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‘Classic Album Sundays’: Records The Way They Were Meant To Be Heard

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“When you have the correct set up, the correct cartridges, the correct turn table, and it’s set up correctly, vinyl sounds better than digital,” Colleen Murphy says. (Courtesy photo)
“When you have the correct set up, the correct cartridges, the correct turn table, and it’s set up correctly, vinyl sounds better than digital,” Colleen Murphy says. (Courtesy photo)

“Classic Album Sundays” is a gathering for audiophiles and vinyl purists and people looking for a good time. It’s for lovers of rock and roll and aficionados of music history. It’s for folks committed to the belief that listening to records can be a sacred experience.

The formula is pretty straight forward: Meet at a pub on the first Sunday of each month with the lights low and conversation silenced to listen uninterrupted to immaculate vinyl on terrific hi-fi gear (the set up in Boston cost as much as $40,000, founder Colleen Murphy tells me).

Beginning at 5 p.m. this Sunday, June 9, the faithful gather at Meadhall, 4 Cambridge Center, Cambridge, to take in David Bowie's celebrated 1972 album "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.”

“When you have the correct set up, the correct cartridges, the correct turn table, and it’s set up correctly, vinyl sounds better than digital,” Murphy says.

“Classic Album Sundays” founder Colleen Murphy. (Courtesy photo)
“Classic Album Sundays” founder Colleen Murphy. (Courtesy photo)

Murphy presented her first “Classic Album Sundays” public listening session in London in October 2010. She grew up here in Holliston, left for college in New York, where she resided from 1986 to ’99, then she moved to the UK. She’s DJed in clubs under the name Cosmo, worked in record shops, hosted dance parties, done some radio, marketed music. And some years back she began holding record listening sessions during Sunday lunches with friends at her home.

“They would hear details they could never hear before,” she says.

So Murphy decided to make it a public event at a London pub. The BBC covered the third one and, she says, “It just kind of blew up overnight. … People loved the idea. I sold out all my sessions."

Murphy launched “Classic Album Sundays” satellites in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and, last year, New York. Then in April, she came here to help Omar Roca launch his Cambridge version. (She won’t be here this Sunday.) Roca’s version comes out of his own “Ears on the Couch” listening sessions he had with friends at his Boston home, Murphy says.

With the lights low and conversation silenced, the audience at a recent London "Classic Album Sundays" listens uninterrupted to immaculate vinyl. (Courtesy photo)
With the lights low and conversation silenced, the audience at a recent London "Classic Album Sundays" listens uninterrupted to immaculate vinyl. (Courtesy photo)

It harkens back to the era when people would buy, say, the Beatles’ just released “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band," rush home to their apartment, put the needle on the record, and lie on the rug with friends taking it all in. It’s a corrective to the endless shuffle mode that seems so often to define music listening today. It’s about slowing down and focusing.

“People don’t have the time to listen to albums from beginning to end,” Murphy says.

The Cambridge "Ziggy Stardust" program begins at 5 p.m. with two hours of food, drinks and casual listening to music related to the featured album—in this case, things like earlier Bowie, T. Rex, Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Syd Barrett, and Led Zeppelin. “These are things that would have inspired Bowie,” Murphy says. “Things that were kind of in the air, the musical zeitgeist.”

Then the main event begins at 7 p.m. with a talk on the history of “Ziggy Stardust" and focused listening to the album. Organizers describe the record thusly: “Often hailed as one of the albums that signaled the official end of the 60’s (along with Roxy Music’s eponymous debut), ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ is where rock/pop meets the theater and is widely considered to be Bowie’s finest masterpiece.”

“Vinyl has this whole ritual to it that digital doesn’t have,” Murphy says—putting the needle on the record, flipping the record. “Vinyl because of its inconvenient nature … you have to interact with it. ... You have to sit with it.”

Sunday will be “Classic Album Sundays”'s second event here. Next up on July 21, they plan to listen to Stevie Wonder’s 1973 album “Innervisions” for its 40th anniversary. They aim to settle into a regular first-Sunday-of-the-month schedule in fall, with Oedipus, the former program director for the late great WBCN, presenting the Ramones’ 1976 self-titled debut album on Sept. 8 and then listening to Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 album “Electric Ladyland,” on the occasion of its 45 anniversary, on Oct. 6.

“These classic albums, they’re classics for a reason—because they’re albums,” Murphy says. “They were listened to from beginning to end.”

Correction: An earlier version of this essay incorrectly listed the date "Ziggy Stardust” was released.

This program aired on June 5, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

Greg Cook Twitter Arts Reporter
Greg Cook was an arts reporter and critic for WBUR's The ARTery.

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