O.C. Smith, For Once In My Life, Columbia CS-9756, 1968
I’m quite sure 5,000 people thumbed past this record before I shelled to the princely sum of $2 for it. There could be many reasons why… Lets be honest, O.C. Smith isn’t exactly Marvin Gaye in the singing or looks department. Even if you you knew about his one hit record, Little Green Apples, you see this record and realize that it’s not on it. So why bother?
I’ll be honest, I only bit because someone took the time to put a sticker in the upper right corner with the handwritten note “drums on Hey Jude“. Not knowing the O.C. Smith version of that Bing Crosby record, I happily added it to my pile thinking I’d find a neat riff that Ringo never thought of.
I heard more than that. I heard the voice of someone who had clearly been around. Someone who knew what pain sounded like because he experienced it. Which I heard in phrasing that seemed hastily recorded for budgetary reasons, yet revealed true soul. O.C. Smith’s best known song was his worst song.
The clues were all there for me, it just took a bit of sleuthing for the so-called apple to land on my head. After all, how does a 36 year old with no hits get signed to the biggest corporate label of the day? How did this album come out BEFORE Stevie Wonder’s hit version of the title track? And with the commercial failure of this album, why did Columbia go ahead with a follow up that produced Apples? The answer is that Mr. Smith can SING!
Cost: $2, $799 Remaining
Billy Joel, The Nylon Curtain, Columbia CQ-38200, 1982
This little unassuming, mid career Billy Joel record s actually quite significant, but not in the same way as most legendary albums are significant. Looking for the latest “new” sound, Joel “heard” about the new wonders of total digital recording. No more tapes to edit, it could all be done and edited with computers. The new sound was very clean, at least to 1982 ears.
It was also one of the first albums that was released on Compact Disc. Oddly, it was also one of the last albums to be released on 8-Track tape! As if Cassette and Vinyl we’re enough.
The stats don’t end there! The album’s second single, Allentown, is hands down the biggest #17 hit of all time. It spent a magical six weeks and the almost lofty perch. I don’t have statistics on the record the spent the second-most number of weeks at #17, but my guess is it would be no more than three.
Cost: $1, $888 Remaining
Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends, Columbia KCS-9529, 1968
The best part about landmark albums is that they’re usually very good, the cornerstones of every collection, and they sold in such numbers that they are usually pretty easy to find. The Beatles aside, classics like Bookends turn up really often, so I usually jump at the chance to get a better copy than the one I already have.
This album was the first studio release from S&G in nearly 18 months, and it set records for sales and weeks at number one. I might have spent more weeks at the top, but for the soundtrack of The Graduate which was out at the same time, featured Simon and Garfunkel and also peaked at number one.
It’s maybe a sign that I bought a later pressing when the album I bought is also advertised on the inner sleeve. Maybe for such a highly anticipated record Columbia did advance promotion, but I have to believe that inner sleeve art would take a while to get caught up to a new release.
In any event, this $3 was a gamble. It was shinny and clean, but it doesn’t play very well. There are a few scratched and pops that come through more on a record like this than you might hear on, say, a Led Zeppelin record. This one doesn’t rise to the level of a keeper and get re-donated.
Cost: $3, $899 Remaining
Yves Montand, One Man Show, Columbia WL-150, 1958
At first, I was like “who the hell is Yves Montand?”. But it doesn’t get much more french than this, a live performance captured in 1958 in Paris. As it turns out, I’m a huge Yves Montand fan!
I have no idea what he’s singing about, I’ve never heard of any of the songs, but the audience certainly had and they roar their approval often. In fact the album closes with an extremely long, like 60 second, round of applause and cheering. The back cover has a ton of information, including a write up of every song.
I’ve also never seen this particular Columbia Label. It could be something used for international releases, or maybe “Adventures In Sound” was a short lived record club, and this was a special release. Either way, it’s in really great shape, and I’ll listen to this record again.
Cost: $1, $911 Remaining
Tony Bennett, Tony Sings The Great Hits Of Today!, Columbia CS-9980, 1970
Day Three of Trying Too Hard Week finds Tony Bennett apparently dressed for a Halloween Party. With record sales slagging and his Woodstock invitation somehow lost in the mail, Columbia Record’s President “strongly suggested” that his now middle aged jazz singer record something contemporary. Literally, Something. And an incredibly bizarre rendering of Eleanor Rigby that one reviewer called “Shatner-esque”. Tony is clearly uncomfortable with the material, attempting off sounding ad-libs that sound like Bill Murray’s lounge singer character. In researching this album to get the release date, I read that poor Mr. Bennett was so upset at things getting to this point in his career that he literally vomited in the studio before recording began. Ouch.
It’s also never a sign of a good relationship with your record company when they use the exact same image on the back cover as they did on the front. And the image on the front cover was totally ridiculous to begin with. Pin-Stripe bellbottoms, sideburns, and a psychedelic paisley wide-tie is just not a good look, Tony Bennett was never a mod. Why they have him posed with his feet pointing out with a Look Of Love kind of expression is also beyond me. No, how you doin’ Tony?
This record’s cover has a special radio station sticker on it. It’s “Radio Station Service- Not For Resale” warning tells me that this was a well maintained record that would have only been played once or twice, to record a tape loop called a “cart” that would have then been played on the air. And it’s true, the record is perfect to listen to now. There’s even a great late 1969 series Columbia inner sleeve that tells me this was an original package. Thankfully though for Tony’s career, this record is not all there is.
Cost: $2, $923 Remaining
Ray Conniff, Plays The Bee Gees & Other Great Hits. Columbia BL-35659, 1978
Yesterday’s wonderful experience of listening to Mae West’s Way Out West gave me an idea of another theme week. Mae gave it her all but she really had no artistic business releasing a sexy vamp rock & roll album at age 72. I’ve been combing through the records I got this spring during two massive clearance sales I went to and found an impressive bunch of albums that absolutely should not exist, but happily do.
Today we have a 1978 Ray Conniff record made for a segment of the record buying public who found the hard rock sounds of Debby Boone and Barbra Streisand too loud. Mr. Conniff and his Singers were on the task, softening up the soft rock and light disco that dominated the late 70s charts.
The singers and their perfect diction seamlessly mesh songs to Ray’s arrangements until they sound like bunch of radio station jingles. Night Fever/Stayin’ Alive is a particular favorite. To say that this is elevator music is almost unfair to elevators. But then what else would you expect from a man in a powder blue tuxedo jacket with rhinestoned lapel, ruffled gold shirt and brown bow tie.
None of this is to criticize Ray Conniff’s music or the 70 million albums he sold. He was a pioneer of stereo orchestration recordings and his early albums, especially the Christmas ones, sold in the millions. His technique of using voices as instruments as part of an orchestra was mildly (of course!) revolutionary and copied by thousands of artist after him. I play a few of his 50s records when I want to make an evening cocktail and feel like Don Draper. If I ever get a 1960 Buick Convertible like his, my soundtrack is ready.
Cost: $2, $925 Remaining
Andy Williams, Born Free, Columbia CS-9480, 1967
Goodwill record shoppers will also have the chance to collect as many Andy Williams records as they have room for. Williams made a career out of singing lush arrangements of the hits of the day, cranking out an album every few months for 15 years at Columbia. You can usually guess the year his records came out by seeing what’s on them and adding a few months. Most of Born Free‘s trackless comes from 1966, and lo and behold, this album was released in April, 1967.
Every one of his records is more lush than the one before, and the cardigans of the early 60s gave way to mod fashions by the 70s. This one fits nicely in the middle with vocal versions of the title track and the impossibly catchy Music To Watch Girls By. SO catchy in fact that it was used in a British Car commercial in 1999 and was re-issued there, where it zoomed to Number One! If you have room for only one Andy Williams record (or have the intestinal fortitude to even listen to one), make sure you go with Born Free.
My $1 copy, unfortunately, was fairly priced by Goodwill. I should have known because it didn’t come with an inner sleeve. It did look shinny, though, so I went for it. This copy will hold a place in the Williams section until I run across it again. It won’t take long I suspect.
Cost: $1, $973 Remaining