Each month we handpick a collection of reissues, limited editions or just straight classic long-players that deserve a place in any record collection.
Words | Paul Jones, Amy Flower and Zoë Radas
Amy Winehouse, Back to Black (2006)
You’ve heard the songs, you dig the style, you know the story. So why does Back to Black – the second and break-out album from English heroine of neo-soul, Amy Winehouse – deserve to be heard on vinyl? Well, aside from the fact that the songs which comprise this stunning LP merit the kind of attention that a full play-through on vinyl provides, there’s another reason which will fully immerse you in the Back to Black experience: vinyl was the defining format of the era from which Winehouse drew her inspiration.
When speaking to her soon-to-be producer Mark Ronson before recording Back to Black in 2005, Winehouse used examples from pop and soul girl bands from the ’60s – like The Ronettes and particularly The Shangri-Las, whose dark hit Leader of the Pack was both emblematic of ’60s pop and a streetwise nose-thumb to the more cutesy girl bands of the decade – to explain the sound she was seeking. Winehouse directly channelled the savvy style of a time when seven-inches ruled the roost, and her vision – along with Ronson’s R’n’B-licked production and co-writing knack – saw Back to Black emerge at once timeless and incredibly modern. It went on to win five awards at the 2008 Grammys.
TOP TRACK: Back to Black
FAST FACT: The song Me & Mr Jones is reportedly about Winehouse’s initial crush on rapper Nas, with whom she went on to enjoy a close friendship. The two musicians were planning a joint party for their birthday – both were born on September 14 – when Winehouse passed away in July 2011.
We challenge anybody – even the most anti-sampling grumble-bums of the world – to drop the needle on side one of Since I Met You, let the title track unfurl and not start to move, let alone smile. This incredible pop gem, concocted of samples plucked from a disparate collection of underground classics and op-shop discoveries, serves both as a portent of what’s to come over the course of this 18-track double vinyl release, as much as its stands up as a ground-breaking twist in pop creation.
Created by two guys – Robbie Chater and Darren “Bobbydazzler” Seltmann – this album was no cheap grabbing of a sample or two and parping on top of it, with their mishmash musicality leading sampled tracks to places that even their creators were left awestruck by. This release couples the two LPs with two more 12-inchers, compiling 15 globetrotting remixes from the likes of Japan’s Cornelius through to Anglo-French pop benders Stereolab. In all, a modern masterpiece.
TOP TRACK: Since I Left You
FAST FACT: The record was originally conceived as a concept album, with the theme being “an international search for love from country to country.”
John Coltrane, Blue Train (1957)
Coltrane’s career had seen him roll with Miles Davis where he would feature on the seminal albums, Kind of Blue and Milestones. While Davis recognised the saxophonist’s undeniable talent and helped him to freely express his creativity, ultimately, he would kick Coltrane from the band when his continued drug addiction rendered him unreliable. But Coltrane ditched his vices and on this path of sobriety, he would assemble an awe-inspiring collection of players to work on what would become Blue Train. It was a watershed moment for Coltrane who would write four out of the five tracks on the album; it was also his first recording as a bandleader. Blue Train, a cornerstone for any fledgling jazz collection, is an invigorating and hugely enjoyable record that sounds as fresh in 2021 as it would’ve done in ’57.
TOP TRACK: Blue Train
FAST FACT: Blue Train would be John Coltrane’s only solo release on the esteemed Blue Note Records label and it was recorded without a contract and only a verbal agreement with label founder, Alfred Lion.
Two of the biggest names in jazz at the time – and still today. What could go possibly wrong? Nothing! Despite their very different styles, this collision of top talent resulted in an album that’s still rightly regarded as a classic today. With musical accompaniment from the Oscar Peterson Quartet, plus Louis on trumpet, the pair take on 11 big songs of the time – now standards – by the likes of Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael and the pairing of George and Ira Gershwin. A-side opener Can’t We Be Friends? enchants from its opening piano tinkles, while Berlin’s swinging Cheek to Cheek is, quite appropriately, heavenly.
TOP TRACK: Can’t We Be Friends?
FAST FACT: This was the first of an eventual three albums that Fitzgerald and Armstrong recorded together for Verve Records.
Keeping your records clean and dust-free is an essential part of owning and playing vinyl. When you play a record that isn’t scratched or well-worn, the pops and clicks you hear are caused by dust and static build-up or other materials that have made it onto the surface. Vinyl should always be cleaned with a carbon brush before play and that extends to brand new records too, as these can contain residue from the production process. The stylus will also pick up dust and grime on each rotation and this will also affect the sound quality.
This handy five-in-one cleaning kit from Flea Market covers most of the cleaning maintenance requirements you’ll need. Housed in a PU suede case, it features a stylus cleaner, a carbon dry cleaning brush, record cleaning solution and a microfibre cloth.
The carbon brush is an essential tool for any vinyl enthusiast and should be used before each play, and, if you have the time, after – your records will thank you for it. Designed to remove dust and static, place the record on the platter and start the turntable. Hold the carbon brush perpendicular to the revolving vinyl and lightly touch the fibre tips to penetrate the grooves; don’t press too hard or you could damage the vinyl – just enough to lift the dust. Use the ridge built into the brush housing to clean off the fibres and avoid touching it with your fingers – you don’t want to transfer any oils to your records.
For a deeper vinyl clean to remove more stubborn dirt, take the cleaning solution and spray it directly onto the microfibre cloth, never directly on the vinyl. Then lightly wipe in a circular motion around the record until it is removed. The stylus cleaner here is a long brush much like a mascara stick that you pull from a case. Gently brush the stylus from the back forwards three or four times whenever you finish playing records for the day. Vinyl that is well-cared for will last a lifetime and beyond, and by implementing a simple but regular cleaning regime for both your records and equipment, you’re helping to assist that longevity.