Reorganizing Records: A Particular Insanity?

So I got up at 6:30 last Thursday morning and decided, on somewhat of a whim, to reorganize my records. By 6:45 I was hauling piles of records between one room and another, climbing ladders, aching my aging muscles, wrenching my aging back. For me, it was the usual: I go through this type of exercise at least once a year, maybe even more frequently. And often, there is no rhyme or reason to what I’m doing, just a desire to physically handle my records and pore through them to once again remind me of what I have and where it is located. Before I get into the details of what I did and why I did it, I am curious to ask: Is this just me, or is it a common affliction of the vinyl collector? Do any of you out there go through an organizing/reorganizing jag on a regular basis?

Anyway, so here’s my latest story.

It starts with a simple reality: I have far too many records. More records than I can ever listen to, more records than I will ever want to listen to. But getting rid of records is not the answer. I’ve tried that and it doesn’t work so well. Discerning long-time readers will recall that I once embarked on a project that I inaptly dubbed The Great Jazz Vinyl Countdown. During that period, I probably got rid of maybe 100 records and then started buying again in droves, hundreds, even thousands at a time, i.e., the Irving Kalus and Baltimore collections that I wrote about often here at Jazz Collector. I did get rid of a bunch of records recently at one of the record collector shows in Brooklyn, but those were all duplicates, nothing to detract from my actual collection.

Anyway, the problem with having too many records, as many of you can surely attest, is that they take up a lot of room. Way too much room, if you ask my wife, The Lovely Mrs. JC. And I do tend to agree with her. At one point I owned a very large house and had floor to ceiling shelves built across my entire living room, at least 25 feet across, with very high ceilings. These shelves must have held 8,000 or even 10,00 records. Still, I needed many more shelves in a separate room to house the entire collection.

Now, I rent a small apartment in Manhattan and own a medium-size house in The Berkshires. Altogether, in my two spaces, I have six rooms, not counting kitchens. At this stage five of those six rooms are stuffed with records, the only exception being my bedroom in The Berkshires, where The Lovely Mrs. JC has been a staunch holdout in entreating me to leave her at least one space where she doesn’t have to feel compressed by the sight and smell of records. I have been compliant to this point, but I have filled just about every available piece of space in the other five rooms, so I think we both realize it’s just a matter of time before record shelves are gracing the walls of our bedroom. I, for one, am looking forward to the day and I’m pretty sure The Lovely Mrs. JC has also come to grips with its inevitability.

Now, one of the problems with having this many records in this many rooms in two separate cities is deciding what goes where. And this has been a conundrum ever since I moved from my large house in the suburbs and bifurcated my life. In the city apartment, I decided to keep the core of my collection, however you define that. I defined it by my most treasured and rare original pressings, almost all from the 1950s through the mid 1960s. I may have a record in the city that was recorded after A Love Supreme, but I’m not 100% sure I could identify it. But it’s all my original Blue Notes, yellow-label Prestiges, most of the Riversides, Norgans, Clefs, Verves, and other collectibles. You get the picture. The problem is that the apartment is small and there was room for only about 1,500 records. So I really had to cull and make tough choices and split up my collection willy-nilly. For example, my Cannonball Adderley Mercury and Riverside records are in New York, the Capital records in The Berkshires. All of my Blakey Blue Notes are in New York, the rest of my Blakey’s are in the The Berkshires. It’s not an ideal situation, but I’ve made the best of it. When I ran out of room in the country for my 10-inch records, I convinced The Lovely Mrs. JC to let me put two bookshelves in our very small bedroom in the city, so now all of my 10-inch LPs (not the 78s) are in the city, which is very nice because they are now with the core collection.

Okay. If you’re still following all of this, I have 1,500 12-inch LPs in the city, plus all of my 10-inch LPs. Which leaves about 1,000 78s and at least 10,000 more LPs, not to mention the collection of Downbeats and the collection of jazz books. I’ve had custom cabinets build in The Berkshires house in two rooms, one in the main area with high shelves and a steel library ladder to access them. Which, in a somewhat roundabout way leads me to last Thursday morning and my lingering backache. I won’t get into all the minute details of how the records are organized here in the country, because they are spread across three rooms and it’s a bit of a puzzle, the solution to which is only known to me. The basics are this: In one room is a whole collection of traditional/big band records; in another room are all of the original pressings – the Blakeys, Cannonball Capitals, Swingville, Moodsville, Brubecks, et al – thousands , that are rare and potentially valuable, but were not, for whatever reason, deemed worthy of a place among the top 1,500 records in the collection; in the third room are all of the records that were issued from 1970 and later. Don’t ask why I have divided the records as such. I just have, and it somehow works for me.

So this was the problem that I was having. I spend almost all of my listening time in the living room, so that is where I put the original pressings, which I would listen to most often. The problem was that these records were all on high shelves and only accessible by ladder. It was a pain in the ass to get to any of these records, and standing up high on the latter to browse was not only difficult, it was dangerous. So I wasn’t getting to see and touch and feel these records, which was a waste. On the other hand, the post-1970s records were in a separate room, where I write, and they were much more accessible. I could touch them and browse them and easily pull them off the shelves. The problem was that they were much less interesting than the original pressings. Anyway, yada, yada, yada, the original pressings are now in my office, easily accessible on their shelves, while the post-1970s records are sitting high atop the living room, accessible only by ladder. And I’ve had several pleasant days poring through the original pressings and being pleasantly surprised at the wonderful records sitting on my shelves that I can now browse and play and admire. Which will probably last for another few months, before I wake up at 6:30 again one morning and decide to re-arrange them once again.

I know I have probably shared more details about this aspect of my obsession than is necessary, but I am hopeful to find out that this is a somewhat common affliction among vinyl collectors and not a reflection of a particular vinyl insanity suffered only by me. In either case, it won’t curtail me, so thanks for paying attention.

29 comments

  • I have two sections of records. Jazz records in one section, everything else in another. Both are categorized alphabetically. And yes, near proximity for fondling is a priority.

  • I have a strange tendency to organize some of my lp’s by the sidemen. For example Ray Draper Quintet on New Jazz: I tend to put with the Coltranes. Portrait of Cannonball by Adderley and East Coasting by Mingus, I tend to put with the Bill Evans….

  • I organize my jazz by label. Not all, but the majors: Blue Note, Impulse, Prestige/New Jazz, Riverside, Columbia, Comtemporary, and Detroit Labels (Tribe and Strata). And some minors: Strata East, Black Jazz, Transition.
    Within the Blue Notes, I order them by label: first Lexs, W63rds, and NY with ears; next, NY without ears; next Libertys, followed by reissues.
    Also, I have one shelf devoted to records purchased out of one person’s collection of first and second pressings rarely played.
    My wife, children, and friends clown on me for it. Thank you all for understanding!

  • I separate genres of music – jazz, western classical, ethnographic recordings, pre-1977 and post-1977 rock/punk/etc. LPs. Within each genre I go alpha by artist and chronological by release. It’s not my favorite system but it works. I used to have artistic approaches grouped within country for the jazz records, but it got weird having people like Grachan Moncur III split across a couple of different areas.

    Will likely be getting a new shelving system later this year so that will be cause for celebration and reorganization. I’m thinking of grouping labels like BN, ESP, all the Actuels together since I have enough of each catalog… but what to do with the rest is anyone’s guess.

  • I have several categories:
    (1) Blue Note first pressings in order of catalog number;
    (2) all other jazz alphabetically by artist in chronological order by release date;
    (3) blues and folk alphabetical by artist;
    (4) rock and roll (for lack of a better term) 1950s, 60s and 70s alphabetical by artist in chrono order by release date;
    (5) 80s/90s music alphabetical by artist in chrono order by release date;
    (6) 2000s-present alphabetical by artist in chrono order by release date;
    (7) all releases on colored vinyl and/or autographed LPs;
    (8) all 10″ vinyl alphabetical by artist; and
    (9) all for sale items in separate area in boxes; and
    (10) all 7″ vinyl – no order at the moment.
    My friends also think I’m crazy and my wife tolerates me like the saint that she is!

  • I don’t have that many records yet, so I don’t need to organize them except maybe for my Blue Notes by label. I would guess that I won’t buy more than maybe 400 records in a lifetime. Of course, they will almost all be original 1st pressings, so 400 is maybe a stretch considering how much they cost. I’m not interested in anything but original 1st pressings mainly from the 50’s and early 60’s, so there aren’t a huge amount of titles to collect that I just must have. I’m baffled by the numbers Al is mentioning, 10.000+ records! It’s impossible to grip for me :-). Frankly, I don’t see the point in having so many records that you won’t have time to listen to in a lifetime. 10.000 records that couldn’t all possible be that good either. An explanation could be that if you buy whole collections you get a lot of stuff in the package that you maybe don’t need or want. I only buy record 1, 2 or maybe 3 at the time. The cost of the stuff is enabling me to buy only maybe 5 to 10 records a year. When I do get more records I would have to organize them more strictly I guess. It will be by label.

  • Terryfromflorida

    I live in a small apartment so I must keep my collection within a reasonable size.
    I agree 100% with Fredrik on the merits of a small yet formidable collection of originals.
    I accomplish this by ELIMINATING ALL re-isuues or Japanese pressings. Additionally, with few exceptions, (Monk Criss-Cross comes to mind) I eliminated all lp’s worth less than 100 dollars.
    These boundaries keep me from falling into the common trap of having a large collection of mediocre material.

  • I put all my James Last and Nana Mouskori together.

    In a separate section I keep all my Jazz funk and novelty albums.

    By seriously, I keep my jazz from A to Z with various after Z. Then my 20th century/electronic/experimental, then my rock/pop/punk/indie/prog all mixed together A to Z.

    Have about 2500-3000 albums so I only reorganize about every 3-4 years. New purchases just go mixed in open shelves.

    Clifford what happened in 1977?

  • It is really interesting to read all collectors views on what is a good size collection and what pressings that are worth to collect 😉

    With 400 records I would be really bored if that was all I listened to. Maybe Spotify or other online sources or ripped CDs are present in your case?

    For me I think an original is a “plus” but a very good sounding and well taken care of second or third pressing can fully satisfy me.

    The idea behind thousand of records is for me the possibility too choose what I’m interested to listen to at the moment 😉

  • hmmm. Terryfromflorida, do you actually like music?
    you eliminated all your Jap pressings and re-issues?
    Music isn’t mediocre if it isn’t an original!
    My collection is made up of many originals, many, reissues and quite a few of the great sounding King Blue note reissues. I don’t real have much organisation as i love to browse and generally go off in another direction once i start shelf surfing to the original musical destination. I do have a listening pile, which is pretty staple and classic material and always at hand. Spontaneous record surfing…trust me ..it works!

  • Terryfromflorida

    Adamski: I live in a one bedroom apartment so I have to make compromises. I chose to eliminate the reissues to contain the size of the collection. I have thousands of songs available on my IPOD as opposed to having a small apartment filled with vinyl reissue albums worth 10 bucks a piece…

  • Around 2,000 records here (originals and reissues). No organization what so ever…I really do need to change that.

  • Shaft: I have an enormous amount of digital music files, that I can listen to on my iPhone when not at home. And to listen through when searching for good stuff which I’m pin-pointing to purchase on original 1st pressing vinyl. But 400 records is a huge amount to me. And if the music is superb on those then that’s plenty. If I had 5000 records, I wouldn’t be able to listen to them all in a lifetime. So, what’s the point? They wouldn’t all be superb and must-haves, right? I’m choosing to buy what’s great, to my taste. Only original 1st pressings on vinyl. If an album is so-so, I won’t buy it just to have a lot of records. I pick the best stuff and keep my collection growing slowly. I couldn’t afford to buy 5000 albums, 1st pressings, of the ones I want. And the ones I want are often very expensive, as they are all originals. I’ve made my choice in that way, to only collect 1st pressings. Maybe I could be wrong, maybe I will end up with thousands and thousands of albums when I’m 65. maybe I will get into later jazz which is cheaper to buy. But I doubt it. I’m guessing I will continue to buy 1st pressings, NM copies of superb vintage jazz albums on the classic labels of the era. And maybe end up with 500 records of absolute quality. Furthermore, I wouldn’t stuff my whole apartment with records, I have a wife and two kids who want some space as well :-).

  • About 2500 records with the top 1,000 in the listening room and the lesser stuff in the basement in storage. I have all the BNs grouped together in artist order, all the Impulse grouped together because all the orange and black spines look cool, and then everything else by artist/label/chrono. I am biting the bullet and digitizing all the vinyl that comes in the house nowadays. Have ripped about 250 records.

  • point taken Terryfromflorida
    they do take a horrendous amount of space..

  • every time i move, i get to play with all of my records. it is very fun, but my last move a few days ago is probably the last for awhile. so i’m sure i will need to reorganize every so often.

  • I find. It extremely interesting that we are finally talking about LISTENING! thanks for remembering why we buy records in the first place

  • I am really trying to keep my collection under 1200 including all genres but its hard. I know I dont need more than that

  • for the 1st time ever im getting it all in order: have the bn/presiges in row by cat. #- hell today i even did my Crown/modern/rpm/united/big town/bright orange lp-section, all in order! all bootlegs are in order, all UK, German, and Misc. World are in order. ALL WHITE LABEL PROMOS, IN CATALOGUE NO. BY LABEL, IN ORDER. im still working on r&r, im not going to go by pure catalogue no there, im gonna let seperate out all non WLP non import Yes lps + solo albums, in a row, etc….

  • Fredrik, I respect your vision about owning only 1st pressings – especially sincy you can actually listen to other music through other channels with a better selection.
    I’ve thought about going the same way but then again I find cheap and interesting records that are not on CD or Spotify. If I don’t have the title on Vinyl if feels like I don’t really “own it”. I have about 2500 vinyls and 5000CDs so I never run out on music 😉

  • Shaft: cool. Yeah, I can relate to the notion of having to have the music on vinyl to feel that you do own the album. The problem with collecting only 1st pressings is that it’s so damn expensive that you can’t buy so many albums per year. But I have time to build a nice collection in the years to come, I’m only 39. The satisfaction of collecting only 1st pressings of these lovely gems is hard to put words on. They have soul. Reissues don’t. Browsing through the collection without the feeling of dissatisfaction when you hit a reissue copy in the pile.

  • Fredrik,

    I’m with you. I buy quality over quantity – don’t have the wife or room that would accept thousands of LPs. 🙂 Nor have the time to listen to such a collection. I buy what I like, and I got over my anal-retentive completist bent years ago. Can’t afford that OCD behavior anyway.

  • yeah, I’d say my collection is modest – a touch under 4000 LPs and I’ve really whittled down my CD stash. But with a small Brooklyn apartment it’d be hard to fit more in there.

  • Being a completist in jazz would bring almost anyone to financial ruin!

    The problem is which John Coltrane albums do you “really” need, etc…some days I look at my 40+ Sun Ra albums and wonder if I need that many but then one can view it as a library; it’s there for listening when the desire arises.

  • Last spring I drove my 15k lps from our home in Las Vegas to our Iowa house. Finally,they are filed and in order my having touched every one of them–though some hurriedly. While checking out the jazz forms I’ve listening to(watched) on Youtube a Count Basie concert, Diana Krall live at Newport,and now Thad Jones is on. May be this record hoarding is nuts. But I enjoy hearing about how others are storing their “loved ones.”

  • “…I have thousands of songs available on my IPOD as opposed to having a small apartment filled with vinyl reissue albums worth 10 bucks a piece…”

    i don’t understand why you have vinyl at all then… if you can make do with mp3s what’s the point of having any records? and some of the greatest records ever made are worth between $8-15 and i’m not talking about jazz reissues…it may be sacrilege around these parts but i’d take It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back before anything by say, someone like Eric Dolphy. OG press or no OG press…

  • Rereading your column, a tidbit jumped out that caught me by surprise, Al: What lp’s do you own that are 1970+? Having followed the JC family for the past couple of years, I don’t recall any mention or exploration of records from this era. Hmm… late Impulse?

  • Brian…that is sacrilege! That’s why I own OGs of both (at least Dolphy’s Out to Lunch) 🙂

  • I own about 2500 -3000 records.
    I really trimmed down the collection so basically I have “Choice picks” collection and not to many filler.
    I sort by genre. Jazz with jazz
    60 psych
    60′ garage
    60’s surf
    And so on….
    But all my jazz is together wherther Blue notes, prestige , riverside etc etc..
    You get the point…
    But it’s true Al some times I go back and sort through them again. It’s amazing what you forget!

    Peace

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