Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Going To A Go-Go, Tamla TS-267, 1965
If your goal is to collect every Motown album, you sometimes pick a placeholder. It would be a really great if I found a near mint stereo copy of this incredible Miracles album for $3, but all I got was this “good” copy. There are pops and crackle galore through the best songs, but it’s still really great to hear these classic Motown tracks in original stereo. The production is all incredible, especially seeing as the music was all recorded in the basement of a cramped old house in West Detroit.
Actually, side 2 plays really well. With all four top 40 hits from the album on side 1, I’m guessing the original owners hardly every played side 2. The non hits are songs I’ve barely ever heard, so it’s easier to hear how good The Miracles were. I always pay more attention to a new (to me) song when I hear one than I do to, say, the 26,851st time I’ve heard The Tracks Of My Tears.
The original owners, who were apparently not very good at maintaining their record players. but also used the back of the jacket to make a list of their favorite Miracles songs. They must have been real fans though because the songs listed go all the way back to Bad Girl, one of the first Miracles records to chart. This copy is good enough to hold me over for the near mint copy that I’ll find one day, but I’m grateful to have it.
Cost: $3, $42 Remaining
Johnny Cash, Ring Of Fire: The Best Of Johnny Cash, Columbia CS-8853, 1963
Johnny Cash was one of a kind. No other artist that I can think of managed to break all the rules while adhering to conventional norms. Take this album for an example: I always wanted to find the original album that featured Cash’s biggest hit Ring Of Fire. I never found it because it doesn’t exist. Cash placed the biggest single yet in Country Music on a greatest hits package. It never was on a “regular” Cash album.
I suppose you can’t argue with results. This record was released in August 1963, and yet when Billboard published its first Country Albums Chart in January 1964, this was the #1 album. Now, Beatles albums sometimes replaced other Beatles albums at #1, and The Monkees first two albums spent months at #1, but I don’t know of any album, Greatest Hits or not, that spent 8 months at #1.
It’s mostly just a collection Cash’s Columbia singles from 1958-1963, so it doesn’t play now as a standard release might have. But that also means that there’s not a dud to be found, and you really hear the progression of Cash’s style during these still early years. It falls below my standard for an essential record, but its really nice to have. I may have overpaid at $10, but it is a flawless original copy.
Cost: $10, $45 Remaining
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