A new book looks at the Golden Age of vinyl from The Beatles to The Sex Pistols
By Harvey Kubernik
This celebration of the vinyl record was curated and edited by music industry veteran Jeff Gold and features contributions from musicians Devendra Banhart, David Bowie, Peter Buck (R.E.M.), Nels Cline (Wilco), Robyn Hitchcock, Johnny Marr (The Smiths), Graham Nash, Suzanne Vega along with authors Jac Holzman, John Savage and Joe Boyd.
Gold’s book examines 101 rock albums, well known and obscure, that changed music forever; from the Beatles 1963 U.K. debut Please Please Me through the Sex Pistols 1977 classic Never Mind The Bollocks. The book focus is on vinyl’s “Golden Age,” a period beginning with the explosion of album sales brought on by Beatlemania, and ending in the late ‘70s, with the advent of Sony’s Walkman — and the cassette overtaking the LP as the dominant music format.
A two-page spread on each album features large images of each record’s front and back cover and record label. Each album depicted is the earliest issue from the artist’s country of origin — akin to a first edition book.
The book also includes a four page pictorial exploration of censored album covers, includ-ing the notorious Beatles Butcher Cover, the original cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland (picturing 19 nude girls), and a lesser known and extremely rare version of David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, before the dog’s genitals were airbrushed out.
While 101 Essential Rock Records is a look back to a time when the vinyl LP was the dominant format, it should be noted that we are currently in the midst of a vinyl revival. In 2010 vinyl was the fastest growing format, and in 2011 U.S. vinyl sales topped 3.6 million units; a 37 percent increase from the previous year.
Vinyl records have obsessed Jeff Gold for more than 40 years. A collector, rare record dealer, music historian and major label executive, Rolling Stone named Gold one of the world’s five “top collectors of high-end music memorabilia.”
As executive vice president and general manager of Warner Bros. Records and a senior executive at A&M Records, Gold worked with artists including Prince, R.E.M., the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Police, and Cat Stevens. A four-time Grammy Award nominated art director he won a Grammy for Best Album Package for, Days of Open Hand by Suzanne Vega. Gold has served as a consultant to both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Experience Music Project and was recently seen on the PBS television series, History Detectives. His collection was the source for most of the albums featured in 101 Essential Rock Records.
Gold owns the music collectibles website Recordmecca, and writes about topics of interest to collectors on its blog.
THE JEFF GOLD INTERVIEW
Q: What is the genesis of this book? The initial concept? And walk me through how it came together.
A: I’d had the idea to do a coffee table book of “essential” records for a long time — focusing on vinyl, with photographs of first pressings, some very rare, with essays on each one, and interviews with recording artists who are passionate about vinyl. One of my customers, Bryan Ray Turcotte, who has the foremost collection of punk fliers in the world, did a book of these called Fucked Up and Photocopied, which was a huge success — so much so that his publisher gave him an imprint. He asked me if I had any book ideas, and I told him about my one idea. He loved it, and very quickly I had a book deal.
Q: What makes these picks essential? Did you have a criterion? I know they are classic and influential.
A: I focused on records that were seminal — that in some way, large or small, changed the conversation and influenced the music that followed. I based my decisions on three criteria — quality, originality, and influence. It quickly became apparent I needed to set some parameters or I’d have a 1,000-page book. So I decided to focus on rock music and the “Golden Age of Vinyl” — the period where album sales dominated, beginning with The Beatles and ending with the advent of the Walkman, and cassettes becoming the dominant format. If this book is successful, we can do other ones dealing with other genres and timeframes.
Q: Can a book of visuals and text truly convey the feelings of everyone involved? Was one of the goals to educate and remind fans, collectors and new people about these endeavors?
A: I think this book works on different levels for different people. People who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s go through it a-page-at-a-time and it brings back lots of memories and curiosity about albums they don’t know. For younger people passionate about records it can be a textbook of sorts — a primer that lists the truly important albums. And for sophisticated collectors it is both a celebration and a reference, as all of the record are first pressing from the artist’s country of origin — some extremely rare, like Bob Dylan’s Freewheelin’ with the four extra tracks. And the essays are a high point for me — seeing what albums influenced artists like David Bowie or Iggy Pop is fascinating, and there are some real revelations.
Q: Was it always going to be visual and text driven? Why the two-page examination?
A: I wanted to have an essay on each record and why it was important, and picture the front and back covers and labels of first pressings, as well as gatefold artwork and interesting variations from around the world — so we needed at least a two page spread for each album, and sometimes more.
Q: Walk me through the compiling and editing process.
A: I put together my first list of 101 Records, than consulted a number of friends and fellow collectors who I thought had a good handle on which records really changed things. There was a lot of back and forth about which albums to choose.
Q: You have blended “classic” rock with “punk rock,” genres and music that sometimes have different audiences or fans. Was your background at record labels a factor that you would not narrowcast this book?
A: I focused on rock music, which to me means music that’s generally guitar driven and song based, with a verse-chorus-verse structure. It often incorporates elements of other kinds of music — blues, folk, psychedelia, and punk — but I tried to steer clear of other fully-fledged genres.
Q: How did you select the contributors and how did you select the essay people?
A: Most of the contributors were people I knew from my days in the music business. I’d worked with Iggy Pop at A&M and knew he was a very knowledgeable guy — and two of The Stooges albums were in my book. So I was interested in what records interested him. I was really surprised when he chose the first Them album and the Mother of Invention’s Freak Out, and blown away to find out Them was the sonic template for the Stooges, and the Mothers as Iggy said “pushed him to be weirder, faster.”
Q: The book also displays the rock musician and recording artist as record collector. Two prime examples are David Bowie and Johnny Marr. Did you initiate by email, telephone or reps? How were some of the musicians approached?
A: Johnny Marr of the Smiths was a mutual friend of two good friends of mine, and I knew he was a vinyl collector and music fanatic. I emailed him and he immediately agreed, and asked to do The Stooges Raw Power, which is an album that influenced him tremendously. David Bowie I contacted through his Webmaster, and while he agreed to do an interview about The Velvet Underground and Nico, which changed his life, he wasn’t able to meet my deadline. Fortunately he’d done an interview for New York Magazine, which was exactly what I needed, and so I licensed that to include — it was the only interview not done by me for this book, but I think he’s so passionate about that very important album that I had to have him.
Q: Explain the method of presen-ting a compilation that merges the popular and the rarity?
A: While some of the records included are rare and others very popular, it just worked out that way. I only paid attention to the album’s innovation, influence and quality. The fact that everything is a true first pressing means many of them are scarce.
Q: As we read the book and spend time with the images, what do you feel emerges?
A: For me, the book is a cele-bration of great music and art-ists that changed the world, and of vinyl as a format that has astoundingly made a comeback that no one could have predicted. People my age turn the pages and see their lives flash before them, it brings back such great memories and makes them want to hear those records again. And younger people, who maybe know the names of the groups or records, are filled with questions and eager to find out what they’ve been missing. It gets a dialog going about music, and that’s a great thing.
101 Essential Rock Records: The Golden Age of Vinyl from The Beatles to The Sex Pistols;
Compiled and Edited by Jeff Gold
To see a selection of sample pages from the book go to: 101essentialrecords.com