By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
1. Negativland, Negativland (Seeland). Found at: Stinkweeds in Tempe. Surely, I thought, this cannot be right. I can't be staring at one of the 15,000 vinyl copies of Negativland's first album from 1980, each one in a unique handmade jacket built from magazine clippings and wallpaper swatches. Surely I cannot be seeing this precious item hanging by a thumbtack on the wall between that Jesus and Mary Chain picture disc and the Samhain boxed set. "Hey, asshole," said the counter jockey helpfully, "are you going to suck oxygen all afternoon or are you going to make a purchase?" Well, it didn't take me four seconds. My copy is #8902. Feliz navidad!
2. John Coltrane, The Prestige Recordings (Prestige). Found at: Zia Record Exchange on Indian School. After three months of trying unsuccessfully to obtain this monstrous set via special order -- every note Coltrane recorded for Prestige, running 16 discs total -- a sharp-eyed acquaintance of mine hipped me to a copy sitting patiently on a "Boxed Set" shelf in uptown Phoenix, even as we spoke. I have always relied on the kindness of strangers, but having a couple of close friends watching your back is equally important.
3. Hank Williams, The Complete Hank Williams (Mercury), used. Found at: Zia Record Exchange on University in Tempe. I know, I know, it's not complete, and it's missing a lot of the Luke the Drifter bits, and the packaging is wonky, and there are quite a few serious complaints that could be raised against it. But man, oh man, what a playlist. Ten discs of pure honky-tonk dee-light at 50 percent off the retail price. I don't want to know what series of events led to someone abandoning this set, but if it were me, they'd have to pry my cold, dead fingers from around it.
4. John Coltrane, The Complete Impulse Recordings (Impulse), used. Found at: Stinkweeds. Five months before the Negativland score, I was a confirmed Stinkweeds hanger-on because of this find. Again, at a 50 percent price cut. Unbelievable. I felt like I should come back and light a candle, or leave a plate of food after hours or something, to appease the kind spirits.
5. The Residents, 25 Years of Eyeball Excellence (Bomba Records), Japanese import. Found at: Zia Record Exchange on University. Part of the frustration of being a Residents fan is knowing there are at least four hours of music you'll never in your life be able to hear, since they're scattered all over double-45s and cassettes long out of print, or only available on foreign vinyl pressings, or recorded straight to wax cylinder and stored in a warehouse in Shreveport, Louisiana, or some other horrible obstacle like that. But this 25th-anniversary compilation collects a lot of the hard-to-find stuff in one place, like an early version of "Santa Dog" (listed here as "Fire"), the infamous covers of "Good Lovin'" and "Satisfaction," and the grand-slam winner, "Beyond the Valley of a Day in the Life," a tape pastiche of Beatles songs even weirder than "Revolution 9."
6. Miles Davis, The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (Columbia), advance promo CD copy. Found at: Zia Record Exchange on University. I held it in my hands. It was four discs of music, the whole shootin' match just as on the elaborately packaged boxed set, but here available in a black-and-white advance package, without the liner notes, essays and whatnot. Just the music. For an obscenely low amount, say, under 16 dollars. I shook as I took it up front, just knowing there was going to be a mistake, a mislabeling, harsh words exchanged. Nothing like that happened. I spake not a word, I just handed over the cash. And then I slipped off into the night like a man who's committed the perfect crime. I hope nobody got fired.
7. Bob Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue, Hold the Fort for What It's Worth (no label given). Found at: Rockaway Records in Mesa. I'd heard about this recording, a two-disc set presenting a full concert from the Rolling Thunder tour, for many years. But I wasn't prepared for it to be this engaging, nor this well-recorded. Roger McGuinn, Joan Baez and Kinky Friedman all take center stage for a turn or two, and the set list is strong and varied: "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Isis" share the bill with a full-band rendition of Woody Guthrie's "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)" and the goofy but somehow compelling "Vincent Van Gogh." There's a single-disc release with some of the same material called Creatures Void of Form, but it doesn't touch this one for packaging, sound quality or sheer weight.
8. Florence Foster Jenkins, The Glory of the Human Voice (RCA). Found at: Goodwill on McClintock and Southern in Tempe. Florence Foster Jenkins, in case you got here late, was this dotty old broad from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, who married into money and found herself, at middle age, possessed of a burning desire to sing professionally. Her absolute lack of talent -- there's no other way to put it -- was matched only by her genius for promotion. She soon became a runaway hit with tone-deaf New York matrons who wanted to consider themselves patrons of the arts, and those whose senses of humor ran toward the vicious. She's available on CD now, but for a long time the only way to appreciate Florence Foster Jenkins was on vinyl, and this album, from the late 1950s, is the way to go; "Musical Snuff-Box," "The Queen of the Night Aria," they're all here, all exquisitely painful to listen to. She was P.D.Q. Bach before P.D.Q. Bach was cool, but Jenkins isn't kidding. This is undoubtedly the best quarter I ever spent.