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
Jerry Smith And His Pianos, Truck Stop, ABC S-692, 1969
This is one of those weird cases of a major label release where neither the album or the artist are deemed worthy enough to have a Wikipedia page! Jerry Smith seems to be a Nashville session piano player of some regard, meaning that he played with some of the all time greats of Country and early Rock music. With legendary producer Bill Justis, he wrote Down At Papa Joe’s, a 1963 hit for The Dixiebelles, and if you know and like the bouncy old timey piano on that song, you’re going to love this record.
If you can find it that is! With no apparent appearance on any chart, or a follow-up album on ABC, this record probably didn’t sell as many copies as there are 18 Wheelers on the cover. Perhaps the three Pure Girls on the cover also bought one. They get credit on the cover, but beyond that this doesn’t seem to be a Union Oil co-production. Still, I could see copies of this record sitting in truck stop bargain bins for years.
The music is very outdated for 1969, but with a track called Speakeasy 1929 on it, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. It might have done better in the 40s or 50s, but even country music had moved past this sound by the Woodstock era. It’s probably one of those cases of someone being “due” to make a record, but has no idea how to go about it, like someone who enjoys cooking opening a restaurant. The result is usually very far off from the original intent.
Cost: $1, $191 Remaining
Ray Stevens, Everything Is Beautiful, Barnaby Z12-35005, 1970
Ray Stevens sure has had a career. After all, how many novelty acts are in the Christian Music Hall Of Fame? Able to top the R&B, Pop and Country charts, win Grammys, and have a network TV show, you’d think he’d be regarded as a household name. But probably due to the natural life span of a mostly novelty hit career and a notorious reputation of being a difficult person to do business with tend to keep him as an afterthought today.
This was probably his signature non-novelty record. If there’s one thing Ray Stevens has, it’s a sense of timing. It’s not everyone that could release a memorable Streaking record the week after a guy streaked on live TV at The Oscars. Chosen to host the summer replacement show for Andy Williams in 1970, Ray wrote Everything Is Beautiful for the show’s theme song and it took of like wildfire on the pop charts. It came along at a time when semi-christian themes we’re popping up in the Top 40, and it sounded wonderful next to Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit In The Sky and Ocean’s Put Your Hand In The Hand. Besides the #1 hit title track, the rest of the album is an odd mix of Rock hits of the day, and Ray Stevens is no Joe Cocker when it comes to them.
Barnaby Records was Andy Williams’ own label. Named for his dog, Williams only really started a record company because he bought the master tapes of the defunct Cadence Records to avoid a competitor from snapping them up, re-releasing them, and competing with his new Columbia recordings. Ray Stevens had the only real hits the label ever released. I suppose the next time I’ll listen to this record will be to calm down after Ray Stevens goes on another public rant about health care reform or climate change to remind myself that everyone is beautiful in their own way.
Cost: $2, $218 Remaining
Olivia Newton John, Let Me Be There, MCA 389, 1973
For a superstar, Olivia Newton John had a long strange path to the top. A household name in Australia from the mid 60s, by the early 70s, she found some middling success in the UK, and one minor hit in the US, If Not For You. It was this album that was her first real US breakthrough.
But because she had several albums released in other countries, MCA cobbled together 10 songs from three albums and used 2 year old photography (from the 1972 album Olivia). On one hand, it’s kind of an early greatest hits collection from a brand new singer, but really, it feels kind of like a Beatles album released by VJ Records. There’s no coherent theme, and the songs swing wildly from adult contemporary to rock to country.
Which is why I was able to pick up this neat mint copy for $1.50 at a clearance sale. Olivia Newton John’s pre-Grease records have very little value these days. They’re really not terrible though, and I’m old enough to remember these songs on the radio, so it’s a nice addition to my shelf.
Cost: $2, $239 Remaining
Johnny Lee, Lookin’ For Love, Asylum 6E-309, 1980
It’s safe to call Johnny Lee a one hit wonder. The title track of this album hit #5 on the charts thanks to it’s inclusion in the John Travolta movie Urban Cowboy. It was the perfect country bar band song for a movie, and the female background singer did her level best to sound just like Stevie Nicks. Outside of a follow up that peaked at #54, this was his only chart success. It’s a very common tale, but unfortunately for most people, this song is known for something else.
With the record still on the charts, Eddie Murphy did a parody of a mail order record commercial on Saturday Night Live. “Buckwheat Sings” became an instant classic as Murphy stuttered his way though the hits of the day dressed like the Little Rascals character from the 30s. “Lookin’ For Love” became “Wookin’ Pa Nub” and was born.
Maybe Lee’s problem was that the Country Music community didn’t really appreciate being branded as the latest dance fad for the larger community. A John Travolta movie didn’t help. Lookin’ For Love sounded very Country on 1980 Pop radio, but very Pop on Country radio. That’s never a good place to be for a recording artist, and Lee is still playing shows nightly in Branson.
Cost: $2, $453 Remaining
Dolly Parton, 9 To 5 And Odd Jobs, RCA AAL1-3852, 1980
Country Music has waves of popularity on the pop charts from time to time, and the very early 80s was certainly one of those times. Eddie Rabbitt, Crystal Gayle, Roseanne Cash & Ronnie Milsap were having pop hit after pop hit in those years, but none of them were, ahem, bigger than Dolly Parton was.
I read somewhere that (unbelievably) 1980s cars are going up in value on the collector’s market. I think the same may be true for 80s records. While I might not have forked over 200 pennies for this a few years ago, I think records like this in good shape will never be this cheap again and will become scarce with the resurgence in vinyl collecting.
This album was one of the biggest sellers of its era, thanks to its inclusion in the film of the same name, so its really easy to find for not much money…now. Huge selling pop records almost always have a limited number of owners who want to hold on to a record for 37 years, so they turn up all the time. I’ve even been noticing a few Thrillers pop up in vintage stores, and Prince’s records can’t be far behind. But for now, I’m happy to have Dolly to listen to 8 hours a day.
Cost: $3, $499 Remaining