Monday, December 08, 2008

Hey U.S., Meet Max Bygraves

I always thought the Tony Orlando and Dawn song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” was one of the stupidest songs I’d ever heard. Stupid, sappy, and even embarrassing. No one would be caught dead singing that song more than a mile beyond the outskirts of Las Vegas.

Then I happened to listen to a Max Bygraves album and heard his version of the yellow ribbon song. Instead of a stupid song, I heard a fun song.

Max Bygraves can tie a yellow ribbon 'round my old oak tree anytime.

So, how did I end up playing a Max Bygraves album in the first place? It would not be uncommon for anyone in Great Britain to listen to Max Bygraves. Unfortunately, most people in the United States have never heard of him. That’s too bad. I just happen to be a huge fan of the British sit com “Are You Being Served?” starring John Inman. In one episode, Inman’s character Mr. Humphries makes a passing reference to Max. When I happened to run across one of his LPs I couldn’t resist.

For U.S. readers, Max Bygraves was a British singer-songwriter, born in 1922. An all-around entertainer, he starred in films and his own television show, performed comedy, and was one of England’s top-selling recording artists. Strictly in terms of voice only, he is not a particularly great singer. What makes Max great is the way he sings. Listen and find out for yourself. Max can make any song his own.

This is my first Max Bygraves record (Everest FS-351). He’s the guy holding the hat. Victor Silvester, on the left, is the orchestra leader.

My first Max Bygraves album has several songs that have never moved me until now. They range from the jazz standard "Everybody Loves My Baby" which dates all the way back to 1924, to "Deep in the Heart of Texas" that was first recorded in 1941 believe it or not by Pennsylvania native Perry Como with the Ted Weems Orchestra.

The song on the album that really rattled my cage was a well-known Richard Rodgers tune. Although I love Richard Rodgers, I have little interest in what some believe is his greatest triumph, “The Sound of Music.” Because I’m an obsessive completist I have a copy of the record in both my LP and my CD collections. Nonetheless, I never have and never will listen to either of them. I don’t like Julie Andrews very much either, which may have something to do with it. But for the first time in my life, listening to Max Bygraves, I practically fell in love with the song "Edelweiss."

That's the Max I'm just beginning to appreciate. As I understand it, he's still alive and working in Australia. Although it’s a shame he isn’t more well-known in the U.S., it makes discovering him all that much sweeter. Play it again Max, this time for those of us stateside.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mr. Seller, Please Pack My Record Carefully!

What phrase do you hear most often in your life? Is it, “Dad, will you buy this for me?” How about, “Honey, please take out the garbage.” Maybe it’s “Turn that TV down” or “Wipe your feet dear!”

The most common phrase to enter my small corner of the world is, “Please pack my record carefully.” It’s a request that appears nearly every single day in customer emails.

When you place an order with L.L. Bean, J.C. Penney, Sears, or any on-line department store, do you instruct the company on how to pack your purchased item? Do you tell them you want it surrounded in bubblewrap, sealed in plastic, double-boxed, with the invoice number written clearly on the outside of the package? What do you think the company would do with your request?

Do you ever worry your record will arrive like this?

There is something about transacting business on eBay that apparently gives free license to some buyers to behave as if the seller is a moron. In some cases, that assumption may be correct. But what if the seller has nearly 10 years of on-line selling experience, with just under 20,000 positive eBay feedbacks, and is presumably beyond tenderfoot status? (I’m talking about me, of course.)

When I first started selling on eBay in 1998 I already had many years of mail order experience selling from advertised lists that we dispersed to our customers on a quarterly basis. I was always a little annoyed with customers who would tell us how to pack the item, but it happened so frequently that after awhile I just became impervious to it. “Get over it, Dad” is how my teenage daughter would put it.

Clearly, there is something about eBay buyers that distinguishes them from buyers on other sites. Ecommerce blogger Randy Smythe, once the largest seller of DVDs on eBay with a feedback rating of over 100,000, recently compared eBay buyers to those on Amazon. He said, “The eBay buyer is plain and simply too much work. Customer service emails are 100 times more on eBay than on Amazon. eBay buyers want the lowest price yet they want Nordstrom’s service while Amazon customers want a fair price with Amazon service and reputation.”

I’m going to get around to making my point in just a moment. But first, let me quote from just a couple of emails I received from customers this week.

“Pack this album very carefully. Although I am insuring this very rare record, I want you to know that insurance can never replace an irreplaceable piece of music history."

And here is another that came in just yesterday. “I need to have this record in perfect condition when it arrives. Please do not pack it yet. I am going to mail you a special box to ship the record. Please let me know how much extra this will cost.”

Obviously if every buyer wanted to send me his own box, we’d have to close our business. We wouldn’t have the time or resources to devote to this kind of service. Plus, it requires us to override our automated Check Out software because the stated shipping price is no longer applicable. I can tell you with certainty we will make no profit on this transaction.

Every capable seller knows how important it is to use the right sized box.

I have participated in many seller conferences, including the annual eBay Live, where experts tell you to strive for stellar customer service –- and we do. Whatever the customer wants, they usually get it, and they get it with a smile. The customer is much more likely to come back and that is the bottom line.

Nonetheless, here is my advice. Read the seller’s feedback. Check their history to see how long they’ve been doing this. Then, if it’s clear they know what they’re doing, don’t tell them how to do their job. Think about your own workplace environment. Do you need to be told everyday how to perform your duties?

Please, don't misinterpret what I'm saying. There are all kinds of legitimate customer requests; from a change of address, to a shipping upgrade. I’m not talking about that. We enjoy helping a customer get his package where he wants it, and when he wants it. We want our buyers to be ecstatic over their purchase. We also want them to be comfortable in knowing we are packing experts and its our responsibility to get it to them quickly and safely.

If you want to be guaranteed that kind of treatment, limit your purchases to those sellers who have a proven track record. If the seller is a bad packer, nothing you say will change that. If the seller is a great packer, nothing you say will change that. Some people confuse being a smart buyer with being a difficult one.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

People and Their Records - Vintage Photo #3

"You think we climbed all the way up here just for the view?"

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Trip to the Record Bone Yard. May They R.I.P.

The swan has sung for this pile of vinyl.

Our emphasis has always been on top condition records. I've stated on numerous occasions that I throw away more records than I sell. In spite of my concrete assertion, I've seen the look of doubt on the faces of some people. Here, finally is photographic proof. What you're looking at is somewhere around 1,000 sub-quality LPs from a couple of recent collections we've purchased. I'm sorry to say that while they once provided hours of listening pleasure for someone, their next stop is the record bone yard. These fellas are long past their prime and I wish them well in their next life.

It's a few days later, and this is what the pile looks like now.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wine, Women, Song and now Cigarettes!

Unfortunately, this blog host doesn’t accommodate subtitles. If it did, I’d subtitle this piece Watch Where You’re Flicking Those Ashes.

In all the years I’ve been buying, selling, collecting, and processing LP records, I’ve handled tens of thousands of them. But as I frequently say, everyday brings something new. Today I found something I’ve never seen before. This is an inner sleeve for a German import LP that is a full color advertisement for the Lord Extra brand of cigarettes.

In this unusual inner sleeve a progressive West German advertising firm has added “cigarettes” to the popular phrase “Wine, women and song.”

We’ve all seen the inner sleeves that promote other artists on the same label. There are also sleeves that advertise artist and record company collectibles for sale such as posters, shirts, and other promotional items. But I can’t remember ever seeing an ad for merchandise unrelated to the artist or record company. Until today.

This sleeve came from a classical music record featuring the Vienna Symphony Orchestra conducted by Robert Stolz. It is on the Sonic label and was pressed in West Germany in 1974. Looking at the picture of the smoker leaning over the record player, my only thought is to suggest that he watch where he's flicking those ashes. I did that once in my college dorm room and ruined a perfectly good copy of my Led Zeppelin Live on Blueberry Hill bootleg. Why couldn't it have happened to my roommate's copy of Leonard Warren's Operatic Arias and Sea Shanties instead?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Cleaning, Repairing & Protecting Records #1

I’m about to embark on the most dangerous mission of my career. More frightening than a Stephen King thriller. More risky than battling a Jedi Knight. More perilous than Britney Spears with a set of electric hair clippers. With typical reckless abandon, I'm going to impart some advice on the proper methods of cleaning, protecting and storing vinyl records.

A small industry for marketing cleaning supplies and other accessories grew up around the vinyl record business. Many of these products caused more harm than good.

I’m not going to spend a great deal of time defending my suggestions, some of which are likely to meet with disapproval by certain collectors. I learned a long time ago in Psychology 101 that “Attitude Follows Behavior.” That means once you decide to do something a certain way, and invest a great deal of time and money in that endeavor, it will take heaven and earth to shift your opinion.

I’ll give you just one example. You can buy 2 mil., 3 mil., 4 mil., or 6 mil. poly album sleeves to protect your LP covers. It is understandable that a new collector is going to believe that in buying the more expensive higher mil. he is getting a better product. And after having invested hundreds of dollars to accomodate his collection, it’s not going to be easy to convince him that the 2 mil. product would have been a better choice.

They cost less to buy, less to ship, and offer the same basic protection. Over time, the thicker sleeves become cloudy as tiny scratches build up, a problem that is not nearly as pronounced with the thinner mil. sleeves. Ask yourself this – What are you expecting to get from a 6 mil. sleeve that you won’t get from a 2 mil. sleeve? The additional protection offered by the thicker sleeves is virtually non-existent unless you are expecting your album covers to encounter serious abuse. Even then, any force that will penetrate a 2 mil. sleeve will almost certainly impact the record regardless of the thickness of the poly cover. Nonetheless, there are collectors who won’t buy anything but the 6 mil. sleeves and will be emailing me shortly to tell me why.

Oh, no! I should have used a 6 mil. sleeve instead of a 2 mil. sleeve!

The question of the correct poly sleeve is just the tip of the iceberg. Should you use a sponge or a brush to clean your records? What type of cleaning fluid should you buy? Should your records be stored flat or upright? Is it a good idea to remove the shrinkwrap from your albums? What is the best inner sleeve? Can a warped record be repaired? (You’ll love some of the methods that have been tested by collectors.) How can I remove stickers, pen marks and soil from my album covers? What are the most important record collecting supplies to consider? What is the safest method to pack and ship vinyl?

I’m going to try and answer these and other questions in the days ahead. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m getting my apologies out of the way early. From here on in, you’re getting one person’s opinion based on many years of collecting and selling. I have no more excuses or explanations to make.

So, let’s begin with the basic method of how to clean a dirty disc. Just plug in your $2000 VPI Typhoon record cleaning machine or your $10.88 Ronco Record Vacuum and give it a whirl. Oh, you don’t have one of those? Ok, well try this.

Rinse the record thoroughly under a steady flow of lukewarm water to flush away any loose soil particles that might scratch the disc during cleaning.

Be sure and clean your hands thoroughly when starting, or better still put on a pair of rubber gloves to avoid transferring skin oil to the vinyl. I’ve found that disposable medical industry gloves are efficient and inexpensive. One popular brand is Nitrile, which are non-latex and powder-free. As you can see, we forgot ours today.

Use a clean sponge and make one circular pass around one side of the record to loosen any hardened surface matter. Rinse the sponge and the record with each pass and repeat as necessary, depending upon how deeply soiled the record is. Repeat on the other side.

By rinsing the sponge and the record with each circular pass you are able to avoid rubbing loose soil particles into the vinyl and causing scratches. Be careful not to rub perpendicular to the grooves. Always clean in a circular motion.

The next step is the deep cleaning stage. While the record is still wet, spray a liberal amount of a glass cleaner directly onto the record. Use the clean sponge and with light to moderate pressure, make 3 or 4 circular paths around the vinyl, then rinse and repeat on the other side.

I use Glass Plus as a record cleaner because I have found that it works best on deep soil and is the only thing I’ve found that gets rid of tar and nicotine stains. If you’ve ever seen a record covered in a strange residue, it was probably the result of a record having been left out for an extended period of time in a house with cigarette smokers. Don’t use a glass cleaner or any product with ammonia on old 78 rpm records as it can damage the record. Soap and water is best for 78s. Glass Plus says it doesn’t have ammonia, but it may have other chemicals that react negatively with the more vulnerable shellac resin.

Place the damp record in a clean dish rack and let it drip dry for a few minutes. Then take a clean paper towel, folded for extra thickness, and carefully pat dry the disc.

Allow the record to dry completely, and then put it in a clean, new inner sleeve. Don’t throw away the old sleeve, especially if it is a factory logo sleeve. Tuck it away in the back once you have placed the record in a poly outer sleeve.

I’ve heard some people say never to play a record until it is completely dry, but they never say why. I almost always play a record after I’ve cleaned it, and have never noticed a problem. Obviously, if the record has a high concentration of moisture in the grooves then it may interfere with the sound quality during playback, but it shouldn’t cause any permanent damage.

Final Words: I have been using this method to clean my own records for many years. I’ve tested it on both new and old vinyl. It has not resulted in any damage to my records, and has vastly improved the sound quality of records that had been abused in a previous life. Here are a few additional thoughts on this subject:

1. A few record companies used heavy dies in their paper labels. For example, the London red labels, and many of the early chalky white labels (not the disc jockey / white label promos) will bleed when they are moistened. In most cases the bleeding is so light that it can’t be noticed. However, there are exceptions. Using cooler water will usually lessen the bleeding of these high-dye labels.

2. Make absolutely certain your record is completely dry before attempting to store it away, especially if you are using a polylined inner sleeve. If the record is put away while still damp, it is likely to produce mold.

3. Rinse and replace your cleaning sponge frequently. Keep it someplace safe so no one uses it for anything else. I’ll avoid the temptation to be more graphic.

There are many ideas out there on the best way to clean your records. Here is one of them. If you select this option, be sure to keep an eye out for floating labels.

Friday, August 24, 2007

People and Their Records - Vintage Photo #2

"Step into our parlor, we've been expecting you."