore the personal experience with the music that vinyl offers. To relive an authenticity or create a new relationship you need to experience the process of putting the record on the turntable and flipping it over after fifteen minutes, and then decide what to play next. Or you can go all the way and play the same record all the day and all of the night.
Which is what I did with several Herman’s Hermits albums when they were released. I pretty much stopped listening to them a few years later when albums became an art form. Revisiting them today they sound a lot better than they have a right to. And even Herman his own self would tell you their albums, especially the American editions, were slapdash affairs.
“Truth is, we hated all of the US LPs because they sliced and squashed them so none of the cuts were anything like the product we delivered,” Peter “Herman” Noone said in an email. “We were sort of unprepared, being teenagers, to take on the labels, we had no control over the American albums, they were all shoddy, to say the most.”
Peter, you’re too harsh. I owned four of the original Hermits albums and already knew them back to front when I acquired them as part of the revitalized vinyl collection I began about three years ago. Nevertheless, my twelve-year-old self cried foul with the release of their third LP, a greatest hit collection with only one song that was not on the first two.
Noone notes that the band recorded and released 156 tracks and ABKCO Records ignores most of them, releasing the same 20 songs, over and over. That 20 is what he now plays in concert, more or less, “but we’ll play anything that we’ve ever recorded, if someone shouts it out,” he said.
I’ve scored three Hermits albums over the past few months, ones I bought when they were released and discarded long ago. I won’t tell you they are great records, “desert island discs,” and if you come over to my house I’ll probably play something else. But I really like these albums and will accumulate a few more; not through any competitive eBay bids or online searches. Rather, I’ll buy them when they appear in whatever bin I’m browsing, and most likely won’t spend more than a few bucks. Furthermore, possessing a handful of Hermits records has clarified my relationship with vinyl and how I will build my collection from this point on.
If my three Hermits LPs aren’t in and of themselves “great” albums they are essential parts of the collection Any album evokes a feeling, but a collectible record evokes a memory. Herman’s Hermits on Tour takes me to one place; Quadrophenia and Tusk to others. Add the collection together, and you have a life. In “High Fidelity” John Cusack’s character alluded to this although in an extreme way. He sought to arrange his massive collection “autobiographically,” so in order to find a record he needed to recall the exact date of its purchase and where he was at the time.
That character was an exaggeration, because he spent more time analyzing and organizing his collection than listening to the music. But in exaggeration lies the truth, as the place and the time for each record is what makes it special. We all evoke memories through music, which is why I still dig Herman’s Hermits On Tour and it leaves you cold.
Vinyl collectors establish rules about the albums they acquire and how they are organized once they are added to the collection. Once you get more than 30 records there needs to be a way to find what you want to hear. Alphabetization is the obvious way. Should you go casual, with all the A’s grouped together, through the alphabet? You can loosely group the artists, as long as McCartney and Mott the Hoople are in the same vicinity that’s good enough.
Or you can get anal, with all the artists in precise order; within those groups the albums are arranged in order of release. This seems like a lot of work for some listeners, especially those who are accustomed to digital systems where they can sequence a series of albums without even needing to remove a record from its slipcase.
You can forgive the modern listener if they don’t jump back onto the vinyl bandwagon. After switching from vinyl to CDs and then to digital it takes a special kind of nut to buy the same album for the fourth time, or more. I was that nut, for a while. But after landing a few Hermits albums that I don’t own in any other form I developed my own rule, a resolution to not purchase any LPs that I already own on CD or digitally.
OK, maybe if I own something digitally, like Eric Burdon’s ‘Til Your River Runs Dry, it’s acceptable to by the vinyl. And I have the CD for McCartney’s New but I really love the album, it’s got a cool cover and I got a good deal on a used copy. So the rules are only there until I feel like changing them. Like the rule that I’d never get any of those fancy-ass overpriced 180-gram versions until I bought one, and it sounded great.
So while I may still accumulate some duplicates the most valuable additions to my reborn vinyl collection is that the record have some connection to the past; ones that I once owned and have forgotten and still sound pretty good. Like my Herman’s Hermits albums. Or they can be albums from the same era that I never owned, like a triptych of newly acquired Young Rascals albums.
Digital music doesn’t follow any rules, you just type in a filter and press play or kick in “shuffle” and let it fly for hours. It’s like a radio station with no bad songs, assuming there are no bad songs in your collection. Streaming services take it to the next step, adding some unpredictability. These steps represent progress, and convenience. It’s wonderful to have the ability to hold everything Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Herman’s Hermits ever recorded on a device that both fits in your pocket and allows you to phone home in between songs.
I love how I can cram a mutable mix of the 250 greatest songs ever recorded and use it to drive me up a hill on my bicycle. But sometimes I need those rules, for the past several months I’ve stuck to vinyl and an occasional CD at home. I have rekindled a relationship with some old records, forced to listen all the way through without an easy way to skip ahead. I’ve made some new friends, as you can pick up some pretty interesting stuff for a dollar these days.
Over the past few years the volume of information that bombards us every day has caused a lot of stress. Thankfully I live in a small town, but there is still too much to watch, see and hear. Switching to vinyl, at least at home, helps me to filter out some of the madness and actually enjoy the music. I still have too many records and don’t know what to play next, but the listening process is less overwhelming, slowing you down to the point where you need to pay attention to the music.
Charlie Bermant has written about music since forever, and has collected the best of his interviews in A Serious Hobby, which is available here.