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
Carole King, Tapestry, Ode SP-77009, 1971
This one is easy to fall in love with. This is Sunday morning tea making music, rainy afternoon music, and Friday afternoon heading out of town music, all rolled up into one. This is a most essential album, and luckily for anyone who wants one, it is easily available. Tapestry is #36 on the latest Top 500 Albums Of All Time list from Rolling Stone, yet it’s the only one you’ll find that places that high in neat mint condition for under $5. Chalk that up to virtually every woman alive in 1971 buying and cherishing this album.
Tapestry has hits past (Natural Woman and Will You Love Me Tomorrow) present (It’s Too Late and So Far Away) and future (You’ve Got A Friend). But I almost feel that the non hits are why this record stayed on the Top 200 for 313 weeks. Songs like Beautiful, Home Again, and Smackwater Jack are what really make Tapestry so great.
There’s no need to rush out and buy the first copy of this you see. 25 million copies sold mean that the near mint copy of your dreams is out there waiting for you. Until you find it, flip through your Aunt’s record collection or hit a garage sale for a placeholder.
Cost: $4, $129 Remaining
The Supremes, Touch, Motown MS-737, 1971
No, The Supremes’ hit making career didn’t end with the departure of Diana Ross. In fact, their early post Ross records did quite well. Just ask Elton John, who writes a glowing set of liner notes for this very album. The hit single from it, Nathan Jones, later became a world-wide #1 for Bananrama. And the artwork for Touch was copied for the film adaptation for Dreamgirls (ending all mystery about who the play was written about!). While not may people know this record today, Jean, Cindy & Mary were clearly on a roll.
The basics out of the way, this copy is a great way to show the lifecycle of an unsold album. The 46 year old shrink wrap is still intact, amazingly, given the cutout of one corner. The twin price tags reveal that this once full price record was sent to a discount store. After they failed to sell it for $1.97, the price got dropped to 98 Cents! After that failed as well, it got sent back to the distributer, who cut the corner off and gave it away or donated it somewhere.
I don’t view that as a reflection (!) of The Supremes post Ross career. Very few artists would ever escape a cut out record, and it would be very hard for a company like Motown to gauge not only how many of a particular record to produce, but to know where the demand would be strongest. Touch sold about 100,000 copies in the US, a very decent showing, but that was still less than most Supremes albums sold. I’m just thankful that I was able to find this unsold one.
Cost: $2, $212 Remaining
Roberta Flack, Quiet Fire, Atlantic SD-1594, 1971
This was Roberta Flack’s third album for Atlantic, and it wasn’t really a hit. It was from the odd time before she really broke through commercially in 1972 with the smash The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, even though that song had already come out on her first album. It seems weird that a song that could spend six weeks at #1 could just be out there for years before becoming a hit, but that’s what happened here.
Instead, this album had been out for a few weeks when Face was included in the Clint Eastwood movie Play Misty For Me. That triggered the singles success and propelled Flack’s 1969 debut album First Take to #1, while the “new” Roberta Flack record struggled to hit #18. Apparently people at the time didn’t care for her covers of The Shirelles’ Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, or the 6:41 cover of The Bees Gees’ To Love Somebody. That makes this Flack album fairly hard to find these days, and I haven’t seen one in decades.
In fact, the last time I remember seeing it was when my younger sister and I were being baby sat somewhere and out of boredom we went looking through the house’s record collection. Being the non-worldly 8 year old my sister was, she wasn’t familiar with the name “Roberta”. She was reading the names and titles on the various record sleeves and pulled this one out and burst out screaming “AHHHHH Look at the hair on this guy Robert A. Flack!”
Cost: $2, $283 Remaining
The Partridge Family, Up To Date, Bell 6059, 1971
The Partridge Family, a nominees for Best New Artist at the 1971 Grammy Awards, were hot when this, their second album came out. David Cassidy was on his way to a brief stint as the leading national teen idol, and the records flew off the shelves. It was all fake in reality, but this record hit #3 as the TV show wrapped up its first season.
Like most teen idol records, this one is geared to appeal to the fans. In this case, 14 year old girls. For the first time, David Cassidy sings every lead, instead of the anonymous studio singers that sung half of the first album. He even got his first writing credit, but it was the two top 10 hits I’ll Meet You Halfway and Doesn’t Somebody Want To Be Wanted that really pushed the album’s sales. The latter song was absolutely hated by Cassidy and the show’s production was halted so producers and lawyers could convince him that he had to sing it, cheesy spoken interlude included.
Besides the hits and the dimples. what also was included was a cool custom Partridge Family text book cover! I had no idea that it did, but lo and behold, this pristine copy was neatly tucked inside this $2 copy. Usually, inserts like this got used or pinned up on a wall, so finding one in mint condition is pretty rare.
Cost: $2, $291 Remaining
Soundtrack, All In The Family, Atlantic SD-7210, 1971
All In The Family was so controversial that the plot bounced around from network to network until CBS took a chance on it as a January 1971 replacement. Two weeks later, it was the #1 show in America and held that position until 1976. As befitting a huge TV hit, Atlantic Records won a bidding war to release a “soundtrack” album.
It’s really nothing more than excerpts from episodes from the brief first season of the show. The bits don’t really translate into an audio only format because it wasn’t just one of the best written shows of all time, but it was also one of the best acted shows. But it’s a nice, interesting souvenir. Plus it comes with an extended version of the famous theme song, Those Were The Days. On its own as a single, the 1:27 song hit #30 on the Adult Contemporary chart, but the album didn’t chart.
Still, the show was such a cultural force that Atlantic tried again with a second album. That one is really hard to find, but this record really isn’t. This still shrink-wrapped but cutout copy is nearly perfect and it set me back $2. So there’s really no need to jump on the first one you see, assuming of course, that you even want one of these records.
Cost: $2, $424 Remaining
Edwin Starr, Involved, Gordy GS-956, 1971
Berry Gordy really didn’t like controversy, especially when it got in the way of business. So, if southern shops wouldn’t stock a record with a black person on the cover, early Motown records came with simple drawings. An Isley Brothers album even came out with a smiling young white couple on the cover. So when The Temptations producer Norman Whitfield and his writing partner Barrett Strong wrote an anti-Vietnam war song, there was no way the company would put it out as a single. After all, the supposed be-all, end-all goal for Motown was to get its biggest acts booked onto shows like Ed Sullivan and clubs like The Copacabana. A song like War was not what those audiences wanted to pay to hear.
Whitfield persisted and The Temptations’ version of War was released as an album cut on their album Psychadelic Shack. The Temps added it to their live act and people around the company to release it was a single. With a sure-fire hit on their hands, Motown turned to Edwin Starr to release it as a single so as not to turn off parts of The Temptations large fan base. Starr came to Motown when the small Detroit company he recorded for, Golden World, was bought by Motown. Berry Gordy needed a second studio, and by buying up the competition, he would deny his world class backing musicians the chance to “call in sick” and record over at Golden World. The song exploded and the relatively unknown Starr quickly had the #1 song in the world.
War was such a big hit that this the second album that Starr put out that features it. With little to no chance that he would ever get booked at The Copa, Starr got to record all of Whitfield’s more socially conscious records, and the very War-like follow up, Stop The War was a fairly decent chart hit. But this was kind of it as far as Edwin Starr and chart success goes. It’s sad but true that he got stereotyped as an anti-war protest singer. That’s a really tough place to be when the war ends, as the US involvement in Vietnam quickly did. I’m sure the leather fringed vest he wore here didn’t help.
Cost: $3, $440 Remaining