Joni Mitchell, Blue, Reprise MS-2038, 1971
This is a very highly rated album with both critics and record buyers. It’s #30 in the Rolling Stone Top 500 albums of all time if that appeals to you. Of course, you’ll have to get past Joni Mitchell’s singing voice, which is very much an acquired taste. While I happen to love this album, others would prefer listening to car alarms or animals in pain.
The stand out track is California, which naturally enough was written in France. James Taylor, who was Ms. Mitchell’s love interest at the time, plays guitar on it. Like the rest of the album, it is so direct and honest that it’s almost feels like fiction, but this all really happened in real life. As such, and despite both Carey and California being released as singles, neither was a hit on AM radio.
But for $3, what does it matter? Trust the Best Of lists and listen to this record. Don’t compare the voice to another vocalist you like. Listen to the words and the incomparable songwriting, it will grow on you. And then you’ll get what Blue is all about. As Alan Rickman says to Emma Thompson in Love, Actually “To continue your emotional education”.
Cost: $3, $55 Remaining
The Four Seasons, Ain’t That A Shame, Vee Jay 1059, 1963
I’ve written about The Four Seasons before, and how they were, for a while, the biggest group in the world. I’ve also written about Vee-Jay Records, and how this little R&B label in Chicago ended up with both The Four Seasons and The Beatles on their roster. This record came out at the time the band and the label had their falling out.
It was the fourth Vee-Jay album released by the group in one year. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it was. As Candy Girl was reaching its #3 peak chart position, the group began to realize they hand’t been paid for any of it. The group not only sued, but also held back material from the company. Vee-Jay, always desperate for cash, would mine this album for singles and re-titled Re-Releases for a year.
And its not that good of an album! Stay!, a cover song that was a very good cover version, is the best song on it. The rest, however, is not the group’s best material. The group must have been exhausted from all the writing and recording that they were just pooped out. As was their record company, struggling to keep the lights on despite overwhelming success. I just wish it was an album I actually liked..
Cost: $5, $58 Remaining
Booker T. & The MG’s, Doin’ Our Thing, Stax S-724, 1968
There’s not a better feeling for a record collector than to find a new-to-you record from a group you love. And there’s not much better than a Booker T. & The MG’s record. From their first hit in 1962, Green Onions, they made hit after hit for themselves and the incredible Stax/Volt artist roster. That means if you’ve ever enjoyed a song from Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Rufus or Carla Thomas, and on and on, you’ve enjoyed the music of Booker T. & The MG’s.
Their albums are a mix of the hits of the day plus some originals. This unassuming and light years ahead of it’s time for being interracial little band essentially created soul music in the 60s, and lent a hand in turning it into funk in the 70s. It was a body of work good enough for admission to the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame. You can hear why on this record, as they make songs as diverse as Sonny & Cher’s The Beat Goes On and Bobbie Gentry’s Ode To Billy Joe their own.
This record came out just as Booker T. returned full time to the group after studying music in college. It’s easy to forget that he was only 17 in 1962 when Green Onions came out. Unfortunately it was also at the same time when Stax was losing its business relationship with Atlantic Records. Without Atlantic’s support, distribution, and, most importantly, access to their artists like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, Stax found it hard to stay in business. But the music lives on and it’s my goal to find all 11 of their Stax releases.
Cost: $7, $63 Remaining
Dion & The Belmonts, Presenting…, Laurie LLP-1002, 1959
It always seems to be a good idea to buy any playable 50s album that you find. To find this record at the price I paid, it also takes a seller who doesn’t know what they are doing. Sure, I know about Dion & The Belmonts, and this would appear to be their first album. Remembering that albums of the era were usually just collections of a group’s singles, it didn’t surprise me to find virtually every Dion & The Belmonts’ song I knew on it. I still splurged a little bit, but I had no idea how rare this record was until I got home to research it.
This 1959 release is the original Laurie issue (LLP-1002), which was re-released in 1960 after the Top 10 success of Where Or When as LLP-2002. A near copy of this record is valued at $250 in my Goldmine price guide. While there may not a near mint copy of the record out there after 58 years, I feel really good about finding this copy at $7. Apparently, the 1960 re-issue sold better (Where Or When turned out to be the group’s biggest hit), but it’s still rare enough to be valued at $150.
Still, I have a feeling that a larger or more diligent record seller would realize the rarity of a record like this and price it out of range for my budget. I found it at a store that specializes in alternative and classic rock records. It’s quite possible that this record got dropped off there by someone looking to sell their grandparents records and was quickly graded by an overwhelmed clerk who doesn’t know the difference between Dion and Celine Dion. Which is a-ok with me!
Cost: $7, $70 Remaining
Neal Hefti, Hefti In Gotham City, RCA LSP-3621, 1966
Nestor Armral & His Continentals, Craftsmen C-8027, 195?
We are over 350 records in, and there is still over $90 left on my quest to buy 365 albums for $1000. I could run out the clock with interesting $1 records like the one on the right above. It’s a discount record on the Craftsmen label that features a young Mary Tyler Moore on the cover. It would be easy for me to gush about how they tried to make our Mary look like the Contadina Tomato girl, and how the low budget “Italian” instrumentals sound after 55 years or so.
But, no. I think i’d rather cut it close to the wire and spend the next two weeks spending that $92 down and find a better class of interesting records, like the one on the left. Neal Hefti is one of those artists that skirted the lines of fame & sales and producing & performing. As a performer, he led made a name for himself in the Big Band era, eventually working his way up to the Count Basie Orchestra. When Frank Sinatra started his Reprise label with Basie as one of his first signings, Neal Hefti came along as the conductor of the studio orchestra. By 1966, Hefti had moved on to RCA and work on film and TV scores.
It was a formidable assignment, as Hefti wrote, arranged and conducted possibly the most memorable TV theme song of the 60s. Both the Batman TV show and it’s theme song were instant hits, enough so that RCA gave its in house producer follow-up album. Hefti In Gotham City barely sold, but it is full of lush mid-60s instrumentals and incidental music from the show. It’s in near mint condition too, which, along with it’s rarity and TV show tie in, makes this a bargain record to find for the price.
Cost: $15, $77 Remaining
Madonna, Like A Virgin, Sire 9-25157-1, 1984
Time was, Madonna records weren’t that hard to find. You’d even see them in Goodwill from time to time. When that happens, I tend to never really getting around to getting a record like this. After all, I grew up with the music, and, with so many of these popping up, I usually went with some other record that I’d never seen before.
Then all at once it happened, Madonna records were no more. As younger record buyers started shopping, these were the “classic” albums they were looking for and they all virtually disappeared. The same happened to Michael Jackson and Prince records, but for the most part it only happened after their deaths. Madonna records are probably gone from the bargain bins because they’re very good records for their era,
To be fair, the mid-80s synth pop music hasn’t held up well. The songs that pushed the boundaries of pop in the Reagan Era now seem cutsey and tame. But the four Top 10 hits still get your feet moving, and this is a really fun album to have. You’ll just have to shell out a little more for it now.
Cost: $15, $92 Remaining
Wilson Pickett, The Wicked Pickett, Atlantic SD-8138, 1967
It’s always a bit of a thrill when I run across an album I’ve never seen before. Naturally, it’s a bigger thrill when I realize it’s fairly priced and I can afford it. Price guides list a mint stereo copy of this record at $60, so I didn’t think to hard about shelling out $10 for this copy. Any mid 60s soul record, especially one on Atlantic, Stax or Volt is a rare find and I never hesitate to add one to my collection when I find it. Wilson Pickett was in the middle of his amazing tear of blistering soul hits when this record came out, and this is one wicked album to listen to.
There’s only one true hit single, Mustang Sally, but even the covers are done in the same Memphis Soul style. Technically, even Sally is a cover of a cover too. It was done by a former band mate of Pickett’s, “Sir” Mack Rice in 1965. That version hit #15 on the R&B charts, and a few months later, The Young Rascals re-recorded it as the B-Side to their #1 hit Good Lovin. With The Rascals being on Atlantic, and Pickett needing a new song to record, producer Jerry Wexler took the song to Memphis and the result was a stone cold smash.
Both stereo and mono versions of this album originally came out when it was released for New Year’s 1967. By New Years 1968, most record companies phased out commercial mono pressings, but this is one case where the mono out sold the stereo. The price guides value a stereo copy as being worth $10 more, so I have to assume that it didn’t sell as well. Either way, this is a a real find, and sometimes you just get lucky.
Cost: $10, $107 Remaining