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Lost Issue Wednesday: You're Buying Vinyl?

Part 2/2

by Mark Hasan


The record medium created some dynamic, highly original artwork that the 4.75" by 4.75'" CD case simply cannot replicate, so part of the attraction to vinyl is the larger packaging. It's amazing how even recent CD releases have lacked any inspiration, not in just creating some arresting graphics, but in using some of the original artwork, though the bulk of these are Tsunami's bootlegs, and their idiotic typos and poor formatting aren't worth going over.

There's a good bet that if and when CDs for some of these older LPs are released, they may go the budget route with plain graphics (like One Way Records' Flashpoint CD) or dump the original art because "it's just too old." The Harper LP featured Paul Newman, Pamela Tiffin in mid-gogo stance, and a big black revolver, reading "This is Harper's Gun. See How Black and Shiny It Is." At 12", it's a brilliant cover with mordant wit. On compact disc, the effect would be substantially diminished.

Part of a record's attraction is the original art, and many LPs from the '50s to the '80s used stylish original paintings or arresting graphics, worthy of being mounted. Lilith, Sweet Smell of Success, Anatomy of a Murder, Man with the Golden Arm, One-Eyed Jacks, Mr. Lucky, The Misfits, Mickey One, The Comedians, Bullitt, The Boys from Brazil, The Shining, Thief and Prince of Darkness are all stunning examples of modern graphic art, and well worth collecting.

The artistic value of vinyl only increases when companies go the budget way. RCA-Italy tends to be extremely sparse in their artwork and information. The Blood for Dracula/Flesh for Frankenstein CD reproduces the original Italian posters, and both the cover and back are close-ups of Udo Kier from those same posters. The producers -- perhaps because of rights problems -- chose to ignore the simple graphics of the original LPs, namely Kier engorged with blood for Dracula, and a graphic web of stitches for Frankenstein. The original liner notes were also dropped, which informed the listener exactly who is Claudio Gizzi, and why director Paul Morrissey hired the first-time film composer (Gizzi arranged and adapted music for Luchino Visconti's Death on Venice).

In the case of Under Fire, though the LP cover and rear art were used, the rear liner notes are unreadable, though they may have been reproduced on the inside booklet. You just have to be familiar with Japanese.

Photos and liner notes cost money; and with the current prohibitive licensing fees, a CD re-issue's graphic budget is tightly limited. With the old LPs, the materials were part of the original release costs, so there's no extra fees for the record collector. Besides, though most liner notes were strictly studio pap with the last sentence devoted to the composer, they're hilarious to read. Here are some favorites:

"A great literary milestone becomes a memorable motion picture... a score becomes a magnificent musical experience. The Sound Track Album, BACK STREET."
Frank Skinner, Back Street

"Leonard Rosenman's contributions to exciting film music have often been heard not only inside film houses but on the nation's turntables."
Leonard Rosenman, The Chapman Report

"Its singular strangeness, its rich beauty, its deft and delightful style, all combine to make it a musical experience that will be remembered, often played...as performed by HEINDORF."
Miklos Rozsa, Spellbound ("An Electrifying Musical Experience!")

"His name is HARPER. His music is MANDEL. New as tonight, fast, gutsy, stung, rocking, soul...great."
Johnny Mandel, Harper

"The interpretation of these Jerry Goldsmith themes has been placed in the most capable hands of Si Zentner...."
Jerry Goldsmith, Warning Shot

"The soundtrack is a sci-fi/synth score composed and performed by electronic music whiz David Storrs. A soundtrack veteran, longtime new age music writer and UCLA quantum physics grad student...."
David Storrs, Invaders from Mars (1986)

"This album of the music from the picture will remain a perpetual memento for those who thrilled to the movie... this album also contains a special bonus: authentic music from Mexico...."
Benjamin Frankel, The Night of the Iguana

"In a filmed interview conducted by this writer [Leonard Feather]... Hank made his main point by showing one brief film clip twice -- first without and then with music. The difference was startling."
Henry Mancini, Arabesque

"Whew!" exclaimed Goldsmith, "This is a hell of a film. It has everything -- love, pathos, crises, high drama and awesome scenes!"
Jerry Goldsmith, The Swarm

Large boxed sets are another delight, though rare for soundtrack CDs. Only the limited first pressing of The Big Country compact disc featured a booklet, and in France Eric Serra's Le Grand Bleu was apparently released in a deluxe box with photos.

During the age of widescreen spectaculars, MGM released boxed sets for King of Kings, Mutiny on the Bounty and Ben-Hur. Ben-Hur featured the LP, liner notes, and a Random House book detailing the production stages, the universal wonderment people will experience with "MGM Camera 65" (really just good old Panavision) and some (tacky) specially commissioned paintings (traced from production stills) of dramatic highlights, "suitable for framing." How can anyone resist?

Care of LPs requires storage space, and a bunch of sturdy boxes or a strong wooden shelving unit are also handy (milk crates are a favorite, but I've yet to find a grocer willing to part with some). I've moved twice, and at some point my Tough Guys Don't Dance and Heroes of Telemark got crunched. Okay, so Heroes was only in mono, but it proves even careful packing doesn't guarantee a safe storage or transport. Records are fragile, as they don't come in plastic jewel cases.

Records are also havens for dust and grime.

It's still possible to buy sealed thirty-year old soundtracks, but you'll be shocked to find how much dirt exists. Though shrink-wrapped since 1967, my In Cold Blood contained dust during original packaging, dust from the cardboard record sleeve, and fine paper fibers from the paper sleeve. All of these need to be wiped to oblivion before a good listen is possible, and for that there's a number of options. Wet cleaning, dry swabbing and vacuum-operated machines still exist, though they don't come cheap.

Wet cleaning systems remove the years of crud buildup, and vacuum systems maintain a level of dust sanitation, but the rule "garbage in-garbage out" still applies. I have an album that actually flakes brown muck after each play. Exactly what the owner did to his copy of The Towering Inferno is a mystery, but nay-sayers begone! Vinyl dandruff exists! A wet cleaning stopped the flaking, but the appalling wear of the record couldn't be reversed. Wet cleaning will basically bring out some of the buried highs and mid-ranges in vinyl, but a poor pressing or sub-par vinyl stock can't be helped. As for my Towering dandruff LP, the remaining scratchiness is likely the result of a bad pressing or wear from an improper stylus.

Where to start concerning record disinfecting? An excellent site is Greg Smith's column at (http://www.sstage.com/greg02.htm) at the "Sound Stage!" website. Detailed information on budget record cleaning, with some worthy links.

If you can tolerate the nature of the beast, collecting vinyl in the digital age is possible. The biggest costs involve replacing the cheap stylus that came with your old record player, or replacing the player altogether if your mother's been using it as a lazy-susan for pottery. Various swabs, needle cleaning fluids and anti-static platter pads can add to the investment, but once you've got a functioning player with happy playback, you're all set.

As Robert Smith noted in a previous column, there does indeed seem to exist a glut of valuable records circulating among dealers and the internet. Rare LPs can come from many sources: dealers with estate sales or excessive dead inventory; collectors deciding to sell after realizing they haven't listened to the music in ten years (which ardent collectors, myself included, will scream "That's not the point!"); or collectors sharing the popular belief that eventually they'll all get released legitimately on CD.

Many titles have indeed appeared on CD -- I never would have expected Verve to release Quincy Jones' The Pawnbroker/Deadly Affair, and Johnny Mandel's The Sandpiper, though no more gems are forthcoming -- and with Ryko set to dive into the massive UA catalogue, there's plenty to be excited about.

For the record collector, and one who has LOTS of space, veteran collectors selling off some of their titles is a chance to own soundtracks you've always read about but never dreamed of enjoying. It's also a chance for the albums to pass from the arms of one loving parent into the doting arms of another. A wealth of titles, many from the Elmer Bernstein's Filmmusic series and the Cinema Records label, were put on sale at the beginning of the year by a long-time collector. Most titles were under $20, and all had obviously been lovingly cared for by the original owner. By the near-mint/mint condition of these titles, I'd presume he used a vacuum-type record cleaner, and each record came in a nice sanitary plastic sleeve. When you buy from such collectors, you get the best. So for the sake of the records, treat them well.

The other thing you can be proud about is you've scratched one more potential bootleg title off your most-wanted soundtrack list (and snatched one from the bootlegger's paws). Clean, well-cared for titles like John Barry's Petulia, Alex North's Africa [now available on CD] or Bill Conti's For Your Eyes Only [also available on CD] will sound a lot better than bootlegs mastered by an amateur with non-existent artwork. Besides, you still get to decide the order of the cues, and delete those you don't like. Tsunami's been known to create a "medley" track on their CDs, and with $26 of your money on the line, it better be a good one.

CD-Rs (recordable CDs) can also risky. CD-Rs have been known to play poorly if the optical head on your CD player/laser combi-player or ordinary CD-rom are worn or mis-aligned. The later audio tracks sound scratchy, and can be more unintelligible than the filthiest, most overplayed record in your garage (or in my case, that Towering Inferno monstrosity). Additionally, adhesive labels (used by some bootleggers) are like Scotch tape with extra glue; if they begin to peel, the protective layer that keeps the laser beam focused goes with it, and your CD-R is now a tea coaster. Literally.

So there it is. Vinyl continues to thrive, and it seems fans, collectors and audiophiles have formed a large consumer market that refuses to let the 12" platter disappear. Turner Classic Movie Music actually licensed Herbie Hancock's Blow Up for a European record pressing -- with the same cues on the CD -- on high-grade vinyl. Fans of Mosaic Records are well familiar with that label's use of premium vinyl stock, and even the old family turntable reproduces their rare jazz re-issues without incident. So film music collectors shouldn't be so quick to dismiss the record; with some careful searching, luck, and some collector zeal, some real gems can be had for bargain prices.

Long live vinyl...until the next blasted format upheaval.
 

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