The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Monday, June 02, 2008

Collecting records (artists) 'after the fact'

6-2-08 Collecting records (artists) ‘after the fact’

Over the last few years, I have successfully collected a few artists “after the fact”. What I mean by this is that there are artists that I did not collect while they were ‘active’, such as Yello, Level 42, The Monochrome Set etc.

I’ve detailed previously that (during the 80’s) I simply couldn’t “collect everything” – I was concentrating on music from New Zealand, for example. So I ‘missed’ the then-current “active” collecting of many 80’s artists (I also missed lots of 60’s and 70’s artists, but under slightly differing circumstances).

I am comfortable collecting “after the fact”. In the 80’s, in England many times an effort was made by the record company, on behalf of the artist – to ‘hype’ a single into the charts. One of the legal methods was to issue numerous variants, all bearing a similar enough serial number – of the same title. A 7”, 10”, 12”, 12” remix, picture disc, shaped disc, cassingle – all counted towards the same ‘chart placement’.

I remember well the ‘colored vinyl’ craze of the late 70’s; record pressed on colors other than black – quickly followed by “picture discs”. In the U.S. I believe these variants were done by the record company partly in acceptance that fans of certain artists would buy “anything” – not ‘chart hype’, per se. I do not specifically remember any colored vinyl or picture discs charting!

We can acknowledge that some of us were not pre-disposed to enjoy or support such blatant hucksterism on the part of the U.S. music industry. In the case of the picture discs by The Beatles (for instance) which were manufactured for Capitol Records – they were pretty, but sounded like crap! Very noisy discs they were! I might pick ‘em up when I see them for sale in this new century – but often for less than what they sold for when ‘new’.

I think the British group that I fully supported in the ‘format game’ was The Stranglers. Epic UK might’ve been trying to hype the charts – but the fans certainly ate up “Ladies and Gentlemen, An Evening with Hugh Cornwell” (a B-side on the 2nd or 3rd version of a 12” single). Imagine that – you love a band, buy their 12” single – and a week later – a new version of that 12” appears in the high street shops! Pre-internet, one had to rely on advertisements in the press (Melody Maker, NME etc.). I worked at a record importer – so we got telexes (later on faxes) and week-old issues of “Music Week” (the British equivalent of Billboard). Chart hypers were unconcerned with exporters – so often the latter variants were unavailable “for export” – so how were they getting here, anyway? Someone lower down on the food chain – a retailer perhaps – would offer the 2nd or 3rd version ‘rarities’ to a smaller exporter, who would then jack up the price.

All of this matters not in the new century. I love finding the detritus of potential chart hyping – all those variant 12” singles by Frazier Chorus, It Bites and the aforementioned Level 42!


Anonymous Jim Donato said...

I'm of two minds on "chart hyping." On the first hand, the sick collector in me gets [no, HAS] to buy a heck of a lot of records to have it "all." But realistically, do you REALLY need to buy that picture disc to get that single track variant not available anywhere else? I was happy when the BPI cracked down on this in the 90s with the 4 format rule. If you can't fit everything on 4 formats, give it up! If value for money were the driving concern, a release of a single could potentially offer an LPs worth of entertainment. We all know that ain't necessarily so!

I first encountered this phenom with Frankie Goes To Hollywood when they started issuing multiple 12" singles with different mixes. The industry quickly glommed onto this tactic, though without any of the panache that ZTT brought to the table, sad to say. I don't think I ever felt exploited by ZTT though that was obviously their goal. Au contraire! ZTT made me feel LUCKY to have so many mix/packaging variants for a single release mainly because they put so much effort into the practice. To this day I can drag out my ZTT collection and pore over the hefty load of fetish vinyl as if reading Tolstoy! Heck, of times I'm at least reading Roland Barthes! Would I know about deconstructionism if not for the guiding hand that ZTT sent my way [and into my wallet]? Those FGTH and Propaganda records were my introduction to semiotics! I daresay I got a better education from them than from my college.

7:38 AM  

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