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Collector Matthew Chojnacki's passion is his profession

Everybody knows what it's like to love a hobby. Some of us know what it's like to love a job. But precious few get to experience the joy where vocation and avocation are one in the same.

By Susan Sliwicki

Everybody knows what it's like to love a hobby. Some of us know what it's like to love a job. But precious few get to experience the joy where vocation and avocation are one in the same.

Matthew Chojnacki is one such lucky duck. A Goldmine reader since the tender age of 12, this music lover, freelance journalist and pop-culture historian from Cleveland — naturally — has channeled his passion for collecting record sleeves into a new book: “Put The Needle on The Record: The 1980s at 45 Revolutions Per Minute” (Schiffer Publishing Ltd.) Chojnacki interviewed more than 125 cover artists and musicians, from Annie Lennox to Yoko Ono, to get the stories behind the cover images that defined a decade.

Matthew Chojnacki

Matthew Chojnacki

We turned the tables on Matthew to get the story behind the author and collector.

What inspired you to write this book?
MC: I have been collecting 7-inch and 12-inch singles for years and was always fascinated by the artwork, particularly from the 1980s. I was surprised at the lack of single cover-art books on the market, and years later, here it is.

How did you get into collecting?
MC: I have been buying singles (and albums) since I was probably 6 or 7 years old, but was particularly drawn to singles due to their limited availability. Albums, for the most part, stay in print. However, singles were only in record bins for a few weeks/months before they were deleted, and that was a big draw for me. Twenty to 30 years later, I still remember the story behind each one — where I bought it, who I was with, etc. It was a real experience for me. This book is essentially my diary from the ’80s, but I suspect that a lot of readers will feel that it was their story, too.

Where and how did you acquire the artwork for the sleeves shown in the book? What sleeves would you have liked to have featured in this book, but they couldn’t fit in?
MC: Every piece in the book is from my personal collection, with the exception of one —“Weird Al” Yankovic’s “I Love Rocky Road,” believe it or not. Al’s drummer, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, supplied “Rocky,” as it was incredibly hard to find.
I reviewed more than 10,000 singles, including international variations, before selecting the 250 that are included in the book. Of course, there were a few that just missed the cut. My favorite of these sleeves is probably Blondie’s “Atomic,” which is a brilliant single and sleeve.

What’s your all-time favorite picture sleeve/album cover art? Why?
MC: Anything by Grace Jones. Her sleeves, to this day, are striking and timeless. Grace was effectively a walking art installation. The book contains two of her singles, “Pull Up to the Bumper” (German 7-inch) and “My Jamaican Guy” (U.K. 12-inch), and both are head-turners.

Grace Jones My Jamaican Guy picture sleeve

If money was no object, what would you like to acquire for your collection, and why?
MC: An original copy of the landmark hip-hop 12-inch “Beat Bop.” It was designed by legendary artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and original pressings are shockingly rare. It’s a fun piece, and as far as I know, the most valuable sleeve in the history of hip-hop.

What’s the first record you ever acquired for your collection?
MC: My first proper 12-inch was “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang. However, my very first 7-inch single (eeek!) was a picture disc for Disney’s “Electrical Parade” theme. I bought it when I was 4 or 5, using my allowance. Still a trippy song, must say, and may very well have got the ball rolling for my love for electronic music.

What is the focus of your collection? How many items do you have in your collection?
MC: Aside from singles, I also have a nice collection of vinyl albums, limited-edition CD sets and ticket stubs (I still try to see at least one show per week). I also have a rule that if a new album is available in vinyl, I buy it in vinyl.

What was the most enjoyable part of working on this book, and why?
MC: I loved interviewing musicians and cover artists for the book. I am still pinching myself over my interviews with the likes of Annie Lennox, Yoko Ono, Gary Numan and Duran Duran. Totally surreal. The cover artists were fun, as well, and often remembered intricate details behind their covers as if they designed it yesterday.

Anything else you’d like to share about being a record collector?
MC: Support your local record store! Buy local, buy often. Also, keep an open mind and keep discovering new music. It’s out there.