Good things come in 12 inch packages. Delivering limited edition pressings of new and classic albums directly to your doorstep, Vinyl Me, Please operates under a simple philosophy: The Album Lives! With a carefully curated catalog of new and hard to find releases, the subscription service is more than just a record club, it’s a lifestyle choice for folks who wish Record Store Day could happen every month … in their living room.
Here’s how it works. You send Vinyl Me, Please some of your hard-earned money (a 3-month membership will set you back about $119) and they send you one carefully selected album they feel is Essential to any record collection. Yes, it really is as easy as it sounds. You even get FREE SHIPPING. Each custom pressing (often on colored wax!) also comes with killer extras like original artwork, informative booklets, or even a recipe for a companion cocktail.
You’ll have membership privileges in the VMP store too, which means you can grab a copy of previous VMP selections from the archives – including their AAA, all-time Classics Track great It Serve You Right To Suffer by blues legend John Leek Hooker – not to mention a slate of super-limited releases pressed exclusively for Vinyl Me, Please. The store is open, and Team VMP are dropping fresh new selections to their stock every single week. Do not miss out.
Word to the wise, while the store is open to the public, most of the more covet-worthy stock is only available to subscribers. Members are privy to reduced “Members Pricing” as well, so joining the club definitely has its rewards. If you’re peckish about relinquishing control of your record collection to complete strangers, know that VMP’s Swaps Program is in full effect. That means you can flip any VMP pick you’re not interested in for a past AOM selection that’s a little more your speed (including picks from the Classics and Rap/Hip Hop tracks). My advice? Don’t overthink it. Do yourself a favor and sign up today.
What’s in January’s box, you ask? Well, Team Vinyl Me, Please is kicking 2021 off in high fashion with an immaculate reissue of a largely unheralded Americana classic with the 1971 self-titled debut from the one and only John Prine.
For The Love Of Music, Please DO NOT BEND (or how I stopped worrying and learned to love the salty twang of an Americana icon)
There’s an old Latin saying that goes “Fortuna adiuvat.” Loosely translated, it means simply “fortune favors the bold,” and one simply cannot talk about the ascension of John Prine from postal worker/poet to preeminent American songwriter and Americana icon without referencing it.
And for those unfamiliar with Prine’s story, it’s as unique a breakthrough tale as the you’ll find in the history of music. It began at a fateful open mic night in a Chicago dive bar circa the late-60s. That particular found a boozy Prine being dared get up and play some of his own songs after a night of heckling other acts. Answering the dare, Prine dove into a set composed of folky, half-finished tunes he’s written mostly to stave off the boredom of his day job as a postal carrier.
A couple of songs in, everyone in the place knew they were hearing something special. Something they’d surely enjoy hearing again. That included the owner of the bar, who promptly offered the then 24-year-old Prine a recurring gig as house entertainment, promising half the take at the door in payment. And as it happened, that bar was frequented by teachers and student from the nearby Old Town School of Folk. After wowing the lot of them week in and week out, Prine’s part-time job at the fabled Fifth Peg turned into a steady gig that paid enough for him quit his day job.
As far as humble beginnings go, Prine’s tale was already turning into one for the ages. Little did he know, that after honing his craft for roughly a year, Prine’s Fifth Peg gig would soon earn him a dramatically bigger spotlight. That unexpected twist came in 1970 when, by pure happenstance, one of Chicago’s premiere film critics caught his set, and wrote a glowing review of Prine for the Chicago Sun Times. That critic was none other that the late-great Roger Ebert, who’d only dipped into the Fifth Peg to have a drink after an early exit from a very bad film he’d meant to review.
It’s uncertain what cinematic disaster led Ebert to abandon a darkened movie theater in favor of the only slightly better lit Fifth Peg, but his review of Prine (the writer’s first published music review) made of the singer-songwriter a local hero, and helped open the doors of virtually every bar in town with a stage and a microphone. A year later, Prine would be asked to play a couple of his songs for Kris Kristofferson (yes that Kris Kristofferson), who was as blown away as anyone by the depth of Prine’s song craft. So much so he helped set up recording sessions that eventually landed the Prine a contract with Atlantic Records.
Those recording sessions spawned Pine’s 1971’s debut John Prine. And whether you’ve listened to the album or not, it’s as revered today as it was five decades ago, hailing the arrival of a singular talent who boasted the wit and wisdom of Woody Guthrie, the song-smithing moxy of Bob Dylan, and the penetrating introspection of Leonard Cohen.
Of course, Prine never became quite as well known as those artists. That’s just the way things go in the music biz. And now less than a year after COVID-19 took him from us, it remains a legitimate tragedy that the world at large didn’t mourn his loss like that of a king, or a musical deity.
That’s not to say John Prine has not been mourned. He has. And by people far greater than me – a fact that all but ensures his unmistakeable twang and razor sharp writing will forever be missed in the musical stratosphere. Luckily, he left behind a vast song catalogue that’ll keep the hearts and ears full with the man’s music for eternity and beyond.
If you’re looking to join their ranks, you could do a lot worse than digging into an album that collects catchy “legalize it” anthems (“Illegal Smile”) along side somber ballads about drug-addicted war vets (“Sam Stone”), wistful ditties longing for homes long left behind (“Paradise”), lonely masturbatory marvels (“Donald and Lydia”), scathing anti-war indictments of phony patriotism (“Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”), and cosmic country jams fronting some seriously funky electric guitar leads (“Pretty Good”).
On the surface, that mix would might paint John Prine an album lacking focus and direction. But with Prine leading the way, the album stands as a tour de force of songwriting style and substance as singular in its disparities as it is in its sonic harmony. It’s an album that demands to be listened to, pondered over, and listened to again to infinitum. And yes, you can do just that as John Prine is legit one of those rare albums that gives you something different every time you listen to it, no matter how many times you do.
If you’re new to the man’s work, you should know John Prine is nothing less than a gateway drug to one of the greatest songbooks in the history of modern music. And the good news is that as far as monkey’s go, the music of John Prine is one that it’s a-ok to have on your back … so long as you also let it into your soul.
There’s an old chef’s saying that says “people eat first with their eyes.” And every since I heard it, I’ve become convinced people also first hear an album with their eyes. That’s just how important cover art is. And as far as the cover of John Prine goes, it’s as laid bare and deceptively simple as every single track collected on the disc inside.
And as for the back cover, there’s some truly important info back there, including a few kind words from the great Kris Kristofferson about what it was like to see John Prine play for the first time.
Be sure to dig on the shiny gold VMP Essentials stamp in the top corner as well, and please understand John Prine is as worthy of that title as any Vinyl Me, Please selection to date.
Hopefully you notice the slick re-sealable outer sleeve VMP’s pressing of John Prine comes in, as this is indeed a treasure of an album you’ll want to ensure remains in cherry condition forever and always. There’s also a hype sticker on the front of that sleeve that’ll help you understand why this 50th Anniversary pressing of John Prine is the pressing of John Prine’s stunner of a debut.
Once you’ve cracked the seal on that sleeve, there are even more vital stats on the OBI-strip cradling the spine of the album. Yes, this is actually then 97th edition of VMP’s Essentials track, and I really cannot wait to see what they’ve got in the works for issue #100 in a couple of months.
Flip it over if you want to read a detailed account of why John Prine made the Essentials Track cut.
For those of you who fully understand that the tracks on John Prine are well-fit for partaking in adult beverages, the tab inside that OBI features the recipe for a stripped back cocktail worthy of the songs within. As it happens, the “Handsome Johnny” is the first VMP cocktail I’ve had all the ingredients for before hand. And I can assure one and all, it’s a tasty beverage.
Once you’ve studied that OBI, keep looking through the box, ’cause every Vinyl Me, Please Essentials selection comes with its own original, 12″x12″ art piece inspired by the album. This month features a “blue period” portrait of the man himself from Joshua Petker. Yeah, this one is actually worthy of a museum … or at least a frame.
Feel free to dig on into that sexy Tip-On sleeve, ’cause there’s more treats inside. Like a fully lyric sheet for the album. And you’ll undoubtedly want to sing along with in the privacy of your home listening station.
There’s also a six-page listening companion tucked in that sleeve. And as a Vinyl Me, Please enthusiast who’s read his share of Classics Track companion books, I can say beyond doubt this one from VMP Senior Editor Amileah Sutliff might be my favorite yet. Here’s hoping Team VMP keeps these books coming for the Essentials Track moving forward.
As for the wax inside that sleeve, well, the folks at Vinyl Me, Please are calling it Orange Marble. But in honor of John Prine (and, of course, the track “Spanish Pipedream”) I’m gonna go ahead and call it Peach Dream. Sue me if you disagree. But whatever you think of that color, know that if you like, you can simply call it gorgeous and be on your way.
But you’d better believe it’ll look fresh and tasty on any deck blessed by its presence. I must atmit it looks particularly great on mine.
How’s it sound? Like walking into the lowliest dive bar you’ve never read about, ordering a warm, flat beer and consigning yourself to the darkest corner of the room for what promises to be a truly torturous open-mic night. Only the moment the opener plays a chord or two, you know something glorious is about to happen. Then it does, with the man boasting a voice as powerfully unique as any heard in the glory days of Greenwich Village, lyrics as playful, incisive and universal as songwriter’s twice his age, and guitar work as fiery as anyone on the outlaw country scene.
Simply put, this singer doesn’t just save your night, but your entire rotten life. This singer, ladies and gentlemen, is Mr. John Prine.
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Look, I’m not gonna pretend that John Prine is everybody’s cup of tea. Nor am I going to preach that the album should indeed be essential to each and every record collection out there. Quite frankly, John Prine hardly needs me to puff up its importance or its value. You’ll know it when you hear it, folks. That fact was every bit as true prior to Vinyl Me, Please giving it the Essentials treatment, and it’ll remain true long after monthly boxes are opened and VMP subscribers discover, or re-discover John Prine for themselves.
But as someone who knew shamefully little of John Prine prior to my January box arriving, I can confirm one spin of John Prine has opened to me a vast new catalogue of music I cannot wait to explore. And even after a single spin, I can confirm John Prine is one of my all-time top 5 Vinyl Me, Please releases. It may not be for you, of course. But trust me when I say it really, really should be.
A big THANK YOU to our friends at Vinyl Me, Please for sponsoring this subscription. Don’t forget to check out the Vinyl Me, Please website and sign up to get some choice wax delivered right to your door each and every month! Be sure to check back next month when I’ll be unboxing a full on flame-worthy reissue of The Strokes’ killer sophomore release Room on Fire.