Interview & Photos by Eilon Paz
ntroducing London-based collector Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy: the woman behind Classic Album Sundays, a self-proclaimed “audio diva,” a mom, and a lover of cosmic-disco.
Colleens’ CAS listening sessions take place in cities all over the world and feature true high-end audiophile systems. It’s a great idea—the perfect meeting point of cool music nerds and lovers of art and technology. Just like Dust & Grooves, she brings the community closer together one record at a time. She started out collecting classic rock and pop albums, moved on to punk and dance music, and began her own radio show in high school. She then started spinning records and was mentored by David Mancuso, known for his seminal parties at The Loft since the 1970s. Together they put out the successful The Loft compilations.
Who are you Colleen?
Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy, originally from Massachusetts via New York City and now in London
What’s playing right now on your turntable?
For the past few days I have been obsessed with Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis. I recently got a double 45 pressing on Analogue Productions which sounds sweet. Unlike a lot of today’s younger singers, Dusty was less concerned with vocal acrobatics and more about actually feeling the music and it comes across.Unlike a lot of today’s younger singers, Dusty was less concerned with vocal acrobatics and more about actually feeling the music and it comes across.
Everyone knows “Son of a Preacher”. What’s your favorite song on this album?
The album’s opener “Just a Little Lovin” has been doing it for me. It is one of my seminal “wake-up” songs along with Dionne Warwick’s and Aretha Franklin’s “I Say A Little Prayer” and Aretha’s “Try Matty’s”. The ladies have these morning songs down.
What was your latest purchase?
The new Rhino re-issue of Love’s Forever Changes which was re-mastered from the analogue tape and sounds delicious. This album has long been a favourite of mine, but I never had an original copy. The previous reissues have been less than spectacular and didn’t capture the sonics and spirit of the original, but it’s a testament to the music that the album not only held up but also got increasingly better with age. The lyrics helped signal in the end of the idealism of the hippy movement (in San Francisco they often called the band “Hate”) and the complex and cleverly woven tapestry of musical influences (punk, mexican, show tunes, folk, psychedelic rock) always reveals something new. This new re-issue takes the experience to another level. The first time I dropped the needle on “Alone Again Or” I cried. It is that good.The first time I heard this new re-issue mastered from the original analog tapes it brought tears to my eyes. This record is like a fine wine – it gets better and better with age.
My love of music was sparked through receiving my first transistor radio at the age of seven. I was intrigued with discovering music on the different radio stations and spent a lot of time turning the dial searching for a better song, the one that would change my life. I grew up in a big family with a lot of young uncles and aunts, ranging from teens to early twenties and they were all into music. I got my first portable integrated turntable/amp/speaker setup around the age of twelve and started borrowing my Uncle Dennis’ records by artists like The Beatles, Crosby Stills and Nash and The Rolling Stones.
Another album I borrowed from my Uncle Dennis but I returned his original and bought my own. Good niece.One of my favourite albums in my adolescence. I borrowed it from my Uncle Dennis and still haven’t given it back. Bad niece.
The Moody Blues’ concept album, Days of Future Passed, quickly became my favourite and I still have not returned it to Dennis (even though I recently bought another copy – bad niece). I started making mix tapes but the sounds were more classic. When I entered high school I joined Drama Club and there was a senior by the name of John Skurchak who brought his Walkman to rehearsals and played me music I had never heard. I was turned onto an alternative world of music which included artists such as Lene Lovich, The B-52s and Elvis Costello. Soon after I bought The Sex Pistols Never Mind the Bollocks while I was with my Mum at the mall. I think I even understood the irony at the time.I bought this with my Mum at the mall. I even understood the irony at the time.
Moving on and growing up, from the classic pop albums, to more rebellious punk music and then…?
After my Pistols’ moment, I discovered a radio show called “Nocturnal Emissions” hosted by Oedipus on WBCN. I remember hearing Brian Eno’s “Baby’s On Fire” transmitting across the airwaves, into my ears, and lodging firmly in my brain. It was intense. Thus began an obsession to track down music that I personally liked but wasn’t being force-fed by “top forty” and classic rock stations. When I first heard Oedipus play “Baby’s On Fire” on WBCN, I was blown away.
I embarked upon my Bowie-rite-of-passage, started working at a record shop after school and on weekends, did a radio show on my high school’s 10-watt radio station for the duration of my high school years and started collecting records at cool spots like Planet, Nuggets, Newbury Comics and Loony Tunes in Boston. Through an open mind, open ears and this multi-faceted exposure I was digging up all kinds of biscuits, learning about many different musical genres. It was the autodidact’s “School of Rock”.I did a Classic Album Sundays session with three of Bowie’s producers – Ken Scott, Tony Visconti & Nile Rodgers. They even brought multi-tracks and we got to hear some amazing Bowie acappellas incluing “Five Years” where he cries.Yep – I’m a Bowie Freak.Oh yes, I am a Bowie Freak. Some of the early recordings of “Moonage Daydream” and “Hang on to Yourself” under the moniker Arnold Corns.
You created the listening sessions “Classic Albums Sundays” which runs now in MULTIPLE locations in the world. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea and what inspired you to start it?
Classic Album Sundays naturally developed out of my lifelong passion with music, my experience in most aspects of the music biz and my friendship and work with David Mancuso of The Loft. I know a thing or two about records, have worked in radio, record shops, record labels, music journalism, independent music marketing and as an artist, producer and international DJ and all of these experiences have culminated in CAS.
One of my classic albums – The Butthole Surfers’ Locust Abortion Technician. Most memorable line, “And if you see your Mom this weekend, be sure and tell her ‘Satan! Satan! Satan!’”. Brings a smile every time.
The major influence would be my mentor David Mancuso who has held his seminal Loft parties in New York City since 1970. I first attended his private members-only parties around 1992 when he was on East Third Street between Avenues B and C. The music, the state-of-the-art sound system and the intimate and psychedelic atmosphere blew me away. David mentored me and I first started playing records at The Loft with him and then filling in for him. Doing twelve-hour sets on Koetsu Onyx moving coil cartridges (currently a single one retails for nearly $9k) to the most discerning dance floor in the world was initially daunting but the best musical education a budding DJ could get, especially when the few predecessors included Larry Levan. When I moved to London in 1999, I asked Nuphonic if they would like to release The Loft compilations David and I were putting together (they jumped at the chance) and then news of The Loft traveled worldwide. A couple of years later I along with some friends started putting on parties in London based on The Loft template. David came over to act as musical host at our Lucky Cloud events and we took out a loan to buy a high-end system based on the equipment used at the Loft, which is a number of audiophile components including Mark Levinson electronics, Klipschorn loudspeakers and Koetsus cartridges (the hi-fi components are set up as an early prototype of a club PA using delays but not compression or EQ). My husband and I started getting into hi-fi ourselves and as we also house two of the parties’ Klipschorns, we enjoyed playing music for people on our lovely hi-fi when they came over. Our friends would hear their favourite records in a completely different way. One time after listening to a whole album (Brian Eno once again) I called it a “Classic Album Sunday” and voila. I knew I had to share the listening experience.
Show us a few of the records you collected from that time at the loft?
I used to love to play Romanthony “Bring U Up” even though the mixing, mastering and/or pressing sounded pretty dreadful. But it is such a good song and it is by a truly renegade artist who I also supported on my “Club 89” years on WNYU FM. I was also working with Joe Claussell at Dance Tracks and Spiritual Life Music in the middle of the 90’s and loved the mixes he was doing of Ten City. These remixes sound mind-blowingly beautiful on that system and the dancers could really express themselves to the jammy musical journeys. Danny Tenaglia’s “Equinox” as Code 718 reminds me of my first visits to The Loft and with its “E2-E4” sample it can still bring a tear to my eye as I immerse myself into it in the middle of a dance floor or behind the decks. Another tune I heard at The Loft in my early days and one which I never get sick of playing is Dexter Wansel’s “Life on Mars” – true stratospheric funk. There are so many including some newer records such as Gregory Porter’s “1960 What?” which should be added to the canon as I played that record to rapturous applause every single Lucky Cloud party in the last year. Thankfully there are still some future classics being released.I supported a lot of New York house artists on my weekly radio show Club 89 on WNYU. Romanthony was a favourite and he would come up for interviews and hang out in the studio. Its great having these signed records in my collection.Louis was another guest on my radio show on WNYU. We had a great “conversation”. People didn’t even know when they were being interviewed when we had our on-air discussions.I worked with Joe at Dance Tracks and Spiritual Life Music. I gave a lot of support to his remixes that he was just starting during the time I worked with him. I love his sound. The compilation series David and I produced for Nuphonic. Both volumes went down very well.I heard Life on Mars for the first time at The Loft on East Third Street and I still never get sick of it. The punch of the bass is bad-ass.
What’s your current setup at home?
In the listening room we have a Koetsu Rosewood MC Cartridge, a Nottingham Analogue Ace Space Deck, Rega IOS Phono Stage, Mark Levinson ML-1 Pre Amp, two different sets of mono amps which are Linn Klimax Solos and Quad Mono Blocks, Klipschorn Loudspeakers, ISOL 8 Substation Integra Power Conditioner and Chord Interconnects and cabling. For my “DJ” set up I still have my original Technics 1200s and my reconditioned CMA 10-2DL Bozak – the only DJ mixer I have ever had and the best one I have ever heard. I am a bit of an audio diva I suppose. Oh well. I could be called worse.
Please name a few records which are sonically your favorite.
There are so many records that are my sonic favourites but one of my most recent purchases of which I am very proud is an original mono pressing of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It has the gibberish on the run out grooves and the original “cut-outs” and still plays very well indeed. I try to find original pressings as they are usually the best versions (but not always).My prize and joy: an original mono pressing of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with the paper cut-out inserts. I hope nobody actually cut these out!
For our Led Zep Houses of the Holy session I had to find the original 1841 Broadway version mastered by Bob Ludwig. The mastering job is such an important link in the process and Ludwig is a master mastering engineer. You can see his “RL” initials etched in the run-out.The mastering engineers initials are often etched in the run-out groove. “RL” is Bob Ludwig – one of the top mastering engineers.I was specifically looking for the original 1841 Broadway pressing of “Houses of the Holy”. On subsequent releases, the record label featured Atlantic’s new address.The controversial Aubrey Powell sleeve for “Houses of the Holy”. Some thought it depicted child sacrifice but Jimmy Page defended it saying children were houses of the holy. Atlantic released it wrapped in paper.
So what is it with audiophiles obsession for mono recordings? Does it sounds better? Truer?
I can only speak personally as I don’t necessarily agree all mono pressings are better. When it comes to pop albums that were originally mixed in mono I think the mono mix is part of the artistic vision. For example, with Sgt Pepper, the band members were present for the mono mix but when it came time to do the stereo mix, they left it to producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick to deal with in their absence. Stereo players weren’t very popular and the use of stereo in the late sixties was still a bit gimmicky as they were learning how to use It properly. However, when it comes to most jazz records I actually prefer it on stereo as the recordings are more of a recorded representation of their live performance. You can hear where the players are standing – Coltrane on the right, Adderley on the left and Davis in the middle, and so on. Blue Note’s Rudy Van Gelder started to record all of the sessions in both mono and stereo starting in 1957 so the “authenticity” is still there.
Do you know any collectors who only collect mono albums?
I don’t personally know of any but there is a guy called Jeff Conolly known as “Monoman” and he is a staple on the Boston music scene. He is a mono fiend and is in a Beantown band called The Lyres – I used to check out their garage-rock shows as a teenager. He also used to have the record shop Looney Tunes where I found a lot of great nuggets.I worked at a record shop while in high school and my manager was a jazz enthusiast. He turned me onto Mingus by giving me a cassette. It quickly became on of my favorite albums ever.
Vinyl collecting is mostly dominated by men, and it seems that the high end audiophile world is even more extreme in that sense. How did you paved your way to be such a prominent figure in this world? Did you have to prove yourself harder?
The best and most useful thing to do is to forget about the gender issue and just get on with doing what you love. Of course there is the old boys’ club and I have had to deal with my fair share of sexism from a small minority of men (and sometimes women!) but most people have been incredibly supportive. Better to focus on the positive rather than be dragged down by the negative. In the words of Mr. Brown, “We all go to the same blood bank.” ‘Nuff said.
High end audio system must be backed up with the purest input source. In our case, early pressed vinyl which was mastered directly from the analouge masters. Is that a true fact?
The originals are not always the best pressings and sometimes even original pressings can come from two different mastering engineers and one is usually better than another. There is a lot of work in researching the best pressings! But with a high-end audiophile system, it does pay to have the best pressing you can get your paws on as the system brings forth more details, it can also highlight inadequacies. But when it is right it is so amazingly wonderful that it makes it all worthwhile.
Can you name a few labels to follow?
For audiophile labels I can recommend ORG (Original Recording Group), Analogue Productions and some of the records on Mobile Fidelity. For classical music, Pete of Peacefrog has started The Electric Recording Company. For indie music I think the productions on Domino Recordings sound great. And for electronic dance labels I like the sound on Innervisions and of course my own label Bitches Brew (plug, plug).
Since you obviously collect mostly originally analogue mastered albums or remastered re-isues, do you have any special websites or channel where you buy records?
I still use Discogs and MusicStack but just Google which pressings people like best. Steve Hoffman’s forum is pretty good for that although I find some of the banter can verge on the ridiculous. At the end of the day, listening to various pressings one after the other and doing “A/B”s is the only way that truly works.
Do you have a record collecting philosophy? Any special routines when you enter a store?
It depends on the size of the shop and how much time I have. When it is a smaller more “curated” shop like the ones in Japan I try to go through everything whether it is in a bin or on the floor. If I have less time and the shop is huge, then I have to go through certain sections but I usually go through all of the rock/pop/soul/dance records and if I have enough time then jazz.An original banana! I found this while in high school. Too bad half of the sticker is ripped off but its nice to see the pink banana underneath.Another fabulous record sleeve on this original pressing of Soft Machine’s debut. The circular disc is rotatable so you can change the front image. I wonder how much money they spent on that.I remember buying this at Bleecker Bobs in the mid-eighties. I had heard Captain Beefheart referenced so many times it was time to check it out. Luckily I didn’t start with “Trout Mask Replica”!
Do you ever go thru the $1 bins?
I used to do that all the time. In fact, that is how I built up most of my disco collection. However, being a working Mum does prevent me from doing this on a regular basis nowadays. Once our daughter flies from the nest I will console myself by rolling my sleeves up and getting right back in there.
How do you organize your collection?
Overall it is separated by genre as that is the easiest way for me to find something for CAS or one of my DJ sets. Some of those sections are alphabetized, some of the single sections are grouped by label or artist and some are not organized at all. But I can find everything and that is what matters.
What do you look for in a record?
Both the music and the quality have to be great otherwise it is not worth having. If I had unlimited space I could store “stuff” but I prefer to have records that I will actually play. Everything in my collection is to be played and enjoyed.Another one of my favourite classic albums of all time, Black Uhuru’s Dub Factor. This is a true comedown classic and a sonic delight. All of the songs were remixed by Paul ‘Groucho’ Smykle who is a master in the studio.
Do you think collecting vinyl helps preserve our musical heritage and culture?
Of course I do! Its great to have high resolution back up copies but records and tapes are the real artifacts.
What’s your partner’s reaction?
He is similarly obsessed. I couldn’t be with somebody who isn’t. I have found that most women in music have partners who are also deeply into music. Strangely it doesn’t often work this way with men and hearing them complain that their wife “just doesn’t understand” gets my back up.
What’s your comfort record, the one you can always go back to? What makes it so special?
Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions. It is obvious and I am sure a lot of people feel the same way but there is a reason for it. The music is incredible, the message is deep and the spirit is uplifting. That’s all we really need in a record and Stevie’s got it.
Any record that will bring you to tears?
“Little Green” on Joni Mitchell’s album Blue. The song is about the daughter Mitchell gave up for adoption. She was young, starting a creative career during a time when women rarely did that and she had no money or means to take care of her baby. She gave her daughter up and in this song she sings about what she thinks her daughter is doing and what kind of life she now has. I’m nearly crying even thinking about it! When we feature this album at ClassicAlbum Sundays I make sure I have put out the Kleenex.“Little Green” makes me cry nearly every time. I can’t imagine how Joni Mitchell can perform it live. The listening experience is so emotional, I can’t imagine living it.
What about a record that never leaves your record box?
For DJ-ing purposes, there are two classics that have always worked the dance floor and I never get tired of them: the cosmic-disco of Harry Thuman’s Underwater and the cosmic-funk of Johnny Harris’ Odyssey. After all, my DJ moniker is ‘Cosmo’ for a reason.I have to stop myself from putting this into my record box each time I do a set. It is my cosmic-disco classic.
Show us a few of your favorite album covers
I love the UK Vertigo cover of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn as it was created by the record label’s marketing department. It is more Andy Warhol-inspired “commercial art” and the mass produced feel seems to reflect the industrialized nature of Kraftwerk very well. I also love the back cover of “Ralf and Florian” where they are looking at each other with this mass of keyboards surrounding them in their studio. I love abstract and surreal covers like Dave Brubeck’s Time Out and Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. John Coltane’s Blue is fabulous as not only is a great portrait of the artist but also gives a nod to Picasso’s ‘Blue’ period.I love the UK Vertigo cover of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn as it was created by the record label’s marketing department. It is more Andy Warhol-inspired “commercial art” and the mass produced feel seems to reflect the industrialized nature of Kraftwerk very well.I also love surreal artwork on album covers. Was this a depiction of what was going on in Nick Drake’s head at the time?
Is there an artist or a label you’re trying to complete?
Not really. I can’t think of an artist or label where every single release is absolutely amazing although there are some that are better than others. I collect music rather than things.
Regrets! Tell us about a great record or two that got away from you.
There are some records that I sold when I needed more space. I was heavily into the dance thing in the mid nineties and didn’t think I would ever want my old Grunge records. I had a lot of promo Sub Pop stuff that I sold. Still makes me feel sore.
Was there a particular person who inspired you to collect records, a role model in the art of record collecting?
I have had a mentor in audio which is David Mancuso. But regarding collecting records, I have not had a mentor. I find most collectors are more into volume and are okay with having records sitting there unplayed. I can’t do that. I am much more about the music.
What do you want to happen to your collection when you check out?
If my daughter is into it, I would love for her to have them. If not, I would like the records donated as a collection to some kind of archive.
Who would you like to see profiled next on Dust & Grooves?
My record collection probably tells the story of my life better than I could in words.
Colleen Murphy and many other vinyl collectors are featured on the Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting book.
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