August 31, 2013

Reissues vs. Vintage Vinyl

Leon Russel Carney


By Maya Eslami

I bought my first record in 2004, when I was twenty years old: Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, off Merge Records. I remember walking into Streetlight Records in Santa Cruz and noticing, for the first time maybe, that there was a record section in a music store. I skimmed through the stacks, completely overwhelmed. I didn’t even own a record player at the time, but my friends were buying records (peer pressure), and I didn’t want to be left out. I took my copy home that day, placed the needle into the black groove, and let the sound wash over me like a wave.

I moved on to the dollar bins next, not yet comfortable with my taste but confidant enough to buy cheap, busted fillers for my collection. Leon Russell’s Carney, from Shelter Records and Good Vibrations, Best of the Beach Boys both presented themselves to me at a flea market for fifty cents each. The cover for Carney is clipped at the top left corner, and Good Vibrations has the name “Wesley” written in blue pen on the back, right on Carl Wilson’s guitar. Both albums crackle and hiss when I play them, the vinyl nearly warped, but they’re originals. I scored when I bought them, or so I thought.

Easter EverywhereIt wasn’t until I had collected most of the mainstream stuff, the records I could find and afford, that I started looking for rarities. At Atomic Records in Burbank, I found a copy of Townes Van Zandt’s second album, Our Mother the Mountain, on Poppy Records, with the big red poppy in the center of the brown label. Poppy Records, an independent label created in 1967, released all of Townes Van Zandt’s albums before dissolving in 1974. Townes Van Zandt albums on Poppy records have become more or less extinct. Fat Possum Records, a label intended to promote unknown Mississippi blues artists, began reissuing Van Zandt’s albums in 2007, and in May of 2013, Omnivore Records released The Late Great Townes Van Zandt and High, Low, and In Between. I found my copy of High, Low, and In Between on Poppy at Freakbeat Records in Sherman Oaks for $30, which was expensive for vinyl, but worth it, considering the album’s availability.

And then something happened. I couldn’t find originals anymore, or they were too expensive to afford. I wanted to own an album when I wanted to, not when I found it after years of searching. A friend of mine turned me on to the 13th Floor Elevators, Roky Erikson’s psychedelic band from Austin, and I frantically searched high and low for anything I could get my hands on. International Artists, the independent Houston-based label that backed the band, shut their doors in 1971. As a result, original 13th Floor Elevators albums are practically impossible to find. Only 120 copies of the mono edition of Easter Everywhere, their second album, were ever pressed. But in 2008, Charly Records, a British reissue label, took over International Artists and released every 13th Floor Elevators album on 180-gram vinyl, and in some cases, like Easter Everywhere, as a double gatefold with both the mono and stereo mixes. I now own every album by the 13th Floor Elevators, and don’t really care that they’re reissues.

RecordWhich made me wonder, is it worth waiting months, maybe years, to find that gem of a record, that mono first pressing covered in 30-year-old dust? The original Poppy release of The Late Great Townes Van Zandt has the now infamous picture of Townes Van Zandt flipping the bird on the back cover. I’ve seen the reissue; the back is completely white, and his picture is a fold-out pixilated insert. The music sounds the same, the quality is just as good if not better. George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass was reissued by EMI in 2010. The original box cover of the album is a sepia-hued black and white; the new version is in full Technicolor. Does that matter?

Not to me. Light in the Attic Records, an independent record label based in Seattle that specializes in reissues, is single-handedly responsible for releasing the entire catalogue of Sixto Rodriguez, an obscure musician whose albums basically disappeared in the late seventies. Light in the Attic also releases classics and compilations from Lee Hazelwood, Donnie and Joe Emerson, Karen Dalton, among so many more. If it weren’t for labels like Light in the Attic and Charly Records and even Fat Possum Records, I wouldn’t be able to own these albums.

I’m a record collector. I also spin vinyl at a local bar as a DJ side gig for fun. Although I value the quality of a mono first pressing and the thrill of finding originals, the ability to play a record, to own the music I love without going bankrupt, is more important to me now — whether or not it’s a reissue.

Maya Eslami has written music reviews for The Hollywood Reporter. She spins records on Mon. nights at Footsie’s Bar in Highland Park, CA. Read her blog, It’s All Downhill From

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