Setting the records straight

We had a party, and, as rarely happens in this house, there was a preponderance of boys (= men in their late fifties and early sixties) still hanging about and chewing the fat, cud and anything else going, at the end of the next day (it was a big party, and lots of people hadn’t seen each other for up to a decade). The conversation turned to how record collections are organised (very Nick Hornby, I am afraid – he is the one who coined the phrase ‘neurotically alphabetised’ of vinyl collections). The assembled WAGS listened very politely and all-sufferingly.

The general consensus was, alphabetical by surname. But what do you do with (say) Captain Beefheart. Is he a C or a B? (Or even an M for Magic Band?) The issue arose – we did get a little intellectual, and it was late – as to whether you filed albums by Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, or even (supposing you had gone out of your mind) Starr separately, or with The Beatles (i.e. with With The Beatles). And would you keep Lennon and McCartney apart? Would you file Zappa with The Mothers Of Invention? Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox with Eurythmics?

‘Sometimes, for instance,’ said Chris, ‘I want to listen to some cajun music, but I can never remember the names of the bands.’ Mick, on the other side of the room, chipped in.

‘I think you’ll find,’ he offered, ‘that cajun music is also zydeco, so you could file it under Z, and then it would be easy…’  However, Mick is not to be trusted with organising record collections. He filed his by the forenames of the recording artists (and may still be using that system). So, for instance, you would move from Arthur Lee (unless he was with Love) to Bobby Darin to Carla Thomas to David Ackles to Evan Dando to Fred Neil to … you get the picture. But not the full one. Because when you reach T, you get The Andrews Sisters, The Beatles, The Cranberries, The Doors, The Eagles, The Four Seasons … Aaaargh. It drove his wife round the twist.

And then there is the delicate problem of Various Artists. How do you sub-divide? All the Tamla together? Or is it mixed in with the Stax and other soul? Is the ska with the reggae? Can you even tell the difference? These kinds of decision drive a boy (man, grown man, old man) insane. And it can be the same with books, too. I once – I fill with shame at the thought – very cheekily asked Lisa St. Aubin de Teran, at a time when she was being touted as one of the best twenty novelists, what letter she was found under in book-shops. Drink does stupid things to you when you’re in your thirties. She was Not Amused.

There are those – really serious collectors, who fill a lot more space with vinyl than I do, as a moderate obsessive – who file under the record label, and I’ve met one person who filed by year of original release (you have to have a mind like a time machine to do that). I met a woman once who filed by the colour of the cover. You could also file by most recently played, by gender, by genre, by nationality. But I stick with good old alphabetical principles.

When I meet the great disc-jockey in the sky, he will be smiling at me. Not because of my execrable taste in music, nor its eclectic nature (the worst of every genre). But because, during the decade at about the time I arrive, the supposedly high ‘value’ of my collection will plummet, since every other collector will be dropping off the map at the same time, and the market will be flooded, and, if I can use this word of vinyl without shuddering, in meltdown.

The Great DJ may also remember what happened when I moved here. In deference to my partner, who did not want her walls lined with naff old LPs, I had a cabinet built, very cheaply, by a local carpenter who was a bit short of orders at the time. It was installed. It looked big enough to take the lot, but I was a bit unsure. I happily de-crated my albums and lo and behold, when I got to the end of Various Artists (I am A-Z and then Various Artists), they just fitted. It was a happy, serendipitous moment. I stepped back in delight, and half-fell over a large box.

It was labelled B.

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