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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Vinyl sniffers

This will be a long post..

And it's not about vinyl fetischism. Errm, I think.

I invited some of my favorite blogging friends to this smörgåsbord of vinyl album aromas.
Not all responded. I can understand that. Weird and hard assignment, eh?...

I wanted to know what their favorite vinyl record smells like (and I'm talking about the actual vinyl smell). I asked them to take out their favorite album - to kick back in a favorite place - to relax. And then, smoothly, pull out the record and inhale the fragrance. What did come to their minds? Was it a good aroma? Was it bad? Where did all this take them?
So many question... So little time....

Some of the responses i received were long and explicit and some others were short and precise.
And some others didn't have a clue. Or did they!?

I thank you all for playing along. It was good fun reading all your thoughts on this matter.
[Note: those who haven't responded to this assignment yet should know that there is still time to be added to the bunch]

"... The majority of records are pressed on black vinyl. The colouring material used to blacken the transparent PVC plastic mix is carbon black, the generic name for the finely divided carbon particles produced by the incomplete burning of a mineral oil sourced hydrocarbon. Without this, the record would be transparent and would show the dirt collected in the grooves, the scratch marks and other damage to both sides of the record. Carbon black also increases the strength of the disc. ..." [Quote from Wikipedia]

Ralf, The Cartoonist:
-Peter Thomas, Raumpatrouille (first edition from 1966): smells like
an old book; a bit damp.


P-E Fronning of Martin Klasch:
-I'm guessing I'm not much of a vinyl sniffer (I've also got a bit of a cold) but I gave it a shot. The favorite vinyl of the hour over here at Martin Klasch is Brother Jack McDuff's "Something Slick!" (Prestige, 1963).
The smell wasn't bad. Was it good? Well, not really. The word that sums up the experience is "dust". The smell of bookshelves and old pocketbooks. As I really tried hard to get something else, something plastic faintly emerged in the background. The smell I expected to find was that of cigars, martinis, olives, womens perfume and organ grinders sweat. But no such luck!


Michelle of Tiny Bubbles:
-I chose the Who's Quadrophenia, a big sprawling gorgeous double album. I went through this very long phase, where I wanted to be a mod (I was a member of the Who's fan club!) and dressed accordingly. I cut off all my hair and dyed it red. This record changed my life, I listened to it constantly and watched the film religiously. When I took the records out of their sleeves today, I smelled the ocean and saw the waves crashing on the shore, I heard traffic and the sound of engines, for a moment the whole world was black and white and grey.


Keith Milford of Old Haunts (and other fancy places):
-OK, my favorite album of all time is a tough one, but I'll go with the 1979 Varese Sarabande release of the DAWN OF THE DEAD soundtrack by Goblin (VC 81106). Very close behind would be my PHANTASM soundtrack LP (VC 81105) by Fred Myrow and Malcolm Seagrave (released by the same label in the same year), and my beloved 1970's SOUNDS TO MAKE YOU SHIVER record on the great old Pickwick label. I sniff all three albums regularly.
But DAWN is my #1 for a lot of reasons I won't bore you with. My favorite movie of all-time, my favorite record of all-time.
So let me smell it.
Dude, it smells like my youth! And midnight movies, Halloween, fake blood, and weekend monster flicks on TV! THAT'S the stuff this LP has always represented to me. I got it at an impressionable time in my young teen years (late '70s early '80s) when girls, zombies and horror movies were all I thought about (and not alway in that order).
I can also still smell the warm, sweet electrical heat wafting from my overused little Kmart record player, as I spun DAWN all day and all evening, over and over and over, warming my vinyl platter like toast. Man, and that soothing little droning buzz my Kmart special would hum when I switched it on or the record ended. Sure miss those days.
The record's back in the sleeve now (yes, that original clear one it came with from varese, thank you) and back in the same old beat up jacket I sat and stared at for so many hours as a kid, just waiting to be played again. Or smelled. I'll probably do both.


Andrew Abb of gmtPlus9 (-15):
-I'll be sniffing Les Baxter's La Femme by Franck Pourcel and His French Strings (Capitol T-10015, 1956). I picked it up at a used record shop a few years back. It's in prime condition, stored in a non-scratching plasticizer protective anti-static sleeve.
The exposed vinyl smells like a mohair suit - a mid-to-late 60's mohair suit. I picture a very mod mohair suit perfect for clubbing in swinging London, lounging around the aparto in go-go era Tokyo, or smoking French cigarettes and reading the Times in a cafe in Soho.
Very odd.


Lee Hartsfeld of Music You (Possibly) Won't Hear Anyplace Else :
-Well, I have a number of favorite albums and can't narrow them down to a single title (pretty original, no?). However, it occurred to me just now that I do have a favorite vinyl smell--namely, the scent of Mercury vinyl from the Fifties and Sixties. Let me sniff one of my favorite Mercurys--Dance Date with David Carroll (Mercury Wing 12106).

And, I smell....

Well, almost nothing, unfortunately. At the moment, my head is stuffed from allergies, and my olfactory functions are impaired. But there's a tiny trace of that classic Mercury scent--a fresh smell that reminds me of vinyl waiting to be played for the first time. And of shrink wrap recently unsealed. Reason being, my love of the Mercury scent goes back to a group of Classical LPs I bought circa 1969 in a Toledo discount store. Consequently, a good whiff of Mercury vinyl has me hearing portions of "Mephisto Waltz" and/or "Invitation to the Dance." As they sounded on my family's one-speaker hi-fi set around 1969. How could I have forgotten these things?

I'd never given any of this much thought. Now that I have, I'm not sure what to do. Except admit that I'm a vinyl sniffer and keep on sniffing vinyl, secure in the fact that it's not illegal. Yet. That's what I'll do.


Michele Ballerini of popartx:
...let say one of my fav albums "Drop Out With THE BARRACUDAS" (1981)
and it smells like, letme think.......like the nylon stockings of Cicciolina when she just made a foot-job at dawn to some obscure/unknown (in front of her the males were all zeros) 1970s pornostar (uahuah!)


Juan Les Pins of {clausmosercom}:

One of the first records I remember listening to as a child was
. Not the eponymous one by Mouse On Mars, of course, but the
legendary album by the Orchestre Arthur Iriti (probably the only record
this Orchestre ever released, I have yet to find another one). For a child,
this was just the perfect music: A very loud men's choir hollering sweet
melodies (it's a cool for a child to discover that it is possible to
holler and be sweet at the same time), backed by rhythmic
guitar strumming and some frantic percussionists drumming away on every
piece of wood within reach. There must have been many wooden things within
reach when they recorded that album.

And I still remember the text on the back cover. It's one of those
completely useless things I tend to remember, while I always keep
forgetting stuff I'm supposed to know. Ask me the birth date of Jesus
Christ, and I am lost. But I'll always remember silly little things like
the funny typos on the menu list in an Italian restaurant I've been to
years ago. Or, for that matter, what was printed on some obscure 70's album
with Tahitian folklore. And when a mail by Mr Dante Fontana popped into my
inbox asking me (and a couple of other bloggers) what kind of associations
and memories I might have when sniffing the smell of my favourite piece of
vinyl, I instantly thought of Iriti's album. It must have been one of the
very first stereo records ever, at least the blurb on the cover went to
great length in explaining what a brilliant invention stereo was and that
people should buy this record for the sheer innovation of it alone. I don't
remember the text verbatim, but I'd swear by the necklace of any Polynesian
beauty that the final argument went something like: "Now that stereo is
around, all that's left to invent is a method of capturing the fragrance of
the flowers in the dancer's hair onto vinyl."

Needless to say that in my six-year-old brain I could think of all kinds of
wonderful and, most of all, smelly things which might be captured onto
vinyl and released whenever you played it back. For example, I had very
cunning ideas of which kind of records I'd put on whenever my sister
entered the room. Unfortunately, as promising as the prospect on the Iriti
album sounded, no one really came along to release any of these records, at
least not during my childhood, when I would have needed them most. I picked
up some scratch-n-sniff records by punk bands later, but the olfactory
effects of these were very unimpressive, to say the least, and tended to
fade away quicker than you can say "stale and putrefied stench of a
beer-soaked leather jacket worn the night before in a club where everyone
smoked cheap Eastern-bloc cigarettes".

So that's maybe why I never really bothered about what vinyl actually
smells like and I'm a bit wary of trying to sniff it out today. Because,
you know, since those childhood days I have my own ideas and fantasies
about what the aroma of an album should be like. And they are mostly set
off by the music or the cover design, and I'd rather not lose these kinds
of fantasies. Take the first Gallon Drunk album: I always want it to have
the fragrance of the cherry blossoms decorating the backdrop, and I'd
probably be depressed if I'd find out that the actual smell is much closer
to that of the girl's nylon costume after a particular long and arduous
work-out session.

Although, come to think of it, that might be a very interesting aroma as
well ... Some things are best left to the imagination.


Frank of Earnest Little Cartoon Guy:
-The album I decided to press my nose upon is a prized possesion: Some family band calling themselves 'The Red Birds' (from Michigan) recorded The Red Birds Sing and Play Your Favorites, partly before a live audience - during a cattle auctionering event . I am guessing it's from the sixties. It's mostly country and the kids sing too and Mom reads a letter to her mom. There is one swinging song, Black Eyed Susan, sung by son Danny that's an all time favorite of mine and if I knew how to rip from albums to PC or had the equipment I would - and post it but alas. The rest of the songs are so-so but the fun, home-made flavour still makes it somehow one hundred and eighty procent fabulous.
OK enough already because this is about smell right?
Well nothing happened! I pressed my nose so deep in the grooves I could almost hear a melody but my mind (blank) just stayed that way: blank. No light bulb moments, no fire works, no flashbacks (at all) )to days gone by when vinyl was precious to me. Yep that's right, some vinyl is still very precious to me (like that Red Birds LP) but I gotta say I am all for CD's (and DVD's) nowadays. U-huh. The only thing I am a bit nostalgic about maybe is that getting music wasn't that easy as it is now with the Internet and all and though I am totally and very gratefully loving everything I've downloaded and am downloading and I am often blown away by the sheer amount of great, great stuff that's out there to grab, I'll always remember with acute fondness how my younger brother and me in our teenage days drove our bikes all the way to the nearest town with a decent music store to buy just one, just one piece of vinyl and how we would celebrate that buy a whole weekend long.
(But wait a minute... doesn't that make me sound much, much older than I want to sound? Errr.. Yes.)


Stuart from 20 Jazz Funk Greats:
-yeh, now i'm sat here smelling a record and the guy who walked past is giving me a really funny look through the window.

i have a cold, def leppard's pyromania smells like plastic.

i'll keep trying...

now i inhaled too much too fast, i think i'm hyper-ventilating, this is like poppers.

ok, headache has gone - one last try...

nope, fuck all of the plastic except the destinct smell of, erm, plastic.

The inner sleeve smells like the glue u get in junior school.
The album sleeve smells like the girl Rose who gave it me but thats about it.


MadCatJoey of On The Flipside:
-As all my vinyl was purchased in thrift stores and garage sales, they all have that old cardboard smell. I picked up a copy of "Surfin' with the Ventures" and I was sadly disappointed to find that it didn't smell like the sea. Nor did Frank Sinatra's Ring-a-ding-ding smell like a nightclub.


Kurt Benbenek of Houseplant Picture Studio:
-Take a whiff...

I hate to disagree - well, actually I love (or live) to disagree - but it's NOT usually the *actual* vinyl
record that has the often-interesting, nose-catching aroma (unless it's been left in a damp place and
there's grey-green mold growing in the scratches and grooves...and the smell of THAT
is pretty much a standard "slight urinating out-in-the-woods" smell) but it's the combination of
factory inks, cardboard stock(s) and insert(s) OTHER THAN THE VINYL that are the true
nostril-arousing pop-culture-historical-artifact-culprits.

Most of my LPs (though, sadly I have not many LPs anymore...LPs are really heavy...
plus I sold most of my records to a couple of clueless and/or evil guys back in April of 1996
when records held little value...they've probably put all my records on eBAY by now
and are millionaires...aah, life is cruel! But, HEY I've got my health AND hundreds-of-thousands of mp3s
on numerous hard drives that I won't live long enough to play!) are stored in boxes for a big move...

BUT (just off the top-of-my-head) I seem to recall that my vinyl copy of Zappa
and the Mothers "One Size Fits All"
(1975 on Discreet...the album which has "Inca Roads" on it
where I first heard Johnny Guitar Watson...thanks, Frank!) has a very rich, satisfying smell going on.

That insane Cal Schenkel artwork (all over the "One Size Fits All" package)
is printed with slick inks... and it's printed on REAL HEAVY cardboard (check it our for yourself)
so that it'll never go anywhere (the artwork, that is) till the end of recorded time.

On an aroma-related note...Zappa's song "Stink Foot" (has the word "stink" in it) was on
the album "Apostrophe" which was originally-released on similarly-heavy, ink-saturated
cardstock back in 1974 (pre-disco, pre-9/11, pre-ABC TV's "SuperNanny")

Zappa and the Mothers' "Overnite Sensations" was ALSO released (in 1973, the year before
Richard Nixon left office in shame) on the same smell-heavy, ink-saturated heavy cardstock.

PLUS - those three later Zappa (Warner Bros?) albums with the Gary Panter artwork on the
covers also had a collective "unique" smell ("Sleep Dirt" etc...those were the ones that sort of were "Lather")
- probably (once again) due to the fact that Panter's striking art was printed in a highly-saturated
and inky way on slick and pungent stock (sounds logical to me...)

It's funny that at the same time (mid-70's...before the sharp, scary rise of global Capitalism)
RCA was releasing really cheap, poorly-printed, often UN-smelly LP packages (all of those
David Bowie RCA releases come to mind...the ones where the vinyl is super-thin..."Pin Ups", etc)
Zappa was releasing HEAVY AND SMELLY vinyl LPs in package sleeves that could deflect 22 caliber bullets!

By the way, you might want to carry along a copy of one of those Zappa albums
the next time you're in Southern California...flak jackets don't come cheap)

A lot of the early period Elvis Costello vinyl LP
packages (This Years Model, Armed Forces, Get Happy,
Taking Liberties) also emitted strange aromas...all of those
records used fancy, saturated ink colors and slick inner sleeves.
All of that ink and paper tends to reek for a while after leaving
the quiet environs of your average corporate-controlled album
packaging factory.

In fact, a lot of over-hyped and often-pointless New Wave/Punk albums in the
late 70's (such as the ones released by Costello) were packaged in smelly,
4-color RGB saturated formats...the Sex Pistol's album package
for their sprightly 1977 freshman release ("Nevermind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols")
was pretty much nothing but a bucket of day-glo ink poured over some
foul-smelling cardboard slats.

All that ink and cardboard reeks a lot...so matter how you slice it (or safety-pin) it.

As everybody knows, LPs (especially double gate-fold items)
purchased at swap meets, thrift shops and garage sales tend
to send out strong "historical scents" - this is most likely
because records like these have been kicked around
a lot (kind of like Richard Nixon was) and have encountered
many different and/or unusual "vintage" storage atmospheres.

I tend NOT to stick my nose into swap meet, thrift shop or
"vintage" garage sale record sleeves because (simply put) some
of them smell quite bad...and darn it, I have roses out
there to stop and smell!

What sane record collector would want to stick their nose into an album and
smell "the smells" of old, dead Aunt Minnie's old putrid, rancid old
basement in Poughkeepsie? (where she not only kept her nephew's
old discarded Foghat, Nick Gilder and Rick Derringer albums,
but it's also where she kept her old, cracked pickle jars and rusty, used
cat food cans...as well as her collection of old fire-damaged TIME magazines
that she'd been saving since the summer of 1968... the time of the
violent Chicago Democratic Convention riots)

These days, if I want to get a real "nose rush" I simply go to a
big, modern magazine stand. There are enough mind-altering and/or toxic,
chemically-enhanced ink and paper smells at your average Borders
or Barnes 'n' Noble to propel one into a personal psychedelic
"voyage" - it's no wonder so many customers hover in that section
while clutching their over-priced, double-Latte' cappucinos.

Yep, it's true...a lot of records smell!


MrBaliHai of Eye of the Goof:
-When I was a teenager living in Los Angeles, my best friend and I were big fans of Dr. Demento's brand of cool and strange music, and we listened to his show religiously every Sunday night. When we were seniors in high school, my friend somehow hooked up with a horribly unattractive woman who constantly tried to seduce me. One night, she called me up and asked me to help my friend move her to a new apartment. I didn't want to go, because I knew that she would try to put the moves on me, but he was my best buddy, and was madly in love with this evil creature, so I decided to lend a hand for the sake of our friendship. But when I got there, I discovered that he had left town to take care of a family emergency, leaving me alone with this horny harpy. She tried plying me with wine and pot to get me into bed with her. I refused to cooperate. Finally, knowing that I was hooked on bizarre music, she offered me a copy of "Way Out West", an album by Mae West and a pick-up called Somebody's Chyldren, if I would do the nasty with her.
I gratefully accepted it, and told her that I wanted to put it in the trunk of my car for safe-keeping before we made sweet, sweet luuuurvvv. I drove off, of course, and didn't come back. When my friend got back, she told him that I'd tried to seduce her, and she'd kicked me out of the apartment! He didn't talk to me for months. Anyway, I still have that album, and listen to it often. The band grinds out awesome garage-rock cover of Beatles songs while Mae tunelessly tosses out her trademark double-entendres and shrieks like a grandma who just won at church bingo. You can see a scan of the cover and listen to a couple of song clips at Frank's Vinyl Museum

When I open the sleeve and inhale deeply, this album hits me with the stale odor of a fading career, accompanied by peppery guitar notes and overtones of celebrity vanity. I'm left with an aftertaste of something elusive...a smell I can't quite put my finger on. Suddenly it hits me, it's the scent of desperation and lust exuded by an aging Hollywood sexpot who realizes that her best years are behind her, and a teenage Jezebel who's trying to lure her boyfriend's best pal into her web of deceit.


Rev.Frost from Spread the Good Word:
-I took my original Kajagoogoo err sorry, Link Wray first Lp and....holy shit, I smell nothing except maybe a smell of coffee and cigarette (maybe it's because I AM drinking a coffee and having a fag :)Ok stop kidding Rev. It brings me to a safe world where Britney fuckin' Spears doesn't exists, where you can sleep all day listening to records (the only work you have to do is basically change the side), where you can hang out with a bunch of friends drinking beers every single day, and where girls fall in love with you just because you have some fabulous blues records.Hell yeah, that's the smell of a vinyl.


JKS of Unpleasant.org:
-I had a hard time picking my "favorite" record, but eventually I chose "Rock Bottom" by Robert Wyatt, because it's the first vintage LP I remember buying as a kid and the first time I realized there was a whole world of music out there that I wouldn't hear on tapes or CDs. Apart from the fact that most of my records smell like somebody's basement, the vinyl itself has a very very faint, sort of "warm" chemical smell-- it reminds me of the way my Grandfather's 1960's-era hi-fi would smell after a few hours of use, once its electronic innards had warmed up (he still uses that stereo, btw.)


Johnny of Stationsvakt:
[transl. from Swedish] -Well, I've got millions of album favourites. But I chose Peter Gabriel's second album (what's the title?) - the one with "games without frontiers" and that stuff. Now I will sniff: Hard. The only thing that comes to mind is some memory of kid parties and childhood. but there is also a delusive smell of throw-up. Yes! Vinyl actually smell of vomit in some way.


John of Tofu Hut:
-Though my lovely lady and I do indeed have vinyl round the house and more CDs than anyone could shake a banyan tree at, I do all my listening in MP3 format. In an attempt to seriously address your question, I opened up my computer and stuck my snoot deep in its innards. Apparently my favorite music smells like pineapple and pork and this is not good news, as it suggests that I've spilled my Chinese take out into my PC. Actually, my favorite music is now smelling strongly of smoke and melting plastic and asdl;kafjsdiaj


Sebastian (that's me!) of PCL LinkDump:
-I am having a sniff of "Bringing It All Back Home" (Bob Dylan).
It's not my super-favorite album - but the most radiant one i've got on vinyl (I got my top favorite album on CD: John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme").
Hm. Strange. A very vague fragrance of soap. A rather sweat aroma. And there's a little bit of shining new leather boots in there I can tell. Leather and soap. Not much more. And, yes, it's that smell of vinyl I love. I know this aroma. It's like spring air.