Over the weekend, I spent some time at the WFMU Record and CD Fair — a New York institution returning in person for the first time since 2019. A fund-raiser for the great, listener-supported radio station, this year’s Record Fair featured over 100 dealers hawking vinyl and other musical sundries at the Knockdown Center in Queens. I browsed for hours, and by the time I was done my back was sore from hunching over crates and my arms ached from all the records I was toting around. Who says record collecting isn’t a sport?
That lingering pang in my shoulder, though, meant I left with a pretty decent record haul — which I used to create today’s playlist.
Some people go to record fairs ready to drop big bucks on rare finds and coveted collectibles. That wasn’t my aim, though: I was in it for the cheap thrills and spontaneous discoveries. I found, for example, a fantastic, good-as-new-condition Ike & Tina Turner live album I’d never heard, at a stand where most records were marked down to 50 percent off in the event’s final hours. (Given that deal, I threw in a copy of Dinosaur Jr.’s scuzzy classic “You’re Living All Over Me” at the last minute, too.) For $5 or less, I acquired records by Bob Dylan and Roberta Flack.
But I also learned about the perils of the discount bin. When I added a $3 copy of Waylon Jennings’s “Greatest Hits” to my pile, I thought I’d checked the condition of the LP. But apparently I hadn’t looked at the label. For when I pulled it out of its sleeve yesterday and went to play it, I found that I was actually in possession of … Neil Diamond’s “12 Greatest Hits, Volume II.” Talk about a rude awakening.
Overall, though, the fair was a blast, and an opportunity to connect with record sellers in a setting way more personable than ordering something off Discogs. Each stall had its own style and personality quirks — like the one graciously offering a questionably large bowl of free “I <3 Leslie Gore” buttons — plus a distinctly curated selection of records waiting to be browsed. It was like visiting the Main Street of a small town comprised entirely of record stores. What a dream!
So here’s a playlist curated entirely from the records I bought at the fair. Enjoy, and remember: Always check the label of what you’re buying, or you might find yourself confusedly listening to Neil Diamond’s “America.”
1. The Beach Boys: “Whistle In”
2. Kraftwerk: “Computer World”
Kraftwerk’s 1981 album “Computer World” just might be its most influential, having been sampled by countless musicians and, in the case of “Computer Love,” pretty shamelessly ripped off by Coldplay. Though the album’s lyrical fascination with home computer technology embodies that quintessentially Kraftwerkian combination of the quaint and the foreboding, the record still sounds unbelievably fresh and contemporary, like a crackling transmission from a future that’s just now coming to be. (Listen on YouTube)
3. Dinosaur Jr.: “In a Jar”
And now for something completely different, here’s a perennial ripper from Dinosaur Jr.’s 1987 release “You’re Living All Over Me.” When you look up “shambolic” in the dictionary, this song automatically starts playing. (Listen on YouTube)
4. Bob Dylan: “Isis”
“Desire” was a rare ’70s Dylan album missing from my vinyl collection, so I couldn’t resist scooping up a copy for $5. The Homeric travelogue “Isis” is perhaps most indicative of the album’s style: A winding, narrative-driven story song that, at its heart, is really an oblique meditation on marriage. For some reason, I am always amused by Dylan saying the phrase “the world’s biggest necklace.” (Listen on YouTube)
5. The Beach Boys: “Heroes and Villains”
Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks’s ambitious first collaboration is one of the most storied songs in the Beach Boys’ catalog — an entire disc of the 2011 box set “The Smile Sessions” is devoted to its recording — and though Wilson eventually reimagined it more to his liking on the long-awaited “Smile” album, there’s plenty of brilliance in the original 1967 release, which appeared on the Boys’ “Smiley Smile.” (Listen on YouTube)
6. Ike & Tina Turner: “A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Everyday)”
As on any live album by Ike & Tina Turner, there is no shortage of kinetic, up-tempo numbers on the two-disc “What You Hear Is What You Get,” which documents a 1971 performance at Carnegie Hall. But one of the best moments in the set comes when they play their soulful, slowed-down rendition of the Holland-Dozier-Holland classic “A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Everyday),” first recorded by Martha and the Vandellas but completely deconstructed by the searing vocals of Tina Turner. (Listen on YouTube)
7. Lou Reed: “How Do You Think It Feels”
Lou Reed’s 1973 epic “Berlin” — a song cycle that tells the story of a doomed, drug-addled couple, Caroline and Jim — probably belongs on the short list of the most depressing albums of all time. But it’s also one of Reed’s greatest, one that was a gaping hole in the “R” section of my record collection. Please enjoy one of the least upsetting songs on the album (which is saying a lot about “Berlin,” since this song begins with the lyric, “How do you think it feels when you’re speeding and lonely?”). (Listen on YouTube)
8. Roberta Flack: “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”
And finally, from Roberta Flack’s 1969 debut album, “First Take,” here is her delicately beautiful cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.” I somehow did not appreciate the easy poetry of the lyric “Walk me to the corner/our steps will always rhyme,” until hearing it sung in Flack’s voice. (Listen on YouTube)
I was thinking about diamonds and the world’s biggest necklace,
The Amplifier Playlist
Listen on Spotify. We update this playlist with each new newsletter.
“My Haul from the WFMU Record Fair” track list
Track 1: The Beach Boys, “Whistle In”
Track 2: Kraftwerk, “Computer World”
Track 3: Dinosaur Jr., “In a Jar”
Track 4: Bob Dylan, “Isis”
Track 5: The Beach Boys, “Heroes and Villains”
Track 6: Ike & Tina Turner, “A Love Like Yours (Don’t Come Knocking Everyday)”
Track 7: Lou Reed, “How Do You Think It Feels”
Track 8: Roberta Flack, “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye”
I’ve also been listening to the Japanese ambient music pioneer Hiroshi Yoshimura’s recently reissued 1986 album “Surround,” originally composed to be played inside a certain company’s prefabricated homes. The critic Joshua Minsoo Kim wrote a lovely and informative review of the record for Pitchfork, noting that “Yoshimura seems to encourage listeners to focus their senses and notice how much music already surrounds us.” Listen if you want to feel like you’re living inside a drifting cloud.