Dylan Jones: 'There's little to rival the involuntary yelp you give out when you stumble across an obscure record'

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The Independent Online

For me, my pets are my records – when I can find them that is. I have spent a good deal of my life sifting through rows and rows of old LPs, boxes of secondhand singles and racks of rare CDs in search of those records that continue to elude me. Even though Amazon and iTunes have made it easier to source deleted and difficult-to-find records, there is still little to rival the involuntary yelp you give out when you stumble across something on your list while idly looking through a record store.

It happened to me last week, while I was cruising the aisles of Amoeba – not only the best record shop in LA, but, the way things are going, soon to be the only one. With a scrappy piece of paper in my hand, I was scouring the D section of the soul department looking for a copy of the impossible-to-find 1972 album The Dells Sing Dionne Warwick's Greatest Hits when suddenly I was holding one. There it was, brand new, for $9.99.

When something like this happens I usually do a double take, and look for the flaw: is it a live version, is that the real price, am I dreaming, etc? But this was the real deal – one of the greatest baroque soul albums ever made.

Why? Well, its architect was the fabulous Charles Stepney, a Phil Spector character in terms of his sonic ambitions, and his approach to recording sessions always involved a full string section, a funky backbeat, and some soaring vocals. Here, he also had one of the foremost singing groups of the era.

The title of the album is a slight misnomer, as it's actually a collection of Burt Bacharach covers. The record includes "Walk on By", "A House is Not a Home" and "I Say a Little Prayer", although the stand-out track is Stepney's extraordinary version of "Wives and Lovers", one of Bacharach's most complex pop songs. Stepney's version is layered with so many washes of sound that it feels and sounds like a small symphony.

So not only have I found one of the rareties on my list, but also – and this isn't always the case – it has totally exceeded expectations. See you at Amoeba, maybe.

Dylan Jones is the editor of 'GQ'