The Vinyl Five:
Douglas Rushkoff

The Vinyl Five Concept

Victrola's monthly series features artists, authors, DJs, producers, athletes, and other cultural icons discussing their five essential albums on wax and beyond—an exploration of individuals' personal soundtracks and the music that inspires them.

Douglas Rushkoff

Image by Robin Critchell

Named one of the “world’s ten most influential intellectuals” by MIT, Douglas Rushkoff is an author and documentarian who studies human autonomy in a digital age.

His twenty books include the just-published Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires, as well as the recent Team Human, based on his podcast, and the bestsellers Present ShockThrowing Rocks at the Google Bus,Program or Be Programmed, Life Inc, and Media Virus.

He also made the PBS Frontline documentaries Generation Like,The Persuaders, and Merchants of Cool. His book Coercion won the Marshall McLuhan Award, and the Media Ecology Association honored him with the first Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity.

In this exclusive Q&A, Douglas opens up about 5 favorite albums, rare and weird titles in his vinyl collection, his love of music, and more.

1. The Monkees: Monkees

The Monkees was the first record I ever owned. I still have my original copy on Colgems. My older brother was into the Beatles and the Yankees, so I chose the Monkees and the Mets. And I’ve never looked back. Sure, the Beatles were the “better” band and all, by any conventional standards. But the Monkees were a “meta” band. They may have been chosen and thrown together like the cast of a reality show, but they still had to figure out how to play music together and be a band.

Yes, they had the Wrecking Crew playing most of their instruments on most of their tracks…but so did the Beach Boys! And have you ever listened to the Wrecking Crew’s hits over the years? Happy Together? Be My Baby? Mrs. Robinson? The Monkees foresaw the bizaare, self-refeential media universe we live in today. It was my favorite record when I was five, and I stand by it today.

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In a world of streaming and almost limitless titles available, why do you think people are going back to vinyl?

I was one of those strange and frequently disparaged members of the amateur audiophile crowd who hated CDs from the beginning. They just didn’t sound “right” to me. My friends who knew the technology better insisted that I was just being superstitious. CDs had sampling rates higher than the human ear could detect, and better frequency response than any piece of vinyl. I should just “get over it,” and adapt to the new reality.

But I just couldn’t. Tracks from the best recorded albums simply sounded buzzy to me on CD. A bit like the “sawtooth” wave I could generate from my analogue synthesizer. No, I couldn’t hear a 44,000 hz sampling cycle, but I could sense its discontinuous texture flowing through music. Sure, there were none of the pops or surface static of a record, but there wasn’t the same sense of continuity in the sound, either. It was technically “there,” but wasn’t soothing. I could hear the music with my ears, but somehow my body wasn’t getting the message. The air in the room didn’t vibrate quite the same way. There was signal, but no impact.

Years later, I read a study done in Europe comparing the impact of playing Pacalbel’s Canon for patients in a psych ward on records vs. CDs. Sure enough, the records reduced their depression and anxiety, while the CD’s had no effect. By then, even digital audio experts were beginning to acknowledge that CD’s were missing some essential part of the music experience. Sony came up with an high resolution optical disc format called SACD, but it was too late. Everybody had moved on to downloading mp3 files, which were even worse than CDs, but easier to trade (steal) through Napster and other “sharing” networks.

And while digital audio formats have evolved toward increasing losslessness and streaming convenience, there’s something I still prefer about not losing anything at all. Just playing the original. The record. The physical artifact of the event. It’s not just the ritual of cleaning and placing and dropping a stylus and turning it over. It’s holding the music in my hands, and knowing where on the record each song lives. It’s like house with rooms, compatible with the spatial quality of human memory, not the numerical track numbers of digital lists.

2. ELO: Out of the Blue

I picked ELO’s Out of the Blue because of my history with these records. I still have the copy of this two-album set I bought at Sam Goody’s in the 1970s. And the stereo I use today to play it is the same stereo I purchased to play this record in 1979. (Well, this was the record I brought with me to the hifi shops to test the speakers and pick the pair of KEF 104ABs I’ve had to this day.)

But as it turns out, a vast majority of the copies of this album sold at Sam Goody’s over those years were illegal bootlegs. ELO didn’t see a dime. I chose this album both to have a new pressing, and to make sure the band gets paid for all my years of listening to this record.

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What’s your favorite record store?

In high school, my favorite record store was Harvey Sound in White Plains, which had a whole lot of audiophile records by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, as well as a lot of import editions from Japan, which were recorded on higher quality vinyl or in cool colors.

By college, I was a fan of Bleecker Bobs. He wasn’t mean if he knew you, and he had a lot of rare singles and EPs that no one else did. I got my Special EP in there, even a cassette of the Dead Boys playing at Max’s Kansas City the week before….It was a special place, with one-of-a-kind stuff you almost had to convince him to let you buy. It wasn’t about the money, but whether you were a person who could appreciate the record.

These days, I tend to buy my records used. There’s a great store right in my village, Clockwork Records. I have seen lots of records at Barnes and Noble and Target and places like that, but haven’t been tempted. I’ll be checking out Victrola, though, which seems more dedicated to the culture around vinyl than simply convincing a girl to buy a pink Taylor Swift collector’s recording on vinyl that she may never own a turntable to play.

3. The Clash: Give Em Enough Rope

The Clash: Given Em Enough Rope is just one of the best, crispest, most forward and in-your-face recordings I’ve ever owned. The only album that compares on this front might be Gang of Four Entertainment.

The Clash were originally considered a punk band, but got disowned by a lot of the “movement” when they signed a deal with Columbia records. This was the height of that collaboration, where they had the best of their original spirit and the best that recording studios had to offer.

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What is the most important album in your current collection? What is the rarest? What is the weirdest?

I wonder what it means for an album to be important. There’s important to me (The Monkees) but important to the world? Revolver? Leonard Bernstein conducting Rhapsody in Blue? I have a friend who always pulls out John Lenon’s Imagine and displays it on my shelf.

The rarest, and probably most valuable, is an original 1971 Cold Spring Harbor - Billy Joel’s first studio album. But it was recorded wrong and speeds up as it goes. There’s lots of bootlegs of this thing, but this is original one. I found it at a college record fair in the 80s but no one knew what it was. I don’t listen to it, but I should sell it to some collector so I can buy some other stuff.

I do have weird stuff. Very short-run pressings of 1970s movie soundtracks. Phantasm, The Omen… I have some old radio recordings. One person’s weird is another’s normal. I have a single of Liza Minelli singing two songs from the Broadway musical Chicago, after went on for a few weeks to replace Gwen Verdon who had polyps. Maybe the weirdest is a recording Marshall Mcluhan made with John Cage. They just sit in a room making no sound. There’s a slight creak of one of their chairs on the second side. That’s about it. Pure record. The medium is the message.

4. David Byrne: My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

I picked David Byrne and Brian Eno’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts because it checks off a whole lot of boxes. Eno’s Ambient records were a huge part of my life, as were the Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, and the “found” tracks that some bands like Throbbing Gristle were layering into their music.

My Life in the Bush of Ghosts brought these practices to new technical and artistic levels. It’s the kind of complex sound that demands a moving coil cartridge going through a true turntable stage preamp. It pushes the boundaries of what is possible in vinyl, and I figured I should have a clean, high quality pressing to experience it.

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On a 10-scale how much of an audiophile are you really (One: if it sounds ok, I’m ok. Ten: I’m extremely picky and need it to sound just so!)?

I’m a particular kind of audiophile. Legally, probably around an 8. But that’s only because I don’t believe in spending obscene amounts of money on audio equipment when there are people starving in the world. I mean, those $20,000 or $40,000 systems seem kind of dumb to me. I could see building them for a museum, and letting people visit and experience the “simulation” of sound. But for a regular person? Really? Like, do you need your own iMax, too?

I do like assembling a great system that punches above its weight. Like a killer $17 bottle of wine. It’s still real money. $17 is more than people in some countries make in a month, right? So we have to appreciate that. While people are dying in climate crisis and war zones, we are here talking about playing $30 records on $3000 stereos.

But I do appreciate certain aspects of well recorded and properly played sound. But, I’d rather find a guy in Ohio who I can pay $150 to retip a Denon DL-103r cartridge to sound like a million bucks, than to pay $15,000 for a cartridge that only me and a few people will hear, and 90% of the time we won’t be aware of the difference. Plus, the room has so much more to do with what you hear than the equipment, in most cases. People go nuts with this stuff, and they tend not to have the ears or the spaces to appreciate it.

I had a guitar teacher who once told me that he’d learn with his students that the more expensive the ax, the less talented the student. 

5. Bardo Pond: Volume 9

Bardo Pond: Volume 9, has just come out. It wasn’t released when I put in my requests, which is why I chose it. I love Bardo Pond, and the relaxed urgency of their recordings. They don’t care about how long a song may be, and don’t treat their tracks as so precious, but this is what opens them to a whole other way of using music and sound and silence and drone. This is music as resonance - closer to gamelan than rock and roll.

But I got this unreleased album because it reminds me of what it was like to get a record when I was a kid, before you could download something the moment it was released. Unless it was a record popular enough to be played on its entirety on a major FM radio station, you could only hear a new record by being lucky enough to have enough money and good enough timing to get it in the store when it came out. And if you were that person, your friends would come over to hear it because you were the one who had it. We didn’t call it a “listening party” or anything so advanced. It was simply “I have the new Elvis Costello.” “I’ll be right over.”

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Besides vinyl or music, what else do you collect?


Headphones or speakers?

Speakers. Listening with headphones is like having sex without your body. In high school, I used to like listening to The Yes Album in my AKG 240 headphones - but that was because of the way they moved stuff back and forth between the channels. It’s definitely a headier experience, that misses a lot of chakras. Less healing. Stay up all night (doing something intense) and then in the morning play Carry On from the CSNY Deja Vu record. You’ll want it to be on speakers.

Is there any specific person, place or moment that minted your love of music?

I always loved music, but maybe didn’t fully understand how a true album lover loves music until this episode.

I was staying in a millionaire’s guest house, writing my rave novel Ecstasy Club. There was a lot of good will in those days, and this guy just wanted me to have the freedom to finish this book so he let me stay there for months. It was basically pool house, but it had its own woods, grassy areas, and a gorgeous swimming pool with cliffs and rocks…like a whole world unto itself. One weekend, a couple friends came over for an all night party. And we were in a deeply ‘other’ state but my friend, the music writer David Prince, had the presence of mind and body to keep putting on records, one at a time. And each one came at the perfect moment, delivered its arc, and took us to the next place. It was when he put on the Stone Roses album (Second Coming) that our conversation turned to the records themelves, and the way this album - the band’ second - didn’t quite get the reception it deserved because they had let more than five years go by since their debut.

And it fit our conversation and the evening even better with that knowledge. I became aware that the music and the making of that music - the story behind the record itself, that object - were mutually reinforcing. It was music as an object, as an artifact that held more than just sound. Yeah, as a music journalist he was basically the guy who writes the liner notes in those records (actually readable in that size). While I usually read liner notes, I never truly appreciated how they functioned for the music itself until that moment. And it was when I realized that the love of music can also be expressed, even magnified, by one’s relationship to these objects, these historical records of artistic process and cultural reception.

Thank you Douglas Rushkoff for being part of our Vinyl Five Series!

Listen in Hi-Res

As part of our Vinyl Five series, we ask our esteemed participants to play their thoughtfully picked records on a premium Victrola Hi-Res turntable while sharing their thoughts and feelings. Using either wireless aptX™ Adaptive Bluetooth connectivity or wired with a switchable preamp standard RCA outs, Hi-Res turntables provide vinyl listening in stunning clarity.

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