Keep Record Store Day good!
How a major-label co-opt could suck the life out of RSD's fifth anniversary
Record Store Day, the manufactured holiday dedicated to independently owned mom-and-pop record shops around the world, has come a long way since it was commissioned in April of 2008. For that first year there were no commercial Record Store Day releases on the shelves; it was mostly just a party — a replication of the annual Free Comic Book Day designed to bring the music obsessed together for a day-long blowout, complete with live bands, DJs, and commerce. It was a shot in the arm intended to raise awareness about the industry-wide plight of homegrown music retailers by herding bodies through the doors to generate sales of good old-fashioned vinyl. The mission has been kicked up several notches over the years as record labels great and small have recognized that there's an eager market just waiting to line up at the cash register with an armload of records every third Saturday in April.
Take a look at the list of RSD's releases for 2012 and you'll find scores of interesting, if not incredible, albums and singles coming down the line. But there's also some real bullshit this year, and it can only be chalked up to one thing: A major-label cash grab that has less to do with embracing the spirit of Record Store Day than it does with sucking the life out of it.
Over the years, Record Store Day releases have become some of the most anticipated purchases of the year for record collectors — thanks to reissues of decidedly cool, in-demand gems and forgotten underground classics refitted with lavish packaging and a rainbow of colored vinyl, most of which are offered in extremely limited editions and marked with a telltale RSD sticker.
As the number and variety of RSD releases have steadily increased, there's always been a clear justification for each new product. Last year's swag featured a reissue of the Beach Boys' 10-inch "Good Vibrations" b/w "Heroes and Villains" that spun at 78 RPM, a Tom Waits 7-inch recorded at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, and even a couple of super-scarce live Phish 7-inches.
Among the 2012 highlights that fit the bill: a 7x7-inch Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde box set (Delicious Vinyl) that deserves a design award of some sort just for the elaborate packaging, not to mention the music. Other cool buys include a brand-new Public Image Ltd. EP (Pil Official), a super-limited David Bowie "Starman" 7-inch picture disc (Virgin Records), and the Feistodon split 7-inch (Warner Bros.) — that's Mastodon covering Feist's "A Commotion," while on the B-side Feist covers Mastodon's "Black Tongue." (See "15 essential Record Store Day 2012 exclusives")
When it comes to music, there's a market for everything. So some frat house DJ somewhere is probably stoked to wake up early on April 21 and race to the record store so he can stand in line to buy the 311 dubstep remix EP (ATO). The Michael Bublé/Ray Charles split single, featuring their respective takes on "Georgia On My Mind" (Warner Bros.), seems equally suspicious — as do a lot of other items on the list this year. Not the least of which is a decadent 6xLP Disturbed box set, cleverly titled The Collection (Reprise). This one just reeks of some sort of scheme to clear out the warehouse of those ceiling-high stacks of Disturbed meth-metal that don't seem to be going anywhere.
Just sayin'. I sincerely doubt that the record-buying public is clamoring to hear "Down With the Sickness" on crisp black vinyl. What's next, the ultimate Godsmack box set remastered at 45 RPMs to make its barreling drop-D chug even more killer? (I hope that I didn't just give Godsmack's label any ideas for RSD 2013.)
Taste is in the ear of the beholder, but there comes a time when enough is enough.
One of the surprising culprits this year is the Boss himself. Take a look at Bruce Springsteen's "Rocky Ground" 7-inch (Columbia), which includes "Rocky Ground" taken straight from the grooves of his Wrecking Ball LP, along with a live rendition of "The Promise," which is really just taken from the audio from the DVD The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town. Could there be anything more needlessly excessive than lifting a live song from a DVD to release a 7-inch? There's no call for abusing Springsteen's fans like this on Record Store Day, and these kinds of major-label shenanigans only cheapen the experience.
The worst part about it all is that such pointless releases get in the way of RSD accomplishing its real goal, which is to foster an environment where people are drawn into record stores year-round. Record Store Day is about more than buying good records; it's about nurturing a culture and supporting the record stores that still exist the world over. This is what's at stake when we tolerate a Springsteen 7-inch recorded from a DVD. Buyer beware: The wolves are moving in.