Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on December 22, 1999. All rights reserved.
They Believe in Yesterday
So you have spent untold hundreds — even thousands
— of dollars building up a vinyl LP collection through the 1960s,
’70s, and early ’80s, only to have it usurped in the mid-’80s by a
new format, the compact disc. But now you aren’t willing to part with
treasured gems like Bob Dylan’s "Blood On The Tracks" album,
Queen’s "A Night At The Opera," or those rare jazz sides from
that label that has long since gone out of business. What do you do
in this age of the compact disc?
On the one hand, you can’t afford to replace every vinyl title with
a compact disc, and on the other, you still savor those clicks and
pops, and the big liner notes on the back covers, of genuine vinyl
LPs. But your turntable is stashed some place, probably broken,
you’ve been spinning CDs at home since the late 1980s.
It’s a bummer, as you might have said when you first purchased these
records, but it’s not hopeless. First you should know that a number
of retailers in central New Jersey still sell vinyl LPs, and others
still sell new turntables and even repair old ones. What’s more,
companies are still issuing new and old titles in limited edition
Every day at the Princeton Record Exchange, Bill Paquin, the store’s
vinyl appraiser, has the unenviable task of telling unsuspecting
who have schlepped heavy boxes and bags of old vinyl LPs into the
store that their collection is not worth all that much.
"I’ve been collecting vinyl for 21 years and working here for
15 years," Paquin explains while confidently flipping through
a stack of 100-odd LPs. Paquin is a man who likes to do two and three
things at a time, so he continues flipping though the vinyl stack
as we talk. He has just returned to the vinyl appraisal area after
helping an elderly woman schlep the box-load of vinyl out of her car
trunk and into the store.
Paquin’s experience includes collecting, appraising, and buying and
selling vinyl LPs. "There are many records out there that are
worth money and there are many records that aren’t," he cautions.
"It’s just unfortunate that most of the records that come in
Paquin (pronounced pay-quin) explains that all forms of vinyl —
45s, 78s, and LPs — have been his obsession since the late 1970s.
An internationally-known vinyl expert, Paquin estimates that 40
of the floor space at the Princeton Record Exchange (just off Nassau
Street on South Tulane Street), is devoted to new and used vinyl.
Because of Paquin’s involvement, the store is known around the state
and the country as a place where the vinyl LP still lives.
"I’d say 95 percent of the used vinyl we get in here fall in the
below $10 category," he says of individual albums. He credits
Princeton Record Exchange owner Barry Weisfeld for having the vision
to make the store into a haven for vinyl collectors. Princeton Record
Exchange stayed in the vinyl business because both Paquin and Weisfeld
saw that vinyl LPs were continuing to sell, he says. The Record
also carries some 50,000 compact disc titles.
Raised in Lawrence Township, Paquin says neither of his parents were
very musical. "I grew up in a house with almost no records at
all, but I used to listen to Philadelphia radio stations and with
my short wave radio I could hear music from around the world. With
short wave radio, you could pick up things you normally wouldn’t hear.
My whole life changed in 1966 and 1967, after I got my first
Paquin graduated in 1981 from Trenton State College with a degree
in criminology. Both his father and grandfather were lawyers, so a
fascination with law rubbed off on him. His mom divided her time
being a housewife and doing charity work.
Why the change from the intended career in criminology? "Records
were my hobby," he explains, "I followed my heart and turned
my hobby into my vocation," he says, adding he never actually
worked in law enforcement, except for a stint in security at a JC
Penneys during his college years. "I decided I didn’t want to
become a police officer, so I followed what I liked and what I
"My music obsession started in the early 1970s, but my vinyl
began in June, 1978, when I got a jukebox from a friend," he says.
The jukebox, with a 60-count selection, came with 1,000 45 r.p.m.
"I also collected LPs for about a year before I got a
he says, laughing, "because I knew I may as well start. There
weren’t a whole lot of people collecting in the 1970s, they were
1950s material, and I was collecting ’60s material."
Paquin began working at the Princeton Record Exchange in 1984, when
the store was still located on Nassau Street. Weisfeld hired him,
he says, because "he knew that I knew more than the average person
about music." Indeed. While there are 30-odd reference books and
collector guides above Paquin’s desk in the store’s vinyl appraisal
area, he says he rarely refers to them.
"Nothing takes precedence over doing your homework and going out
and talking to different dealers at record shows," he says, adding
he spends close to $200 a month on his home phone bill, staying in
touch with vinyl dealers from around the world. "You have to be
aware of things up to the minute," he adds.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the Record Exchange became known around
the state and the country as a center for music fans interested in
buying vinyl LPs, as well as a place to get a collection of old vinyl
But why do music fans still maintain an affection for
vinyl? Paquin says the lingering appeal of vinyl lies in sound
Like a red wine connoisseur who can taste major differences between
a French and a California Merlot, Paquin and other audiophiles can
hear differences in sound. But just because he’s a vinyl junkie, does
not mean he doesn’t also enjoy compact discs.
"A lot of things are better on LP than they are on CD," Paquin
says, when asked to explain why so many people are hanging on to their
vinyl and many others continue to buy vinyl-only limited edition sets
by the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and others.
"It’s true, CDs add depth to some older music, but certain things
should still be listened to on vinyl," he says. "The early
Rolling Stones should be listened to in mono LP. And because of what
they did with some of those mixes, on CD, they’re worthless,"
he continues. Paquin says a lot of things that were meant to be buried
in the mixing of a recording in its LP version can be heard on CD,
especially when the remixing is done by a new crop of audio engineers.
"I’ve A-B’d a lot of the old stuff myself over the years and
the sounds," he continues, "some things that sound flat and
lifeless on CD sound great on LP. For example, Motown Records, most
of their stuff sounds terrible on CD, but if you put on 45s or LPs
of Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes, the Miracles, they all
sound much better on vinyl."
So much for the sounds. What about the money: In Paquin’s vinyl
office, we ask if he has any juicy stories to share about people
in with a treasure trove of collector’s-quality LPs in their
Paquin’s fast reply: No.
"Most collections don’t have even three or four — if most
people have one thing, it’s a fluke. People who have many flukes in
their collection don’t exist," he says.
An example of a "gem" on vinyl LP would be the Beatles’
cover" album, which was only in print for a short time before
it was pulled back by the group’s record company because it was deemed
too dark for American popular tastes. The album cover depicts the
Fab Four wearing bloodied butcher coats, with cuts of meat lying all
over the place, tearing plastic dolls apart. It was quickly reissued
with John, Paul, George, and Ringo standing around a steamer trunk,
a more familiar album cover to most American record buyers.
Another notoriously rare LP is Bob Dylan’s second album, "The
Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan," released in May, 1963, by Columbia
with legendary talent scout John Hammond in the producer’s chair.
"There’s been so much misinformation on that one," Paquin
notes. The promo original of "Freewheelin’" contained four
songs that were withdrawn before the official release — including
"Let Me Die In My Footsteps," "Rocks and Gravel,"
and the original "Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues."
"The easy way to tell which one you have is to look in the dead
wax," the area between the center label and the place where the
grooves end, he explains. If the record number is followed by a
1," the album is certifiably rare and a collector’s item.
"If it ends with the `dash 1,’" says Paquin, "and if it’s
in very good shape, it’s worth $5,000 to $8,000." A more likely
scenario, however, is that "it’s the other one, which is worth
A first pressing of Dylan’s death-obsessed debut album,
"Bob Dylan," released by Columbia on March 19, 1962, produced
by John Hammond, with the "six-eye label" can fetch upwards
of $150 to $300, Paquin says. But that album cover has to have three
small Columbia Records `camera eye’ logos — look at your Columbia
LPs and you’ll see them — on each side.
Either way, Paquin says he will tell you what you have. "We’ve
been in business for a long, long time. We are not the type of store
that if someone comes in with something valuable, we’re gonna give
them a line. We’re gonna tell them what it is and just how much it’s
"A lot of people are surprised at our honesty and forthrightness.
Some people group record store owners with aluminum siding and car
salesmen," he adds, smiling.
Immediately behind Paquin’s table are shelves where he has sorted
and priced rare new and used vinyl LPs, culled from various
brought into the store, and now in plastic jackets to preserve their
Among the items:
"The Rolling Stones," monaural, UK-only release,
second label, $50;
a first pressing of "The Who, Live At Leeds" with
original poster intact, $25;
an album from Gong, an early 1970s psychedelic band, $29.99
(already sold at press time);
"Marilyn Monroe and the Society Syncopators," with
Marilyn on the cover, priced at $24.95;
Chicago blues pianist Otis Spann’s original release for
Atlantic Records, still sealed, priced at $24.95;
The Rolling Stones "White" album in vinyl, $30;
harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite’s first album for
Records, "Stand Back, Here Comes Charlie Musselwhite’s Southside
Blues Band," with a colored label, it’s priced at $25;
Dr. John’s first album, an original pressing for Atlantic
Records, with the original green and blue label; priced around $25.
And finally, one of the more expensive items on the shelf,
an album by the vocal group, The Crystals, produced by Phil Spector;
complete with original blue label and in very good condition, it is
priced at $200.
that mean Paquin paid $75 for the album? "Somewhere around that
neighborhood," he says.
Sometimes, Paquin explains, as is the case with the Beatles
album cover, things like the condition of the vinyl LP itself are
inconsequential. Each album must be appraised on a case-by-case basis,
he says. Just because numbers on a recording may lead the owner to
think the album is valuable, other factors enter the fray, such as
different colored labels in the circle inside the 12-inch LP,
style paper for the record jackets, and colored vinyl pressings of
"In general," Paquin says, "the early 1960s artists are
usually worth more, because the mono recordings are more valuable
than the stereo recordings." In America, mono recordings were
discontinued in 1968, he explains, but they continued to be issued
in Great Britain until 1973 or so.
If any vinyl-only stores exist in New Jersey or
in the U.S., Paquin does not know of them. Ira Freund, the owner of
the Record Setter in East Brunswick, organizes several vinyl-only
record conventions in New Jersey throughout the year. Freund estimates
that 25 percent of his sales at his store, an old converted house
on Route 18 North, are in new and used LPs.
"A vinyl-only store would quickly close up," he says,
it’s not enough of a draw in and of itself for items that sell."
Of the vinyl-only shows organized by Freund and partners, Paquin says
while you may find some good records, "when good vinyl pieces
do come up, they tend to be priced much higher than they should be.
But every show is going to get a little bit harder, because there’s
basically a dwindling supply of vinyl."
Yet even the ubiquitous compact disc can no longer be taken for
"All of the world’s major equipment manufacturers and record
are pushing to phase out the compact disc and replace it with Super
Audio CD or DVD-Audio," reports Joel Brinkley in the New York
Times this month. Sony’s first Super Audio CD players are in the
now, priced at a whithering $5,000 and $3,500. A Panasonic DVD-Audio
player due out this spring will cost $1,200, marketed under the
brand. Fortunately everyone in the industry agrees that the transition
will take years. And since existing CDs will not be incompatible with
the DVD, they will not be made obsolete as vinyl was.
"I don’t think we’re in danger of any big format switch any time
soon," says Paquin. Format changes seem to happen once every
he adds, noting in the ’20s and ’30s, 78s were the norm. A generation
later, in the 1950s, LPs came on to the scene, followed by compact
discs in the early 1980s.
"When people our age die off, that’s the big threat, because now
there’s a whole new generation of people who grew up with CDs, who
don’t care about LPs — just like people our age who grew up with
LPs don’t necessarily care much about 78s."
Any final words of advice for those people whose turntables are still
in good working order and who don’t mind getting up off the couch
every 22 minutes to flip the record over?
"Don’t invest in records," Paquin says, "collect
them and enjoy them, but don’t expect a return on your
But in order to listen to these treasured oldies, where
does one go to get a turntable repaired or replaced?
At Bryn Mawr Stereo and Video on Route 1 South, Joe DiMattia says
his store sells "a considerable number" of turntables. The
store currently carries two models, a Denon record player ($150) and
a Japanese-made Sumiko turntable ($400).
"Typically our customers have a good selection of vinyl that they
do not want to replace," he says. "They may feel sentimental
about them. And then there’s the ongoing debate about vinyl versus
CD. People don’t want to part with their vinyl because of the warmer,
DiMattia tackles the technical reasons for the difference in sound.
"There’s a lot of information left off the CD because of the
process," he says.
"Cartridges on turntables produce what’s called third order
— which is actually bad, but our brains interpret that information
as a warmer sound. Basically the cartridge winds up masking the higher
order harmonic distortions. With a CD you can actually hear the
which is why people find CDs harsher sounding. So if you have a
vinyl record and a good turntable, you’re going to get a warmer sound.
It’s the way our brain takes in the information," he says.
Like car stereos, cameras, computers, and other mass-produced modern
gadgets, it may be cheaper to buy a new turntable than to have your
old one repaired, explains John Burlaga, the vinyl specialist at Rock
Dreams on Route 33 in Mercerville. About 10 percent of the floor space
at Rock Dreams is devoted to new vinyl LPs, where you’ll also find
a sea of CDs and a stereo equipment room — including turntables
— in the back.
Rock Dreams sells new turntables: Pioneer, JVC, and Onkyo are
brands that retail for under $150. Most purchasers are party DJs,
Burlaga says. Rock Dreams also sells the more expensive Technics at
$499; this is a heavy-duty turntable geared toward profession users.
Top-of-the-line turntables from B&O and Yamaha (priced from $500 and
up) might be the choice for the well-heeled audiophile who will spare
no expense when it comes to his or her collection of vinyl LPs. These
would be available by special order only. Burlaga notes that Rock
Dreams does not repair turntables, but refers customers to Electronic
Service Labs in Ewing Township for repairs.
Burlaga says record companies are still issuing classic older albums
in the 12-inch vinyl format, including the whole Jimi Hendrix catalog,
some items from the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, and some new items
are put back into their original packaging. "These are geared
toward the collector or the audiophiles in their 30s and 40s,"
he says, "but some of the new vinyl being issued is geared toward
kids in the 15 to 21-year-old age bracket."
Burlaga says new vinyl versions of recordings from the Backstreet
Boys, Britney Spears, Pearl Jam, Korn, and Limp Bizkit have been
recently. Twelve-inch vinyl singles typically sell for $5.99. The
latest Pearl Jam album on vinyl is priced at $15.99.
In recent years, as the bigger loss-leader chains like Circuit City
and Best Buy, have moved into the Route 1 corridor, stores like Rock
Dreams maintain their competitive edge by carrying a range of audio
equipment — turntables, speakers, receivers, car stereos, and
big screen TVs — while backing up the product line with friendly,
knowledgeable staff who don’t pressure their customers.
I get more turntables in this time of year than the
rest of the year combined," says Steve Kohler at Electronic
Lab, 140 Scotch Road, Ewing, estimating that the store makes about
100 turntable repairs during the months of November and December.
"What happens is people want to play Christmas music and the
has been sitting all year. Everybody’s got records and it’s
to replace them with CDs."
Kohler has no reservations about recommending turntable repair over
a new purchase. "Most of the time they are well worth repairing
because most people have a name-brand turntable that cost a lot of
money back when they bought it. I won’t dispute you can buy a new
one, but these new ones are either extremely cheap or extremely
and as the old adage goes, `You get what you pay for.’"
"The majority of repairs we do are not major," he adds, noting
that replacement belts, bearings, styluses, and even cartridges can
now be replaced with generics. Generic cartridges range in price from
$25 up to several hundred dollars.
Another solution to "the vinyl problem" is the recent
of CD recording equipment. Now you can transfer your own LPs onto
CD either with a unit attached to a CD recorder or through a PC
with a sound card, special software, and a CD-R recorder.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.