Record Store Day, and the archaeology of vinyl 

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The hunt, for the most part, seems to be a solitary quest. And then… Brandon Pecarano strikes! The local crate digger pulls a vinyl copy of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” from the used record racks at Record Archive. But the album’s not by Eric Burdon and the Animals or featuring the version of the song that you likely know.

No, that’s definitely not Burdon on the cover in a black cocktail dress. This 10-minute, flamenco-disco cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” released in 1977, is by Santa Esmeralda, a French-American group.

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Similar treasures surely await the crate diggers who will arrive before the doors open this Saturday morning, April 22, for Record Store Day. The holiday, and it is a holiday for those who love music, debuted in 2007, a nationwide festival of vinyl. Many of the area’s indie record stores – by whose numbers we are blessed – join in, offering hundreds of exclusive releases: a double-vinyl live recording of the English rock band The 1975 playing with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. “I’m Going To Do What I Wanna Do: Live At My Father's Place 1978,” by Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band. Never-before-heard jazz from Chet Baker, limited to 6,255 copies. The Jerry Garcia Band. A mere 500 copies of a John Lennon 10-inch vinyl box set called “Gimme Some Truth.” A Flock of Seagulls.

Yes, A Flock of Seagulls.

All this, following recent news that the sale of vinyl records has surpassed that of CDs.

Pecarano, who is from Rochester, searches out vinyl for what he calls the “hip and nostalgia factor, old-school sound.” Maybe something he became familiar with while growing up.

“Anything, I would say, New Wave or New Romantics, from the mid- to late-’80s,” he says. “Always hard to find, but always some of the best sounds I could ever hope to find on an album.”

We all remember New Wave, of course. Pop music of the late 1970s and early ’80s,
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  • Photo by Jeff Spevak
 driven by synthesizers and a somewhat nerdy sensibility. Blondie is a good example. New Romantics? That’s what followed, the early-’80s MTV groups of studiously eccentric fashions. Pecarano reminds us that the New Romantics were bands such as Duran Duran, Tears For Fears and Pet Shop Boys.

Does he know A Flock of Seagulls is within his reach?

These are vinyl albums that we sold a couple of decades ago, to make room for the onslaught of CDs — Nirvana and Snoop Dogg. And now, Pecarano is buying our castoffs for a few bucks each.

Indie record stores are memory museums. From a nearby aisle at Record Archive, someone is heard asking a friend, “Do we need an OMD single?”

That’s Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: English electronic band, dating back to 1978. (Yes, they need one.)

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEFF SPEVAK
  • Photo by Jeff Spevak
Meanwhile, as James Brown breaks into a cold sweat from the room’s speakers, John Grande has blown the dust off a couple of movie soundtracks such as the 2007 comedy “Superbad,” loaded with funk, and, at the other end of the soundtrack spectrum, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” an orchestral work by John Williams. “I’ve got the ‘Star Wars’ soundtrack at home,” the 26-year-old Grande says assuredly, lest we question his sci-fi cred.

“I listen to a lot of soundtracks and things like that while I’m working,” he says. “Just background music.” They’re perfect for Grande’s work in what he calls “inventory management.” That’s counting things. He’s also picked up an album by folk singer Phoebe Bridgers. That one could be a concession to his girlfriend, Sarah Buckley, although Grande clearly has a wide-ranging taste in vinyl.

“I like vinyl ’cause it’s just something I can collect,” he says. “There’s not too many things – I play video games, too – there’s not really a lot of physical media in general. So it’s kind of one of the few things I can buy that shows what I like, kind of lets me express myself in that way.”

Buckley seems to have been recently caught up in this vinyl vortex. “I’m getting into it,” she says. “I’m starting, yeah. I like to have physical copies of albums.

And, she adds, “you have to listen to the whole album, as a whole piece, rather than picking songs.”

That’s where vinyl albums differ from downloading music off the internet. This was an era when, if you listened to The Beatles’ “Abbey Road,” you get all the songs, in the order The Beatles intended them to be heard.

This year’s Record Store Day promo material suggests this is also an opportunity to celebrate Todd Rundgren’s “A Wizard, a True Star.” Find somewhere to sit down, vinyl veterans, and rest your weary soul: that album is 50 years old.
click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEFF SPEVAK
  • Photo by Jeff Spevak

Yet Record Day is not simply old music. Rebecca Dunbaugh, who’s from California and currently a student at Rochester Institute of Technology, is buying a vinyl album by a country singer new to the scene, Tyler Childers. “For my friend, whose birthday was yesterday, and I’m late to the party,” she says with a laugh.

She’s late to the technology as well.

“I don’t have a record player yet,” Dunbaugh says. “My mom, I think, is going to bring up her old one from back home, so I might get that one.”

Then she’ll finally be able to listen to one of her prized acquisitions, “The Long Run,” a 1979 album by The Eagles, “that I actually got from here, it was like three dollars,” Dunbaugh says.

(There’s a chance it might have once been mine; I sold a copy of it to Record Archive years ago.)

“I prefer older music, I think it’s a lot better than what’s out there today,” Dunbaugh says. “I don’t know, it’s just something about the original part of music, where it first originated. And, like, coming out onto recordings and stuff, I think it’s really cool.”

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JEFF SPEVAK
  • Photo by Jeff Spevak
Much like archaeology, these discoveries can be accidents. Fossilized music, ancient tracks in rock. Nick LoPresti was picking through a rack of an even-more arcane music-delivery system, cassette tapes.

“Somebody had left a tape on my car when I was walking home from school one day,” says LoPresti, who’s from Spencerport. “I bought a little junky Walkman for just a couple of bucks, and then I started playing it. And I thought, you know, this is something I could really get into.”

It is music as a lonely pursuit.

“Nobody listens to these things anymore,” he says.

“Except for me.”

Jeff Spevak is the Senior Arts Writer at CITY Magazine and WXXI. He can be reached at [email protected].

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