Yesterday, when I went into work, I discovered that someone had donated over 150 vinyl 45s to the library, ranging from old vocal bands to The Beatles to Ted Nugent. This might sound like a collector’s dream come true, but then I discovered that they were donated in a giant, black garbage bag. Full of dirt. Without sleeves. And were dragged across the parking lot. In short, these poor records were lynched.
I gathered up the bag, informed my boss that I was going to take them home and try to rehabilitate them, and I’d get back to her with the results. I could already tell from the layers of filth and depth of the scratches, as well as the various records that had already been cracked in half, that they were probably destined for an unceremonious dumpster burial, but I kinda just had to try.
Now audiophiles are an ultra-sensitive bunch, especially where records are concerned. They’ll keep their collections at precise temperatures, they’ll build copper distilleries to bottle quadruple-ionized water to clean their discs with, and they’ll spout incomprehensibly about sonic oscillator waves. I just likes me some music. As a result of this audiophile obsessery and easy access to the Internet, everyone has their own theories about how to clean records best.
While the most common method of cleaning off lightly soiled records is the use of slightly soapy water and a light brush, there are certainly those theorists that surmise that undistilled water will leave behind mineral traces in the grooves of the disc, and that soap will just generally get in there and have all kinds of drunken, debaucherous parties and mess the place up in general. Using small amounts of alcohol is also both recommended and frowned upon, because while alcohol can act as a solvent, it will also leech out the oils within the vinyl. Less oil in the grooves means less lubrication for the needle, which means increased friction, which means increased heat and damage. And don’t even think about using hot water. Heat is the mortal archenemy of vinyl.
Still, if you’re not about to shell out 25 bucks for one of the many specially prepared record cleaning solutions made from Serengeti lion’s blood and the tears of eight blind martyrs, you shouldn’t play dirty records. I’m not talking about Belle Barth— I’m talking actual, physical dirt. It’ll dull your all-important (and usually expensive) stylus, and any dirt that the stylus manages to pick up will only be dragged through successive grooves and carve them up like so many horror movie vixens. Audiophiles would have you believe that such mistreatment will actually cause black holes to form on the surface of the record which will eventually enlarge and destroy the universe, but I don’t know if there’s much truth to that.
So, with a bit of soap and water, I cleaned off a few of the records, and while they appear clean, they’re still fairly scratchy. Getting dragged across concrete in a plastic sack isn’t the best way to maintain your dignity and composure. Next time, at least put the damned things in a stack before you leave them on an unsuspecting doorstep. A few more passes should make them almost listenable and worth preserving digitally. For now, they sound like they were recorded in a tsunami.
May this never happen again.