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The banana

If you waited, say, ten or twenty years to start peeling (it reads peel slowly and see, after all), the banana wouldn’t come off without a fight, as on this copy in the shop right now.

banana1The residue outline of the peeled banana is still there. They were, presumably, easy to peel when new. Most copies look more like ours at home (below), just pink fruit and hardly a memory of a peel. We bet they were fun to peel, just as we remember how much fun it was to light on fire the paper panties inside Alice Cooper’s School’s Out, which went up in wild flash! And don’t even ask about the “Bite Me” iron on inside our copy of Nilsson’s Son of Dracula. Who thought people would want to collect this kind of stuff.

There are other variations to the jacket of The Velvet Underground & Nico, because an image projected upside down on the band in the concert photo on the back contained an actor who threatened a lawsuit against Verve Records for unauthorized use of his likeness. Thanks to Eric Emerson, these so-called “torso” jackets are the rarest copies because the label was forced to recall them and reproduce new jackets with his big dumb, upside down body airbrushed out. Probably didn’t help original sales of the LP, either. Other copies have a sticker covering the picture, which people invariably tried to peel.

banana2The thing about The Velvet Underground & Nico is that original copies are all noisy, resulting from poor pressing. If you want clean sound your probably better off with a European press like the reissues on Polydor. We’ve never been audiophiles around here, but our experience is that they sound much better. If you’re as big a fan of the Velvet Underground as we are, you probably also have the five-disc Peel Slowly and See set which was produced in the mid-90s. The sound on those CDs is better than any Velvet Underground records we’ve heard, and the collection includes interesting out-takes and alternate mixes any fan would enjoy. Sadly, somebody borrowed the book from our copy back in the mid-90s and never returned it. Maybe we should have written our name on it, like somebody did with both these copies of the original LP.

We’ve always appreciated the fact that “MC” sold his collection to Root Cellar Records all those years ago, because we were lucky enough to find one of our all time favorite albums. The copy in the shop belonged to “TS” in case you’re wondering.

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“All Tomorrow’s Parties”

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The Rock Machine Turns You On was the first budget-priced label sampler record. Columbia Records (CBS in the UK) produced it to improve sales of its contemporary rock, folk and blues lines, which on the jacket were called “underground” music. Ironically, the compilation contained artists like Bob Dylan, Blood Sweat and Tears and Simon & Garfunkel. Columbia’s idea was to compete more actively against labels which offered a more progressive catalog, like Elektra.

Labels had made promotional samplers for years, but this album was the first to be marketed to the general public as a marketing campaign. The original price was fourteen shillings and eleven pence, which seems like a lot of coins for a record but is actually only £0.75 in real money, which is half the usual cost of an LP. It sold very well and likely influenced the growing careers of the lesser-known in Europe artists included, like Spirit and Leonard Cohen.

The rock machine on the jacket was designed by Milton Glazer, the artist who also created the iconic poster inside Dylan’s Greatest Hits and the “I ♥ NY” logo. Columbia’s competitors quickly caught on and copied the idea, and similar collections were soon produced by Capitol, Warner/Reprise, Elektra and others. Record label samplers often had fun covers, which is our favorite feature. We’ve collected some of the coolest ones in the shop below.

We’ve got wide selection of them at the end of the compilations section here, but collectors of labels samplers are few and far between. The albums give you a good glimpse of the era, and sometimes feature tracks from records you’re unlikely to find without a long search. There’s one we’ve kept in our collection for years because of its great Tony Joe White song.

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Hard Goods from Warner/Reprise, about 1973. Features great songs by the Talbot Brothers, Deep Purple, the Beach Boys and Frank Zappa. Also a song from Osibisa’s “Happy Children,” which is a pretty hard album to find!

DSCN0634  DSCN0631Collectus Interruptus, from Warner Bros. and Sire Records in 1978, has a hilarious image on the jacket of, well, a collector interrupted.

The back of the jacket reads “twenty-six earbinding songs of unique delight, derring do, heartbreak, scandal and lurid sensations.” The song selection is not as great as other samplers, but it does put “God Save the Queen” next to Bootsy Collins’ “Bootzilla.”

The 1976 People’s Album doesn’t get much more political than Nazareth singing “I Will Not be Led” but it does have an awesome jacket.

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This very unusual Captiol sampler features three complete albums: Music from Big Pink by the Band, Quicksilver Messenger Service’s self-titled debut, and Sailor by the Steve Miller Band. All three are great albums and the artwork in this package is cool. It also features some really trippy poetry (uncredited) and weird liner notes.

DSCN0630Return to Casablanca kind of captures the limited range of the label, which was founded by Neil Bogart (get it?) who previously had run Buddah Records. The collection is from 1978, and consists of mostly disco and pop hits like Meco’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” And Kiss.

 

 

Which started as a match between returning champion Buddy Rich and upstart John Mayall, until the sudden appearance of Johnny Rivers and Rita Coolidge…

 

 

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welcome backThat’s the theme from Welcome Back Kotter, written by John Sebastian for the middle-70s television series. While with the Lovin’ Spoonful Sebastian had written seven top 10 hits, this TV theme was his only successful single as a solo artist.

Welcome Back Kotter was one of the first sitcoms to present a lighter version of the Norman Lear format established with All in the Family, and it ran successfully for four seasons on ABC. The show centers around Gabe Kotter, a teacher played by comedian Gabe Kaplan, who returns to his alma mater, James Buchanan High School in Brooklyn, to teach a group of outcasts known as the Sweathogs (because they have the hottest room in the building). While Kaplan was the star, the series is best remembered for having launched the career of John Travolta, who you might remember from such films as The Boy in the Plastic Bubble and Phenomenon.

Folks often have a laugh at the John Travolta’s tidily quaffed hair on LP jackets in the shop, assuming his musical career started with Saturday Night Fever or Grease – but in fact his first hit, “Let Her In,” was released when he was still starring on Welcome Back Kotter. His first ever appearance on an album was even earlier than that — he had a role in the 1974 Sherman Brothers musical Over Here! which also featured two of the Andrews Sisters.

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Comedian Gabe Kaplan’s 1974 LP, Holes and Mello Roles, was the inspiration for the television series. It was first released by ABC Records with an image of popsicles crashing into the moon on the jacket. After the success of the series, the album was reissued with an image featuring Kaplan with the Sweathogs.

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“Holes and Mello Rolls”

fonzThe Sweathogs made an goofy appearance on this 1976 TV-marketed oldies compilation, Fonzie’s Favorites. The back of the album (which includes a die-cut stand so you can put the Fonz on your piano next to the kids’ school pictures) promises “the Fonz has not taken to singing on this album. Better!! He has chosen his favorite 50s records to share with you.”

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“The Fonzarelli Slide”

One side of this collection of familiar favorites by the likes of the Coasters, the Elegants and the Five Satins ends with a couple novelty songs — notably “The Fonzarelli Slide,” which inexplicably has the cast of Welcome Back Kotter meeting the Fonz, who would of course be older than Kotter by the middle seventies.

This wasn’t the only connection between the two hit sitcoms — when Pat Morita, who played Arnold, left Happy Days it was to star in a short-lived Welcome Back Kotter spin-off, Mr. T and Tina (which was, incidentally, the first sitcom to feature an Asian American as the lead). Sitcom spin-offs were all the rage and Happy Days itself produced six of them. Arnold’s replacement, Al, later married the mother of Fonzie’s cousin Chachi, who was played by Ellen Travolta, sister of actor John Travolta. Still with us? She first played Arnold Horshack’s mother on Welcome Back Kotter. And this concludes the least interesting paragraph ever posted on the Hymie’s blog.

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Travolta’s albums were the most successful, but he was not the only of Kotter’s Sweathogs to make a record. Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, who played Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington not only sang back-up on Rick James’ Street Songs but made two albums of his own in the late 70s. A 1981 Halo single produced by Hilton-Jacobs is one of the rarest modern soul/boogie records you’ll never find (and is a pretty good party jam), selling for more than $1500 on any rare occasion when it appears online.

Hilton-Jacobs turned in a well-received performance as Joe Jackson in the 1992 TV movie based on Katherine Jackson’s autobiography, The Jacksons: An American Dream. He had a recurring role as a hard-nosed detective on the series based on Alien Nation, and has many screenwriting credits as well.

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“Time Machine”

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“Larry’s Theme”

None of the remaining Sweathogs made records, although Ron Pallilo, who played Arnold Horshack, once portrayed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart off Broadway.

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(“Born to Add” by Bruce Stringbean and the S Street Band)

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(“Me Going to Munch You, Munch You, Munch You” by Cookie Monster & the Crumbs Unlimited Orchestra)

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Folks come in fairly often looking for a “cheap turntable.” Of course, unless you hit on an awesome thrift store or garage sale find, this isn’t really something which exists anymore. We remember the days when box stores like Best Buy sold a fairly decent Technics or Sony, but that’s nearly as distant as the time Tom Petty fought with MCA Records when they wanted to raise the retail price of Hard Promises to $9.98. A good turntable just isn’t cheap anymore and given their popularity, not on the shelves for long.

Historically, Gen Xers like ourselves acquired turntables without much effort. Our parents’ friends often gave us theirs, since it hadn’t been used in years, or we simple went into Mom and Pop’s basement and stole the one they’d forgotten. When one of us used to commute by bicycle we’d find them on the curbs in nice neighborhoods on garbage day, and strap the new prize to a rack on the back. Yep, the coveted turntable was once like the television is today.

There’s a graveyard of turntables here at Hymie’s, from a vintage Brunswick wind-up (which belonged to a friend and is kept on display in the shop as a little tribute) to a couple of those goddamn Crosleys which poop out within weeks of opening the box. The turntables you see stacked in the back room of the shop all need some love of one kind or another. They’re not simply missing belts or needles — they need to be taken apart and fixed. This, along with the fact we sell them far more quickly than we find the time to fix them, is why there’s never a huge selection of working turntables for sale.

We’ve all become so spoiled by the fact there’s three dozen types of ketchup in the grocery store that we expect the same everywhere else we go. It’s just not so with turntables, especially the elusive “cheap turntable.”

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Consider, for instance, the time which went into a Technics 1900 which came with a large collection we bought last summer. Its tone arm lifter didn’t function, meaning its auto-start also would not function, and more importantly that when it reached the end of the album the auto-return would drag the needle across the surface of the album.

Vrrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooomp! You know the sound.

What happens with a turntable sits for a decade or several is that its lubricants turn to sticky goo, sort of like pine sap. On other machines this freeze the platter in place. This is especially common with the classic BSR “stackers,” which at one time were about the most common record players in the world and when cleaned can be very durable. On these classic direct-drive Technics, which are no longer in production, the sappy gunk most often seizes up that tiny, essential little plastic rest.

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The rest is raised and lowered by a piston inside a metal shaft and a spring, and its connection to the auto-start, auto-return and cue switch functions are controlled by a plastic cam. Cleaning these parts requires a tedious deconstruction of the turntable. First one turns it over and removes the screws which hold the tone arm assembly and basic casing in place. When loosened you can remove the switches and cover plate seen in the first photograph, and you can work the casing carefully around the tone arm, as in the picture just below.

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Now you’ve nearly there You have to remove the remaining screws holding the turntable assembly to the rest of the mechanical parts and lift it up carefully. You must be gentle so you don’t damage the tiny leads which carry the signal from your stylus through the tone arm, and eventually out to your amplifier, your speaker and your ears (otherwise you’ll double your work). You also have to raise the tone arm assembly carefully so it remains properly connected to the levers and gears which control the various automatic functions (auto-start, auto-return, repeat, etc).

While you’ve got the machine disassembled, its a good idea to give everything a quick tidying, too. If you have a can of compressed air its nice to get any junk out of there, and its a good idea to clean the pitch control contacts with a de-oxidizing solution. If this isn’t something you do every week, the ten dollars you’ll spend on those couple cans will be an investment to last you half a lifetime.

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Finally you’re there. The white plastic piece you see below is the lifter cam, and its your culprit. Remember the Vroooooooooooomp! sound? Its all this guy’s fault. In the picture the spring which holds him taut has already been removed, but he was so stuck in place the spring was stretched to its limit. You remove a screw which holds the lifter cam in place and the tiny c-clip holding the spring over the piston. All of these parts, and all of the washers installed with them, need to be scrubbed with rubbing alcohol,using Q-tips and a tiny flathead screwdriver, until they’re free from the sticky lubricant. When this stuff is really stubborn, especially on older players, you may have to use a soldering iron or a hair dryer to heat the area up before you can make any progress. The piece onto which the lifter cam is covered with a tiny metal sheathing, and that has to be scrubbed too. One finally clean and dry they’re all re-lubed, this time with a dry lubricant which can be silicon- or graphite-based (meaning you won’t have to make this repair again for a couple more decades, ideally). Then the entire works needs to be re-assembled without disrupting the other functions, all of which were working when you started.

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Afterwards, the lifter rest needs to be adjusted to the proper height, so it neither disrupts play nor fails to raise the arm high enough to protect the stylus and records during auto-start and auto-return. Once assembled and adjusted, the turntable has to be tested for an afternoon, so you’re sure one of your customers won’t get home and find something else has been damaged in the disassembly and reassembly process. Most turntables have a damaged stylus by the time they make it to the record shop as well, so there’s the job of properly balancing and aligning the replacement.

We have always said we fall in love with most turntables which come through the shop — this is in part because we often spend half an afternoon performing surgery on them. When you think about the intricacy of the interlocking parts of a machine like this Technics 1900, they’re remarkably elegant. The many articles we’ve seen in recent years about the ‘resurgence of vinyl’ often cite the physical appeal of albums and the larger artwork on their jackets as a factor which distinguishes them from digital media, but seldom recognize how much ore enjoyable owning a turntable can be. We have many favorite models, and enjoying the beauty of them isn’t really so different than enjoying a classic car show or building a boat inside a bottle.

But they often require knowledge, patience and skill to repair. There is also often an investment in parts and supplies. This is why there aren’t always “cheap turntables.” When choosing which project to work on next, we try and get at least a couple record players repaired each month which will cost under fifty dollars, but many like this Technics 1900 go for more than that online in ‘as is’ condition. Even at a fair price, it was gone within a day or so, and the customer who brought it home has told us it performs fantastically and sounds great. We have meanwhile moved on to the next project, which yesterday was a Sony linear tracking turntable (what’s this?) which has a problem with the tone-arm motor.

If you enjoy looking at beautiful turntables, or if you’re looking for a fully-restored classic console stereo of quality turntable, you should really visit our friends at Vintage Music Company. They also have the largest selection of 78rpm records you’ll find anywhere, and they are where we most often by needles for our own records players here at Hymie’s.

So there’s an explanation of the turntable graveyard here in the shop. Some may never be fix-able, and others are being kept so they can one day donate a part or two to another. Others are on the ‘donor list,’ waiting patiently for a part. Most are just waiting until the day we have the time and resolve to get in there and fix something like a tone-arm lifter.

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