new year… goin’ through the vinyl… hidden gems… and an inadvertent review of boston’s “third stage” album, 30 years after the fact…

Happy 2016!

Early morning on the slopes at Copper Mtn.
Early morning on the slopes at Copper Mtn.

I hope your new year has gotten off to an excellent start, ten days in. Wishing you all the best and let’s keep the good stuff going all through this year.

Brrrrrr… Yeah, it was a tad nippy up at Copper 01/01/16

With the release of the new EP/album Unearthly the last week of 2015 – and now available for download on CD Baby and iTunes, streaming through Apple Music, Tidal, et al. – it’s time for a little break… replenish the well so to speak.

Which means skiing on New Year’s Day and more skiing for the first 3 months here, and also the first major project of the new year. The one I’ve been putting off for 9 months since I brought all the LPs up from Dallas. The one called “going through the record collection”, as in vinyl, and it looks like this…

Rob (John Cusack) going through his ginormous record collection... from the film "High Fidelity" (2000).
Rob (John Cusack) going through his ginormous record collection… from the film “High Fidelity” (2000). In the movie, Rob owns Championship Vinyl, a record store, and yeah, this is pretty much me – a vinyl nerd, though not a vinyl fanatic (yes, there is a difference). I see Brian Eno’s “Before and After Science” there on top…

I realize this is a very age-specific thing here, although, believe it or not, vinyl records are making a comeback now. But if you’ve grown up with just downloading or streaming, you might ask: why even bother with these relics? Well, I love the vinyl/LP format… that’s what it really comes down to. That and the quality of sound from a clean copy (no pops, scratches, static, etc.). I love the CD format as well. Here’s an interesting little infographic I found out there on the web…

Recorded music formats through the years, 1980-2009...
Recorded music formats through the years, 1980-2010… What I find fascinating about this is how long the cassette tape format lasted, how long it endured… right up until 2004 and then, poof – it’s gone. Cassettes were actually more popular than CDs until 1991. And also note something of a resurgence in vinyl from 2008-2010. A trend that has only continued since then… Kind of mesmerizing to watch.

And it’s not that I don’t want to go through most of these records and listen to them again. On the contrary, it’s just that, that is the problem in and of itself: I will end up listening to many (most) of them and the process of going through them will take at least twice as long. And after a week of this, that is exactly what has happened.

Styx! "Suite Madame Blue" is on this one...
Styx! “Suite Madame Blue” is on this one…

The overwhelming majority of these vinyl record albums come from the inventory of my former, and currently defunct, art gallery/record store, Excellent Sky Gallery & Empire Records (2003-2007) in the small mountain town of Empire, Colorado, 36 miles west of Denver. The rest are from my own personal collection over the years. I had thousands of records in the store at one time; I still have quite a few left… and as I started to go through them I was surprised by how many I have that are still unopened, 8 1/2  years after the gallery closed and decades since those albums were first released. I had completely forgotten.

So I’ve been listening to these artifacts (relics) all this week… and right now. I’ll let the character Rob, from High Fidelity – who’s something of a hero to me – explain:

books-matter-high-fidelityRob is the main character from the film which comes from the book, High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, and if you loved the movie, check out the book as well – it’s a good read. Sifting through the unopened albums, I come across these gems:

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - back cover from Hard Promises (1981)
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – back cover from Hard Promises (1981)

ZZ Top – “Eliminator” and the follow-up, “Afterburner” from the mid-1980’s (and for some odd reason I have 4 copies of their album  “Fandango” and they are well-played).
U2 – “The Joshua Tree”, from 1987… that weird time when the music industry was switching from vinyl to the next big thing – CDs.
Sting – “The Dream of the Blue Turtles”, his first solo album from 1985 – features the hit “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free” and “Russians”…
Patti Smith – “Horses”, still unopened, though I suspect not for long.
Shoes – one of my favorite power-pop bands from Zion, Illinois and their album “Tongue Twister” from 1981…
Prince’s “1999”, unopened…
The Pretenders’ 1st album from 1980…
and, OMG… Paris “Big Towne, 2061” – Bob Welch’s band between Fleetwood Mac and his solo career.
And on and on it goes…

Record sleeve, Times Square soundtrack (1980)
Record sleeve, Times Square soundtrack (1980)

OK, so I’m working backwards through the alphabet here; continuing on I find surprisingly clean copies of Three Dog Night’s “Suitable For Framing” and “Harmony” (and one very embarrassing, politically incorrect – by today’s standards – inner gatefold photo of the band)… 4 copies of Elton John’s “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player” (?), and even the more obscure albums like the “Times Square” soundtrack (from the equally obscure 1980 film) play quite well after all these years… and, Head East! And here I think of the old RIAA “this record will never become obsolete” notification on the back of the early Beatles’ albums.

From 1986, Boston's 3rd album, "Third Stage"
From 1986, Boston’s 3rd album, “Third Stage”

Eventually I come to Boston. “More Than a Feeling” Boston. Their album, “Third Stage” from 1986. 8 years after their previous album “Don’t Look Back”, which was their 2nd album. 8 years between albums is a mighty long time, especially back then. I’d never heard the album in its entirety, just the two hits – “Amanda” and “We’re Ready” – and it’s unopened. So yeah, it’s time to open it, give it a spin…

Nazz Nazz, their 2nd (and best) album from 1969... with original in-store labeling!
Nazz Nazz, their 2nd (and best) album from 1969… with original in-store labeling!

Standard operating procedure dictates that when you open a vinyl record album and put it on the turntable the very first time – its maiden voyage – you burn a copy onto another format. From the 1970’s through the mid-90’s the blank cassette tape – usually from Maxell – was the de facto choice for this. Then later in the 90’s, it was on CD, CD-R. And when you had burned a copy, you put the vinyl record back in its sleeve and never, ever took it out of its sleeve again, for any reason. Under any circumstances…  unless/until of course the tape got jammed up or the CD started skipping…

Craig demonstrating the proper technique in handling vinyl...
Craig demonstrating the proper technique in handling vinyl…. Hey, this is important! – I’m not kidding!

This is how you make your vinyl last – treat it gently, treat it kindly, and it will reward you with years of ‘high-fidelity’.

Had imports too, because as a used record store, that's what you do.
Had imports too, because as a used record store, that’s what you do.

So, back to Boston… I’ve been listening to this album most of this past week – now burned on CD-R of course – revisiting 1986, which in the Boston/Tom Scholz universe sounds very much like 1978. Which is to say they picked up where they left off and I kinda love it, as it takes me back to that time of their heyday when I was in undergraduate school in the late ’70s. That trademark layered guitar wall-of-sound that can level tall buildings if you would only crank it up high enough is still in effect on “Third Stage”, and it’s a great-sounding album. Great-sounding now, again by today’s standards, and I’m sure this was even more awesome back in 1986. I’ve got the two sets of oversized speakers so I’m crankin’ it; Erin comes down to the basement and says, “You’re like a teenage boy in the basement!…” and I’m like, “So, what’s your point, Shmoopy?”

And so she sits down and listens to the album with me…

Inner sleeve from Boston's "Third Stage" album (1986)... the pipe organ pipes.
Inner gatefold photo from Boston’s “Third Stage” album (1986)… the pipe organ pipes.

Like I said, 8 years is a long time to go between albums and as it took 6 years to record “Third Stage”, according to the liner notes, it seems that the rest of the original band drifted off to other things ’cause only Tom and the late lead singer Brad Delp appear here. Have to say I think this is their best album, even more than their impactful debut album from 1976. This in spite of the fact that the guitar riff from “I Think I Like It” is a lift of a riff from Journey’s “Anyway You Want It” (it is, listen to it). Tom, what were you thinking? Dude, you graduated from M.I.T. – you know better. Also very interesting is the pipe organ pipe motif in the album artwork – it’s in the body of the spaceship on the cover and then on the inside sleeve photo, dimly lit in red light. Real curious about that – would like to hear the story, as I have more than a passing familiarity with pipe organs. Just sayin’…

Mmmm, yum... Now doesn't that enchilada plate look good? From the inside sleeve photo on ZZ Top's "Tres Hombres" album (1973). I'm assuming this feast came from Leo's on N. Shepherd in Houston, TX.
Mmmm, yum… Now doesn’t that enchilada plate look good? From the inside gatefold photo on ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres” album (1973). I’m assuming this feast came from Leo’s on N. Shepherd in Houston, TX. This… this is what you miss by not having artwork that you can actually see on a vinyl record album. Enchiladas!
Prince, "1999" from 1982
Prince, “1999” from 1982

Well, it has been fun this past week re-discovering, re-acquainting myself with the old record inventory, and the fun will continue until I’m done consolidating… as in the meantime I find 3 very good (+) to excellent copies of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours”. If you’re a vinyl LP aficionado you know the scoring system:
M – Mint (unopened, unplayed)
NM – Near Mint
EX – Excellent
VG+ – Very Good plus, but not excellent
VG – Very good
G – Acceptable… and I never took anything below this in the record store, because if I played it and couldn’t listen to it – excessive pops, scratches, static, whatever – I wouldn’t sell it.

Which is my way of saying I hope to re-open the gallery/record store at some point in the future, back up in the mountains… preferably sooner than later. I’m making plans to paint again in 2016 after a 6-year hiatus, along with continuing the recorded work I’m doing in Nights on Venus. Full-length album this year, possibly by August…

Cover artwork for "Unearthly"... photo/design by CCT
Cover artwork for “Unearthly”… photo/design by CCT

Unearthly, the new 6-song EP was released on December 30, 2015 and is available on Bandcamp, CD Baby, and iTunes.

"Perspective," the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.
“Perspective,” the 4th Nights on Venus album, MP3 album cover. Available on iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, eMusic, Bandcamp, and the NoV website.

Santos, Perspective and all previous albums  from Nights on Venus are available as MP3 digital downloads on CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon MP3, and the NoV Website.

Summit selfie... Mt. Flora, October, 2015
Summit selfie… Mt. Flora, October, 2015

Follow Craig and Nights on Venus on Twitter (@xlntsky), Facebook, and Instagram.