Listen: Arnold Layne / The Pink Floyd
Tower 333. That was the label and catalog number for The Pink Floyd’s first US single, ‘Arnold Layne’. I heard it played on Dick Clark’s AMERICAN BANDSTAND Rate A Record segment, and taped it on my tiny GE reel to reel, complete with a palm sized hand held microphone and a happening aqua play button. I still have it, in fact I can see it as I type.
Oh fuck, did I want to own this single or what? It was a one listen record. Like involuntary movement, I special ordered it on the phone that very Saturday afternoon from Mrs. Smith at Smith’s Records. And I would anxiously wait week after week but it never did arrive. Took me a few years to get it at all, and then on a UK pressing. That US Tower single was so elusive. In fact, finding a stock copy took 39 long years.
In the meantime, I did drive to New Jersey in a snow storm, a proper blizzard to be exact, with Steve Yegelwel, to buy a DJ copy complete with it’s promo-only picture sleeve for $150 in ’90, a fire sale by today’s standards. I’d seen it listed in GOLDMINE the day the issue arrived, so I immediately call this guy who says he’s just sold it. I double his asking price of $75, offer to drive over the river despite the weather and pay in cash. He accepts. Steve was from Jersey and knew the way. We worked together at Island then.
But it was a few months later that I really struck gold when it comes to ‘Arnold Layne’. The catalog number is without a doubt embossed in my brain. I became obsessed with getting that record at the time and just ordered it from every shop I could. No one ever did get it, but I ended up knowing Tower 333 by heart.
Fast forward to June 23, 1990, which doubles as my wedding anniversary so already in a good mood, I’m walking from the Astor Street subway stop toward the Island office on West 4th Street, which was just one flight up above Tower Records, the retail chain not the label. Conveniently, during both Tower’s and Island’s heydays, a perfect place for a vinyl addict to be located.
Meanwhile across the street from the building entrance, almost to Broadway, I see a massive, and I mean massive, pile of discarded records, both in box lots and loose. All of them 45′s. Must have been an old music publisher’s office that got gutted and curbed, I never did get to the bottom of that one. There’s a few guys sifting through them. Well I went into a whole other gear, my heart revved up, I ran and I dug in. I gouged this pile. I don’t remember for sure but I think the others just backed off as I was acting so irrationally, taking anything remotely interesting, basically being a pig.
I was in a panic and luckily Island was in a doorman building so I motioned to Spike, said doorman, to come watch my heap while I ran upstairs for boxes and help. I’m pretty sure I dragged Yegelwel down, definitely Karen Yee (she still works at Island), Kathy Kenyon, Hugo Burnham and Denny Cordell too. I needed all of them. There was so much to carry. Even Chris wandered downstairs for some amusement when he heard.
Well the tricky part of this adventure was: a big chunk of these were test pressings. Most had, at best, a white label with little to no info hand written in. Then there were acetates, with only catalog and/or stamper numbers in the run-off grooves. Plus there were a couple thousand records so I’m trying to be a touch selective, checking them for any clues, details.
One of these acetates, sparkling purple-ish black in the morning sun has ‘T 333 A’ etched in it’s run off groove. Look closely at the scan of it above. No way. Not possible. Don’t even go there. Still, I added it to my mountain just in case and kept it all moving.
Later, in my office, I’m messing with all these records, some people are stopping by, wondering about the stupid commotion. We’re playing half a song, then hurrying on to the next single, there was so much obscure soul, multiple copies, enough for everyone. I’m losing it. Sorting through, I find that T 333 acetate and put it on the turntable, seriously not expecting anything as most of the others were garbage.
Lo and behold, it’s ‘Arnold Layne’. And in stereo. I just froze.
As Russell and Ron Mael wrote on Sparks’ recent seminal single ‘Good Morning’: “Thank you God/For having thought of me/I know your time is tight/But still you thought of me”. So true.