As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a serious collector. Occasionally, I’ll feel the bug, but eventually I’ll come to my senses. It’s nice to own things I like and will actually enjoy, but there’s no need to be obsessive about it. Even if we nerds have natural obsessive tendencies.
I mentioned this again because my drive to acquire a record player was fueled by my coming back into possession of a few dozen LPs I acquired throughout high school and college, back when owning records was deeply unfashionable and you’d rarely have to pay more than $3 for pieces of massive collections that had been dumped to make room for shiny little CDs.
While I always looked for records that weren’t scratched up, a big part of the appeal of records for me were the massive scale of the album art. See, children, records were very large (12″ diameter! That’s a third of a meter!) and came in huge cardboard sleeves. While many albums just had photographs of decent-to-middling quality as covers, some artists created very lavish covers with fold-outs, die-cuts, embossing, and more. This was possible when your artwork didn’t have to read as a 4″ print inside a(n inevitably cracked) jewelcase… or as a heavily compressed JPEG.
Naturally, I always liked to find well-kept album sleeves, but I wasn’t really a stickler about it. The fragility of bare cardboard made weathering and wear inevitable, and there’s something charmingly authentic about a well-worn vinyl record jacket. Maybe not one that’s falling apart, but with foxed edges and a circle of fading print where the edges of the record inside caused extra wear as the album was removed from and returned to the shelf? I love that.
My two-part Jethro Tull best-of set (M.U. and Repeat) are great examples of this. Repeat has a white cover with the name of the artist and album embossed repeatedly all across its front side, and every single raised white letter is absolutely filthy. It’s great. Meanwhile, M.U. had a much simpler design, but it was was also predominantly white, and this particular copy has weird, faint, hand-made multicolored marks all over it. It doesn’t look like the sleeve was deliberately defaced but rather that the markings were transferred from another material as someone drew or wrote or whatever on something using the LP as a stable surface.
This makes the album pretty much worthless for resale, but I love it. I have no idea what the story was for these records, but they clearly lived a long and active life before coming to live with me. And that’s great.
Admittedly, I would be happier if M.U. didn’t skip several times during the first section of “Aqualung.” But that probably speaks to the record’s history, too—I suspect that track suffered wear that’s not present on the rest of the record because it was the owner’s favorite and survived numerous clumsy needle-drops.