I rarely revisit an old subject (wink wink), but I feel like I’ve done you a great disservice. In my post ripping the LP a new one, I somehow neglected to mention the biggest problem with the format.
Which I will get to in a second. First you get to read this little tale of hardship and woe.
Near the beginning of February, I was surfing the web and noticed that one of my favorite P-Funk spinoff albums, the self-titled, only release by Sweat Band, had been given a new vinyl reissue. Despite my earlier, voluminous protestations, I do own a record player and a healthy stack of LPs and 7-inches. And since the Sweat Band Japanese import CD is long out of print and goes for $200 a pop on eBay, I thought, “What the hey, ten bucks for a vinyl reissue of this baby sounds great to me.” (What a naive fool I was.)
I ordered a copy from Dusty Groove, some awesome motherfuckers from this agent’s old HQ locale, Chicago. Dusty Groove are keeping the flame for vinyl alive. Good on them. I have been delighted with their service in the past and picked up a fresh new copy of the self-titled album by Quazar, which I was very happy with. This new Sweat Band, though – not so much. My inaugural spin was in my music/computer room, me sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the record player as my PC recorded its every note. All was well for about 30 seconds. Maybe 35.
And then the skipping started.
A lot of people associate skipping with the old cliche of a “broken record,” meaning something just repeating ad nauseum until you bump the needle forward a few grooves. (See also: this blog on the subject of movies being remade.) These are known as backward skips, because a scratch or other damage to the groove sends the needle backward. In my experience though, the most common variety is the forward skip. I don’t know why that is, but it seems to be all I ever run into. I own at least five or six pieces of vinyl with some very annoying forward skips in them – small chunks of song just disappear. Well, less than a minute into “Hyper Space” on side 1 of “Sweat Band,” it started forward skipping. And it did it two or three times in pretty short order.
I was calm, I was clear-headed. I took off the record and looked at it lovingly. I tenderly caressed it with an old, soft t-shirt to remove any hairs or crudlings. I looked for visible scratches – on this NEW piece of vinyl – and found none. Satisfied with my efforts, I put it back on again. And the fucking thing skipped again, in the same places as before.
I contacted Dusty Groove. They were awesome. They held a replacement copy for me and promised to execute the old switcheroo as soon as the first was returned, and they volunteered to cover my postage costs. I was a very happy customer. I mailed it back the next day, my card was refunded for shipping, and just a few days later I received copy #2. I took it out of the shipping box, removed it from the sleeve, and put it on the turntable.
And it fucking skipped just like the previous one did.
“OK,” I said to myself, “This is clearly a manufacturer’s defect of some sort. I can’t see it so it must have been a problem in the master or something.” I contacted Dusty Groove and they offered me a refund, which I accepted. Issue resolved – except now I have no copy of the album I wanted.
My next stop was eBay. I figured – correctly, as it turned out – that the reissue would drive down prices on the original copies. A few stubborn sellers were clinging to their $40 Buy It Nows, but most copies of the first press were going for $8 to $10. Perfect. I bought one, waited the few days for the auction to end (there were no bidders except me), and then waited a few more days for the album to ship. It arrived, I put it on – you can see where this is going, can’t you? – and it skipped. Not during “Hyper Space” – these skips were scattered throughout several other tracks. I did my clean-and-buff routine on the record with no tangible results. And I bowed my head in defeat. But then I raised it in resilience! The fates were not going to win.
I headed back to eBay and bought used copy of the original pressing #2. For those keeping track, this is the FOURTH copy in total of the album that I bought. I waited for it to ship to me. I took it out of the box, etc. And – wait for it! oh yes, motherfucker! – it skipped. Several skips, various tracks, the usual routine. Cleaned it, buffed it, no results.
At this point I was almost a broken man. I’d invested about $45 on copies of this album (over half of which has since been refunded to me), received it to my house four different times, and didn’t have one clean, playable copy to show for it. Nearly entirely daunted, I turned to my last refuge: GEMM.com, eBay’s music-only evil twin. I ordered myself an original pressing still in shrinkwrap, never opened or played. I’m still waiting for it – I’ll report back soon.
But in the meantime, as I waited for Sweat Band LP #5, Bloodstone LP #1 showed up on my doorstep. Bloodstone is an obscure Swedish death metal band whose only album was recently issued on vinyl by the indie/metal label Blood Harvest (a great label who puts out excellent releases and has solid customer service). After the Sweat Band saga, I was really looking forward to putting on a NEW piece of vinyl that most probably wouldn’t skip on me. So this evening I played a little online poker, ate a greasy and appalling dinner, and then settled back to listen to/rip the new record.
Maybe you see this coming. Maybe you are not as stupid as I thought, Diane. (Just a little joke. Pardon my seething rage, so briefly directed at you. It will all make sense momentarily.)
Yep, the new LP skips too. It has a series of loud pops in track 1, side 1, which is annoying but I can live with it. But after I ripped all of side 1 and moved on to side 2, the skipping kicked in. Three or four times in the first song alone. I was inches away from dismantling my record player and hurling it over the back yard fence for the groundskeeper of the church behind my house to clean up. I was mere millimeters from snapping the record in half over my knee and slicing open my arteries with the jagged shards that remained. I was about one thousandth of a micron from going on a killing spree that would result in headlines like, “Clean-cut FBI agent stabs seven with homemade vinyl knives in northside Denny’s.” I was THIS close, Diane.
Luckily for my wrists and the good patrons of Denny’s, I came to my senses. I put the record away and calmly e-mailed the proprietor of Blood Harvest, explaining that his record has issues and perhaps he would be so kind as to send me a replacement.
Which will most assuredly skip. And will most assuredly be the last record I ever buy.
…So that brings me to the neglected biggest single problem with vinyl as an audio format, which is that it is a fragile, ridiculously sensitive piece of FUCKING SHIT, and if I EVER BUY ANOTHER FUCKING RECORD AGAIN, IT WILL BE TOO FUCKING SOON, YOU FUCKING CRAPASS PIECES OF BASTARD PIE. GodDAMN it.
(Whew. Feel a bit better now.)