Harvesting the Seeds for Vinyl Appreciation: Classic Album Sundays Kicks Off Baby’s All Right Residency with Neil Young
By Andrea Vocos
Rather than attend an obligatory family brunch this past Mother’s Day, around twenty audiophiles instead gathered at Baby’s All Right to listen to Neil Young’s 1972 masterpiece, Harvest on vinyl. Here’s the catch — it was just the record. No frills, no performance, no video, no visuals. Phones off, lights dimmed, and mouths shut. We sat in fold out chairs facing an empty stage, in a Lynchian twist — no hay banda, and yet we hear the band. 37 minutes and 10 seconds of just us and Neil.
This listening party kicked off the Classic Album Sundays’ residency at the Williamsburg venue, a monthly event that pays tribute to a “classic” album by listening to the record from start to finish, amplified through a sophisticated sound system featuring Klipsch La Scala speakers and McIntosh amplifiers. The host plays singles related to the artist before the main album, followed by background information remarks about the record. Fans are then asked to turn off their phones during the main album to deter distraction and to challenge how music is more commonly heard.
“Music has taken a backseat; it’s become a tertiary activity,” said Colleen “Cosmo” Murphy, founder of Classic Album Sundays. “Vinyl requires more involvement and more engagement.” Murphy, noted DJ, founded the series in London in 2010. CAS is attempt to get people to experience the album “as the artist originally intended,” according to Adam Dewhurst, Murphy’s husband.
The event takes places in several cities across the world and first came to New York two years ago. Ron Herrera, aka Ron Like Hell, local DJ and friend of Murphy, has hosted the New York installments since then, covering albums such as Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. A few places, including The Bellwether and The Panther Room, hosted Classic Album Sundays in the past, but it moved to Baby’s All Right since the organizers wanted a place where fans could have food on the menu.
At last Sunday’s party, Herrera spun early Young-related tracks, including “Down By the River” off Everybody Knows This is Nowhere, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s “Country Girl” off Deja Vu, and Graham Nash’s “I Used to be a King.” Afterwards, Michael Venutolo-Mantovani, Sales and Marketing Coordinator for Matador Records and member of The Everymen, gave a short presentation on Young and Harvest’s history.
Two notable stories: Young had to wear a back brace due to a slipped disc injury and it took him 45 minutes to walk to his studio from his home, which was only a few hundred feet away. Also, Young had Graham Nash row to the middle of his Northern California ranch’s lake to preview early Harvest recordings — using his house as a left speaker and his barn as a right speaker. Nash recalls Young crying out, “More barn!”
As the house lights lowered and the album began, my initial fears sunk in: will this be terribly hokey? Will it be a chore to listen to the whole thing while sitting and doing nothing else? Will I psyche myself out with these questions, inducing a panic attack in the dark surrounded by strangers? However, those fears dissolved when the harmonica first kicked in “Out on the Weekend.”
Thanks to the high quality speakers, I swear I heard Young’s hands lightly graze the guitar and a foot lightly tap the studio floor, something I hadn’t experienced before. I closed my eyes and imagined being in his early 1970s Northern California ranch home, shrouded in mist while watching him sit and play. I pictured myself lying down in a sea of golden poppies, just a stone’s throw away from Monterey’s famous sand dunes by the frigid Pacific water, and instantly felt comforted.
For Venutolo-Mantovani, the highlight of his listening experience was a hi-hat in “Heart of Gold” he never noticed before:
“I’ve heard this song thousands of times and I’ve never heard that,” he said. “Every experience can be different. There are so many factors: the turntable, the needle. There’s so much different shit. With a CD, it will sound the same every time.”
Classic Album Sundays returns June 8 to Baby’s All Right to celebrate The Cure’s Disintegration.