I’m quite proud of the record collection I’ve amassed. I have a subscription to Apple Music and I love it. As I’m typing this I have my headphones on and I’m enjoying a new Kehlani album I likely would’ve never heard if I had to pay $9.99 for it. A lot of my music listening takes place in my truck during a commute or in my Air Pods on my way from one place to another. Streaming has opened up a whole new world of music. However, when I really want to listen to music there’s no substitute for my turntable. When I find something I like streaming the first think I do is find out of it’s available on vinyl. It’s probably a waste of money, right? I’m already paying the monthly subscription fee to have access to millions of songs in a matter of seconds. Why would I drop extra money to buy something that takes up space and is far less convenient?
Seriously, listening to a record is work, comparatively speaking anyway. You’ve gotta find the record on the shelf. Take it out of the sleeve. Drop it on the platter. Put the needle on it. Then you sit down and after 3-4 songs you’ve gotta get your ass right back up and carefully lift the needle off of it, flip it over, and drop the needle again. As I was proofreading this very paragraph I had to get up and flip a record over. Totally lost my spot. You want to skip tracks? No! You can’t. You’re listening to Thriller and you want to skip right from “Baby Be Mine” to “Thriller”? Too bad. You’re gonna listen to “The Girl is Mine” whether you want to or not…unless you want to get up again and move that needle. Good luck finding the break between songs without a flashlight and a magnifying glass. Did I mention they skip? I treat my records like newborn babies and some of them still skip for reasons unbeknownst to me. What the hell is that all about? Don’t even get me started on 7″ records. One song per side? What’s the point???
For me it’s about having a physical connection to the music I love. The experience I get from placing the vinyl on the platter and dropping the needle on it far exceeds anything I’ve ever gotten from a CD, mp3, stream, tape deck, eight-track, or what have you. The hypnotic spinning of the record at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. The “oh shit, that’s way too fast” feeling I experience when I change it to 45 RPM. The cartridge starting at the perimeter of the vinyl and methodically working its way through the groove to the center. The (approximately) 12.5″ x 12.5″ album sleeve giving the album art and credits the recognition they deserve. Certainly more real estate for artwork than a CD, cassette, or digital file. Maybe the record is a gatefold with more artwork and liner notes. Those are the best. Ever read the notes on the back of a classic Blue Note record? Every one tells a story about the music you’re listening to and takes you back to the smoke filled studios and clubs where they were recorded. You can always look that shit up on the Internet but it would also confirm that you have no soul.
There’s also the difference in audio quality. It’s noticeable assuming the record wasn’t some bootleg trash or attacked by a weed whacker. There’s a warmth and depth to the sound that you don’t get when you’re listening to your iPhone. Listen to Prince’s Sign ‘O’ the Times on that crappy old CD from 1987, then put the same album on a turntable. It’s the aural equivalent to Dorothy’s old black and white house getting lifted out of Kansas and landing in colorful Oz. You’ve been watching the grainy black and white that after a while you stop noticing. Then you step out of the house in Oz surrounded by brilliant color.
Aside from the sound quality and the album artwork, the other thing I love about vinyl is the look of the actual record. I know that there are purists out there who insist on original pressings and/or that their records be black and I respect that. For me, if the audio quality is equal, give me some kind of color. Even better, I say! I have hundreds of black records that look the same. If I can throw some color on that turntable to spice things up, I love it.
This week my favorite record club, Vinyl Me, Please, announced that their Record of the Month for March is De La Soul’s legendary debut 3 Feet High and Rising. I already have that record. It was a Christmas gift from my sister and brother-in-law several years ago. I listen to it often. I’ve been rocking “Potholes in My Lawn”, “Buddy”, and “Me, Myself, and I” for 30 years. I’ve known that three is the magic number since I was 13. I don’t need another copy of 3 Feet High and Rising. This isn’t just any copy of that record, though. VMP went ahead and made one of the prettiest records I’ve ever seen. Seriously, check this out. Clear vinyl with the bright color splatters. The label with the De La font in the middle. The album artwork, sleeves, and VMP exclusive artwork are so colorful and vibrant. I’ve gotta have that. It will immediately become one of the five most visually appealing records I own.
After seeing that De La record I started asking myself: What are the most visually appealing records I own? Forget about the actual audio contents. What looks the best on the turntable? As I was contemplating I checked in on IG and saw that my brother had posted a picture of a rare translucent blue Soundgarden record that he bought in college. It felt like a sign. It’s time for my list of the prettiest vinyl I own. First, one rule and one disclaimer.
The rule: no “picture discs”. I have a Purple Rain record that has the artwork right on the vinyl. Same for Michael Jackson’s Bad. One of my Charlie Brown Christmas records. I don’t count those. I’ve been told that the audio quality on picture discs is not as good as a regular record. I’m really not sure if that’s true, but I just feel like the pictures discs are more for decoration than they are for listening so I’m not counting them.
The disclaimer: My photography leaves a lot to be desired. I should’ve gotten my guy Dave Evans over here to find the appropriate lighting and do these records justice. I had a poorly lit den and an iPhone. I admit it’s in poor taste to write a column about how pretty these records are and then supply you with mediocre pictures, but you get what you pay for on a free blog.
That’s all. I have records with better music on them, but these records look the coolest when you slide them out of the sleeve. I shall list them in no particular order, but I am saving my two favorite for last.
What Time Is It? – The Time
I had been searching for this record for years because, in case you didn’t know, this is a Prince record. It might say The Time on it, but this is Prince. Prince was making so much music in the 80’s that Warner Brothers wouldn’t let him release all of it for fear of oversaturation. So, he started releasing records through other artists. They all said they were produced by “The Starr Company”. Prince adopted the alias “Jamie Starr”. Jamie Starr and the Starr Company were producing a lot of records. The Time. Sheila E. Vanity 6. Appolonia 6. They were all Starr productions. Dude was prolific. Anyway, after years of digging through the “T” section of many a record store looking for this gem, it was a Record Store Day exclusive in 2017. My search was over. At long last I could appreciate Prince’s insane high-hat work on “777-9311” on vinyl with the added bonus of it being presented on this gorgeous green vinyl.
Like Water for Chocolate – Common
Man, it bums me out that Common has become something of a punchline. I saw someone on Twitter make a joke last week that their favorite rap song was Common’s Microsoft commercial. SNL called him the hip hop Dr. Seuss. Why you gotta do Common like that? Have you listened to this record? The album was released in 2000 as part of the amazing run of Soulquarian records of the late-90’s/early-2000’s. Respect the Classics (now rebranded as Urban Classics) put this specific vinyl out in 2015. Not only is this a great hip hop record, the green and white vinyl look amazing. The translucent green looks cool, but I love white vinyl. I believe I’ve said somewhere on this blog in the past that it looks like milk spinning on the turntable. Next time you hear someone shit-talking about Common just play this record and bask in “The Light”.
The Score – Fugees
The first of many Vinyl Me, Please records on the list. This was their Record of the Month in April of 2016. Not only does VMP only sell great music, they know how to press some beautiful vinyl. It might be difficult to tell from the picture, but this record is half solid black and half translucent gold. The Score also happens to be one of the best records of the 1990’s. Aside from Camp Lo’s Uptown Saturday Night, I can’t think of an album that got more play in our beloved Ford Festiva (The Mothership) in the late-90’s.
Strictly 4 My N****z – 2Pac
Speaking of albums that got a lot of play in cars in the 90’s… Last year this album was reissued for the 25th anniversary because apparently things that I loved in high school are 25 years old now. This was the first album I owned by “the guy who played Bishop in Juice.” I’ve got a lot more stories about my history with this record here. I’ll just say I like this record because if the light hits it just right it looks like the turntable is on fire, or at least covered in lava.
Stranger Things Volume 1 – Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein
The Stranger Things theme song is something I heard once and said, “I have to get this on vinyl.” Then my 12-year-old daughter saw the show and became obsessed. One Friday night last fall we were wandering around Barnes & Noble when we came across this record. Phoebe did the thing kids do when they see something they want. “Can we get it? Can we get it? You know you love it. We should get it.” I wasn’t going to let her wear me down until I saw that the vinyl was translucent blue with black streaks. That put it over the top. I got myself a cool record and made my daughter very happy. This record is a win-win.
Soul Food – Goodie Mob
Another VMP Exclusive, this was their Rap & Hip Hop Record of the Month in April of 2018. With all due respect to Cee Lo, Big Gipp, Khujo, and T-Mo, I don’t love this album. I know they collaborated with Outkast and this is a southern hip hop classic, but it’s never been one of my favorites. However, it looks like a piece of rich mahogany spinning on my turntable. It’s luxurious like the inside of a Cadillac sedan.
Songs About Jane – Maroon 5
I ride for Maroon 5. I don’t care if that makes me uncool or whatever. Maroon 5 has been cranking out good, fun pop rock for 15 years. Adam Levine’s voice is one of a kind. There are few things that bring peace to my soul like spinning “Sunday Morning” on this gorgeous maroon and black vinyl on an actual Sunday morning while I’m making scrambled eggs for the family. This vinyl was limited to 1,500 copies and released in November of 2015. It was a much appreciated Christmas present from my mom. Thanks, mom!
Long.Live.A$AP – A$AP Rocky
This translucent gold vinyl is one of my favorites. It’s so bright I swear it actually shines in the dark. Released in January of 2013, it was one of the first translucent vinyl records I owned. This was six years ago and relatively early in my record collecting days when I wasn’t preoccupied with things like fancy colorful vinyl. It also contains some of the best hip hop from this decade. If you want to just chill and enjoy some nighttime vibes, drop the needle on “PMW (All I really Need)” because that is some ill shit. This album also contains “Wild for the Night”, the key soundtrack to our beloved short film Devil’s Pie.
The Very Best of Daryl Hall & John Oates
This might be the worst picture I took tonight. I don’t know what the hell was happening with my camera and the lights in the room. The first record at the top is actually a cool light gray color despite the fact that it looks black in the picture. The bottom record is a bright royal blue. I have my mother to thank for my love of Hall & Oates. I don’t necessarily love all of their album cuts, so when I saw this “Best of” compilation released in August of 2016 on two different colored records, I had to have it. Look at either one of the records alone and it’s nothing special, but the color combination of the two and the way they complement the album artwork vault them on to this list.
And the Anonymous Nobody – De La Soul
We’ve officially reached the terrible photography portion of the list. I should be fired for this. That’s a mint green record on a white shirt, but you wouldn’t now it looking at this atrocity. I could retake the picture, but I just want to get this posted and move on. Anyone who knows me knows that I love mint. I also love the mint green color, so this vinyl is perfect. As I mentioned above, I’ve been a fan of De La for 30 years, so when they announced in 2015 that they were doing a Kickstarter to fund their first album in over a decade, I happily signed up. When I found out you could upgrade to an autographed copy on mint green vinyl and they were only doing 2.500 copies of it, I happily did that, too. Not only is the album amazing, according to Discogs it’s the most valuable record I have. Too bad I couldn’t get a decent picture of it.
Stepping Into Tomorrow – Donald Byrd
Let’s just get the other terrible picture out of the way now. I just received this album from VMP last month. I swapped out their Record of the Month for this bit of 1970’s jazz/funk. This record is like a trip down hip hop sample lane. The vinyl itself is stunning. It looks like someone started squirting blue and purple food coloring in to crystal clear water, then froze it on to a record.
Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star
This record sat atop my “Most Wanted” list for a long time. Then in 2014 Respect the Classics blessed us with this reissue on black starred vinyl. Get it? Black stars?? Black Star??? The design on the record is subtle, but it looks really cool spinning on the turntable. It also sounds amazing because it’s some of the greatest hip hop ever recorded.
Musicology, 3121, and Planet Earth – Prince
In November of 2018 the Prince Estate announced that these three records would all be available on purple vinyl in February of 2019 and I gleefully ordered them all. When I received them I was pleasantly surprised to see that, not only were they purple, but they were actually translucent with black swirls. It’s hard to tell in this amazing picture I took above, but I have a better picture that I took the day I received the album with a terribly snowy Wisconsin day as the backdrop. Observe!
Doesn’t that look cool? I’ll have two more of them coming in April when “Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic” and “Rave In2 the Joy Fantastic” are reissued on the same purple vinyl. Here’s a fun fact about me in case you haven’t figured it out: I like Prince.
Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood – DMX
I’m violating my “no picture disc” rule here, but this one feels different. It’s not a picture of DMX in a literal tub full of blood like the album cover. It’s just DMX’s actual blood mixed in with the white vinyl. Oh, it’s not actually DMX’s blood? It’s not blood at all? Just a picture? I play this record when I want to revel in the irony of listening to the song “Keep Your Shit the Hardest” while simuntaneously feeling queasy from the very realy looking blood on the record.
Nina Simone Sings the Blues
Yet another Vinyl Me, Please record of the month. This one is from December of 2016. My camera also failed to capture the beauty of this robin’s egg blue vinyl. The reason I like this one so much is because the color is exactly the same color I remember the walls in my living room being when this house was my grandmother’s. The RCA Victor label on the record with the dog listening to the old record player just adds to the aesthetic. Not only is it classic music, but the look of the record is the cherry on the sundae.
Gravitas – Talib Kweli
For the record, I have a copy of Do You Want More?!!?! by The Roots on identical translucent blue vinyl, but the stories behind this record are better, so I’m going with this one. I purchased this record from KweliClub.com back in 2014 because it was the only place you could get the limited edition blue. I also love the idea of purchasing music directly from the artist and I was rewarded with an e-mail from Kweli himself thanking me for my purchase. I was thrilled to start an e-mail conversation with him about hip hop music after that. I had love him since ’98, but after he took the time to talk with me, I will always be a fan and own 14 of his records. It helps that he’s one of the greatest MC’s who ever lived and continues to make dope music. Another fun side note on this album is that I’ve gotten more inquiries about it on Discogs than any other album I own. A lot of hip hop heads want the blue vinyl. Sorry. Not for sale.
Doggystyle – Snoop Doggy Dogg
Call this month’s De La Soul reissue deja vu because it’s not the first time Vinyl Me, Please has released a cooler version of vinyl I already own. In May of 2018 VMP announced this stunning brown & mint splatter album as their Rap & Hip Hop Record of the Month. I already owned Doggystyle because it’s a bona fide classic, but look at this thing. I couldn’t pass it up. It’s easily in my top five, maybe even top three prettiest records. It’s like someone melted a giant Andes mint in to a vanilla milkshake, flattened it, and put a classic Snoop record on top of it. Magical! I also have a copy of VMP’s pressing of Biggie’s Ready to Die on similar white vinyl with black and red, but something about this color combination works better for me.
This (finally) brings me to my top two. Coincidence or not, they happen to be the only two albums by the same artist and they are my two favorite hip hop albums ever. They also happen to come from the same label. Drumroll please…
Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) – Digable Planets
Reachin’ was a life-altering album for me in 1993. It also spent more time at the top of my “Most Wanted” records list than any other, ever. It was only pressed back in 1993 and it was nearly impossible to find. When you could find it, it was expensive. The summer of 2017 was particularly brutal and I had some money from my grandmother so I splurged on a copy of it from Discogs. The seller was from Germany. It was in very good condition at best and the sleeve was beat to hell. I finally had my record, but it wasn’t exactly as I’d hoped. In late-2017 Light in the Attic Records announced a 25th anniversary edition. They’d be pressing 1,000 of them on blue and purple vinyl. Of course, I had to have it. It is everything I hoped. It helps that blue and purple are my favorite colors. The vinyl is as strange and trippy as the music that’s on it. A fitting medium for an amazing album.
Blowout Comb – Digable Planets
How do you choose between Reachin’ and Blowout Comb? I’ve vacillated for 25 years. If I had to choose, I’d take Blowout, but it’s damn close. I feel the same way about the vinyl. In May of 2013 Light in the Attic released this reissue. Nearly all of them were on black vinyl but they made 150 on white for the first online orders and lavender for “subscribers”. I’m not even sure what that means, but I know that I’m not one. My wonderful wife purchased a copy of the black vinyl online as a Father’s Day gift for me. I’m not sure why. I can’t recall another Father’s Day gift I’ve ever received. I guess she knew I’d love it. Father’s Day came and went. Still no record. Sometime around mid-July I said, “Not to nag, but where’s my record?” She got on the phone with someone from Light in the Attic to inquire. They apologized for the mixup and said they’d get my copy out immediately. At the last second a light bulb went on and I blurted out, “Ask if they’ll send me a purple one!!!” I’m sure she had no idea what I was talking about, but she said, “My husband wants to know if he can get a purple one.” They said they had one opened, but it was in perfect condition and they’d send it if I didn’t mind that it was opened. I didn’t. And that is how I got what is still my favorite record in my entire collection. For what it’s worth, their packaging and presentation on the sleeves and inserts is also immaculate. My favorite hip hop record ever on my favorite vinyl.
I’m sure there is more pretty vinyl in my future, but this is the best I have for now. The Record Store Day 2019 list just dropped and I haven’t taken the time to scour that yet. I’m sure it’ll have some more visually appealing gems. For all I know VMP will outdo themselves next month and I’ll have a new #1 on this list by May. You never know.
Have anything cool you’ve seen that you’d like to share? Please leave it in the comments.