The Project: To bring luxury to the masses. The plan is to make a Luxury Neil Young Box Set: DIY Edition from second hand albums and bits of string and sell it to the public.
The Story So Far: A visit to local record shops has been entirely fruitless.
We all know that what makes a box set “special” and “deluxe” is the luxurious packaging.
Whilst the best way to keep records free from damage is to never play them, for those of us that do insist on using them for their intended purpose, storing them in a box has to be a decent idea.
But how do you make such a box?
This was the part of the project that filled me with most dread. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am not famous for my practical box-making skills. I struggle to put up a curtain pole, never mind craft a luxurious looking box from bits of wood, card, paper and string.
I am particularly inept at putting up curtain poles. I measure up, and drill a hole for the Rawlplug. All pretty straightforward. Yet, it never seems to go to plan. As I drill, the plaster crumbles around me and before I know it there’s a hole in the wall not dissimilar in size to the tunnel in the Hatton Garden safe deposit box robbery.
Those guys should have got me involved. It took them a week to make that tunnel. With a Rawlplug in one hand, power drill in the other and a curtain pole in my teeth that would have taken me three minutes. We’d have been over the border, knee deep in hookers and gin weeks before the police had risen from their slumber sufficiently to notice the alarms had been set off.
Still, I tried. I began with the rustic, ditch-like appeal of a plain cardboard box but I couldn’t help thinking it lacked a certain, as the French would say, “I don’t know what…”.
I thought a Nerf gun box carried a quiet authority about it…
But, in the back of my mind, I couldn’t help feeling that people who buy box sets demand a luxury product, and this all felt a little…. well, cheap. Insubstantial.
A bit rubbish.
You can’t expect punters to shell out a hundred quid on a deluxe box set if the box it comes in looks cheaper than Kim Kardashian.
And then it occurred to me. What better receptacle to use for a vinyl box-set than an actual box that used to hold vinyl?
It was such an obvious solution. As Victoria Beckham must think every time she wakes up next to David, sometimes the simplest things are staring you in the face.
And where better to find old boxes of vinyl than a charity shop or car boot sale?
Immediately I knew what to do…
Neil Young’s ditch trilogy was a gritty statement. As Young himself put it in the liner notes to “Decade”, “Heart of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch.”
So I needed a suitably gritty and ditch-like luxurious receptacle. Something that said “Exclusive”, “Expensive” and “Luxurious” but which also had elements of a “Muddy Ditch” and the sort of things you might find there.
Like an old shopping trolley presumably…
Two minutes in the charity shop up the road and I was poring through some of the worst records ever thrown out by the middle classes. Many albums had clearly been there for decades. A four disc Mantovani compilation. A three disc collection of James Last albums, and my favourite: a five disc “Easy Listening’s Blandest Hits” compilation, sponsored by Saga and featuring pan pipe music, Richard Clayderman, modern classics played by the James Last Orchestra and the collected works of The Nolan Sisters.
I think the only thing more depressing than listening to that lot might be filling in your application form to Dignitas.
Then I found the perfect box. It was unmistakably Luxurious. It was Solid. It was Well-Made. It presented a reassuring whiff of Quality.
That is to say, it wasn’t falling apart like all the other boxes.
It still required customisation, but given his track record with restoring old cars, I felt Neil Young would approve.
The box set was called “Orchestral Magic”. One drawback: it was £8 and contained eight pretty ghastly albums, all part of a Reader’s Digest compilation. The only “magic”, orchestral or otherwise, that I could detect was that The Readers Digest organisation had somehow convinced people to buy it in the first place.
I went to the till and took the only honourable course of action I could think of. I asked if I could leave them the LPs and just take the box. The guy at the counter could see that no-one in their right mind would ever buy such a box set of records in the twenty first century and readily agreed. A single pound coin exchanged hands and I had my Deluxe receptacle.
The only drawback I could see was a) it was a turquoise colour and b) the cover still said it was a Reader’s Digest compendium of
terrible music Orchestral Magic. I’m betting were a member of Pearl Jam to pop by your house, he would hardly be impressed seeing a box on your shelf whose contents promised “Great Popular Waltzes”, or which chose from all the “Great Hits of the 60s and 70s” the song “Up Up and Away”.
A make-over was required.
I thought about drawing a picture of Neil Young, then remembered I can’t draw to save my life.
Not that that ever bothered the guy who drew the cover art to Zuma…
The last album to be released in this box set, Zuma is something of a more optimistic release than the previous three “Ditch” albums. Probably because it was recorded in sunny Malibu. I imagine it’s tricky sounding too glum when it’s sunny outside and you’re a rock star in your prime living in a big house with all your mates, surrounded by women and recreational drugs.
Neil Young (singing in reedy voice) “Ain’t it hard / when you wake up / in the morning / And you find out / that those other days / are gone?”
Everyone else: “Give it a rest, Neil, there’s a load of girls wearing bikinis at your front door, it’s gonna be another five years before we get worried about HIV and it’s eighty degrees in the shade…”
Malibu sounds like it was a brilliant place in the mid seventies. Had you taken a stroll as actor Danny Tucker did on the beach one day, you might have found a guy in full Nazi gear passed out on the beach with his feet in the water. Not necessarily a great thing until you realise that comatose Nazi is Keith Moon.
The mostly free-and-single band rented a huge house opposite Goldie Hawn’s place, and then took the smallest room and recorded the whole thing in there. Let’s hope Goldie didn’t mind the noise…
How high were the band? Well, they first wrote and recorded “Ride My Llama” at these sessions. It’s a song about Young riding a llama and meeting a Martian.
No further questions, your honour…
Zuma may not approach Russ Abbott’s “I Love A Party” for cheerful atmosphere, but compared to Zuma’s predecessor Tonight’s The Night, there are certainly fewer tales of wretched despondency.
Speaking of “wretched”, what about that art?
The Zuma cover art features a badly drawn eagle carrying an equally poorly rendered naked woman over a pyramid.
If it looks like it was knocked off as a sketch in ten minutes, that’s because it was: by friend of Crazy Horse James Mazzeo, who presented it to Young as one of four ideas for Young to develop. He was as astonished as everyone else when Young turned round and said “No – this is it! You’ve done it! It’s perfect!”
He was paid $2,000 and very soon an eighty-foot billboard featuring the Zuma bird appeared above sunset strip, which is probably the only place on earth – aside from wherever Peter Beardsley lives – where that thing is not the most unsightly thing on the street.
Whilst I contemplated whether a Zuma-like scribble would make the grade, I remembered last week’s trip to Carmel Records, which was fruitless vinyl-wise, but during which I did pick up a 50p copy of Mojo Magazine from 2003 which, aside from an interview with a young Richard Hawley, contained a very nice photo of Neil Young.
This, I decided, could decorate my box.
It was time to go the full Blue Peter.
We’re talking collage, card, scissors, tape and – for a professional-ish finish – I found some clear plastic laminating film that would cover the lot like one of those iPhone screen-protectors. Like any sensible person I also enlisted the help of my crafty mother (and when I say “crafty” I mean she has scissors and glue a-plenty) to help out with the tricky bits.
After some careful cutting, studious sticking, lamentable laminating, creative collaging, not to mention some serious swearing, I had the box.
- Box: £1.00
- Copy of Mojo from 2003: £0.50
- Laminating film: £3.00
- Card: £1.20
I was pretty pleased with it. I don’t think I am overstating the case when I say that I had a little insight as to how Noah must have felt upon walking around his floating zoo for the first time and then noticing a light drizzle in the air.
Having said that, perhaps I shouldn’t oversell it. By any standards it’s still very home-made, and perhaps the biggest risk when I sell the set is that someone will take one look at the box and put my 15 year 100% positive eBay feedback record into severe jeopardy…
So far I had spent £5.70, but still didn’t have any records, or any essential Deluxe box-set extras. Both of these would have to come next…