Towards the end of 2016, near the end of my first burst of K-Tel bulk purchases and after I’d integrated record listening into my domestic routine, I decided to chase down various beloved albums which I never owned as LPs.
Even at the height of my vinyl collecting days — which, honestly, has since been surpassed by my present iteration of enthusiasm — records were my format of last resort. It was for material that couldn’t be found on cassette (or, after 1993, compact disc) or not worth the expense of picking up on a more preferred format.
As a result, there are scores of essential favorites which I never bothered to pick up on vinyl. It wasn’t really a concern until my new turntable dragged me back from my post-music blogging burn out and rekindled my excitement about actively listening to albums again. Spinning the stack of essentials I did happen to own on vinyl further whetted my appetite.
“This is nice. I wish I had a copy of *insert album name* to throw on.”
The first LP to fill the above placeholder was Gang of Four’s 1979 debut album Entertainment!
I purchased my original cassette copy of it during the summer of 1990, on the heels of my first read-through of Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces. After finishing that sprawling and magnificent mess of historical free-association, I jotted down a wish list of the artists and albums cited to hunt down. Most of it was unavailable in any format, though I did find both Entertainment! and a collection of early Wire singles in a Strawberries bargain bin.
(This search is what spurred me to dig out my mom’s old turntable and start cratedigging in those days, with my earliest purchases being singles and LPs by The Adverts, Au Pairs, and Kleenex.)
It took me a good while to warm up to Entertainment. I was still locked in an adolescent aggro mindset, and Gang of Four’s abrasive minimalism strayed far from the Pistols/Clash sound that I’d enthusiastically embraced. It sounded artsy which was the kiss of death to someone who saw the term as a mark of the dreaded “poser.” Knee-jerk tribalism is a wellspring of regrettable yet unavoidable idiocy.
I rediscovered the album during my brief pre-Oi fling with industrial and experimental music, but it wasn’t until 1994 that Entertainment truly clicked with me. My angry young punk thing had mostly fallen away (thanks to Maura’s moderating influence) and my tastes had drifted more towards early new wave, gothic rock, and what had since been classified as “postpunk” music. Bands like the Au Pairs and Joy Division, which I’d turned my nose up at just a few years earlier, suddenly sounded like the most compelling shit ever recorded.
This was especially true of Gang of Four, because they slotted perfectly into my evolving musical and political sensibilities. I’d graduated from the affectedly callow “smash everything” of vulgar anarchism to a (slightly) more sophisticated form of radical leftist thought, one that dovetailed nicely with Entertainment‘s unapologetically Marxist perspective. The songs covered consumerism, sexual politics, imperialism, media complicity through a lens that flipped constantly from micro to macro levels yet remained compelling and coherent.
It was the graduate seminar to the freshman intro class of the Clash’s first album, and more dancable to boot. The album even managed to make a fan of Maura, who thinks most postpunk music is frustratingly atonal or simply “too weird.” She was the one who specifically requested “I Found That Essence Rare” be added to our wedding reception playlist.