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
The Box Tops, Cry Like A Baby, Bell 6017, 1968
The more you know about certain groups and where they came from, the more you can know a good thing when you see it. The Box Tops are a legendary Memphis band that as teenagers had one of the biggest records of the 60s with The Letter. Seventeen year old lead singer Alex Chilton sang it like a delta bluesman with decades on The Chitlin Circuit under his belt. When a follow up was needed, this is what the Memphis music came up with.
The title track peaked at #2, unable to unstick Bobby Goldsboro’s Honey from the top spot. While it’s a great song too, a close second to The Letter, the album is really special. Critics and fans all rave about Dusty Springfield’s Dusty In Memphis, and this record was made at the same time in the same studio with the same musicians. It’s not a departure for The Box Tops like it was for Dusty Springfield, but it’s still a terrific sound with a great mix of originals and covers.
All of The Box Tops records are hidden gems, and this shrink wrapped one is in near mint condition. Yes, it didn’t sell seeing the special sale price tag of three for $1 and the hole punch through the cover, but it is valued as a $25 record now. I was able to find it for $5 at a record show, which is the best place to pick up cult classic like this in good shape.
Cost: $5, $181 Remaining
Jack Brown, Tells It Like It Is, QCA Records 90854, 1968?
I now I said yesterday that my last month would be dedicated to the best of affordable vinyl, so some of you might be surprised to see this and not Highway 61 Revisited featured today. The truth is that I absolutely loved this record. Yes, sure, I bought it for the cover, the plainness of it all giving the buyer no idea at all what this is even all about. It looked to me like the kind of homemade religious sermon record that sometimes pops up at Goodwill, but this is so much more than that.
It turns out that Jack is a reformed addict and felon who spent years in prison alongside some of the most notorious criminals in American history. If the sleeping habits of The Birdman Of Alcatraz are interesting to you, then by all means pick up a copy of this album. Jack has a gravelly voice and doesn’t seem to get it when the teen audience on the record laughs when he relays how he “smoked that Mary-Juana and sniffed that cocaine”. He matter of factly relays assaults, robberies and stabbings like he’s Grandpa Walton spinning a yarn. Jack really doesn’t care for the glamorization of Bonnie & Clyde, because in real life Bonnie was not attractive looking and Clyde was a practicing homosexual. Their killing spree across the Midwest is also an issue, but apparently not as much.
Jack really is worth listening to, and without this bizarre document he left behind, virtually no one alive would be able to know about it. Jack Brown is too common a name to research this one particular Jack Brown, and Wikipedia has nothing on the album or the man. Safe to say when I listen to this stirring tale that I am the only one on Earth to be having that singular joy. That’s a pretty good deal for $3.
Cost: $3, $186 Remaining
Various Artists, This Is Soul, Atlantic SD-8170, 1968
I think I’ve been clear so far by saying I don’t usually buy-or even look for- various artists or greatest hits packages. I’d rather have the original album(s) that feature the songs and get the fuller picture of the artist and the times the songs were recorded. It used to bug me to hear some C-List celebrity on a Time Life CD collection infomercial say things like “Do you have any idea how long it would take you to track down all of these records?!?”. Why yes, I do, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But every now and then though, something catches my eye. For this record, it wasn’t the terrible artwork. C’mon Atlantic, it’s 1968 already, people know you cater to African American artists. Put THEM on the cover! What did cause me to add this to my pile was the amazing collection that Atlantic put together. Not only are there hits from the past like Ray Charles and The Drifters, but also current records from different labels that were distributed by Atlantic. It’s very rare to see this and even tiny Karen Records is represented with the biggest hit the label ever had, The Capitol’s Cool Jerk.
It’s not in perfect condition, but this is one album you could spin at a party and get compliments from people about how great your playlist is. Spotify would kill to have these mixes. This was indeed Soul Music, compiled at the peak of it’s popularity into one record. There’s not a bad track on here, and I’m really glad I found it.
Cost: $2, $198 Remaining
Various Artists, The Capitol Disc Jockey Album, Capitol SPRO-4650, November 1968
I don’t collect promos. I have them of course, because sometimes you’re happy to find any copy of a particular hard to find record, and a promo generally plays as well as a standard issue copy. In fact, promo collectors usually say that they play better because they likely were played a few times by industry professionals as either sampling or re-recording for broadcast from a tape. But since virtually all recorded music released since Edison’s wax cylinder #1 is available online for free, I prefer to look for standard issue releases for my collection. Promos usually have different labels or cover art and I like those things about my records.
Things like album though stand out. It’s mere existence is curious because it’s as though Capitol Records is saying that only Capitol records are worthy of airplay, like they’re some sort of premium brand for the recording industry. That’s obviously not true anymore than people choosing what book to read based solely on the publisher. Yes, there were many recordings of The Impossible Dream, but hey Capitol Records has a great one for sale this November by Al Martino that you’re just gonna love…
I have a few of these records, and it’s hard to tell if they’re collectible or not. I have one from 1964, but most information online suggests these were monthly releases from 1967-1970. They certainly are weird adult oriented albums, and it remains a mystery as to how the songs are balanced for airplay. These records all have a pretty girl and/or a hot car on the cover. In this case, the car is a 1969 AMC AMX, and the poor girl choking on the exhaust fumes from the massive V8 engine appears to be having a hard time deciding if she should vote for Hubert Humphrey or Richard Nixon in the national election. She is leaning towards Nixon however, and if Capitol continued this series a few years longer, it would have been a hoot to use the same model for the August 1974 edition.
Cost: $2, $281 Remaining
The Vogues, Turn Around, Look At Me, Reprise RS-6314, 1968
I won’t say that I love records like this, but I “get” records like this. And I’m probably close to alone on feeling that way too, because records like this are among the easiest to find in great shape for virtually no money. There are two top ten hits on this album, and one very soft smooth sound that delivers them. I’m sure at the time this record really appealed to a certain segment of the population even though the sound quickly became dismissed as elevator music.
The Vogues had been a huge vocal group in 1965-66. Their pop-rock hits You’re The One and Five O’Clock World made them one of the biggest American groups at the height of the British Invasion. But it didn’t last, and The Vogues were in need of a new sound. This was their comeback record. Issued a major label, Reprise, The group does their level best to sound just like The Lettermen.
This mint condition, $1 record won’t get a lot of play anymore, but it makes for a nice addition to a collection. Especially if you live in a town with no elevators.
Cost: $1, $369 Remaining
$71 Spent, $2.64 per record
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
Martin Luther King Jr., The Great March To Freedom, Gordy 906, 1968
I don’t mean it in a condemning way, but I too have a dream, that one day I can own a copy of every Motown record issued in the 60s and 70s. And that means trying to collect the four albums the company issued of Martin Luther King’s speeches. It won’t be easy, this is the only one I’ve ever seen, and I was able to buy it for just $5 last year in Richmond Virginia. This was the first of the King releases on Motown’s Gordy subsidiary, and despite the catalogue number of 906, it was just the fourth album released with a Gordy label.
It probably helped that this speech was given in Detroit as far as Motown being there to record it, but Berry Gordy put his own name down as the record’s producer, something that supposedly was a real source of pride for him. Gordy 908 was the “I Have A Dream” speech from the March On Washington and it was issued later in 1963. Both Gordy 906 and 908 we reissued in 1968 after King’s assassination and sold much better than the first pressings. Naturally, I found the 1968 version, easy to spot by the second version of the Gordy label on my record. The yellow spear version debuted in early 1968, replacing the original yellow script and globe logo. Second pressings still have the gatefold covers of the original, and are still more valuable than the 80s pressing on the Motown label.
Before Twitter, the spoken word record was a real thing. Politicians and Preachers made the most use of them, but there weren’t many that sold very well. Motown wasn’t the only company that released King recordings. There were many versions of the “Dream” speech, and many tribute albums that came out after King’s death that all sold well. Motown, always willing to sell a record to someone who wanted to buy it, actually started a special spoken word label to release more speeches and message records. Called Black Forum, the label’s first release in 1970 was Martin Luther King’s “Why I Oppose The Vietnam War”
Cost: $5, $481 Remaining
Bing Crosby, Hey Jude Hey Bing!, Amos AAS-7001, 1968
Its got to be hard to tell someone that just because they can do something, it doesn’t mean they should do something. And by something I mean this album.
Bing Crosby has his first hit record in 1926. His last non-Christmas re-release to chart came in 1957. Its safe to say that by late 1968, he was not very relevant to the record buying public. Then why bother to go though this routine? Honestly, its as bad as it looks, with Der Bingo crooning his way through the year’s biggest hits. He absolutely massacres Hey Jude, someone who has never heard of him would absolutely believe that this was a joke recording. The album’s wikipedia page ends with a prophetic “The album was never released on CD”. Shocking…
Amos Records was a short lived label created by Jimmy Bowen. He worked for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise Records and left to form Amos with the hope of selling records recorded by people like Bing Crosby that once had major record deals but lost them due to failing sales. People like Frankie Laine, Mel Carter, Frankie Avalon and Johnny Tillotson all records for Amos. This was the company’s first release and as far as I can tell it’s only record to hit the charts. One glorious week at #162 made this Bing’s last charting album of newly recorded music.
Cost: $3, $533 Remaining
The Sinatra Family, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Reprise FS-1026, 1968
If you’re like me, finding a record like this is about as great a gift as one could ever hope to receive. I can’t imagine the nerve it would take for an artist to try something like this today. Getting the whole family together for a Christmas album, despite the fact that the whole family has no business singing anything.
I suppose it helps when Dad owns a record company. Especially when Dad is trying to remain relevant to record buyers by appearing younger than he really was. The times, they were a changin’ too, and the smooth vocal style that The Sinatras were known for was hopelessly out of touch with fans of Janis Joplin and The Doors.
So while this record may have failed at the time (the inch long cut out on the jacket implying that a retailer returned this to the distributor because it didn’t sell), today we have a kooky kitschy ding dong of a Christmas record that is just so much fun. The stand out track is the reimagining of The 12 Days Of Christmas, with all of “the kids” getting presents for their father. I can just imagine Frank Sinatra in the lavender tie Nancy got him or playing with the nine Scrabble sets that Tina oddly bought. Tina, by the way, makes Nancy seem like Maria Calas, with serious tempo and pitch problems that would have her booted from American Idol in the preliminary rounds. This record is a must to find, it’ll bring you comfort and joy all year round.
Cost: $3, $542 Remaining