Small children love things that spin around and this explains the fate of the last decent turntable I had, a Pioneer that had served me well since I lived in NY, along with matching amp and cassette deck. This all happened around 1997 and, truth to tell, I wasn’t as annoyed as I should have been, partly because I loved my kids but also because I was switching over to full-time CDs anyway by then. The vinyl – about 3,000 LPs – was all upstairs in a closet and, when we next moved house, it went under the stairs, unseen but not unloved. Then, when we next moved, most of it went to a charity shop in Acton, some of it was sold to a collector, and the rest stuck with me – all my Who records, of course, and about 50 other LPs I hung on to for old time’s sake. There was also a big pile of singles, again lots of Who, but also Beatles and lots of other stuff from 1960 to about 1975, and around a dozen seven-inch EPs in picture sleeves, most of them dating back to the sixties. I whittled the singles down too but still have a pile that’s about a foot high.
The reason I’m telling you all this now is that an old metal storage shed at the bottom of our garden was partially destroyed by gales the last time the weather attacked Surrey, and only last week did we get around to having it dismantled and carted away. Everything that was in it had been there since we moved to this house nine years ago, and among this stuff was an old-style record player, cheap, compact, single plays only, bought by me on a whim years ago after the turntable bit the dust just in case I desperately wanted to play a vinyl record that I didn’t have on CD.
So last Saturday I dusted it off and plugged it in. The turntable went round and the needle felt like it was still sharp to the touch so what do we play? How about a 7” single, 45 rpm, maybe this one with silver writing on a matt black label, Brunswick 05926 ℗1965 by a bloke called Townsend (sic) that’s on the top of the pile I just retrieved from a shelf in the spare bedroom? There a few crackles and then… crikey! I haven’t heard a guitar that sharp since I foolishly sold off my old Vox AC30 valve amp with its treble channel in 1971, and the vocals are cutting through the drums and guitar like a chain saw, a bit slurred like they always were but on key and dynamic, even the back up. And as for the drums, it’s like someone is battering them to death, driving this whole souped-up charabanc downhill as hard as it can go, punctuating the gaps and matching the guitar in every way. It sounds fantastic. Whether it’s true or not I don’t know but someone once told me that The Who asked their cutting engineer to space the grooves apart and cut them as deep as possible. This way they’d sound louder on the pirate stations. The same theory explains why 12” singles played by DJs sound as good as they do. Either way there’s no doubt out it – there’s something about playing an old single on a deck like this that you don’t get on the CDs I’ve been listening to for the last 20 years.
I bought ‘I Can’t Explain’ sometime in early 1965 at Philips record shop in Skipton, and the disc I’ve scanned above is the same old copy in its original sleeve, not really mint condition but still more than a match for all those digital versions I have on CDs galore. The centre was lost, along with the centres of many more of my Who singles, when Mrs C, meaning well but not knowing any better, handed them all over to a man from whom we hired a juke-box to help celebrate my 50th birthday in 1997. This man ought to have known better, or at least queried the situation when he was given a complete set of UK Who singles from the sixties – ‘Explain’ to ‘Pinball’, all present and correct – which had their centres intact. Surely he, a juke-box specialist, should have realised that their owner was a collector who might not have wanted them mutilated in this way.
I didn’t buy them all as they were released, just the respectable hits, maybe seven or eight, in the sixties. I wasn’t consciously ‘collecting’ Who singles in those days, just adding them to the pile, but the rest, the ones that Talmy released to counter The Who’s preferred singles, the alternative ‘Substitutes’ and the misses like ‘Dogs’, I picked up later, mostly in the early eighties from record fairs or a shop in Chiswick called the Spinning Disc. By then I wanted a full set and it wasn’t that hard to put together. So I filled in the gaps with those from the seventies and later that I didn’t have and now I have 52 Who singles from ‘Explain’ to the present day, some duplicates, some US ones too.
The most unusual ones are a couple of acetates sent out to reviewers in the seventies that I half-inched from the reviews pile on Melody Maker. These would probably have been the same as advance copies sent to the members of the band. ‘WGFA’ is on an Apple label, cut no doubt by the famous George ‘Porky’ Peckham, the best cutting engineer in the business, who in those days worked out of Apple’s studio in the basement of their building at Savile Row. ‘Join Together’, actually an 8", was obviously cut at Trident. I had a third acetate, ‘Let’s See Action’, also cut at Apple, that I gave to a fellow Who collector on his 50th birthday. 'WGFA' and 'JT' are below.
Now back to that record player… Brunswsick 09535 looks tempting.