I recently picked up a used copy of Iggy Pop’s 1982 album “Zombie Birdhouse” and, looking at the seated, shirtless Iggy on the cover, I was reminded of a general buying principle for Iggy Pop albums passed on to me by Michelle Pessaro, owner of Savvy Vinyl Records in Melbourne, FL: “Buy any album with Iggy without a shirt.” It carried with it the implied corollary, “Shirted Iggy albums suck.” This buying principle had been passed on to her by Chris, the owner of the former Vinyl Request Records, whose store Michelle inherited when he passed away in 2019. It was a great store, one that had the space to host live music, and it was a staging point for a lot of great bands around the Melbourne, FL, area. It also hosted some better known bands like Agnostic Front.
Needless to say, I had to test that theory. I had to test it because it seemed testable, because there is objective data available by which we can test the theory, and because I’d graded waaaay too many papers over the last three days and desperately needed to do something else.
So, I made a spreadsheet.
Dare I say it? This spreadsheet is a glorious instance of Digital Humanities at work, one that quantified ratings of each Iggy Pop album on a 5 star scale and correlated those ratings with album cover features (shirted/non-shirted/other). I submit for your consideration The Table:
Results: average rating of shirted Iggy albums, 3.0. Average of shirtless Iggy albums, 3.4. The principle holds with a couple of early exceptions, such as Iggy Pop’s Bowie-produced solo albums from 1977, which have ratings of 5, and the late album Naughtie Little Doggie, which even a shirtless Iggy couldn’t save from sucking horribly.
- 9 shirtless albums: 7 of 9 shirtless albums are rated 4 or 5.
- 8 shirted albums: 3 of 8 shirted albums are rated 4 or 5 while 5 of 8 shirted albums are rated 3 or below.
Bottom line: Chris was right!
This whole “project” leads me to think about record stores in general, and what makes a good record store good. At the risk of sounding cliché, a good record store loves the music, while a worse record store either doesn’t love it as much, doesn’t know how to love it properly, or just exists to take your money.
This difference is measurable and quantifiable from store to store. It is observable. I’m not just being sentimental. A store that loves the music loves its vinyl. If they’re selling you a piece of used vinyl above $10.00, it will have been checked for scratches, scuffs, and dirt and cleaned if necessary. It might be given a new inner sleeve, even if the original is still there. The record store can’t control what condition the vinyl, inner sleeve, and vinyl are in when the album arrives in the store, but it can control the condition it’s in when they sell it.
And sellers can also control their selling price. Ebay and Amazon selling prices for used vinyl are all over the place, and there is no quality control in check. Discogs.com is a better source for the real value of any given piece of used vinyl on the market. It will display the selling history of any used vinyl by specific edition and by condition, which has to be listed on the website following their guidelines, which list vinyl and covers in conditions from Mint (basically, new) to Poor. I’ve published two books on rock music and literature, and have two more under contract right now, and I’ve found Discogs.com to be an invaluable resource on the details of any specific release of almost any specific album.
I’ve bought some used vinyl in my lifetime, including over the last couple of years, and my go-to store is Savvy Vinyl Records because the owner takes care of her vinyl — she has a cleaning machine on her table next to the register — because she prices in the middle of Discogs listings, and because she stands by her product. If an album turns out to be in bad shape, she asks you to bring it back. If the album leans a bit on the expensive side, she’s probably listened to it before selling it. She has an extensive Discogs catalog of her own, by the way, so she’s a safe vendor to buy from online. Another great vendor is Gator Records on Instagram. I’ve never regretted a purchase from that vendor, and he cleans his vinyl before shipping it and puts his vinyl in new sleeves.
There are a number of good online vendors for new and specialty vinyl as well. Experience Vinyl has some interesting curated editions — for example, Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain in yellow and red swirl vinyl curated by Carlos Santana, selected by him and including his notes on the album, and it has recently begun expanding its catalog. Sound of Vinyl is great for colored vinyl reissues from popular bands and other specialty releases. Vinyl Me Please has some fantastic releases, but a very limited and somewhat expensive catalog at any given time. Look for Music on Vinyl rereleases from any store, or Back to Black, and of course some of the most interesting vinyl releases during any given year come out on Record Store Day. Look up the RSD website to see when this year’s RSD albums will drop and what they will be.
The best thing to do, however, is to find a small, independent seller that loves its vinyl and support it.