April 21

Birds prefer familiar foods. Limiting the choices on their menu helps limit unwanted surprises; poisonous or dangerous prey, for example. They also know that there is a pay off for finding this familiar thing. Ornithologically speaking they use what’s known as a “search image” to more easily detect what it is they are looking for.

We do the same thing when hunting for a specific thing, an edge puzzle piece or a stray stone in a bag of dry beans. We focus in on and image that will give us the pay off and those images become easier to see.

So too with digging for records.

I got my first copy of Time Out from The Dave Brubeck Quartet a month or two ago. I traded it for store credit (pay off) and started seeing Brubeck records everywhere! Next was Ramsey Lewis. I found a copy of Sun Goddess and now I must have 10 Lewis records.

Recently, fellow vinyl enthusiast Kevin has been trying to scoop early Jefferson Airplane records. His blog planted a search image in my mind and I started finding JA records all over the place. Case in point, Surrealistic Pillow:


I now have three copies of this record, a 1969 re-issue, a 1975 re-issue and a 1980 “best buy” re-issue.

All three copies are in good shape and very listenable. Today I played them back-to-back to try and determine a) if there was a discernible difference in quality of playback and b) which one to keep. I picked White Rabbit as the test due to the building dynamic as the song progresses.

Up first was 1969. This copy has the most distinctive pink cover of the bunch. The familiar bass and snare opening came in with a light crackle. Stereo right drums had a good snap and left had the trippy mellow guitar. There seemed to be a slight distortion in the vocals when Grace Slick cuts loose toward the end.

Up next was 1975. The cover seemed to have a slight sepia tone and a worse wear ring. Even so this copy had slightly less surface noise than the earlier version. Same stereo configuration but this time the bass felt a bit more pronounced and the guitar had a bit more edge. Same hint of distortion on the vocal.

Last but not least was 1980. The cover was more pale than the others but well preserved due to the fact that the cellophane was still intact. Quieter yet than the other two, the surface noise on the lead in was slightly more than a whisper. Drums right and guitar left felt wider apart than the previous plays and both were better defined. Not a hint of distortion in the vocals.

Were these differences due to pressing process? Vinyl quality? Re-mastering? Who knows… What I do know anecdotally is that the less a record has been played, the less the chance that the dope who owned it before me screwed it up!

So, the verdict is to trade off the more collectible 1969 and 1975 versions and hold on to the 1980.

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