VIDEO: Mike and Aaron Do Taranna 2018

MUSIC CREDITS: “Shit” parts 1 – 5 written and performed by AARON


REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Cross Purposes ~ Live (1995) Part One – the CD

BLACK SABBATH – Cross Purposes ~ Live (1995 IRS CD/VHS set)
Part One: the CD

Metal fans who recall the 80s and 90s will remember that Black Sabbath struggled to be relevant, in a time when they should have been dominant.  While Soundgarden soared up the charts with a sound that could never have existed without them, Black Sabbath limped along, with new lineups annually.  Singer Tony Martin has been relegated to the footnotes of rock — unfairly for certain — thanks to a successful Black Sabbath reunion with Ozzy Osbourne.  Fans in the know appreciate the Tony Martin era, and the tunes it produced.

With a lineup featuring original members Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler, Sabbath rolled tape at the Hammersmith for a live video also featuring their newest drummer Bobby Rondinelli (Rainbow) and longtime keyboardist Geoff Nicholls.  They were on tour supporting Cross Purposes, their first since an aborted reunion with Ronnie James Dio.  This video was released in 1995, packaged with a CD that was shortened by three songs.

Today we’ll review the audio, and tomorrow a guest will review the video.

Some context:  in some circles, Tony Martin was seen as a Dio clone.  Therefore, it was brave and somewhat cheeky for Black Sabbath to open the show with “Time Machine”, a song specifically recorded for the Dio reunion!  The whole Dehumanizer era was dicey to begin with.  Tony Martin supposedly recorded an alternate set of vocals for that album just in case it didn’t work out with Ronnie.  Cheeky or not, Tony Martin was more than capable of covering Dio’s song, though with less of Ronnie’s unmistakable grit.

Back to Master of Reality, “Children of the Grave” is bloody sharp with Bobby on drums.  Nothing against Vinnie Appice or Cozy Powell (or Eric Singer or Bev Bevan or Terry Chimes or Mike Bordin or Tommy Clufetos) but I think Bobby Rondinelli was absolutely perfect for Black Sabbath.  His hard-hitting style really turned up the heavy, and he also adapted it to the old Bill Ward songs better than some of the other drummers did.

Sabbath churned out album after album, year after year, and they always played new tunes live.  Cross Purposes was a remarkably solid album, probably due to Geezer Butler’s influence.  “I Witness” was worthy of the Sabbath canon, fitting perfectly among the speed rockers like “Neon Nights”.  Next in the set was “Mob Rules” which was cut from the CD for time, so we skip through to a pretty authentic and unabridged “Into the Void”.  With Tony Martin in the band, Black Sabbath were able to do songs from any era.  That’s due to his versatility and his ability to put ego aside.

“Anno Mundi” (from 1990’s Tyr) should be next but it’s axed for time and instead it’s straight into “Black Sabbath”, a song that makes fools out of most singers.  And truthfully, nobody but Bill Ward can capture the random madness that is his original drum performance.  Sabbath ’94 do OK.

Another track is edited out (“Neon Nights” of all songs; who chose these?) and an odd choice from Cross Purposes is left in:  “Psychophobia”, a stuttering metal slab of anger.  Aimed at Ronnie?  You be the judge, when Tony Martin howls, “It’s too late now, it’s time to kiss the rainbow goodbye.”  The groove is pretty unstoppable whatever the motivation.

The surprise plot twist is “The Wizard”, an Ozzy oldie that few singers have dared to attempt with Black Sabbath.  First time in 24 years, according to Tony.  The harmonica part brings it closer to the old blues that Sabbath began with, and Tony Martin does fine with his own take on it.  Then it’s time for the Cross Purposes ballad, a killer “Cross of Thorns”, though one gets the sense of anticlimax after a track like “The Wizard”.  It would have worked better early in the set, but it’s an example of the quality heavy rock songs that Sabbath were still writing.  Martin’s voice cracks raw at times from pouring it all in, and Iommi’s guitar solo is one of his most melodically enticing.

Back once again to the past, “Symptom of the Universe” is a smokeshow, including the oft-skipped psychedelic groovy outro.  It kills any version by any lineup except the original quartet, and that’s due to Tony Martin’s throat-destroying singing.  Bobby Rondinelli gets a drum solo before “Headless Cross”; not the first time he’s had to play drum parts originated by Cozy Powell!  “Headless Cross” is a rhythm-based song with or without Cozy.  Geoff Nicholls helps out Tony Martin for the impossible notes in the chorus.

“Paranoid”, “Iron Man” and a downtuned “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” make for a fine conclusion, but “Heaven and Hell” was conspicuous by its absence on this tour.  It was only played in form of a brief segue between songs.

The CD release is 71 minutes, so given time limits of the day, that was about as many songs as they could squeeze in.  If you want to be creative, why not find the other three tracks and add them as a bonus CD?  Until a complete deluxe edition comes our way, this will have to do for audio aficionados.  Our bonus CD is 16:08 of more Sabbath, though at a noticeably lesser quality.  Tony remarked that picking a setlist was near impossible, but that “Mob Rules” had a “fucking good place in this set”, so why not the CD?  It’s a full-speed cruise that is over before you can break a sweat.  “Anno Mundi” is a special treat, as it was only played on the UK tour dates.  Another fine example of underrated Martin-era material that wasn’t given a fair shake, but at 6:20 it takes a lot of space.  As for “Neon Nights”?  “This is a fucking good track,” says Martin accurately.  There’s a lot of speedy metal on Cross Purposes ~ Live, but two of the most important ones in “Mob Rules” and “Neon Nights” were not on the standard CD.  Surely a better series of cuts could have been made.

Tomorrow a guest reviewer will have a look at the VHS.  For the CD, the math is simple:

4.5/5 stars

– minus 1 star for the missing three songs equals =

3.5/5 stars


Sunday Chuckle: Past Lives

This one goes out to reader Harrison, who asked why I haven’t reviewed Black Sabbath’s Past Lives yet.

Here’s why!

This is what happens when Mrs. LeBrain parks the laundry cart too close to my CD tower spinner.  This got caught on the cart, and riiiiiiiip!

Note:  the guitar pick inside was undamaged, and I have since bought a new case.

#541: When the Packaging Gets Wrecked

GETTING MORE TALE #541: When the Packaging Gets Wrecked

It’s so easy for a store to wreck the very product that you want to buy.  It happens every day.  A CD jewel case helps protect your precious music…if it comes in a CD jewel case.  How did stores wreck the packaging?  Here are some of the most common!

  1. Box cutters

When you open up a fresh shipment of music, it’s very easy to damage the product inside with a box cutter and it happens all the time.  If it’s LPs inside the box, or digipack CDs, it’s very easy to cut open the top-most item inside the box.  Not only do you see this happen with music but toys and games too.  I’ve seen a few toys on shelves with the bubbles accidentally scored by overzealous box cutters.  I’ve accidentally done it to a few CDs because I wasn’t being careful enough.

  1. Price (and other) tags

I have some great examples here.  The first revolves around a rare Led Zeppelin Complete Studio Recordings box set.  This deluxe box set was released in 1993, but by 1996 it was deleted and hard to find.  The boss man apparently knew somebody from Warner who supposedly had a cache of them stashed away.  If so that would have been a potential goldmine.

If there was a cache of them or not, I don’t know, but we did get one to sell.  We sold it as new, but because of the format of stores (all CD cases on display were empty), the boss opened it up.  I believed this to be a mistake and I still do.  I think we could have sold it just as easily had we kept the sealed box on display behind the counter somehow.  But we didn’t, and we had to put stickers all over the now opened box set to proclaim that it was BRAND NEW and OUT OF PRINT.


One customer came up to the counter to complain.

“Why is this thing so expensive?” he asked, for good reason.

“It’s brand new,” I answered.  “The owner brought this one in sealed, and he opened it himself, so I can vouch for the fact that it’s brand new.”

“Yeah but he put stickers all over it!” complained the customer.  “Can you give me a deal?”

We were only selling the box for a few dollars over cost, so no deals were to be had.

We eventually sold that box set after it had sat there for a few weeks.  The stickers came off no problem, but had they stayed on there a while longer, they might have been an issue.  Sticker residue on paper can leave nasty stains, sticky spots, or even tears.

Our price tags were usually pretty good.  At one point we ordered a cheaper batch, and they were just awful.  You couldn’t peel them off in one piece, and you’d always leave paper on whatever you were peeling them off from.  Whenever we re-priced something, we were supposed to completely remove the old tag, leaving nothing behind.  These tags made that a chore.  It was a relief when that batch was used up.

The worst price tags I have seen in any store in my life came from Dr. Disc.   They are still around, though only in Hamilton now, and I don’t know if they still use the Yellow Tags of Death.  These tags had a magnetic security chip embedded in them, and left a horrible red residue on everything.  It was like taking a red crayon and melting it on your CD cover.  You could never get the red residue off, unless you used a product like Goo Gone, but it left its own oily residue behind that was equally impossible to remove.  I had to replace the case on every used CD I ever bought from Dr. Disc.  Every single case!

  1. Regular wear and tear

This is all but unavoidable.  Stuff gets damaged in shipping.  Customers drop stuff.  In our store, just about every front cover of Metallica’s Load CD was dog-eared.  Its thickness made it hard to put back in the CD case.  When the CD came out new, our display copies took severe beatings.  The front covers were so damaged that we had to sell them as used.

If you see something in a store that’s a little dinged up, but not too badly, ask if you can get a discount.  If you ask nicely, they will usually agree.  Whether it is worth it or not, is up to you!  Remember, most things tend to show up again.  You can usually wait until you find a better condition copy.

Are you picky?  Some of my customers were so picky that I actually told them “I don’t think buying anything used is really for you.”  Do you want everything as mint as possible?  Let us know in the comments.


#515: Dye, Dye My Darling

GETTING MORE TALE #515: Dye, Dye My Darling

Have you ever wondered how a CD-R burner works?

It’s quite complicated actually, but the basic idea is that data is encoded in binary “pits” and “land”.  If you recall your grade 10 math, binary allows you to record any data in ones and zeros.  In the CD world, this translates to “pits” and “land”.  Think of the pits as zeros, and the land as ones.  When you burn a CD at home, musical data is encoded with a laser.  The laser doesn’t actually etch the plastic or metal layers of a disc.  Instead, it burns the data into a layer of dye.  It is this dye that gives a blank CD its typical colours.  Once this information is properly encoded onto the blank CD, you can then play it on most household disc players.  But they don’t last forever.  The colour of the disc can be a clue how much life it has.  It can help indicate what dye was used in manufacturing.

  1. Cyanine dye (green)

These are the earliest blanks made, with a layer of dye that was also UV sensitive.  Unfortunately this meant that your CD could be destroyed by exposing it to direct sunlight.  The dyes were improved to make them more stable, but many people had their data destroyed simply by leaving the disc out, playing side up, where sunlight could get to it.

  1. Phthalocyanine (gold, silver, light green)

A more stable form of dye.  You’d have to leave your CD out in sunlight for two weeks to destroy it.  Unfortunately phthalocyanine dyes are more sensitive to the writing laser, and these discs required some technical advances to make for a good recording.

  1. Azo (dark blue)

Rated for a storage lifetime of decades.  More stable than the other two dyes.  It would take a month of sunlight to destroy an azo-based disc.  Also capable of faster writing speeds than other dyes.

Because it would have been easy to look at a green CD and say, “Nope, I’m not buying this one,” disc manufacturers tricked you by adding other colours to the dyes.   But the type of dye is only one factor in how good your CD sounds and how long it lasts.  A CD is like a sandwich made of plastic with layers in between where the data is stored.  Poorly manufactured CD-Rs allow moisture to seep in between the layers and destroy the disc.  And of course the quality of the burner is also critical to a good sounding CD-R.  And be careful if you’re labelling your disc with a marker.  Sometimes solvents from markers can react with the dyes.

In very rare cases, CDs and even DVDs have been known to explode during burning, according to a New York Times article from 2004.  It happened when a disc was spun too quickly, probably as a result of heat from the burning laser combined with centrifugal force.  This is why the upper limit for burning a CD is 56x.  Go faster than that and your music could go BOOM (and not in a good way).

A re-writable CD is different still from a dye-based CD-R.  A CD-RW (which can be re-written thousands of times) uses a metal alloy layer that is physically liquefied by the laser.  It’s crystalline before burning, but less reflective after burning.  Therefore a CD-RW has pits and lands made of more and less reflective spots on the disc.  And if you don’t like it, you can start all over again.  The laser re-heats the alloy, restoring it to its crystalline reflective state.

It’s all very technical and interesting, but how often do you record a CD today?   Though burning a CD will always be a pastime for many music fans, the majority have happily moved on to easier and quicker flash storage.  Is that as fascinating as a laser etching your music onto a disc?  No, but however you handle your music collection is up to you.

#504: Waiting

Note:  This tale is from 1996 and does not reflect current tech.


The store that I managed for the longest period of time was opened in April of 1996.  The format was 95% used stock, about 5% new.  It was fun being a part of the cutting edge in retail.

When we opened that store, we were inundated by customers who had never heard of us before.  Every day for months, somebody would wander in who had never been in one of our stores before.  It was cool.  We were different, and we wanted people to know it.  We were eager to promote our special features and strengths, such as our listening stations and reservation lists.

The reservation list caused a lot of confusion among new customers.

Here’s how it worked.  Let’s say you’re looking for a CD that is hard to find used – Pink Floyd’s The Wall.  That one was expensive brand new.  Usually it ran for about $33.99.  Customers would much rather pay less, so they put themselves on our waiting list.  At the time we opened, the waiting lists were for that store only.  We didn’t have the ability to share our waiting lists with other branches yet.  This was still a massive improvement over the old system:  a notebook with phone numbers and titles written in it.  (There were lots of names and numbers with the title “any Beatles”.)

The list operated on a first-come, first-served basis.  If you were the very first customer to put their name in for The Wall back in April ’96, then you would get dibs on the very first used copy that came in.  If you were second, you’d get the next shot at it, and so on and so forth.  What seemed to confuse my early customers the most was “Where do these used CDs actually come from?”

There was no magical land of used CDs.  There was no massive warehouse from which to pick and choose copies of The Wall in various conditions.  There was no place from which to order used CD stock like you could with new.  If there was a Used CD Magic Wonderland, then it was in your basement, because the only way we received our stock in those days was via the customer.  If a customer came in and traded a great condition copy of The Wall, then congratulations – the first person on the waiting list received the first call.

On down the list we went.  If the first person no longer wanted The Wall (a frequent occurrence) then we’d go down the list to the second person.  We would phone each customer and give them a week to pick up their CD.  Unfortunately most customers who no longer wanted the CD never bothered to tell us, so it would sit there for a whole week before we could put it back in the hopper.  We wiped out our entire waiting list for Last of the Mohicans (Soundtrack) with just one copy, because none of the reserved customers wanted it anymore.  There were five names on that list, and then suddenly none!

So: reserve a CD, and we would let you know when one was traded in.  This doesn’t seem like it should be hard to understand, but apparently for some it was.

One upset customer came in about two weeks after reserving a rare CD.  “Is it in yet?”

I checked.  “No, it’s not in stock, but since you have a reserve for it, we’ll call you when it does show up.”

“When’s that going to be?” he asked.

“Hard to say,” I responded, trying to answer his question.  “Whenever someone trades one in, which could be tomorrow or it could be next year.”

Then he bellowed, “What do I have to do to get this thing to come in?!”

Sometimes, I just didn’t know what else to say.

“You don’t have to do anything,” I said, not sure how to explain this further.  “Somebody will get tired of their copy, or just need the money.  If they sell it to me, you’ll get a phone call right away.”  Then, feeling a little snarky, I added, “Unless you know somebody with a copy that you can talk into trading it in to us.”

There was actually one nearly-surefire way to guarantee a used CD would come into stock.  T-Rev discovered this, inadvertently.  Somehow, any time either of us bought a new CD that we’d been hunting for, suddenly a used copy would show up in store.  Sometimes on the same day.  This happened more than once!  I was there when it happened with a Primus CD he was looking for.  (Wish I could remember which one.)  It was eerie.

Everything has changed today, obviously, and now you have access to the world’s inventory from your PC.  It’s hard to imagine there was once a time when you (gasp!) had to actually wait to find a used copy of The Wall!


#476: Won’t Get Fooled Again

GETTING MORE TALE #476: Won’t Get Fooled Again
(the long-awaited sequel to Record Store Tales Part 225:  Bait & Switch)

“I knew immediately there was a problem. In his hands was a used copy of Puff Daddy’s brand new smash hit album, No Way Out. It had one of our Bargain Bin stickers on it, priced at $5.99. However the album was a fairly new release, and any used copies we had were always priced at $11.99. I’d never put one of them in my Bargain Bin, ever at this point. You just didn’t throw a new release into a sale bin. As Puffy said, ‘It’s all about the Benjamins.'”  — from Record Store Tales Part 225: Bait & Switch

We had a deceptively simple inventory system at the Record Store.  Each used CD case was empty.  Every one of them was tagged with the price, and a number that would tell me the location of the actual compact disc behind the counter.  This system benefited both our point of sale computer, which updated our inventory live in real time, and it was also a security bonus.  With compact discs safely stored behind the counter, thieves knew they would get nothing by stealing a case.  We made it obvious, by posting large ALL CASES ARE EMPTY signs.  The bastards had to get creative when ripping us off.

In the Record Store Tale above, a scam artist got away with it.  I wasn’t going to let him, but the owner didn’t stand up for the guy, called it a misunderstanding and let the guy have a discount.  The scammer switched price tags, without realizing that the number code on the tags lead to a specific disc.   When boss gave the guy a discount, it made me feel about two feet tall.   I never let that happen again.

My new strategy was quite simple and it worked every time.  When the first guy ripped us off, my big mistake was explaining to him that somebody switched price tags.  That got him on the defensive and he had already prepared his argument regarding bait and switch laws.  I got smart after that, by playing dumb.

The most memorable occasion involved a douchebag in his mid-20’s, and a rap title.  I cannot remember today what the rap title was, but the CD itself was very brightly coloured and easy to spot.  Buddy came up to the counter with a CD case, and the price tag looked tampered with.  They never quite looked the same once peeled off and re-applied, and years behind the counter taught me that.  Sure enough, the number on the price tag led to me the wrong compact disc.  I checked out the locations of the discs in the computer and confirmed the guy had switched a tag.  He wanted an $11.99 CD for $7.99, but it wasn’t going to happen on my watch.  I pretended to look for the disc, but I had actually already grabbed it and put it aside.  The price tag that he swapped it with, the $7.99 CD, was alphabetically right next to the other one.  It was obvious he just grabbed two nearby and switched prices.  I was taking time figuring this out though, so I had to tell him why.

“I’m sorry man but I’m having a really hard time finding this CD,” I explained.  “Each price tag has a number on it that tells me where the disc should be, but it’s not in this spot.  I’ll keep looking.”

As earlier explained, the compact disc I was supposedly looking for was a bright one, easy to spot.  What I didn’t count on was this dude has already seen it behind the counter in its location. But what he didn’t count on was that I had since yanked it and hidden it out of sight!  From the right vantage point, you could have spotted it, but it was gone now.

“Are you sure?” the scammer asked.  “I think it’s right over there,” and he pointed me in the general direction.  I put on a good act of looking, flipping through every disc but his.  “I’m sure I saw it right there.”

“Can you show me?” I asked, knowing it wasn’t there.  I don’t know if he figured out my game or not.  He probably had.  But there was nothing he could do about it.  “Is this it?”  I pulled out a disc with random artwork on it.  “No, but I saw it right there, in that spot that is empty now.”  Yeah, he caught me.

“I’m really sorry but it’s not there.  I’ll keep looking.  Why don’t you give me your name and phone number?  I’ll call when I find it.  I’m sure it’ll turn up.”

“Naw, man.”

Small triumph, but, still a triumph.


#462: The Deep Purple Project


GETTING MORE TALE #462: The Deep Purple Project

If loyal readers know one thing about LeBrain, it is that he owns a lot of CDs.


I haven’t done a count in ages and I’m giving up on keeping track of these things.  I estimate over 3000 CDs are in inventory currently.  Add to that a few hundred tapes, LPs, DVDs and other miscellaneous musical formats.

For Christmas this year, I received a number of Deep Purple releases.  Some of these releases would presumably replace older Deep Purple discs in my collection.  For example, I expected the 5 CD box set Hard Road 1968-1969 to replace the first three Purple albums in my collection, and I could retire those discs permanently.  This was not the case.  I began checking, track by track, and it turns out the individual CD versions have tracks that are not on the Hard Road box set.  “Hush” live from US TV is one such track.  There are also BBC Top Gear sessions on the remastered CDs that are not on Hard Road, but I believe all of these are duplicated on yet another Deep Purple CD, BBC Sessions 1968-1970.  On top of all that, there is another CD called The Early Years that covers the same ground, but it too has one exclusive track on it.  That is an alternate take of “Kentucky Woman” that I don’t have elsewhere.  This is crazy!  How can anyone keep track of it all?

I’ve been ripping all the CDs in my collection to the computer in bits and pieces for a couple years.  It didn’t have much rhyme or reason.  If I wanted to listen to something, I ripped it at that time.  If it was a new arrival, I’d rip it to PC on first listen.  This Deep Purple situation got me to go over my entire Purple collection, looking for duplicates and redundant releases.  (I didn’t find any.)   This in turn prompted me to get the rest of my Purple albums ripped and digitized for good.  This has turned out to be a monumental task.

My Deep Purple folder had 74 sub-folders in it, each one an album or a disc from one.  That’s a lot of Purple.  So how many did I have still to rip?

At first count, it was 64 more discs.  That includes 12 discs from a box set called The Soundboard Series (the second of two 12 disc live Purple box sets I have!).  It includes all the multi-disc sets I got for Christmas.  With the exception of the Hard Road box set, these are all live discs, and all official releases!  Then, I had to adjust my count.  I found two more box sets tucked away (as box sets sometimes are, due to their odd shapes):  On Tour MCMXCIII (4 discs), and Live Encounters (2 CDs, plus 2 DVDs too).  Last week, a double live from Japan arrived at LeBrain HQ, called Live in Verona.  Up that count to 72 more discs.  So far, I’ve ripped 25 of them.

This isn’t even all the Deep Purple I have left un-ripped.  I have some things that I don’t particularly need to listen to.  The 3 CD Live in Japan was a great package for its time.  It contained a remixed and expanded version of Made in Japan.  While I always want a unique official remix in my collection, just to have it, I don’t need to listen to it since it has been usurped by the remixed (again) 4 CD deluxe Made in Japan.  Who cares about a remix they did in ’93?  Obviously I only care enough to keep it (for “completion”), not to play it.  There are more like that, such as an earlier mix of California Jam that has since been replaced by a better, more complete version.

Now that you have a glimpse at what Obsessive Compulsive Disorder looks like up close, I’m sure you have one specific question.

“How many versions of ‘Smoke on the Water’ are there?”  Well, it appears that I have 63 versions on CD.  63. Different. Versions. Of.  “Smoke on the Water”.  By Deep Purple.  None of these are covers by other bands.

This, folks, is a shat-ton of Deep Purple!  Won’t you join me each day this week for some live Purple action?




#457: Making the Best Buy (Or, making lemonade from lemons)


GETTING MORE TALE #457: Making the Best Buy
(Or, making lemonade from lemons)

In Getting More Tale #326, we lamented that the once-mighty retail chain Best Buy isn’t what it used to be.  This time, we’ll take a look back at the store’s history.

Who doesn’t love those fact-filled Uncle John’s books and calendars?  Here’s the entry for December 2 2015.  Before reading this I had no idea, nor did I really care how Best Buy started.  Uncle John changed my tune:


Scan from the Uncle John’s 2015 desk calendar.

Back at the Record Store days in the early 2000’s, the Boss was bracing for a new Best Buy store to open nearby.  He figured that we’d probably feel some short term pain, but in the long term the store should draw more customers to the area and we’d benefit from their presence.  He also strongly encouraged us not to shop there, a big US chain edging into our turf.

I tried to avoid shopping there at first, but the convenience was too much to resist.  When I needed printer ink, computer supplies, or a new movie release, they were right there, and they usually had everything I came in for.  That made it hard to avoid.  I still tried to shop locally — I remember making special trips to Steve’s TV in Frederick Mall to buy the Star Wars trilogy on DVD.  Between big items like TV sets, and small ones like candy, I know I have easily spent thousands of dollars at our local Best Buy stores.   They also had hard to find items, such as the rare ZZ Top box set that came in a little box shaped like a barbecue shack (Chrome, Smoke & BBQ).  The guilt felt for shopping a big US conglomerate was tempered by the savings and convenience.

That was then.  As mentioned in chapter #326, Best Buy took a serious dump a few years ago.  Still, a few weeks back, I had the chance to stop by one with my friend and sometimes contributor, Thussy.  We had an hour to kill before a work dinner, so we popped into Best Buy, prepared to spend money if they had something we wanted.  We spent an hour in the store, but no dollars.

The one thing I would have bought would have been the new Adele CD, 25, for my mom.  (Yes, it’s for my mom.)  I know Best Buy pretty much cut audio CDs from their stores completely, but hey, it’s Adele.  Worth a try, right?  Even my grocery store has the new Adele.  Best Buy did not have the new Adele.  I wasn’t really surprised.

We were tempted by some of their blu-ray deals.  We saw a reissue of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I have already bought thrice, no more no less, over the years: VHS, DVD, and special edition DVD.  This new version was a blu-ray, with the same features as the DVD, but a neat little castle set and plastic animals to catapult over it.  Very tempting indeed.  But both of us said no.  We survived their $7.99 cheapie blu-ray bin without spending a penny.   The only thing that was almost a serious temptation was that new remote controlled Star Wars Sphero BB-8 toy. It was $180, and it is definitely a neat little toy. But what the hell was I going to do with it? With a big record shopping excursion in Toronto on my horizon, the $180 would be better saved.

It was a pleasant trip to Best Buy, and we marvelled at all the new televisions and gadgets.  We were asked by one pleasant employee if we needed any help, and only once, which is exactly how you want it.

Best Buy, what happened to you?  Obviously, their story didn’t end with opening 1000 superstores.  They continued to grow, by acquiring other electronics and music retail chains, such as Sam Goody.  Their presence in Canada was felt in 2001, when they bought out our own, similar chain:  Future Shop.  That’s when they began horning in on our territory, and freaking out the Boss.  They continued to expand and acquire, and their services such as the Geek Squad became household names.  It seems this is where Best Buy and I parted ways, as they focused more and more on electronics, and less on the media that I often came in for.  They bought mobile phone stores and services, and became the first non-Apple distributor of the iPhone in 2008.   Phones, game consoles and tech support took over the spaces once designated for music.  Meanwhile online, Best Buy’s on-demand movies, improved web sales services, and quick delivery began to dominate.  I bought my laptop online, and it was at my door to me a few days later in the post.  Around 2010 however their sales began to dip, but Best Buy shed some weight in order to continue to survive.

It just hasn’t happened with much of my help.

This year, Best Buy’s Canadian acquisition Future Shop bit the dust.  I hadn’t done much shopping there lately either, for the same reasons as above.  The two stores were all but identical, and sometimes existed side by side!  It was no wonder they shut their doors.  Others re-opened under the Best Buy banner, but it was a major hit for the company.

I think Best Buy will continue to exist, but as online ordering and home delivery becomes the norm, I think the stores will be able to shrink in size and survive.  Large items like televisions might remain in-store for customers to try out, or to pick up after ordering online.  Small items like movies might be phased out altogether, since Amazon’s own home delivery is the king of convenience.

I will continue to watch Best Buy, and sure, I’ll be cheering from the sidelines.  I would very much like to buy something cool at a great price from them again, some day.




#415: B-Cards


#415: B-Cards

One of the least practical formats that I saw during the Record Store Days was the B-Card CD.  A B-Card is the same as a CD-ROM, and works on any standard CD-ROM player, but was the size and shape of a business card.  The idea was that business people could order B-Cards instead of regular business cards.  This would be a striking alternative, in tune with the tech-savvy 90’s.  It was a way to appear on the cutting edge.

A B-Card could hold up to 100 MB of data.  The disc was rectangular, about 90mm x 55mm, but with a circular silver CD portion in the center of the disc.  The readable part of the card was smaller than even a 3” CD single.  You could still encode anything you wanted on the disc, from audio to video to slideshows and text.  Instead of handing someone a business card with your phone number on it, you could give them a card with that and a visual presentation of whatever you were selling.  From that point of view, it was a pretty inventive idea.

Where the B-Card failed was physical storage.  As any music fan knows, CDs scratch up very easily, especially when in physical contact with another material.  Plastic sleeves were the worst.  Nothing scratched plastic discs worse than plastic sleeves.  And guess what B-Cards often came packaged in?  Plastic sleeves.  There were larger plastic cases available, hinged to open and protect your precious B-Card, but nobody carried them because they were too thick for a wallet.

Lord of the Rings “Gollum” B-Card CD-ROM

I had one business man come into the Record Store with a scuffed up B-Card that no longer worked.  He asked me to fix it for him, but I could see easily with just a quick glance that it wouldn’t be possible.  The plastic sleeve had worn off the protective top layer of the CD in spots, creating massive top-scratches and pinholes.  When that happens, there’s nothing for the laser to read and it comes up with errors or skips.  He was very unhappy that his B-Card was toast.

I explained to him that it was the plastic sleeve itself that had ruined the card.  This did not make him happy.  I showed him how a CD should be properly stored (in a protective jewel case) and his response was “I’m not going to carry that around in my pocket!”  That was the first major flaw with the format.  It was small and portable, but not easy to keep safe without bulking up with a proper case.

The other problem with B-Cards was the rectangular shape.   This unusual shape meant that it might encounter problems being played.  The weight of the disc wasn’t evenly distributed.  You could not play them in many tray or slot-based readers.  They were the same idea as a shaped CD, which were popular novelty items at the time.  These came with warnings that they could not be played in all players due to the shape, and the ominous message that the manufacturer would not be responsible for any damaged equipment.

I’m glad that B-Cards have gone the way of the Dodo.  My cards are printed on regular paper – and that’s fine by me!