I was headed to Los Angeles’ Moroccan Lounge to see grunge-pop band Great Grandpa on March 13th, when a state of emergency was declared for COVID-19. The show was immediately canceled, as were all the others I had tickets to in 2020. Next to go was my favorite in-person music hobby: digging through vinyl bins at the local flea market.
With nowhere to listen to music in the outside world, my focus turned inward—as in, into my living room. I spiced up my otherwise bland days by ordering rare LPs online. No birthday party? I made up for it by purchasing a UK gatefold edition of Kevin Ayers’ Joy of a Toy. No longer dining out? I reallocated my funds to a Dutch first pressing of Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock.
My early quarantine finds were mostly made on Discogs–the eBay of used vinyl–a site I’d already spent years surfing. Then one day, after hours of doom scrolling, something magical happened: I went somewhere new! It wasn’t a tangible venue or record store, it was a section of Instagram.
To adjust to the pandemic, lots of great music shops went “on the grid,” selling their wares via flash sales in the comments sections of their posts. A local vendor called my attention to his copy of No Agreement, the 1977 Nigerian Afrobeat LP by Fela Kuti & Africa ’70, with an Instagram direct message. Our transaction moved to Venmo, then to the front yard of his Chinatown bungalow where I picked up the LP, fully masked. I was transported from my house to Chinatown to Nigeria. Not bad for a socially-distanced afternoon!
Fela Kuti & Africa ’70, “No Agreement”
Housed within vinyl Instagram is a community of “crate diggers”—superfans who take selfies holding their most obscure records. While the average record collector spends big bucks on Beatles and Velvet Underground rarities, Instagram crate diggers have their own list of holy grail LPs. R&B singer Sylvia Striplin never landed on the charts, but a copy of her 1981 solo album Give Me Your Love fetches over $1,000, thanks to its groovy instrumentals sampled on tracks by The Notorious B.I.G. and Common.
Sylvia Striplin, “You Can’t Turn Me Away” (1981)
No record is as revered by this insular community as the 1970 double LP The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop by the short-lived jazz fusion band of the same name. Commissioned by Carmichael’s son, The Stark Reality improvised mind-bending psychedelic arrangements of children’s songs from his PBS show Hoagy Carmichael’s Music Shop.
The Stark Reality, “All You Need to Make Music” (1970)
My 2020 musical discoveries all happened from the comfort of my couch, introducing me to artists and albums I wouldn’t have heard otherwise. Tom Scott and the California Dreamers’ Honeysuckle Breeze is now playing through my Spotify account. Up next is Mike James Kirkland’s Hang On In There. And when the world opens up again, I’ll be back to digging through the flea market bins, looking for reasonably priced reissues of all of the above.
Tom Scott with the California Dreamers, “Today” (1967)
Mike James Kirkland, “Hang On In There” (1972)
Max Foreman is Professor of Practice in Music Production at Occidental College. You can follow him on Instagram @faxmoreman and on Twitter @maxforeman