All record collectors have their ‘grails’, those rare and desirable albums that rarely pop up or, when they do, require a second mortgage to obtain. Some people keep a list of those items they long to call ‘my precious’, others simply hope for a chance encounter in the wild at a reasonable (or not totally unreasonable) price.
Discogs, that notorious Alice’s Restaurant of music purchasing, has many rarities; it’s a record store the size of the planet, after all. Yet unless your bucket of funds is bottomless, the locating of such booty—anywhere from Scandinavia to South Carolina—is more a matter of wishful thinking than genuine intention. Most of us stand outside with our noses pressed against the glass, like pauper children outside a pie shop.
After a very long time accumulating records and CDs, I find that there is an additional factor in play. It is not to do with money. Well it is, but not about not having enough. I could afford most of the things I wish for, or at least quite a few of them. It would be simply a matter of going through the on-line search process and picking the best option. Click ‘Buy Now’ and it’s sorted. But having started the Vinyl Connection collection when I was about eighteen and a young fellow of very limited resources, the habit of not paying premium prices is deeply ingrained. At several stages of my life (or, as I tend to think of it, collecting career) I have sold off vinyl (and CDs) to fund other purchases, developing both a keen sense of market value and an appreciation of the importance of ‘the hunt’. Now, snug in petite bourgeoise middle age, I don’t really have the same constraints. Yet something stops me from going, ‘Yeah, eat it all’. Some things you gather, others you hunt, but it’s being a Vinyl Hunter-Gatherer that defines my music hoard rather than bragging rights about this first pressing or that gatefold rarity.
A case in point was a series of three compilation CDs put out by Rhino in the nineties. Called POPTOPIA!, there is one volume for each of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. They are beautifully designed with a Roy Lichtenstein homage front cover and an Andy Warhol nod on the back while the track selection has been thoughtfully and lovingly done too, with 18 power pop songs offering an hour of guitar-driven, hook-laden fun. Times three.
I found the first one first. That was great, but as much of the material was already in the collection, it was the others I instantly needed. Once you start a set you have to finish it, right? A few years later I came across the ’90s volume at a record store in Adelaide. It was a bit pricey, but not enough to introduce more than a flicker of hesitation. Two down.
As the years passed and it became more of an ordeal getting down on hands and knees to flick through the carpet-level boxes where stores often file their VAROUS ARTISTS discs, I almost forgot about POPTOPIA! Then along comes Discogs, with its endless inventory and collector wish lists so of course I put a flag on the ’80s volume and then kind of forgot about it again.
[This is, naturally but uncomfortably, an increasing capacity of the mature-age brain. And by capacity I mean incapacity. Why, just this evening I was trying to extract from memory the name of the actor who made an amusing Police Station cameo in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which we were watching as part of our family’s ‘Coming of Age’ film season. Three scenes later I shouted ‘Charlie Sheen’ and made the others jump. But I digress. I think.]
Two years ago a copy came up at a reasonable price, but the booklet was water-damaged and the postage tripled the cost. No thanks. Then early this year another copy, claimed by the seller to be in top-notch condition, came to my attention. The postage from the US was exorbitant so I sent a message wondering if the seller would post the CD without the jewel case, thus lightening the weight considerably. The reply was polite and clear: this CD has a tray (the bit that holds the CD) with lenticular grooves, making the underlying picture of a 45 and tonearm spin and move. I’d forgotten that, and naturally would not want an incomplete copy. Sigh.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, a seller in Norway listed a copy in MINT- condition. It was rather expensive, even in Euros, but he was open to offers so I sent off a proposal and the deal was closed.
It arrived yesterday and it’s great. Cross one off the list, Sir Gawain!
The music on this POPTOPIA! trilogy is really good, if power pop is a style you enjoy. Some songs emphasise the power, others lean towards pop, but all are worth getting to know. If it is an unknown area but your interest is piqued by this epic tale, may I offer an article from the back pages of Vinyl Connection that shares both my journey with the music and some recommended listening? It’s called Here is a sunrise. Ain’t that enough?
For those already on board, here are the track lists for the CDs. You’ll certainly know a couple.