When I was a youngster, the only way to purchase music for home consumption was on vinyl. My friends and I had to be careful since the cost of an album was almost as much as I was paid for eight hours casual work at Woolworths.
So, when you bought an LP, you wanted it to in perfect condition. Many weren’t. I bought the double album of Tommy by The Who, and one of the disks was so warped as to be unplayable. I got my money back on that one and it was many years before I finally did purchase Tommy. As a teen, I also purchased Sky 2, by the John Williams-led rock/classical fusion band. That had to go back too. One side of one of the disks had been a duplicate of one of the other sides.
Back then, pressing errors were rife. Surface noise was rife. Life was difficult for a wannabe teen audiophile earning a buck an hour in world where an LP cost $5.99.
When the CD appeared a few years later, oh what a relief! As by then a properly paid full-time worker (if you consider a Constable to be a worker), I purchased a Sony CDP-101 CD player, the first model, and went digital (and scratch free!) for the next few decades.
Yet, still, vinyl has its charms. And I still have a stack of them, some from those days, some quite new.
After abandoning the field for quite a while – at least in Australia – Yamaha Music decided in the early 2000s to re-enter the audiophile space. I enjoyed several of its product launches of rather nice stereo amplifiers, CD players and loudspeakers. Of course, the Yamaha people demoed their gear with carefully chosen tracks.
I’m reminded of this because having moved house recently I’ve had to sort through (and dispose of a lot of) my 12cm discs, many hundreds with music, a thousand or so with video. During this process, I came across a CD-R, with someone else’s handwriting labelling it “AS2000/CDS2000 DEMO”. I remembered. At one of those Yamaha launches, I’d been struck by one of the demo tracks and had somehow managed to inveigle the presenters to give me a copy.
The other day I played the disc without a Yamaha product in sight: Cambridge Audio CXC Series 2 > Moon by Simaudio 280D streamer/DAC > Schiit Audio Saga S pre-amp > Schiit Audio Vidar power amplifier > Dynaudio Contour 20i loudspeakers. There were four tracks, of which the first three were kind of okay, kind of meh. The fourth was an atmospheric, slow number of the kind I’d normally eschew. But it had presence, immediacy, a lazy kick drum that may as well have been in my room.
What could that track be? Google Assistant’s “Search for a Song” feature solved that. It was “Authentic Celestial Music” by the Australian group Dirty Three, drawn from its album Ocean Songs recorded in 1997. The CD copy I had was only the first couple of minutes. But it took only moments to find the full ten-minutes on TIDAL and on Spotify. (Use the former rather than the rather crunchy latter!)
One thing led to another, and I found myself purchasing Ocean Songs on vinyl. Somehow this track and the album from which it was drawn seemed to belong there.
And then the album arrived.
The place from which I’d purchased it was www.vinyl.com.au, based in Melbourne. They were fast, and only six days after order Australia Post delivered it. A few hours later I placed a review on the vinyl’s site, thus:
Just received this today. Looking forward to it so much. Provided as two LPs inside a single LP sleeve, each LP in a high quality vinyl slip. Looked pristine. The whole thing was shrink-wrapped. You get a slip of paper inside that says you can download an MP3 version, but you can choose the format. I chose FLAC for original lossless quality. Nice.
I examined the labels on the two disks because I wanted to start with my favourite, "Authentic Celestial Music", the track for which I'd bought this album. But it wasn't listed. Instead, several of the other tracks were apparently doubled-up. I checked the record sleeve. It listed all ten tracks. I started thinking dark thoughts about false advertising and made sure I kept the cardboard box in which the record had been delivered, anticipating the need to return it.
But, hey, I've been buying vinyl for decades, so I know sometimes labels are in error. I resolved to listen all the way through. I started with the first disk, and accidentally put on what I think might be the second side. Scratch, scratch, scratch. I can't see it, but it's louder than the music for much of "The Restless Waves". Surface noise didn't intrude much for most of the two disks, except for a while on "Ends of the Earth".
Happy news though! The label on the second LP is simply wrong, wrong, wrong. Just about everything about it. The first side isn't the several listed tracks, but the 16.5 minutes of "Deep Water". And the first ten-ish minutes of the other side are, thankfully, "Authentic Celestial Music"!
And that track was in good nick. So, in the end I got what I wanted. Pity about the out-of-the-factory scratch on "The Restless Waves".
So, these several decades later the same issues persist. This isn’t some old pressing. It’s a new version after being, as noted by the website, “Long out of print”. Scratches, mislabelling …
… and a certain kind of magic as I was listening to “Authentic Celestial Music”, having finally found it.
I was being kind in my review. Even “Authentic Celestial Music” had its more than fair share of surface noise. And as for “The Restless Waves”, feel free to download and play this ten second snippet so that you’ll know I’m just not being pernickety about it.
(As I write, the website on which I placed my review has indicated: “YOUR REVIEW HAS BEEN POSTED! Thank you for taking the time to write a review. Your review has been submitted and if it meets our content posting terms and conditions it will appear on our website shortly.” It will be interesting to see if it does meet those terms and conditions. And, as I edit this prior to posting, more than a week after originally writing it … nothing. My review hasn’t appeared and the title has disappeared from the website. Perhaps I bought the last one.)
So, these decades later, vinyl remains a strange experience. It can be magical, it can be infuriating, and it can be both at the same time. Maybe that’s why we love it so much?
Especially these days, since we can retreat into the digital world to recover our sanity if everything gets a bit too much.