Rocks In The Attic #803: Sister Sledge – ‘We Are Family’ (1979)

RITA#803I’ve been looking for a nice clean copy of Sister Sledge’s debut album, We Are Family, ever since I’ve been collecting records. I finally found a reasonably priced ($9.95 USD) copy courtesy of my favourite Discogs seller, Vinylizking.

This album might just be the single greatest achievement of the partnership between Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The pair have produced many albums by other artists, and of course have produced themselves in Chic, but this particular album is arguably the strongest of the bunch. He’s The Greatest Dancer, Lost In Music, Thinking Of You, and the title track are four of the greatest songs from the soul and funk genre, and the fact that all four are on the same studio album is just mind-blowing. This record might as well be called Sister Sledge’s Greatest Hits. Even Nile Rodgers agrees, saying in his 2011 autobiography that ‘pound for pound, I think We Are Family is our best album hands down.’

Sister Sledge Portrait

CIRCA 1977: (Clockwise from bottom left) Kathy Sledge, Joni Sledge, Kim Sledge and Debbie Sledge of the vocal group “Sister Sledge” pose for a portrait in circa 1977. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The hefty package I received in the mail last week – nine LPs in total; a mixture of soul, funk and soundtracks – is probably going to be my last decent-sized haul from Discogs. Up to now, the country where I live has been relatively relaxed about charging GST taxes at the border. Anything under $400NZD has been exempt from charges. This has been great as a record collector, as I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but New Zealand is at the edge of the world.

Our national carrier, NZ Post, has even provided a service called YouShop where they have provided mailing addresses in the USA, the UK and China, where you can send parcels from online stores in those countries, and they will collect them and mail back to NZ at a competitive shipping rate. The service only started in 2012, but I’ve used it over a hundred times. It’s fantastic whenever overseas stores either don’t offer international shipping, or charge an arm and a leg for it (presumably to deter the hassle of dealing with overseas buyers).

From December, under pressure from New Zealand retailers, the Government has announced that all shipments from overseas will be eligible for a 15% GST charge. These are the same New Zealand retailers who will, for example, import paperback novels with a UK RRP of £7.99 GBP and charge $35 NZD for it. Despite a (current) exchange rate of $2.02 NZD to £1 GBP, this means they’re effectively charging more than double for the price of goods. Granted the UK RRP will include some element of shipping and overheads – it’s not a cost price – but even though shipping to New Zealand will be significantly more than shipping around the UK, there’s still something very wrong with the price we’re faced with.

As a result, to keep going with the book example, the small percentage of New Zealanders who do read, have been ordering them from overseas – either from Amazon or Book Depository. I purchased a book for my wife from Book Depository – it arrived with free shipping for $15 NZD. If I had purchased it from a New Zealand retailer, it would have cost $26 NZD.

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As a result of this economic quirk, nearly all of the bookshop chains in New Zealand have closed down in the last decade. Only a few remain, and for those stores, the sale of books only makes up a small percentage of their revenue. A number of well-run independent bookstores remain (Unity Books on Auckland’s High Street is a particular favourite), but they’re still charging those same ridiculous prices and so you have to wonder how they stay afloat. However, the pricing structure is down to the distributors, I think, rather than the stores themselves.

As a country, we need to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to our independent record shops. I shop at Auckland’s record stores as regularly as I can. Real Groovy, Southbound, Marbecks and Flying Out all get a decent proportion of my disposable income. But sometimes these stores don’t always stock the titles I want. Whether it’s limited releases from small boutique soundtrack labels (Waxwork, Mondo, Enjoy The Ride, Real Gone), or simply hard-to-find titles on Discogs, I’ve enjoyed the freedom to purchase these without any restrictions…until now.

NZ Post have said that they will automatically apply the GST charge on all parcels they ship into New Zealand via YouShop. So I’ll simply stop using the service. There are already loopholes around the restrictions though, which hopefully mean I’ll still be able to purchase directly from overseas vendors without incurring extra charges (the GST component will only be applied by vendors who supply $60,000 NZD in goods to New Zealand residents per annum). Many of the small, boutique record labels I purchase from will supply nowhere near that value of goods to our shores, and so I hope that they don’t get bullied by our government to comply.

On paper, I support the new charge if it were to assist the ability of New Zealand retailers to compete with the international marketplace. But I only see this legislation as justification for the ridiculous increased prices distributors pass on to our captive market.

I don’t know what this has all got to do with Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, but I think they’d be similarly angry that my government is making it harder for me to buy their records.

Hit: We Are Family

Hidden Gem: You’re A Friend To Me

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