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
Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline, Columbia KCS-9825, 1969
Any Bob Dylan record is hard to come by in decent condition and at a decent price. His records usually sold well, but they are all treasured by collectors these days. Finding a decent Dylan record for $7 is a very happy occasion. That it’s also one of his most enjoyable albums makes it even better. While country music and Bob Dylan aren’t usually combined into one sentence, this album was the second of a three record phase from the chameleon like artist. There was also a gospel phase and a standards phase yet to come, so maybe this isn’t really as strange as it might seem.
Supposedly, Johnny Cash had written Bob Dylan a fan letter, which immediately was returned with a fan letter from Dylan to Cash. They both were fighting with the same people at Columbia Records or creative control, they were both fiercely independent, and they became fast friends. Bob Dylan’s only named collaborator of the 1960s was Johnny Cash. They never did finish the duets album they wanted to, but Girl From North Country is a fantastic song from two guys who supposedly couldn’t sing.
Never a fan of labels, Dylan was eager to cease being “the voice of his generation”. This album helped do this, and it’s still a great listen today. It would take a lifetime of looking to find every Dylan record, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try. It’s hard to know now which ones are harder to find, 60s classics that changed the world (but that everyone hangs on to) or 90s flops that barely sold (and almost killed his career). Neither are particularly easy to find at any price, so it’ll be all the more challenging to complete at bargain prices.
Cost: $7, $122 Remaining
Aretha Franklin, Aretha Arrives, Atlantic SD-8150, 1967
It’s often said that a true artist at the top of their game could recite the phone book and still have a hit. This album tests that theory and kinda proves it! It’s a bit tricky to call this album Aretha Arrives when it was her second record for Atlantic and 12th major label release (Franklin spent years on Columbia releasing 10 albums with zero hits). But the album before this, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, is now regarded as perhaps the best regarded album by a female solo singer in history, and any record would pale in comparison to that.
Both records peaked at #2, so the critical assessment of Aretha Arrives is in hindsight. But hindsight does make it seem like this is a strange collection of songs to record for an artist breaking though the racial divide and selling true soul music to whit audiences. Besides the one hit, Baby I Love You, Aretha covers The Rolling Stones, ? & The Mysterians, and Frank Sinatra with the kind of sounds heard on her Columbia material.
Purists looking for one soul smash after another tend to get disappointed by this, but I see it as Aretha’s ability to sing anything. Perhaps in the back of her Diva oriented head she was trying to show fans of every kind of music who the real talent champion was. It’s also important to note that she literally recorded this record with one hand tied behind her back. Aretha was injured in a bad car crash earlier in 1967 and was still in a cast and recuperating when she recorded this album. To me, that’s even further proof of Aretha’s artistry and that even a so-so Aretha record is still a very good record.
Cost: $6, $172 Remaining
Paul Revere & The Raiders, Midnight Ride, Columbia CS-9308, 1966
I think this band had some incriminating evidence on Columbia Records. While they had a few decent hits after being heavily promoted daly on national tv, with songs written by Brill Building all stars, virtually anyone would have found success. And even as the hits dried up, Columbia kept on releasing Paul Revere & The Raiders records well into the mid 70s. Blackmail is about the only thing I can think of as to why this happened.
The big hit here is Kicks. Turned down by Eric Burden & The Animals, this Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil composition was an anti-drug anthem that came out just as the LSD fueled counter culture was kicking in. Anti Drug songs were not heard at the Monterey Pop Festival, and Paul Revere & The Raiders were not invited to perform. It was right about the time that this record came out that they began fading out their Revolutionary War outfits, another thing that might have endeared them to corporate media but not necessarily the creative direction that music was taking. And yet the major label releases kept on coming.
Critics say that if you want to get one Raiders album, make it this one. The original version of I’m Not Your Stepping Stone, later a B-Side smash for The Monkees is here. Kicks has also aged well for its Beatles-esque guitar work and placed at #400 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs Of All Time list. If this was a Standells record, or any group that wrote and performed their own music, it would be a $100 record. The Raiders just happen to be a competent little band from the Pacific Northwest that won the lottery by getting signed to Columbia. It’s still listenable album, but fairly priced at $2.
Cost: $2, $192 Remaining
$70 Spent, $2.33 per record
Simon & Garfunkel, Sounds Of Silence, Columbia CS-9269, 1966
How many times can one song appear on an artist’s albums? If you’re Simon & Garfunkel, and the song in question is The Sounds Of Silence, the answer is three. As crazy as it might seem today, this was the second of three albums that Sounds came out on. The basic track was recorded in 1964 for Wednesday Morning 3A.M., which went on to sell about 74 copies worldwide. Disappointed with the sales, and without S&G’s knowledge, Columbia took the song and had a staff producer add electric guitars and drums. Released as a single in September 1965, the song took a slow climb to the #1 spot at Christmas 1965.
With a #1 hit on their hands, Columbia eventually got around to tracking down Art Garfunkel in New York and Paul Simon in London to see if they could maybe come up with a few more songs for a new album. The answer was “I guess so”. and the bulk of this album was recorded in one day. Even Columbia was surprised by the reaction, and when the follow up single I Am A Rock took off, they redesigned the cover of the album to feature the new smash.
But that’s not all! Two years later, as the producers of The Graduate were waiting for new Simon & Garfunkel songs to use in their film, they used filler songs like The Sounds Of Silence as a placeholder. The film was edited around the songs and everyone seemed to like the film as it was. So once again, Sounds was released again on The Graduate Soundtrack. Luckily, all three of the albums can be found in virtually any record store, thrift store or yard sale for next to no money.
Cost: $3, $202 Remaining
Wham!, Make It Big, Columbia FC-39595, 1984
It’s Record Store Day today, and while that doesn’t mean much for most people, it meant that I was up early to see what the festivities were like here in town. One shop was having a massive $1 sale that I knew would take hours to get through, while the other celebrated by stocking up on Record Store Day specials re-issued by the record companies. While I’m constantly amazed at some of the records that get re-issued, I noticed at trend this year. There were some specials from new music, but it was 80s remixes that really were popular. Madonna and Michael Jackson, but mostly Prince all had “new” records in the stores, custom made collectibles that went on sale today.
It made me realize that 80s records are probably going to start becoming hard to find at a decent price soon. I know that original copies of Thriller and Purple Rain are already in Beatles territory price wise, so records like this can’t be far behind. I ran back to the $1 sale and focused on as much 80s music as I could find. At $1 each, these records will have nowhere to go but up in value. If Prince is like The Beatles, then Wham! records will price out like The Dave Clark Five pretty soon.
And this is a really great Pop record. A worldwide #1 in 1984, it solidified George Michael as a superstar and relegated Andrew Ridgeley to the latest in a long list of lesser known sidekick. Ridgeley is very much like & Oates and And Messina of pop duos gone by. But still, I’m pretty pleased to get a mint condition $1 copy of this record.
Cost: $1, $207 Remaining
Eddy Albert, The Eddy Albert Album, Columbia CS-9399, 1966
CBS was on a roll with “rural” comedies in the 60s. The success of The Beverly Hillbillies led to a dozen similar shows featuring the rural mindset triumphing over the more complicated urban one. Green Acres was one of the more successful ones, it frequently was in the top 10 ratings for most of its six year run. That kind of success allowed stars Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert all kinds of outside projects, and this album was one of them.
You wouldn’t know from his acting roles that Eddie Albert fancied himself a double if not a triple threat. The liner notes on his album talk about his success on the nightclub circuit, but I’m convinced that this album wouldn’t exist without him having a top 10 TV show. With Green Acres airing on CBS, it was a natural for Columbia Records to release The Eddie Albert Album. The disclaimer that blares on every side of the record that this is the star of Green Acres kA’s sure to capitalize on the sudden star fame of the singer.
It’s odd then that he chose the hits of the day to record. I faulted Lorne Greene for boring me to death with western tales, but it’s perhaps even meaner for Eddie Albert to torture me with Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. Yes, he can sing, but it’s a real departure from Green Acres, and fans of the show would not like this record. Even the theme song is re-recorded in a less hayseed style, as if Albert is trying to sell the show to a different audience than the one that watched the show.
Cost: $8, $300 Remaining
Barbra Streisand & Kris Kristofferson, A Star I Born, Columbia BL 34403, 1976
Some albums get unfairly branded as one thing or another, but this is definitely a 70s album. A modern take on an old movie, it had every 70s trend going for it, and it hit the bullseye with all of them. So much so that this record came to define it’s time, something that is great at first, but a real burden when that time is out of fashion.
It sold over 4,000,000,000 copies in the US alone, and I’d say 3.9 million of those buyers felt embarrassed by keeping it in the house. That makes this one of the easiest albums of all time to find. There’s absolutely no reason to ever pay $4 for a mint condition, still sealed copy. It’ll be at every yard sale from coast to coast for decades.
But it’s an interesting enough thing to keep in a collection. Evergreen alone is worth a few spins a year, and the Kris Kristofferson live numbers sound like they were fun to be at. So, do, please. Pick one up an keep it on the shelf, it’s ageless (now) and evergreen (especially if you get one the has mold on it).
Cost: $2, $443 Remaining
$81 Spent, $2.61 per record
Simon & Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water, Columbia KCS-9914, 1970
New York has it all. Shows, Restaurants, History, Excitement, and Shopping to name but a few, are all great reasons to go there. Well maybe not so much shopping, if you’re looking for good quality cheap records. I was fortunate to spend a few days in The City recently and even had some time to check out a few local record shops. While I found a few things I was interested in, I was shocked at how much they were.
Take this decent copy of Simon & Garfunkel’s last great studio album. I brought it with from from the West Coast as part of a gift. It is a very solid copy that set me back $4. One shop I visited had a much worse version, complete with a seam split on the jacket and severe ring wear. It was offered at $20!
Maybe because real estate is so expensive there, shops have to charge more to stay in business. Also, I was looking in Manhattan, so maybe the prices are cheaper in the outer boroughs or New Jersey, but still, I came away with the feeling that New York isn’t a great place to shop for vinyl. I suppose it really is true that if you can make it there, you’re gonna make it anywhere.
Cost: $4, $536 Remaining
The Holiday Singers, The Waltons’ Christmas Album, Columbia KC-33193, 1973
Who knew they ate this well in The Depression? For those who don’t know, and I suspect anyone born after 1980 would know, The Waltons was a TV show set in 1930s Virginia and features a huge family all living together on the mountain named after them dealing with all that life had to offer during that difficult period. Of course, every problem got resolved within the course of each episode and they all went to bed at night telling each other sweet things through the floor boards.
I had no idea they also had a recording career. Music was never an integral part of the show, and until I found this in a $2 bin I had no idea it existed. It just goers to show you the depths producers sometimes went to milk the profits from a show. It doesn’t seem as though anyone appearing on the show, outside of “Grandpa” Will Geer, also appears on the record besides Earl Hamner, the show’s creator and narrator. He also narrates the record and zzzzzzzzzzz.
Do I need to tell you that The Waltons was a CBS show? Naturally, this record came out on Columbia records, the recording arm of the nations largest network. Either way, the homespun family warmth sounds cornier today than it probably did for Christmas 1973. The snippet of the Waltons Theme isn’t the same recording as heard on the show credits…that was the only reason I bought this turkey, pun intended.
Cost: $5, $548 Remaining