I recently had a chance to do some overseas traveling, including a few days in London. Since there were far more exciting sights to see than racks of records -- and little space to transport anything home, anyway -- only a small stack of vinyl made the trip back.
Nevertheless, here are some quick impressions of record shopping in London
- The base price at both the dedicated shops and flea-market style sales I encountered was a lot more expensive than record shopping in Madison, which makes sense comparing the cities' sizes. Generally used 45s in good condition were starting at five pounds (currently, approximately $8), and LPs often around 10 pounds (about $16); more interesting titles tended to be quite a bit more. The shops all had bargain bins, though, some of which included decent older hits for a pound or less. It also appeared that many places discount items quickly if not sold.
- There's approximately a zillion Cliff Richard and/or The Shadows records in the U.K.
Operating in my usual price range (cheeeeep), I ended up with some beat group 45s that apparently nobody over there cares about (Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, anyone?) and a few British pressings of LPs by The Moody Blues. While it may seem odd to make an effort to haul home the Moodies, albums which are common as dirt in the States, there is a bit of reasoning behind the madness.
The American versions of the Moody Blues classic era LPs may be common, but they're also usually played to death. Often, if a copy is found that isn't beat down it still sounds crappy, especially with the '70s albums. I don't know if it was poor mastering habits, the reuse of worn stampers, a crappy pressing plant serving the Midwest region or some other problem, but Deram/London was under the same mysterious spell that afflicted many US record companies in that era, one that created a lot of indifferent-to-horrible sounding LPs.
British albums were generally made in much smaller quantities than their American versions and rarely have sonic problems, delivering consistently good sound even on later pressings. So, I decided to make an attempt to upgrade a few of my Moodies LPs at a bargain price in London. I managed to track down a decent early '70s copy of my favorite, In Search of the Lost Chord.
Sonically, it's debatable whether this copy is an upgrade over an original US pressing from 1968, which was made before the label's quality control disappeared. Either way, there's no arguing with the quality of the music. The band had fully transitioned from their R&B-tinged origins by this point, and also ditched the full orchestra used on the prior year's breakthrough LP, Days of Future Passed.
Their unusual combination of balladry, spoken word, psychedelia, peace & love conceptualism, and studio mastery may have hit its peak on Chord, the first time they were left totally to their own devices. There's no hit singles on this album, but it does include classic rock radio staples like "Legend of a Mind," their ode to Timothy Leary, "Voices in the Sky" and the rocker "Ride My See Saw." Their standard of weird and eye-catching gatefold cover art, which was the impetus for me to pick up this record as a kid years ago, was also in place by this point. They'd expand on and refine their method of creating unified albums, formed on Chord and Passed, in various ways on their next five albums before taking a brief break in the mid-'70s.
More than four decades on, the band is still active, with the trio of guitarist Justin Hayward, bassist John Lodge and drummer Graeme Edge bringing their music to audiences nearly every summer This year they'll stop at the Riverside in Milwaukee on August 7. (Deram UK, 1968)