Why the devoted still play the singles scene: Forget CDs, and even LPs . . . the only sounds worth searching out are on 45rpm. Magnus Mills takes his Sixties cred for a spin at a record fair
Tuesday 04 January 1994
We were talking about B-sides when I noticed 'Love Like A Man' up in the rack. 'That one's got the same song on both sides' I said, 'and the B-side plays at 33rpm.' He seized the record and examined the label closely. 'Hey, you're right,' he said. 'LIVE VERSION, 33rpm. I never knew that.' At a stroke my credentials were established. Only a singles freak is interested in B-sides.
Now that the dealer knew I was genuine he would let me play as many records as I liked on his turntable. There were dozens of us at this record fair, sorting through old boxes lined up on trestle tables until our backs began to ache. Record fairs are hard work. Apart from the backache there was also the din. Most of the stall-holders had turntables at hand, all blaring out different kinds of music in competition with each other. The only way to hear a record you were testing was to put your head down by the speaker and sort of 'tune in' to it. Everyone seemed happy with the arrangement, though.
The great thing about these record fairs is that there is so much to choose from. Who cares what happens to the price of compact discs when there is all this vinyl available?
In order not to be overwhelmed by the vast choice, some record collectors work to a strict regime. Barry Steele, an ageing rocker with an ear-ring, was working through the rock 'n' roll boxes, discarding everything except records on the London label.
He was seeking Chuck Berry, Eddie Cochran, Carl Perkins, Clyde McPhatter, Little Richard, Julie London, etc. 'Who do you like best?' I enquired. 'Elvis,' he replied. 'But I've already got all his records.'
In front of me was an ocean of Sixties singles. That decade was the heyday of the pop single, the time of million sellers. After that they went into decline, apart from a brief respite during the New Wave era. The culprit, of course, was the long-playing album.
Well, I think albums are boring. Singles are best. What I like about singles is the minimalism they enforce on musicians. A song has to be reasonably short to fit into the single format, so many great performances were compressed into these 7in gems. Even the behemothic Led Zeppelin cut a few singles in their time, which says a lot. Mind you, some bands took brevity to the opposite extreme. The Small Faces once released a single entitled 'Just Passing' which had a running time of barely a minute. The Byrds also had a penchant for short songs, with 'So you want to be a rock 'n 'roll star' clocking in at two minutes, four seconds.
I have been after this one for ages and I picked it up the other day for pounds 1. You are supposed to clean them with lighter fluid but I just stuck it under the tap and used washing-up liquid.
The record was 27 years old but it played just fine as soon as the stylus found its groove and ploughed through the static. A lot of collectors would not touch a record that needed cleaning. Some don't even play them, which I think defeats the object somewhat.
I have a copy of the Yardbirds' 'Shapes of Things' which I bought new in 1966 for 6s 8d (33p). If I had kept it all that time and never played it, it would be worth twenty-odd quid now, but what's the point in that? Records are for listening to, not banking.
I like to spice my collection of rock, pop and soul records with other more obscure sounds. I have New Orleans zydeco (black cajun) recordings, a tabla recital from India, even Beethoven's Egmont Overture, all on 7in discs. And everybody knows about Pavarotti's big hit single during the 1990 World Cup.
Even Nasa released a single once. It featured a staccato conversation recorded in-flight between the orbiting astronaut Alan Shepard and mission control back on earth. Wow]
Meanwhile, back at the record fair . . . Flipping through yet another box I came across a stray copy of 'Memphis Tennessee' by Chuck Berry.
Enthusiastically, I called Barry over. He looked gloomily at the record. 'No good to me,' he said, 'this is on the Chess label. I only buy London records.'
Some people are so fussy.
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