Intensities in Ten Suburbs

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Take Five / Geek Out: My Five Most Monetarily Questionable Music-Purchasing Decisions

Posted by Andrew Unterberger on October 10, 2007

For the love of re-issues and pointless box sets

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or slightly more pratcially, an extremely well-isolated and cable-less apartment) these last ten days, here’s some BREAKING NEWS for you–Radiohead are releasing a new album tomorrow morning. Not to stores, mind you, as the ‘Head have become far too progressive and high-minded for such measures. Rather, they will be releasing it in download-only format, ten tracks for which fans can pay as much as they want, down to pennies, if that’s the amount of money for which you deem a new Radiohead album worthy.

Brilliant manouever on Radiohead’s part pretty much now matter how you look at it, but naturally, it’s not quite as simple as all that. For those cheeky bastards have also set a snare trap for their more gullible fans in the form of a box set that costs 40 pounds, which comes out to over 80 bucks for you Yanks out there. The box set contains the album in CD form, an extra disc of new music, 2 LPs with the same content as the CDs, and some photos and art work. So essentially, assuming you would’ve gotten the download for free anwyay, you’re paying $80 for about eight songs worth of new music. And it’s not even shipping for at least another month.

I had to buy it. I felt like an asshole doing it, because I was an asshole for doing it–no amount of financial security could possibly justify spending that kind of money for something with that little practical use. But I knew I had no choice in the matter, because as great as it’ll be to download that album for free tomorrow, it just doesn’t feel like a new Radiohead album without the distinct feeling of product, something I can hold in my hands and pore over and snuggle with at night if necessary. And for that feeling, $80 is entirely too reasonable a price.

Despicable, certainly, but hardly without precedent. Here are the five saddest examples I could think of where my geekiness exceeded my monetary grasp–probably not as bad as some more weathered music geeks out there, but certainly enough to mark as a sound “NEGATIVE” in my Karmic check balance.

RealPlayer Plus

Estimated Cost: $50

What the Deal Was: My computer media player of choice, RealPlayer itself came for free as a download, but for all of the available features to be usable, you needed to buy RealPlayer Plus separately.

Why Buying it Was Probably a Bad Idea: My friends never cease to give me shit for using the intrusive and relatively unsafe RealPlayer in the first part, especially after the part it played in The IITS Great Hard Drive Crash of ’04. To actually willfully spend money on it, for really only a handful of new features, probably bordered on the unconscionable.

Why I Did It Anyway: Well, a couple of the features were sexy, but what I really wanted/needed it for was the Crossfade function. I couldn’t possibly explain it if I wanted to, but listening to two songs that overlap by five seconds is just something I find disgustingly preferable to listening to ’em strictly consecutively, especially when no crossfade means RealPlayer usually pauses for a whole second or two in between tracks. As for why I still use RealPlayer at all–it’s just what I use, and I can’t see anything changing that in the immediate future. Stand By Your Media Player.

Was it Worth It?: Sadly, probably yes. The only possible deal-breaker is when I got a new computer a few months ago, with a whole new RealPlayer to go with it, and I had to buy Plus all over again. That sent a shiver or two down my spine, though not enough to keep me from punching in the credit card info, of course.

The Hip-Hop Box

Estimated Cost: $60, maybe a little less

What the Deal Was: The Hip-Hop Box was quite simply that–a four-disc box set chronicle of the first 25 years of hip-hop, from “Rappers Delight” up to whatever the last track on it was, who remembers.

Why Buying it Was Probably a Bad Idea: Well, as far as genre overviews go, it wasn’t the most efficient or well-organized of hip-hop box. For starters, it ran a mere paltry 51 tracks. Some of ’em were long, sure, especially on the first disc, but over four discs, they certainly could’ve squeezed in at least another dozen tracks–especially considering the conspicuous absence of artists like Eminem, Missy Elliott, N.W.A., and other no-brainer inclusions. And what was there was often completely non-sensical–“Until the End of Time” as the sole 2Pac song? Notorious B.I.G. only showing up on Junior M.A.F.I.A.’S “Get Money”? MC Hammer?

Why I Bought it Anyway: I was young and impressionable, and my knowledge of hip-hop history was woefully incomplete. And to be fair, there were a fair number of revelations for me to be found on The Hip-Hop Box (DJ Quik’s “Tonight,” Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks,” the non-remix version of Craig Mack’s “Flava in Ya Ear”). Plus, disc three, which covers 1991-1994, is about the best and most succinct summation of why the period is my favorite in hip-hop history that I could ask for.

Was it Worth It?: Well, it might have been, but I lent it to my friend Akiva over two years ago, and I haven’t seen him or it since.

Assorted New Order 12″ Singles / LPs

Estimated Cost: Probably between $75-$85 total

What the Deal Was: The summer between my Junior and Senior year of high schools, I decided to become a Vinyl fetishist. As such, one of my first orders of business was to collect as many records by New Order (my all-time favorite band) as possible, especially their 12″s–New Order’s music was more or less custom-designed to the format. I probably bought about ten records of theirs altogether, found in various used record stores in Boston and Philadelphia.

Why it Was Probably a Bad Idea: My house only had one record player, in our den, connected to what were the most petulant speakers I’ve ever encountered–you had to twiddle with the volume knob for about a minute before you could get the record to play out of both speakers, and you’d just have to do it all over again when it inevitably shorted out a few minutes later. Not to mention that our den was hardly a regular hangout spot for me and my friends–I had to keep on generating activities condusive for us to go there to listen to my records (study groups, poker games, cooking, etc.) Eventually I got a record player before I went away to college as a birthday gift, but the gift didn’t come with compatible speakers, and I’ve been too lazy/poor to buy new ones since. Consequently, my records haven’t done much besides gather dust for me the last four years.

Why I Did it Anyway: A couple reasons, but mostly just because of two words: Peter Saville. New Order’s go-to man for their single and album artwork designed some of the loveliest, most enigmatic and most sound-appropriate record covers in history, and even if these things didn’t end up doing too much for me musically, gosh darn were they fun to look at.

Was It Worth It?: Probably not, but wait till I get around to buyin’ me some speakers…

Assorted Sonic Youth Deluxe Editions

Estimated Cost: ~$100 total
What the Deal Was: Over the last four years, Sonic Youth slowly rolled out two-disc “Deluxe Edition” re-issues of arguably their three most popular albums–Dirty, Goo, and Daydream Nation. These Deluxe Editions came in fold-out cases with slip-covers, essay-extensive liner notes, and bonus tracks including b-sides, demos, non-album cuts and live shit.

Why It Was Probably a Bad Idea: Uh, did you see that estimated cost? Each time, I was essentially paying $33 for a bunch of leftovers–I’d heard all these albums countless times before, even though Daydream was the only one I had ever actually bought.

Why I Did It Anyway: Oh dear lord, were these things sexy. I practically scratched my Dirty DE beyond recognition with the number of times I folded and un-folded it. Plus, as far as bonus tracks go, the SY re-issues really brought the goods–lost classics from soundtracks and compilations, revelatory early versions of future standards…even the original albums sounded better than they ever had before.

Was It Worth It?: The first one, probably–it was so good that it made me appreciate Dirty in a way I had never even come close to before, and remains one of my favorite albums of all-time. The other two had lesser bonus stuff, and didn’t expand my appreciation of their original discs quite as much. Split decision I suppose.

Blur’s 10th Anniversary Singles Box Set

Estimated Cost: ~$225

What the Deal Was: For the tenth anniversary of their debut single, Blur released a limited-edition box set that inlcuded all 17 of their singles, in separate cases with their original b-sides and original art-work.

Why It Was Probably a Bad Idea: I’d wager the average American probably doesn’t spend as much money a year on music as I did on what boiled down to a set of a whole lot of b-sides (roughly 70 entirely non-album songs, I think, plus a few dozen more remixes and live cuts). And Blur weren’t even a particularly strong b-sides band–they have about one disc’s worth of great ones, sure, but for that, there’s at least three discs’ worth of pure crap.

Why I Did It Anyway: Well, first off, I bought it with the monetarial backing of my Grandparents (birthday present? Graduation? Something like that), bless their hearts. Second off, Blur are one of my all-time favorite bands, or at least they definitely were while I was in high school, and the thought of getting to hear 70 songs of theirs for the first time was beyond tantalizing. And third…shit, do you even need to ask? 17 SEPARATE SINGLES WITH THEIR OWN ARTWORK IN ONE BOX SET. It wasn’t even a box, it was this nifty little carrying case that zipped up and probably could’ve passed as a toiletries case if it didn’t have the little “Blur” insignia in the corner.

Was It Worth It? Absolutely. It was worth it for the memories alone–the weeks that summer I spent waiting for the fucking thing to arrive (it shipped from Britian, from some ridiculously unprofessional website, took forever), so excited to hear the doorbell ring to signal the delivery that my friends started randomly yelling “DING-DONG!” to taunt me. And then, finally, the night I came home and found it waiting for me outside my bedroom door, and I listened to it straight through (over the course of the weekend, naturally), in a total state of geeked-out bliss. Point is, when it comes to music, the actual music is often only half the picture, and nothing represents the sweetness of that other half like my Blur Box, still my most prized possession. Kinda hard to put a price tag on that, no?


7 Responses to “Take Five / Geek Out: My Five Most Monetarily Questionable Music-Purchasing Decisions”

  1. Sonja said

    A. I remember the bring-people-to-the-den activities…that dance party was pretty sweet, and the poker games were awesome…although I think I’m more glad that you have Tainted Love on vinyl than anything else.

    2. You can totally get picture frames for your vinyl album covers, and then you can look at them ALL the time. They sell them at Urban Outfitters, for serious:


  2. akiva said

    got yr hip hop box right here, sucka, no question about that

  3. yancy said

    Unlike godforsaken RealPlayer Plus, which we’ll continue to ride your ass about ’til the end of time, at least you can get most or all of your money back out of that New Order wax should you decide to.

    Speaking of, I saw the first 7″ pressing of “Ceremony” at Reckless Records a few weeks ago. Came so close to dropping twelve bucks on it, but I’m not too crazy about b-side “In a Lonely Place.”

  4. Andrew Unterberger said

    you crazy man??? “In a Lonely Place” is one of their best b’s.

  5. […] …Blogged about at Take Five / Geek Out: My Five Most Monetarily Questionable Music-Purchasing Decisions – intensities in ten suburbs, – Last Updated – 2 minutes ago    Follow This Story   Change Your Location San Francisco, CA   Email This Story   Print Got something to say about this story, post your blog here and tell the world. […]

  6. […] Any Radiohead fan worth his ammonia knows that musically, the albums only tell half the story. The rest can be found through the band’s practically countless amount of b-sides, unreleased tracks, remixes, alternate versions and live covers–view all 24 DISCS of the widely internet-circulated box set Towering Above the Rest for evidence of this (and no, the original albums aren’t even included). Frankly, at this point, a comprehensive and official box essaying all of Radiohead’s non-LP material would probably be even more exciting than a new album, although to really be comprehensive, the thing would probably cost in the hundreds. Hey, no one ever said Radiohead fandom came cheap. […]

  7. Aries said

    None of that beats Merzbow’s Merzbox. 52 discs…of noise.

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