The most important part of any box set, aside from the fake gimmicky memorabilia padding it out, is the music. It was therefore important to find really good copies of the albums, complete with any inserts, and with nice condition sleeves and vinyl. I planned a few visits to the local used record shops.
I started well.
Or so I thought.
My first shop and my first record: an original copy of Time Fades Away complete with lyric insert for £12.
I thought this album might be the most tricky, as it didn’t sell well, has never been re-issued on CD, and is a 1973 live album of original material played on a stadium tour after the phenomenal success of “Harvest” at the time of a painful part of Young’s life following the deaths (by heroin overdose) of Crazy Horse’s Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry.
God only knows what the audience thought about it. It has the gloomiest sing-a-long ever, as the band encourages the crowd to “Sing with us! Come on! Sing!” to the repeated “No, No, No” mantra at the end of the nine minute “Last Dance”, which, don’t forget, no-one had ever heard before. It’s like watching an undertaker encouraging a Mexican wave at a funeral.
The lyric insert in this album is huge! That’s the LP in the photo below – not a CD. You’d certainly annoy a commuter next to you if you unfolded it on a busy train.
I got the album home and played side 1. It sounded great.
I flipped it over.
It sounded like someone was eating a packet of crisps noisily through the whole of side 2, such were the crackles throughout.
I was starting, perhaps, to realise why there was a market for deluxe vinyl box set re-issues…
Parking that particular problem, I knew that Bob at Leigh Records had a nice copy of Tonight’s the Night for £10 that had been in his racks for a few months, so I popped over one Saturday morning. I flicked through the rack. No sign of it. Yet it had been there for months. I asked Bob what had happened to it.
“Oh, a bloke came up from London and bought a load of stuff” said Bob, apparently oblivious to my pressing need to fill my boots with Neil Young albums.
This is often the way of record collecting, I find. A record can nestle untouched in the racks of a shop for years, it seems, when I am looking for something else. Copies will get in the way of what I am actually looking for. I can be searching through a rack in an entirely different genre and a copy of this same album will be there, misfiled. Three copies, all discounted by fifty percent will be in the next rack. “Good grief” I think to myself “will no-one buy this album…?”
The next time I am there, there are seven copies, with the albums having apparently bred, like hamsters, in the rack. As I’m looking around the shop, three people will come in, all carrying copies of the same album, looking to sell to the owner, who will look regretfully at their copies, and wave them away, saying “Sorry mate, it’s not even worth me giving you a quid for it – I’ve already got seven copies of that one…”
The owner begins to use several copies of the album as a door stop, or to level a wonky table. They begin to outnumber copies of Paul Young’s No Parlez at boot sales.
And then comes the day I hear a song, and realise it’s on that album I have previously overlooked. Given the plethora of copies scattered about in the “£2 and under” rack I go to buy it at the record shop only to discover that very weekend there appears to have been an unfathomable run on the album of the kind previously only seen outside Icelandic banks and small provincial building societies in the early days of the financial crisis. I travel to a couple of other shops, but there’s not a copy in any of them, their having all been apparently stockpiled by “a bloke from London”, doubtless a hedge fund manager or Bond villain. What copies you can unearth are battered and incomplete, tripled in price, with the album having become rare overnight. eBay copies suddenly fetch ridiculous sums. Every playable copy has vanished like the occupants of the Marie Celeste, or the career of Steve Guttenburg.
I wait a week or so and decide I will redouble my efforts. As I am about to do so, there’s a story in the press saying the album was one of the last things Kurt Cobain played – on vinyl of course – before his death. Demand skyrockets. People are knocking each other out of the way at record fairs to find copies. It’s like Black Friday at the Edmonton branch of ASDA. Then Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams announce they will cover the whole album as duets. I panic and buy a copy of the original at a sky-high price. The covers album reaches number one. Bublé then gets in the act and his cover of one of the songs makes the Christmas Number One. And just as it does, the record company releases the original album on vinyl for £16.99, and all the original vinyl copies go back to being £2 again, and my investment is worthless.
And I’m not exaggerating when I say this exact scenario happens every single time.
You know what I mean…
For example, I found a copy of a ’60s Kinks compilation called “Sunny Afternoon” a couple of years ago at a record fair in London. It was just £5, but I dithered. I put it back for two minutes thinking “I don’t need a Kinks compilation” and when, five minutes later I decided my life would probably incomplete and somewhat bereft without it, I went back to the stall only to find someone else had waltzed off with it, no doubt tap dancing and singing a comic song as they did so. Less than a week later, I was in a market in Cambridge and found the album on sale for £8. I was hardly going to pay more than I could have paid a few days earlier, so I passed again, thinking these things were clearly as common as the cast of Eastenders and I would stumble across another in no time at all.
I didn’t see another copy for two years.
In the end, after the most extensive search since John Speke woke up one morning and thought “I wonder where the Nile begins?”, I bought a copy online.
Literally the very next day after I bought the album online and two years since I had seen an actual, physical copy of the record, I was in a record shop and another punter plonked a pristine, almost mint condition copy of “Sunny Afternoon” on the counter to sell to the owner…
It was in such good condition I bought that one too…
And so it was (he said, getting back to the subject in hand) with “Tonight’s The Night”.
A box set of “some” of the Ditch Trilogy doesn’t really sound terribly “Deluxe” somehow.
I toyed with the idea of re-naming it the “Ditch Duo” or “Ditch Brace” but one sounds like it should be fighting crime and the other like it might be found in a building materials hire shop. Anyway, I imagine Neil Young fans might not be so easily duped. Even the real stoners.
So in my first week I had come up with precisely zero suitable albums for the box set.
It looked like this might be tougher than I had expected….
Next time: Part 3: Putting the “Box” into “Box Set”…