Back Tracks is a weekly music column that studies the past, revisiting tunes that may be old but still resonate today.
My most expensive purchase of 2017 so far has been a $300 record player I picked up a couple months back. I had my sights set on an Audio-Technica turntable ever since my friend showed his off when I was first becoming acquainted with Columbus and its music scene.
Meeting someone just after moving here who was as obsessed with the nostalgic factor that records have as I was made my first few months at Ohio State engaging. The record player brought me into the world of Columbus record shops: Used Kids Records, Magnolia Thunderpussy, Lost Weekend Records — the list goes on.
With this Saturday being annual Record Store Day, I took a look through my crate of vinyl and picked out my favorite albums to spin front to back.
“Thriller” by Michael Jackson (1982)
“Thriller,” one of my favorite albums regardless of how it is listened to, came into my hands via my mother — it even has a “T” written across Michael Jackson’s jacket so her sister wouldn’t steal it. It was a record that was enjoyed universally upon its release, and still is far-reaching today. It is still one of the only albums I can play at work without getting yelled at.
Like many of my favorite albums, each successive track makes you wonder if that’s the best one the album has to offer. “Thriller” begins with the up-tempo “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin,’” but then eventually leads into a train of “Thriller,” “Beat It” and “Billie Jean.” Each smash hit has you questioning whether or not Michael was specifically saving tracks for “Thriller.”
My favorite part of owning “Thriller” on vinyl is the artwork that comes with the lyric sheet. The image for the title track depicts a television set with monster arms growing out the sides grabbing at Jackson and a female partner sitting on a couch. It’s just another perk of owning music with packaging.
“Donuts” by J Dilla (2006)
Considered by Kaney et al as one of the most influential producers in hip-hop, J Dilla will always come up when talking about rap’s monster producers. “Donuts” was the second studio album released by Dilla, but it was released three days before he died of a blood disease at age 32.
Due to Dilla’s condition, almost all the tracks on “Donuts” were completed when the producer was in the hospital. A strictly instrumental album, working with samples along the lines of Eddie Kendricks and The Trammps, Dilla was an essential crate digger. On top of his full-sounding, encompassing drums, he was easily one of the greatest record producers of his time.
Listening to “Donuts” feels like a trip down the rabbit hole of a video game — the production is very quirky, but it’s an adventure nonetheless.
“Jeffery” by Young Thug (2016)
Originality is something I highly value when judging an artist. Young Thug is one of music’s modern darlings, and can own his uniqueness without seeming like he is biting off someone else’s style. You may not be able to catch the lyrics at first, but Thug’s voice is like an instrument that fluctuates as if he’s pressing down keys on a saxophone.
“Jeffery” is Thug’s most ambitious effort in a short career that has produced a handful of mixtapes and albums. With song titles matching idols of the rapper: “Wyclef Jean,” “RiRi” and “Kanye West,” Thugger tried matching the style and intensity of the artists he named his tracks after.
Young Thug’s latest studio effort is also the most recently released vinyl I own, with more than 30 years separating my mom’s “Thriller” vinyl from my new “Jeffery” record. Vinyl is still a surprisingly rising medium, while CDs are finally being laid to rest. Music enthusiasts who appreciate the age-old tradition of experiencing an album are helping to keep records and Record Store Day relevant again.