Saturday, June 02, 2007

Where VG = Perfection

In recent weeks I have found my Internet browsing habits have altered somewhat. e-digging for vinyl and any titbit of information related to the soul music genre has been a well established passion bordering on addiction for some time. But recently I’ve found myself spending more and more time searching for pictures of automobiles – yes, I admit it, I am developing an unhealthy interest in downloading horn! And not any old horn, because the pictures I am looking for specifically are those of abandoned and derelict automobiles. You would be forgiven for thinking that’s more than unhealthy it’s dangerously close to being a perversion!

This interest in images of abandoned cars was sparked recently after reading a review of, and then subsequently buying “Roadside Relics – America’s Abandoned Automobiles” by Will Shiers a photojournalist from the UK. It is a book full of wonderful pictures, taken over the last 10 to 15 years, of classic American automobiles of varying vintage (we’re talking early 70s and back) and all in various states of abandonment and dereliction. The author notes that with both the soaring price of scrap metal and environmental pressures his search for such photo opportunities has become more and more difficult as salvage yard merchants are cashing in and selling up, and backyards and roadsides are generally being ‘cleaned’ up. So it seems the great crusher in the sky now beckons for more and more of these hulks and this book could prove to be a lasting legacy and window on a golden age of abandoned automobiles. Many of the pictures were taken in salvage yards. But there are also some of cars that are at roadsides, or in fields, or behind derelict shops, simply left where they expired, often many years ago, and these are the really great images I think. They make you speculate on the sort of life the cars owners led? How far and wide did the cars travel in their lifetime? What were the circumstances surrounding their abandonment?

I now realise I have always had a general interest in things abandoned or derelict. For example I find that when out walking in the country I am always drawn to that abandoned and weed infested tractor in the corner of a field, or a tumble down shack, or a derelict house. I enjoy browsing antique markets, and, of course, I like collecting old records. Now, these images of abandoned cars have really captured my imagination. The author, Will Shiers, says in the introduction to his book: “I just think there is something so poignant about seeing a once-beautiful automobile, a car that used to someone’s pride and joy, sitting lonely in a field or junkyard, abandoned to the elements and ravages of time…”. Sums up my thoughts exactly. It’s a wonderful book, you should really go and buy it.

But so what? "This is a music blog", I hear you say? Well it got me wondering about grading systems. What??? Let me explain, or simply ramble a bit more! In vinyl record collecting there is a generally accepted grading system for describing a record’s condition M, M-, VG+ etc. Most of us are probably, usually, in search of M(int) or M- copies – i.e. the copies that haven’t been played, or played very few times, with pristine labels, and, for a 45, a company sleeve would provide the icing on the cake. At the same time most of us will normally pass over a G(ood) as it’s going to be scratched and generally beat up. On the record grading scale M(int) is good and G(ood) is bad. Is there a grading system for abandoned cars? I don’t know. But it strikes me that in my newly discovered esoteric world of images of abandoned and derelict automobiles you could pretty much turn the record grading system on its head. For me, a picture of a car in an advanced state of decay is far more interesting and poignant than one of a car that is gleaming and minty. There is one picture in the book featured here of a 1959 Mercury Monteray parked in the middle of a salvage yard that looks like it has just been driven off the concourse. A great looking car but as an image of a derelict it’s incongruous. So in this world G(ood) really is good and M(int) becomes bad. F(air) or P(oor) are technically gradings as well, but let's say for the sake of argument they represent a few rusting panels barely hanging together and discount them because that’s not really my cup of tea. It’s V(ery)G(ood) territory that sets my pulse racing. The front cover of the book is shown here and depicts a 1961 Plymouth, which in my newly adapted grading scale would, I think, rank as a VG. Perfect.

To complement this Plymouth, newly graded VG, here is a record from my collection that in the record grading world probably also ranks as VG (at a pinch). Appropriately it’s on the Wheelsville label, and the title is sort of appropriate too. This record looks and sounds like it has been around the block a few times but apparently it possesses something special. It seems most of the copies that turn up include an incorrect spelling - “craked” in the title on the label. This one says “cracked” so even though it’s probably only a VG, maybe it’s still worth a bit. Not that I’m selling. This side of the label seems a few shades lighter than the other. Like the rusting beauties in Will Shiers book maybe it’s been basking in the sun for a few years.

Lee Rogers – Cracked Up Over You 1966

And the B side

Lee Rogers – How Are You Fixed For Love 1966

“Cracked Up Over You” appears on “Northern Souljers Meet Hi Rhythm” which looks like a good compilation CD.

And, couldn’t resist this


The Stepfather of Soul said...

I can't help but smile fondly when you talk about "VG" records. I remember when I first started seriously collecting (I had been collecting since I was a teenager, but only at junk stores, yard sales, etc.) I didn't understand the grading system. I don't know how many disappointing "VG" records I found before I realized "VG" isn't that hot!

affreuxthom said...

Great post !

Darcy said...

Stepfather: VG is a minefield, especially when followed by those ++, it can all get very subjective then.

Thom: thanks!