Tell us a little bit about yourself [age, location, what you do, what you do for fun, etc.]: My name is Will Hodge, I’m 37, and I live in downtown Chicago, IL. I’m the Music Editor and Community Manager for NoiseTrade, a platform that connects artists and fans via a mutually beneficial exchange of music for data (email and zip code). I’m also a freelance pop culture journalist for a few different outlets like Rolling Stone and Paste. My favorite musical genres are punk, early hip-hop, new wave, classic country, folk, and alternative/college rock, but I’m pretty much an “all skate” kind of guy when it comes to my musical tastes. I’m an R.E.M. lifer, a rabid Dylan enthusiast, and The Beatles, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Fat Boys, Springsteen, and “Weird Al” all share equal footing in my musical heart. I’m a record collector, CD hoarder, and book addict and my preferred drugs of choice are ‘70s-‘80s 10” EPs, ‘90s CD compilations, and anything written by Dickens, Steinbeck, or Klosterman.
First album: The very first albums I can remember listening to on my own were from my parents’ record collection: Carole King’s Tapestry (one of the purest songwriting classics of all time) and The Beatles’ Second Album (a US compilation that captured their early “no ballads included” raucousness). The first cassettes I ever truly obsessed over were R.E.M.’s Document and the Star Wars Christmas album Christmas in the Stars. The first vinyl album I ever bought with my own money was Poor Old Lu’s Sin in 1994 and I freaked because it had a secret vinyl-only track called “Army Guy” on it.
Favorite album: Man, this is always such a tough one! How do you decide on the most important criteria to land the “favorite” moniker? I’ll have to weasel out and give a few different albums for a few different scenarios. Favorite personal albums: R.E.M.’s Monster, Prince’s Purple Rain, and Fat Boys self-titled debut. Favorite “I wish I was born a decade earlier” albums: Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s The Message, The Clash’s Sandinista!, and Blondie’s Autoamerican. Favorite feel good albums: Weezer’s blue album or The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound. Favorite fall albums: Counting Crows’ August and Everything After, Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, and Springsteen’s Nebraska. Favorite “always in the mood for it” albums: Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited, and R.E.M.’s Document.
Favorite Enjoy The Ride or Enjoy The Toons release: From the very first Best of Nicktoons announcement, I’ve been a huge fan of the Enjoy the Toons side of the house and I seriously love my Boober variant of the Fraggle Rock album. I’ve feverishly been looking forward to the label’s The Dark Crystal release since Ross gave me a sneak peek earlier this year and I’ll be the first in line the day that one goes up!
Favorite album artwork: This is an interesting one because so many iconic ones come to mind for me (London Calling, My Aim Is True, Parallel Lines, Mellon Collie) but lately I’ve really been digging the mixture of new artwork being commissioned for reissues and anniversary editions. I love what artists new things artists come up with based around albums or movie soundtracks that have been swirling around the pop culture collective consciousness for the last 20 or 30 years. The most recent example of this that I was struck by was the recent La-La Land Records 35th anniversary edition of the E.T. soundtrack. The cover art is deceptively simplistic perfection that seems to capture the spirit of the entire movie in a single drawn image. I wish that one got a vinyl press because that artwork deserves to be viewed larger than just a CD case.
Which album do you wish you owned on vinyl? How much time do you have? While I know almost any release can be obtained for the right amount of money via the internet, I’ve got a couple “must own” vinyl albums that I’ve never been able to find the right combination of price, condition, and funds. My top three under those criteria are R.E.M.’s Monster, Saturday Morning Cartoons’ Greatest Hits, and Petty’s Wildflowers.
What are your favorite record shops in your area? Prior to living in Chicago, I lived in Atlanta and Nashville where my favorite shops were Criminal Records, Wax n’ Facts, Grimey’s, The Great Escape, and the Third Man Records storefront. While I have visited a couple Chicago record shops since moving here, I haven’t found my regular spot just quite yet.
Favorite holiday themed album in your collection? Now we’re getting into the good stuff! I would have to say that my favorite holiday-themed album (that I actually own on vinyl) would probably be my Max Headroom 7” of “Merry Christmas Santa Claus (You’re a Lovely Guy)” from 1986, just for pure nostalgic purposes. It was never a big hit and certainly doesn’t get yearly play in the malls and grocery stores, but it’s such a quirky sonic snapshot of mid-‘80s pop culture that always makes me smile and brings back some really fond memories for me.
Favorite holiday themed record artwork? This one goes to Mondo’s 25th anniversary release of the Home Alone soundtrack by John Williams. The artwork on the front cover, inner gatefold, and back cover is a gorgeously detailed recreation of the interior and exterior of the McAllister house by artist Andrew Kolb that is just absolutely stunning. The die-cut windows on the cover reveal the inner sleeves that can be used to either give the house an illuminated yellow glow (complete with Kevin’s made-up party guests in two of the windows – I see you, MJ) or a blackened lights out look, depending on which side of the sleeve you want to go with. The inner gatefold of the interior of the house also has a lot of Kevin’s traps already in place (paint cans on the banister, ornaments under the windowsill, etc.) and there’s even a Little Nero’s pizza box in the trashcan on the back cover. All in all, the attention to detail that went into the artwork and the interactive connectivity of the artwork, die-cut aspects, and reversible sleeves makes this one a really special piece of the collection. Plus, Side B opens with The Drifters doing “White Christmas,” so it’s easy to get out your dad’s aftershave and have some fun with it!
Favorite holiday themed wax variant? While I’m totally fine with Christmas albums being pressed on red, green, or white wax, I do like it when artists and labels try to get a little more creative with their holiday wax. From my personal collection, I’d say that David Bazan’s Dark Sacred Night on solid blue and white-streaked wax is my favorite. It beautifully evokes a snowy night and perfectly fits the aesthetic of the chilled vibe of the record. Overall, I do think there could be a little more effort put into the vinyl variants of Christmas releases. How do we not have Christmas in the Stars on C3PO gold and R2-D2 blue/white variants, the Elf soundtrack on yellow/green vinyl, the Claymation Christmas Celebration soundtrack on California Raisin purple, or the Die Hard soundtrack on flesh-colored vinyl with smeared red streaks? C’mon labels, get at me, let’s do this!
Most unique holiday album in your collection? Hmmm… I’m not sure I have anything truly unique or hard to find in my holiday collection, but I am trying to get my hands on a super weird ‘80s vinyl single called “A Knightrider Christmas” by KITT the Amazing Car of the Future. It is a super insane nugget of ‘80s holiday foolishness that features KITT and Michael from Knight Rider (not sure why they made it one word on the vinyl single) finding a broken down Santa Claus and saving Christmas with some incredibly melodramatic lyrics, all laid out over the Knight Rider theme music. The music is not “holiday-fied” at all, but the lyrics do the more than their fair share of making the track feel Christmas-y enough. I recommend a trip to YouTube to hear the song, just so you can prove it to people who won’t believe that it exists.
What holiday albums do you wish you had in your collection? The answer to this question doesn’t lie in a single album, but in a couple different fan club collections. I would one day like to own all of the annual Christmas fan club releases from R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and The Beatles. I’m so glad that The Beatles camp is doing the Christmas vinyl box set reissues this year, but I’m happy to piece-meal the R.E.M. and Pearl Jam releases on an individual basis as each opportunity arises to pick them up here and there.
What holiday albums would you like to be pressed on vinyl? Again, how much time do you have? My list is pretty long on this one. I would love to see a vinyl pressing of the soundtrack to A Christmas Story, the first two volumes of the Happy Christmas compilations from Tooth and Nail Records, the Just Say Noel and O Come All Ye Faithful alt-rock comps from 1996, Hanukkah Rocks from The LeeVees, Christmas Caravan from Squirrel Nut Zippers, Jars of Clay’s Drummer Boy EP, a clean repress of New Edition’s Christmas All Over the World, and I would love it if MxPx would press Punk Rawk Christmas on vinyl.
If you were on a desert island and you could only fit three records safely in your suitcase, which ones would you take with you? Hmmm…. So tough! Probably R.E.M.’s Monster, The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound, and Weird Al’s Squeeze Box set that’s coming out this month. Gotta have some good music and some good laughs if you’re stranded on a desert island!
What are some of your favorite things about the holiday season? Holiday road trips with my wife are probably the number one thing I love about the season. No matter how busy things can get with jobs, school, and life, we can always hop in the jeep, crank some killer Christmas music, and have such an amazing time together during the 13-hour trip to see our families in Atlanta, GA. I also love that during the holiday season you can have your normal day-to-day shenanigans going on with a background of Christmas music, lots of lights, and red-and-green awesomeness everywhere. I’m a total sucker for all the hoopla. Oh, I am all about some chill time on the couch watching Christmas movies and Christmas-themed television episodes as well. I’m a bit of a connoisseur of crappy Christmas sitcoms, so hit me up if you need some TGIF or Must See TV holiday recommendations.
How will you be celebrating the holidays this year? Between all the light-wrapped trees, snow, red-and-green lights atop the John Hancock building, and the CTA holiday train, Chicago makes it pretty easy to get in the holiday spirit. So far this year, my wife and I took a drive up Lake Michigan in the snow and visited the Home Alone house. Hoping for a couple more good snows before we head out of town for Christmas. Of course, the season will officially be kicked off once the holy trinity of Christmas films/shows has been consumed: A Christmas Story, The Fat Albert Christmas Special, and Will Vinton’s A Claymation Christmas Celebration.
Since we are coming up on Thanksgiving, what are you thankful for? I know it’s super cliché to say my wife, but that’s totally what I’m most thankful for every year. As far as this year’s vinyl offerings, I’d say I’m most thankful for R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People reissue, the Weird Al Squeeze Box set, and Dylan’s Trouble No More archive release.