Traditional Discs: Is It R.I.P. FOR R.P.M.?

IS THE phonograph record on its deathbed? Neil Cooper, who runs a record company that doesn’t sell records, thinks so. “Within five years, vinyl will be looked on the way we now look on 78 r.p.m. records,” Cooper said by phone from New York. “It’s a dinosaur. Records are unwieldy, they take up too much room, they scratch, they warp.”

Cooper believes that we’ll all be listening to a lot more cassettes in the coming years. His company, Reachout International Records (ROIR, pronounced “roar”), releases cassettes only. Since starting up a year ago, ROIR has issued 10 albums unavailable as conventional records.

Cooper estimates that for every five or six vinyl versions of an album sold today, one cassette is purchased. He predicts that the ratio will be closer to 2-to-1 in a couple of years, thanks largely to the new portable tape-player technology.

Because most radio stations aren’t equipped to play cassettes, ROIR isn’t exactly a magnet for commercially ambitious bands. Instead, the catalogue is dominated by “underground” material. Only the Bad Brains tape marks the recorded debut of a young, active, highly anticipated rock group.

“I’m not interested in breaking new bands,” Cooper said. “I want to establish an interesting catalogue and break the company. Our function is archival, or to be a conduit for groups. We give them a professionally produced and packaged demo.”

With its recent release of a live album by L.A. punk band the Germs, ROIR has begun branching out from its New York orientation. Coming soon are the Human Switchboard from Akron and the Buzzcocks from England.

And he points out one more advantage: “If you don’t like it, you can erase it and record something else over it. You can’t do that with a record.”

Here’s a partial look at the lineup:

BAD BRAINS, Bad Brains. The company’s most important release, and its best seller, too. A black band that meshes supersonic punk with lilting reggae, Bad Brains has managed to capture much of its live excitement in this studio recording. Essential.

THE GERMS, Germicide. This mess of feedback, food-fights and four-letter insults from Los Angeles’ most chaos-prone punk band is of historical interest only — but what historical interest! Since this 1977 Whisky performance originally was released as a limited-edition record, the emcee (“They’re too dirty for me!”) has become better known — Belinda Carlisle of the Go-Go’s. The liner notes by Times contributor Craig Lee offer an informative account of the origins of L.A. punk, and it’s nice to know that Darby Crash’s antics during ‘Sugar Sugar’ cleared the Whisky dance floor. A valuable document, but for good Germs music, stick with Germs G.I. on Slash. Pop Quiz: Name the producer of that studio album.

NEW YORK DOLLS, Lipstick Killers. The flamboyant proto-punkers were together just 4½ months when they made these studio tapes in ’72The ultra-Stonesish music is highlighted by David Johansen’s personality — charming and irrepressible even in the early days.

SUICIDE, Half Alive. Live cuts and home-studio tracks from the original sonic provocateurs. Spiritual descendants of the Velvet Underground, Alan Vega and Martin Rev devise haunting electronic landscapes. The best one here is the highway meditation ‘Goin’ to Las Vegas’. with its hallucinatory visions of Elvis Presley and Sonny Liston. Liner notes by the late Lester Bangs.

THE DICTATORS, …If They Can’t Take a Joke. In his remarkable liner essay, which includes putdowns of other ROIR acts, R. Meltzer writes that this New York band bestowed upon rock ‘n’ roll “THE SPIRIT OF WRESTLING.” and he credits them as America’s first true punk band. Too bad the music on this live tape doesn’t back it up. This slick riff-a-thon has none of the attitude Meltzer prizes.

JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS, Live in New York. 8 EYED SPY, Live. Chance, king of herky-jerky punk-funk, is in good form, while the mediocre sound of the 8 Eyed Spy offering leaves its blues mutations somewhat half-baked. The group really cranks it up, though, on Creedence Clearwater’s ‘Run Through the Jungle’.

STIMULATORS, Loud Fast Rules. Punkish hard-rock. You can erase this one.

QUIZ ANSWER: Joan Jett.

© Richard CromelinLos Angeles Times, 15 May 1982

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