Rate Your Music, the self-explanatory online community where users go to organize their listening five possible stars at a time, is filled with Pink Floyd fans. The second highest-rated album on the site is Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, the result of over 25,000 user ratings. (Maybe you’ve heard of it?) Recently, user JonFox, in a possibly autobiographical five-star writeup, called it music for “long hair teens cruisin’ ‘n’ boozin’ action.” mohorte also gave his stamp of approval, writing, “Nunca he sabido demasiado bien cómo afrontar este disco.” Translation: “fucking awesome disc.”
Steve Liesch—a native of Millington, New Jersey, and known on RYM as tymeshifter—compares to the typical RYM user in that he loves his Floyd. Besides that, the numbers can do most of the explaining. There's no easy way to determine the site's most prolific users, but Liesch is clearly a one-percenter, logging more than 9,000 ratings and 9,000 reviews to go with the 9,000 releases he physically owns. (There is, of course, some overlap.) Grandma gave him his very first LP, the Beatles’ Second Album (“Roll Over Beethoven,” “She Loves You”). Soon, he’d have the confounding experience of discovering Pink Floyd as they were rolling out 1970’s Atom Heart Mother.
After donating to the Rutgers University radio station—the incentive was a half hour on the air—Liesch enjoyed his airtime so much that he joined their staff as a fill-in DJ in the mid ‘80s. A decade later, he ascended to New Jersey’s WFMU-FM and joined what he calls the “major league” of independent radio. On-air and off, his specialty has always been underground rock, mostly psych and garage from decades ago. Never heard of Ho Ho Laughing Monster? Frumious Bandersnatch? Liesch has you covered, probably on vinyl.
He doesn’t work in radio anymore; these days, Liesch is 56, married with twins, owns a small business in construction and storage, and lives in his boyhood home. If he isn’t cool, he is inspiration for anyone who decided to start or restart a record collection in the past few years, and that’s something. This past Monday, he rated 15 more releases, his apparent favorite being the 1967 self-titled album by Mad River (4.5/5). He does this most days. The rest of the world’s YouTube benders are downright unworthy.
With respect to RYM’s built-in personal messenger, where I first flagged Liesch down, we moved our conversation to email.
NOISEY: How many more records are you actually interested in hearing?
Liesch: I wish I could say I see light at the end of the tunnel. A dream goal of mine is to literally own all of the underground rock from the period circa 1962 to 1981. I do check eBay often for auctions that other collectors may have overlooked and don't bid the price through the roof. Local garage sales are a must, though they seldom turn up anything of interest to me at this late date. Most of the time, I just stick with my stable of dealer friends—people I can trust with reasonable prices and condition grading.
How would you organize your prodigious listening without RYM?
I confess to initially using RYM for selfish reasons. Collections as large as mine are quite difficult to manage. Many years ago, I started to find myself duplicating items in my collection, simply because I didn’t remember I already had it. What started out as a minor annoyance quickly grew into an expensive problem as it happened over and again. While I had already started using a notecard system, that was of little use while attending record fairs, because boxes of notecards aren’t very convenient to carry around either. Now, I can access my entire collection from a handheld device. But the benefits of this site quickly grew far beyond simple organization. I am constantly learning new things from other user reviews and discovering new releases I never would have known existed if not for this site. Finally, being able to share a lifetime’s worth of knowledge with a younger generation eager to learn about the music of my youth is very rewarding all by itself.
No artist has more five-star ratings from you than Pink Floyd, with six; however, one record of theirs, Atom Heart Mother, was awarded just two stars. Have you always loathed Atom?
I discovered Pink Floyd at the very tender age of 12, when my girlfriend’s older sister and her boyfriend took us with them to see an outdoor concert at the Trenton state fairgrounds in 1970. This was my very first rock concert. What an indoctrination! Needless to say, I was hooked for life. At the Trenton concert, they obviously performed much, or maybe all of Atom Heart Mother, but without all of the studio production. What I remember of it was great, and couldn’t wait for it to hit the stands. What ended up on vinyl was literally unrecognizable to my ears, and I was severely disappointed. This would prove to be one of their earliest brushes with outside influence from a producer, and it just didn’t go my way.
Psychedelic rock is romanticized for the first word as much as the second. Can you recall any significant drug experiences you've had that were enhanced by the music involved, or vice versa?
Surprisingly, I was not a major drug-head in my younger days, especially when it came to music. I once got wasted on my way to a Jethro Tull show, and still have no recollection of it to this day. I enjoy music too much to want to chance missing anything. Some shows are so good, the high surpasses anything artificially induced. A lot has to do with the performers themselves, and how much they seem to be into their performance that night. We all know that sometimes a guitar player may be particularly inspired during a guitar solo and just strike a "groove" that resonates with the audience. Or perhaps it is an accompanying light or media show such as was common with mid-‘70s Pink Floyd that really added to the musical impact. These intangibles would almost certainly sail right over your head without full control of your faculties, just as they did at that ill-fated Tull concert for me.
You have nearly a thousand releases on your wishlist, which is a number you want to keep down.
That RYM wishlist is so incomplete, it isn’t funny! I’ve started to enter the real one many times, but retreat because of time constraints. Now, I generally use it to bookmark newer releases of archived material that are constantly popping up. My real list—the one I take with me to record fairs and such—is about ten 11x14 pages of fine print. Many of the entries are so obscure, even professional dealers don’t recognize them. I discover them from record collector books and from recommendations by other dealer friends. Most of the entries on my real want list are terribly expensive. As with many others, I’ve been severely affected by the state of the economy for the past five years, and have had to curtail my hobby.
With an eensy bit of editing, your reviews page could be a bindable record guide. Have you tried writing about music in a formal setting?
I’ve never thought I had anywhere near enough talent to write professionally. Here on RYM, I often find myself apologizing for my oh-so-brief reviews, when there is clearly more to be said. But I have my reasons. I usually find myself skimming by the really long-winded reviews simply because I don’t have the time to read them. Who knows what pearls of wisdom I am missing out on? I can appreciate those reviewers that keep it brief and to-the-point. Better to say too little than too much, I feel. For the same reason as above, I simply don’t have the time to write an essay for every record I own. I started here on RYM in ’08, and I’m still only about three-quarters finished six years later. Another user has somehow been keeping track of the number of words I’ve typed on the site and tells me I’m rapidly approaching stratospheric levels. But if I have a neat anecdote that someone might find interesting, I’ll splurge here and there.
Do you hear the elements of garage and psych in much new music today? What do you think of Justin Bieber?
When I used to be on the Rutgers station, I was exposed to new stuff all the time, much of which I really liked. I found myself spending almost as much on new music as old. But once my old music want list started to include increasingly expensive items, I found I could no longer support a dual habit. I now focus almost exclusively on the remaining items on my want list. When it comes to garage and psych on the radio today, thankfully, my old station WFMU has a number of DJs who share my passion, as well as my age, and play lots of it regularly. Programs such as “Teenage Wasteland” with Bill Kelly, “Three Chord Monte” with Joe Belock and “The Cherry Blossom Clinic” with Terry T. are among the best, in my opinion, and are readily listenable online, either live or from their archives at WFMU.org. Justin who?
He’s this pothead singer from Canada. Forget it. For many of us, our journey through the world of rock compilations began with Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968. Is Nuggets overrated, underrated, or fairly rated?
Many of my radio program listeners used to ask me whether a hardcore collector such as myself thought compilations were for sissies. I never hesitated to respond with a resounding NO!!! Even my singles collection is only the tip of the iceberg. No one can ever own all of the truly excellent material found only on singles. This is where compilations offer the fine service of filling in major gaps in a collection. And they also help to expose newcomers to some of the best examples of a genre they are only casually investigating. Nuggets was the very first comp series to do this, re-exposing many listeners to some of the old chestnuts they first heard on the radio years earlier. The idea was such a hit it spawned countless imitators, many of which now surpass the original in quality of material and prestige among collectors. But few chance upon these comparatively rare compilations at first. Nuggets has the brand and the name recognition to attract new listeners to this day. I say bravo!
Mike Madden doesn't even know where to begin. He's on Twitter. - @_mikemadden