John Lennon & Yoko Ono, Milk & Honey, Polydor 817 160-1 Y-1, 1984
I suppose there was never going to be a good time to release this record. It was always to be the planned follow up to Double Fantasy, and the songs were all recorded at the same time with an eye to them being on two albums. But hearing a “new” John Lennon album 3 1/2 years after his assassination still felt very raw to people.
Part of the delay was due to business reasons. Geffen Records released Double Fantasy, but after John’s death, David Geffen and Yoko Ono had a real falling out. The inner sleeve of Milk & Honey has some very personal messages from Yoko about John’s last days and a reference to “human wolves disguised as close friends”. This album originally came out on Polydor.
Seeing as it was released too late to be a follow-up record, but too soon to be a piece of history, it didn’t do as well as Double Fantasy. It went top ten around the world, meaning it’s an easy record to find now, but it’s not like this record became anything close to a legendary Lennon album. Now it is that piece of history, though, and fans can hear the last recordings John Lennon ever made.
Cost: $2, $445 Remaining
Rita Pavone, The International Teen-Age Sensation, RCA Victor Brazil LPM-2900, 1964
I love foreign pop albums. They are full of music I’ve never heard, and sometimes you get foreign language versions of English language pop hits. I was really hoping for that when I bought this incredibly international record, but there’s only one American cover (Bobby Rydell’s Kissin’ Time). It’s actually an album of English language pop tunes, sung by an eager young Italian girl.
It was easy to be fooled by what this record is. I knew that Rita Pavone was Italian, and I know enough Romance Languages to tell that the back cover is written in Portuguese. Pavone was a huge star in Europe in the 60s, and recording for RCA meant her records could be released world wide. This record was probably meant to be her US break through, but it didn’t happen, despite Just Once More peaking at #26. Why RCA decided to release an English language record in Brazil I can’t explain, but they did.
Foreign records weren’t made to the same standard as US records were. Some European countries used very glossy cover slicks, while Japanese versions are made of paper. The jacket of this one is really nothing more than a card stock grade of paper with the thin (and badly mis-colored) cover slicks lightly adhered. They’re literally hanging on by a thread after 54 years. Next time I’m in Sao Paulo, I’ll be sure to ask for a refund.
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Johnny Lee, Lookin’ For Love, Asylum 6E-309, 1980
It’s safe to call Johnny Lee a one hit wonder. The title track of this album hit #5 on the charts thanks to it’s inclusion in the John Travolta movie Urban Cowboy. It was the perfect country bar band song for a movie, and the female background singer did her level best to sound just like Stevie Nicks. Outside of a follow up that peaked at #54, this was his only chart success. It’s a very common tale, but unfortunately for most people, this song is known for something else.
With the record still on the charts, Eddie Murphy did a parody of a mail order record commercial on Saturday Night Live. “Buckwheat Sings” became an instant classic as Murphy stuttered his way though the hits of the day dressed like the Little Rascals character from the 30s. “Lookin’ For Love” became “Wookin’ Pa Nub” and was born.
Maybe Lee’s problem was that the Country Music community didn’t really appreciate being branded as the latest dance fad for the larger community. A John Travolta movie didn’t help. Lookin’ For Love sounded very Country on 1980 Pop radio, but very Pop on Country radio. That’s never a good place to be for a recording artist, and Lee is still playing shows nightly in Branson.
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Cher, Cher, Kapp KS-3649, 1971
They say that after the nuclear holocaust, the only things to survive will be cockroaches and Cher. The pop icon has had more comebacks than, um, work done. This album was one of her career highlights and it probably is where that reputation comes from.
It’s her first solo record on Kapp (which was merged into MCA in 1973. Sonny & Cher were without a major label in 1970, but their Las Vegas revue led to a CBS-TV show and the recording offers poured in. Kapp asked producer Snuff Garrett to produce, which was a switch from her Imperial Records releases which Sonny produced. Richard Avedon took the cover photos, and the TV show highlighted the hit singles. It became her best selling record since 1965.
I only really got this because of the red sticker on the outer sleeve. I don’t care what record it is, but if it survived 45 years in it’s original shrink wrap, someone took care of it. Research tells me that this is a first pressing, and after the #1 success of Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves, Kapp retitled the album to match the single. Calling it Cher was already a little nutty because her third Imperial album was already called that in 1966. Not that any of this mattered to Geffin Records, but Cher was used again in 1987 for an even more successful record. Here’s hoping for Cher 4.0 in 2017.
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Frankie Valli, Closeup, Private Stock 2000, 1975
The Four Seasons were not doing too well by the early 70s. Their records weren’t selling and they were dropped from their record label, Philips. Bizarrely, they signed with Motown Records, who also dropped them after an album and a half. The group paid $4000 to buy one of their unreleased tracks back. It was money well spent, and released as a Frankie Valli solo single, My Eyes Adored You went to #1. This was the album that they made to accompany it.
When I say they, I mean the bedrock partnership of Valli, Bob Gaudio and producer Bob Crewe. By the time this record rolled around, records got released under the name Frankie Valli, The Four Seasons, and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, but it didn’t matter. It’s all the same people on the records.
The record also has one of the first songs I can think of on a pop record that is longer than 10 minutes. This is not necessarily a disco album, but some of it is proto-disco, with all 10:09 of Swearin’ To God as my evidence. One other fun fact is that the female vocalist is a young Patti Austin. It’s a great album for what it is, and it’s always great to find a long album version of a single that you know so well.
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Barry & The Tamerlanes, I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight, Valiant 406, 1963
Beginning with an aside, the actual Tamerlane was a Mongol warrior who in the 14th century had a dream of restoring the conquests of Ghangis Khan. His armies swept across Asia, Africa and Europe and it’s estimated they devastated 5% of the world’s population. So, it’s an odd choice of name for a Southern California vocal group. This, their one album, came in the wake of the the middling success of the title track. Both suffered sales-wise by their November 21, 1963 release date. Not many new pop groups could break through in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.
Barry DeVorzon was the founder of tiny Valiant Records. As such, when his one mildly successful group, The Cascades, passed on recording I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight, he could just record it himself and put it out. The rest of the album sounds just the same as the hit, but this is one rare record. My trusty Goldmine price guide values this record at $150. it would be worth double if it was the stereo version. Not too shabby for a $3 vintage store purchase.
Barry would later sign The Association to Valiant before selling the operation to Warner Brothers. He would become a prolific writer for TV and films, with one of his creations, the theme from The Young And The Restless hitting the top 10 in 1976.
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Diana Ross & The Supremes, Reflections, Motown 665, 1968
For their 12th album, The Supremes were rebranded as Diana Ross & The Supremes, beginning what would be a three year departure process for the lead singer, Ms. Ross.
Having accomplished step one with the renaming, step two could take place with the solo shot of Ms. Ross on the back cover. Future Supremes albums would see their covers more and more Diana centric.
Step three would be finally replacing original lead singer Florence Ballard with look alike Cindy Birdsong. This album features the last recordings Florence made for Motown. Cindy was a very good replacement in virtually every respect except one: she couldn’t sing like Florence. The bulk of this album is by Diana Ross & The Andantes, the venerable Motown studio singers who sang on hits by virtually every great Motown star through the early 70s. This was their first appearance on a Supremes record though, and the sound is jarring. It’s not bad, it’s just not The Supremes.
This album came out a few months after the hit single title track. So the cover of Ode To Billy Joe is a nice touch seeing as that’s the number one record the blocked Reflections from hitting #1.
Cost: $3, $461 Remaining