The Good Life

Setting the record straight on the old and rare 45s

Crystal clear music lies beyond your noise-cancelling headphones, pressed on classic vinyl records

Gone are those days when new movie releases were pirated and clubbed in one compact disc that was rented out to people for Rs.30. Also, gone are the days when cassette reels got entangled in an audio player and produced squiggly sounds. But, what came before those two inventions remains — vinyl records.

Stacked in small antique shops to online collection of vintage albums, in the age of Dolby sounds and wireless earphones, vinyl records continue to find customers who are willing to shell out thousands of dollars for the extremely rare and limited edition ones.

Carrying a large stock of rock n’ roll and jazz albums is Rarerecords.net, a site founded in 2013 by Charlie Essmeier. His tryst with vinyl records goes back to 1978, when he used to sell records by mail as a teenager. “Collectors seem to be interested in rock and jazz, so those are the genres the site specialises in,” says Essmeier, adding that he occasionally stocks albums of blues, classical and popular vocals, such as Frank Sinatra.

The most expensive album available on Rarerecords.net is Pink Floyd’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Priced at $4,000, it is a 1971 Japanese copy that is made from red vinyl. “Several albums listed on the website are pressed on vinyl that is some colour other than black,” says Essmeier. This adds to the aesthetic appeal and fetches higher price due to limited availability.

Another rare piece pressed on red vinyl is John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Wedding Album. The album was released in 1969 in a special box set that included a copy of their marriage license, a photo of their wedding cake and a book containing articles about their wedding. And, to be a part of this extremely personal affair, one must be willing to pay $3,000 to Rarerecords.net.

Speaking of John Lennon, the next three expensive albums on the site are The Beatles’ Yesterday and TodayMeet the Beatles and The White Album, all ranging from $1,500 to $2,500. “The Yesterday and Today album has the rare Butcher cover, which is the most sought-after collector’s item,” says Essmeier. The cover that features the members of the band as butchers posing with dolls and pieces of raw meat had run into controversy during its release. Eventually, it was banned and the sold copies had a second cover pasted on top of the original one. Today, they have a cult status. “The copy that I have for sale has the second cover professionally removed, showing the Butcher cover underneath,” he adds.

While the website receives visitors from all over the world, Essmeier says that he makes most of the sales to customers in the United States, western Europe and Australia. “I do have occasional visitors to my site from India, but to date, I have made no sales to any Indian customer,” he says.

For Indians, Delhi-based New Gramophone House does the job. The store was established in 1930 at Anarkali Bazar, Lahore. At the time of partition, it was shifted to Chandni Chowk and has successfully stood the test of time. “Slowly, as music started moving towards digital, most of the vinyl sellers switched to other businesses. But, NGH never had to think of another option as it had a large customer profile of real music lovers and the biggest music collection on vinyls,” says Anuj Rajpal, third-generation owner of the store.

From western classical to qawalis, NGH has something for all. But, Bollywood hits account for its biggest collection. In the store as well as the website, one can find vintage albums of movies such as Ek Thi Reeta, Harishachandra Taramati, Sansar and Nadaan, priced at Rs.60,000. The Beatles make an appearance here, too. 78 RPM (revolutions per minute) records of the band fetch the highest prices, more than Rs.200,000, says Rajpal. “Production of 78 RPM records were stopped across the world in the ’60s. But, in India, some were produced in the ’70s. That is what makes them collectibles,” he explains.

Along with the records, NGH also sells turntables, gramophones, stylus cartridges and album sleeves, and provides services such as dust cleaning and maintenance. Directors Madhur Bhandarkar, Sanjay Leela Bhansali and singer Sudha Malhotra often buy records from the store, shares Rajpal. In fact, NGH is constantly in business with the likes of T Series, Sony Music and Yash Raj films, as the sole vinyl distributor for these companies.

Both Rajpal and Essmeier are not scared of being in a dying business. They believe vinyl records will always find its audience. “People like records mainly because they provide better sound than compact discs or digital downloads,” says Essmeier. Rajpal agrees and adds, “If you are looking for old and rare songs, only records can come to your rescue.”

So, maybe it is time to unplug the earphones, and let the needle hit the grooves.