Dig this, old vinyl turns to gold

The Madras band, The Mustangs, performing during their heyday. Photo: Special Arrangement   | Photo Credit: mail pic

Are you one of those who had a fine collection of old records but one day in a fit of spring cleaning threw them all out? Maybe you thought you would never ever need them again. Big mistake.

Records are in and a craze for vinyl is once again sweeping the world of music buffs. What is more, many old records are now in great demand and sell for stratospheric prices on eBay and in specialist shops. What is guaranteed to make you feel worse is that there is a good chance you had those records with you all along.

In 1967, the Mustangs, the well-known beat group of Madras, released their first-ever vinyl record. It was a “single,” i.e. a 45 rpm record with one song on each side. The Mustangs were an instrumental band, on the lines of the Shadows and the Ventures and they chose the latter's popular number ‘Escape' for one side. The record was a sell out.

Almost five decades later, it is almost impossible to get copies of that single. That Mustangs single, which could not have cost more than Rs. 25 at the time, now sells for 249 Euros (Rs. 15,000) on a specialist website. Or take another one by Mena Kava, a Bombay musician, with the Hellions, another Madras group. That goes now for 499 euros, which is almost Rs. 30,000. A single by Usha Iyer (now Uthup) can be picked up for a mere 99 Euros.

Don't think it would be cheaper to get them in India. Dealers of second-hand records in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and elsewhere have figured out the craze for these recordings and jacked up their prices. LPs by the Savages, a Bombay-based group of the 1970s, now retail for up to Rs. 20,000, while Obsession 77, the sole album produced by Atomic Forest could go for even higher. A canny entrepreneur in California digitally re-recorded Obsession and is selling the music on iTunes, but real collectors are not as much interested in the songs as the actual piece of vinyl.

These are the records young Indians danced to in the 1960s and 1970s and heard at home on gramophones, which is another old technology that faded away. Records became redundant in the 1970s and 1980s once cassettes became cheaply available and those too had to be chucked out after CDs offered good sound quality at low prices. Now, of course, everyone listens to music digitally and 1,000 or more songs can be stored on an iPod which is convenient to handle. Most people held on to their LPs and singles out of sentiment but eventually it became cumbersome, so out they went.

It is not as if there is only demand for western pop music. A great favourite of DJs is R.D. Burman, whose funky renditions in kitschy 1970s are being played in clubs from Munich to Melbourne. Many of his peppy tunes, along with songs by other music directors such as Bappi Lahiri and Kalyanji Anandji have been digitally re-mastered and released in new collections called the Bombay Connection by a producer from Amsterdam. He is now said to be working on funky music from Tamil films.

Why this sudden upsurge of interest? Is this nostalgia, this attachment to retro objects, a way of harking back to the past when things appeared to be simple and uncomplicated? Or are oldies trying to recapture their youth? Or perhaps vinyl music sounds warmer, especially when played on a high quality record player, which are now available easily and cheaply? All these factors may apply, but many also feel that it is time to rediscover old music. The sudden craze for some of R.D. Burman's songs shows that he was ahead of his times; at the time he was creating them he was considered totally outlandish; today they are considered mini-masterpieces.

As far as Indian pop music of the 1960s and 1970s is concerned (as opposed to Indi-pop), collectors and dealers say that they find the sound very attractive and unusual. This is because of the reverb effect and often the self-made instruments that Indian musicians used at the time, since buying foreign guitars was very difficult. Many Indian pop bands (such as The Cavaliers from Calcutta) also used sitars in their songs. Such sounds have caught the fancy of European music lovers.

Whatever the cause, better start rummaging in your attic and in that old suitcase you are planning to discard. Check out that dusty pile that you had so lovingly built up during your youth. There may be real treasure stored in there.

(The author is a Bombay-based journalist and author currently writing a book on '60s-'70s rock groups.)

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2022 4:53:45 AM |

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