Unique, not necessarily usable

Yeah, more about music.

Most of the vinyl I own has been with me for 20+ years, back from when I was in high school. I finally gave in to pressure and reality and made the jump from tape cassettes to CDs around that time, and I would stalk the local used music shops at least once a week (often more) in search of secondhand CDs because I sure as heck couldn’t afford to buy everything new. Even if I did have a ton of money in the bank following a frugal summer spent working full-time for three times minimum wage at the local USDA branch—a windfall for a high schooler.

At that point in history, used music shops were properly used record shops. Bins of vinyl lined the walls and floors, all unwanted, all terribly unfashionable. While I went hunting primarily for compact discs, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at LPs. Not for the prices they were selling for. Sometimes I’d buy them because I loved the album artwork and wanted to enjoy the paintings or photography at 12″ scale rather than the sad cramped little postage stamps on the front of CD cases (I moved to CDs right as longboxes were vanishing). Sometimes I’d buy records simply because I couldn’t find the artists or albums I wanted on CD; in the days before mail order and peer-to-peer sharing, deep prog rock cuts from the ’70s were tough to come by, and I had to settle for vinyl. My parents had handed down their old turntable to me and my brother—and when I say old, I mean it was almost definitely older than me, and its headphone jack only came in the 1/4″ size (which vexed me for years until I realized I could buy a1/8″ adapter).

My main haunt was a place called Ralph’s Records, which handily sat about five blocks from my high school. It was a huge, musty old place full of ancient LPs, a beaten-down shop that had probably experienced its prime when the Beatles were together. But it was close, it was enormous, and it was cheap. Plus, one of the guys who worked there was equally obsessed with progressive rock and took me under his wing as his acolyte of pretentious tunes, which was how I learned about bands no one ever talked about in West Texas, like Can and Hawkwind.

Ralph’s sat directly across from the Texas Tech University campus, which had a secondary benefit besides close proximity to my high school: Remaindered records from the college radio station. I don’t know what percentage of records there came from the Tech station (or the other stations, which had their offices in that part of the city), but I’m guessing it was a nontrivial share. Which meant that sometimes I would come across unwanted oddities like Tori Amos’ first album (the hilariously label-directed Y Kant Tori Read, which wasn’t as bad as the title and S&M cover art would have suggested, but mainly appealed to me because I was able to sell it for 30x what I’d paid for it). And then there’s this:

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A radio-edited version of Marillion’s Misplaced Childhood.

This is different than what you normally think of as “radio edited” music. Misplaced Childhood didn’t need to be censored for airplay. What it did need, however, was to be made technically manageable on air. This 1985 album featured Marillion’s sole top 40 radio hit, a ballad called “Kayleigh,” which is a perfectly pleasant tune that doesn’t really embody what Marillion as about at this point. The rest of the album, however, does.

The band’s lead singer at the time, Fish, introduced Misplaced Childhood as an “album consisting of two tracks… Side A and Side B.” Misplaced Childhood is one of those The Wall affairs, two album-side suites of continuous music, a dozen songs that segue seamlessly into one another. A lot of the band’s fans swear by it; I’m actually not so keen on it. But in order to work as a radio-friendly selection of cuts, the label had to remaster each track to feature a clear opening point and a fade-to-silence outro.

The result works really well for the radio-bait that is “Kayleigh”… and completely destroys the rest of the album. It’s a series of songs that were never meant to stand alone, which now fade abruptly to silence and then start back up on the bits that faded. If you’ve ever heard an AOR station play “Speak to Me”/”Breathe in The Air” from The Dark Side of the Moon and shuddered at the terrible, abrupt fade as “On the Run” begins, you have an idea of what this entire record is like. I’m not particularly fond of Misplaced Childhood, but it kills me to hear it destroyed like this.

But, at the same time, this is actually kind of a curio—a collector’s item. It sells for a fair chunk of change these days (I paid, I think, $5 for it in the ’90s). So it’s one of those dumb instances where something has escalated value completely without deserving it on its own intrinsic merits.

There’s a part of me that kind of feels like I should rip these versions of the songs to digital, since I’ve never seen these “radio cuts” online… but the rest of me feels like it would be a… a misplaced celebration, if you will.

2 thoughts on “Unique, not necessarily usable

  1. I do love these detours into your non-video game interests since while I know a lot about games, I know very little about things like Prog Rock. Also, I think you inadvertently helped me figure out a reference in the Wicked and the Divine. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that comic, but the concept is that every 90 years the gods get resurrected as pop musicians. One of them, Athena, is dressed in an outfit similar to the Misplaced Childhood cover.

  2. Fish was one of my favorite vocalists on Ayreon’s “Into the Electric Castle.” I didn’t know where he came from, though. So it looks like I’ll have to check out Marillion at some point.

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