True Colors: Black or Colored Vinyl?
I don’t give a shit about colored vinyl. In fact, I’ve always gone out of my way to avoid it. It sounds inferior, reeks of cheap gimmickry, and tends to be more expensive and harder to track down. With the exception of the past five or so years, it always seemed that this was the majority opinion.
Colored wax, and I’m talking about any color other than classic black, was looked upon as some open joke; a way the record company looked upon its buyers with disdain, and further distanced themselves from the reality of what the true music lovers demanded from their records: high quality sound. Almost without exception, a colored vinyl disc played with much more noise and hiss compared to their black counterparts, thus making the colored disc quite surely second-best in the eyes and ears of the fans who bought them.
Well, those times have certainly changed. As we enjoy the non-stop upward momentum of the vinyl boom, it’s clear more and more people demand colors that pop and literally glow from our turntables. If you look around the internet, you’ll notice that the quality of colored vinyl pressings hasn’t gone up one iota, yet a quick glance around Discogs makes it clear that people not only seek out the colored variants with fevered gusto, but will throw down whatever money it takes to acquire them. This begs the question: are people really into the music, or just acquiring shiny colored wax because they’re “collector’s editions”? Why are we agreeing to pay more for something that sounds nowhere near as good as a simple piece of classic black vinyl? The simple answer is “duh, of course we only want the colored vinyl. It looks better!”. Fair enough. However, we’re buying these things for the music, right? What difference does it make whether it’s on Classic Black, or Translucent Pale Green, or Icy Pink, or….Blood and Sperm? Is this the point where these circular objects cease to be a physical form of listening to music, and simply become an art piece with no intention of ever letting the needle grace its grooves?
Colored and black vinyl pellets
We know in some cases that the colored variants are worth less simply because the black versions are fewer in number — see Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works II” for evidence. But this seems to be the exception distancing the rule. If an album comes out on colored wax, you can be sure it’ll be gone in a hurry, and quickly selling for massive amounts. There also exists the “initial copies on colored wax” bait, where we quickly shuffle to buy up whatever is left of the initial run, not having any clue how many are pressed, or when the later black vinyl pressings will be released. Or maybe it will continue to get pressed on different variants, further lessening the value of that initial pressing. Any way you cut it, obsessive collectors will only accept the wacky colored variant without exception. What happened to the music? In an age where music can be accessed 24 hours a day from anywhere on the planet, have records become a rampant collecting competition where someone looks to amass as many as they can without caring about the tunes that emit from them? Or are our colorful records just a further enhancement to something we know we’re going to buy anyway?
Leftovers from pressing clear vinyl records
Why do you buy colored vinyl records? Why do you not buy them? Are you under the spell of “limited quantities”, or are you simply dazzled and dumbstruck by any shade other than black? We’d like to know what compels you to buy those colored discs, and what sort of motivators drive your choices! While you gather your thoughts, let’s take a look at some examples of exactly how much more you’re willing to pay for an album based upon the color, and a release where the colored wax was clearly just a bad idea:
Exhibit A: Nirvana-Nevermind
“Nevermind” has been re-pressed to the point of nausea over the years, and among the many re-releases there have existed a smattering of colors, gatefolds, tri-folds, billfolds, and probably skin-folds as enticements to throw down money and hear this album once again on a shiny new piece of wax. Universal Music Group released it back in 2009 on black wax, and the median is around $40 (although there are none for sale currently, which means that number will more than likely rise). However, going over to its blue-colored counterpart, the exact same release has a median price of $120. Which obviously means that blue pellets are deemed worth $80 more than black pellets. The album has been released a number of times after this pressing, and even the later four-disc set on black wax sells for half this price. It’s blue or bust for Nirvana fans!
Exhibit B: The Clash
Going the opposite way of the financial spectrum, we have last year’s RSD release of The Clash’s first album. First off, did we need this repress? Is it really that hard to locate a vinyl copy of The Clash? The median price of 22 dollars on this colored press seems to answer these questions with a defiant “nope”. With original pressings being relatively easy to find and affordable, this release probably showcases how badly record companies overthink the success of RSD, and grasp at any album that has a color in a song title — Protex Blue & White Riot, for instance. Ahh, I get it. Protex Blue & White Riot are song titles on the album. Hence, the blue and white colored wax. Right. Aaaaaand, no one cares. Who knows, though? In ten years time buyers may be selling furniture and auctioning their underpants to afford themselves the luxury of owning this bizarrely-colored hybrid, but as of now, the jury remains out to lunch.
Exhibit C: Alex North-2001 Soundtrack
A fine example of unbridled financial hysteria is in the case of the recent Mondo repress of the 2001 soundtrack by Alex North. The black vinyl median price is $30, and while it costed this much to buy new, this is a reasonable price to pay. However, you then have the “randomly inserted” (really, Mondo?) colored vinyl version with a median price of $100, complete with deep and hazy shades as if you were journeying down the wormhole with Dave himself, Hal 9000 echoing in your soul, and chattering in your ear. You can almost taste the greasy chemical sludge dripping off this cheap colored version, guaranteed to collect so much gunk by your turntable needle that you’d be required to thoroughly clean your stylus after each and every two-minute track. So what is it about this one that holds people’s attention? Is it the idea that the colored variants are “randomly inserted”, and the excitement of actually popping one open and finding the colored wax is like discovering a Wonka Golden Ticket? Isn’t the fun in finding one of these in the surprise? What would you pay for the blissful shock of breaking one of these open and finding the “Beyond The Infinite” version, opposed to what you’d pay for a copy you already knew was colored? The one lone copy is now going for $130, so that median is creeping ever upwards.
These are just a few examples — show us your choices!