I can recite from memory every single record in my brother John’s collection from the time he was in high school and I was just a little kid. My favourite thing to do was lie on his bed and listen to his albums while he did homework. Duke by Genesis. Band On The Run. Musiquarium I. A Night At The Opera. Peter Gabriel Plays Live. Night Moves.
My brother always wrote his name in the upper-right corner of every record cover. His handwriting was — and remains — about the worst I’ve ever seen. He could have been a doctor instead of a lawyer. He’ll not be shocked to hear that I nicked a few of his records, which I still have. I was just looking at his name on a copy of Harder…Faster by April Wine. I would never want any other copy. I remember the day he bought it. I Like To Rock seemed like the biggest banger I’d ever heard, until The Stroke by Billy Squier came out.
More recently, I was gifted the less-valuable part of someone’s record collection after they’d sold off a bunch to a shop. Lots of Grand Funk. This guy had a thorough proprietary routine — he wrote his name on the front and the labels, and in some cases, had printed tags stuck to the jackets and labels. Kind of like those ones you see for the return address on envelopes.
My favourite one I’ve seen came from an older woman who gave me her collection of mostly classical music. These weren’t written on at all, but the older rock ’n’ roll ones from when she was a teenager were. There were about a half-dozen well-played Elvis albums which not only had a very carefully done signature, but her age at the time as well. You can tell she was really proud of them. On one of the records, she’d written whom it was a gift from.
Another thing I love is when people circle their favourite songs. Usually it’s not surprising, but other times it’s a bit of a mystery. For example, I have a copy of Elton John’s Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player with two of the songs asterisked — Teacher I Need You and Have Mercy On The Criminal. Those weren’t hits, but they were my favourites as a kid as well. Sometimes the songs are circled because they were obviously singled out for use by an amateur DJ or MC. Maybe a wedding reception or BBQ. You can tell from the songs chosen if it was a happy occasion or not.
When I was a cub reporter in the small town of Barry’s Bay in the late ’90s, there was a thrift store called The Vintage Shop. I bought SO MANY records there over the course of the few years I lived there. Almost all the records I picked out had the same name on the cover: Bob Shulist or R. Shulist. I still have a pile of them, maybe 20-25. Bob must have donated his entire collection. It was the height of the compact disc era, so not at all uncommon. I can say for certain that Bob had an incredible taste in music. First pressings of Cream, Johnny Winter, Juicy Lucy, Jethro Tull, Ten Years After… stuff mostly from 1969-1975. Turns out he was the husband of the office administrator where I worked. She spotted his distinctive signature on a stack of records on my desk. The following week she brought him in to meet me.
Despite being a record collector, I’m not really someone who hoards or seeks records because of their value, rarity or condition. Handwriting on records doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t care that it means my copy of Led Zeppelin’s Presence is technically VG rather than NM. Really, records with names on them are often MORE VALUABLE to me than those without.
So, knowing all this, you won’t be surprised why I’ve taken a keen interest in the new Instagram account of a friend of mine. Recently, Tom Megginson started @namesonlps — where he posts photos of albums he and his followers find with names on them. Tom is a lot like me, we both started collecting records in our youth and had a rather mature taste thanks to having two older brothers (my sister was a huge influence also!).
“I was a bit precocious when it came to music,” Tom says. “By the early ’80s, I would regularly take the bus to downtown Kingston, and my friends and I would hit up all the used record stores because we couldn’t afford to buy new.” Brian’s Record Option was one of those places. It’s still there. If you’re going, give yourself a few hours.
“I’ve always loved objects with stories. Late last year, I decided to start documenting the records I have that wear their history in the form of names and other things people have written on them. So I take some pics, research the history of the record and whatever is written on them, then tell a little story,” he explains. Some of Tom’s favourites are his dad’s, who was a DJ in the ’50s and ’60s.
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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.