To Sort, Or Not To Sort?
(1st June 2000)

It's the age-old question: does size matter? Well-and the ladies have known this for a while-yes, of course it does. When you're considering whether to store your records alphabetically, that is. It was Jenny that finally persuaded me that the piles of vinyl and stacks of CDs were getting too large for the haphazard groupings of bands, genre and other that comprised my personalised indexing system. I knew where everything was. Mostly. Size at that time? Somewhere in the order of 2000 records. A kind of critical mass, the point at which it becomes impossible to remember where that copy of Planet Rock is when you see some youngsters breakdancing on the telly and drunkenly, and unwisely, tell your mates that you were the best body-popper in the 4th year. When you eventually emerge from the Mount Everest of discarded discs clutching "the nearest thing I could find," (a copy of Planet Earth) you will not be the imminent recipient of kudos.

Of course, I was doubtful. "It'll take ages to sort them all out," I whined. "I already know where everything is," I bleated. "I don't want to," I pleaded. To no avail. One Sunday morning I unloaded the shelves, sat in the middle of the floor and started organising. I would've put Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin on, to reflect the way I felt, imprisoned within walls of plastic, jewel box bars at the windows and a suitcase full of tapes representing the smelly old chemi-khazi. But I couldn't find it.

And it was easy once I'd started, just like they always say on This Morning. Yes, Plastic Judy, once I'd begun to eat only dog turds from the gutter I found my appetite was cut right back. Actually, no, it wasn't easy. Not easy at all. It seems like a pretty simple idea: just put the records in alphabetical order one after the other. Sure. Start with A. Yeah. No problems so far... A Certain Ratio? A Tribe Called Quest? Now, do we file these under A or C and T? Well, what do we do with the definite article? Obvious: ignore it. Everybody knows that. So we'll ignore A as well. But there's a single here a band called just A? Bugger. Change of plan. Leave A in the name, but ignore The. Excellent. Oh yes, excellent, you haven't got past the first letter of the first band and you've already created a contradiction, and there's still Thee Headcoats, That Petrol Emotion and The The to come...

But what about those two pillars of modern society, Doctors and DJs? OK, one of the pillars is crumbling, the profession largely perceived as being full of alcoholics criminals and drug abusers with no time for the public and huge chips on their shoulders.... but we've still got DJs. Boom! Boom! as Basil Brush might've said. Luckily, Basil never made a record (or, at least, never made a hit record) but if he had, and you'd bought it, you might have a dilemma: do you index under Basil or Brush? Not a problem, you cry, because he didn't make any records and I wouldn't have bought them if he had. (I understand, except some berks do buy those Smurf records, The Wombles did all right for Mike Batt and, amazingly, Pinky and Perky charted in May 1993 with their cover of Reet Petite). Anyway, everybody except Andy's Records does the obvious last name sorting, don't they? Well, yes, but consider those records you suspect are a by a band, but have the name of a person (Rachel Stamp, John Sims) or those surnames you know can't be real (Iggy Pop, Doug E. Fresh) and bands named after their leader (Spencer Davis Group, Patti Smith Group, Chris Barber's Jazz Band). What do you do with them? Where do you deploy your military? Colonel Abrams, Captains Sensible, America and Beefheart and, ahem, General Public. And don't forget Dre, Feelgood and John, Krush, Shadow and Jazzy Jeff in the waiting room.

None of these problems is insurmountable though. You just decide which way to go and stick to it. Harder are the side-projects, solo records and pseudonyms. In the old system it didn't matter that Ant and Dec and PJ and Duncan were half an alphabet apart, their location in your heart and on your shelves was together. How about Adam Ant and Adam and the Ants? Under you surname rule, you'd have Adam Ant next to Ant and Dec under Ant but Adam and the Ants under Adam. Worse still, there's Freur and Prince whose preferred names were little squiggles. Pretentious tossers. File in the bin.

So, to cut a long story short, by dinner time I'd got a system which, if not entirely logical, would do for starters and had some memorable runs for alphabetical mix tapes: The Beach Boys, The Beastie Boys, The Beat and The Beatles or (my personal favourite) Lee Perry, Photek and Public Image Limited. Try doing that with yer fancy classified-by-genre collection, or the higgledy-piggledy mess I had before. That's just for starters, though. PS (Post Sort), I can find any record within seconds and I now know that I've got three copies of Tainted Love on 7" (and the bloke down the market doesn't want to buy two of them.)

 


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