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
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
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
Chad & Jeremy, Yesterday’s Gone, World Artists WAM-2002, 1964
Yesterday’s Gone was a minor British hit. Released in the UK in November 1963, it managed to climb to #37 on the British charts. The only thing good about that chart run was the timing. In the wake of The Beatles’ success in the US with I Want To Hold Your Hand, every American record company tried to snap up every unsigned act imaginable. The big labels got the big acts, naturally, but minor acts like Chad & Jeremy had to take what they could get.
In fact, they were close to breaking up when their tiny UK label, Ember, leased Yesterday’s Gone to tiny World Artist Records. Released in March , 1964, the single hit a respectable #21 in the US. Their follow up, the UK flop A Summer Song did much better, hitting #7. That justified this album, which also found a groove with US buyers. Quickly signed to Columbia, they had hits into 1966 and major label releases through the decade.
The reason I chose to write about the album though is the great lengths World Artists went to differentiate the mono and stereo versions of the record. The stereo is pretty rare, and it came with a smaller cover picture and a gold jacket, while the mono has a larger picture on a white background. The mono also has a sticker on it to remind folks that A Summer Song is included on the record. I’ve yet to run into a small label that went to the trouble to print two different cover slicks for a record.
Cost: $3, $248 Remaining
The Smothers Brothers, Live At The Purple Onion, Mercury SR-60611, 1961
The Smothers Brothers began their long fruitful career in 1958 at San Francisco’s The Purple Onion. The same small beatnik coffeehouse launched the careers of The Kingston Trio and Phyllis Diller, and this record is both of it’s time and ahead of it’s time for where The Brothers took musical comedy in the 60s. They sing some of the the same folk songs as The Kingston Trio, but there’s a bite to them that is missing from the trio’s #1 albums for Capitol.
But this really isn’t an update on the nature of the record, I’m writing today to show the lengths record companies went to to sell two different kinds of records. Record sleeves of the classic vinyl era were made of cardboard that was then covered with what was called a cover slick. It was more economical to produce a color front slick with a black and white rear cover slick. But, because albums were released in both mono and stereo formats, front cover slicks had to differentiate between the two.
The easiest thing to do was design an elongated front cover slick, with this record being a prime example. The top edge would scream that this was a stereo record, suitable for those who had the money to invest in a true stereo sound system and pay 10% more to buy stereo records. The bottom part of the front slick would be reserved for the more economical mono record purchaser. The sort of Chevy Biscayne driving record buyer who’s home player was “affordable” or only had one speaker. The record company could then fold either appropriate edge onto the back of the cardboard sleeve and cover the non applicable part with the back cover slick. This Mercury jacket shows how easy it was to do. Plus, I get to choose between stereo or mono when I need to hear The Smothers Cover of Tom Dooley.
Cost: $2, $270 Remaining
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
Joni Mitchell, Ladies Of The Canyon, Reprise RS-6376, 1970
I really wanted to showcase a Leonard Cohen album today. But it turns out I don’t have any, bought at any price. A record with one of his sons being covered would have been great too, but I couldn’t find any of those either. So I turned to another classic record form a similar vein.
Joni Mitchell through her songwriting first blended folk, rock, art, and social justice into one seamless package. That she could sing like an angel was almost an after thought. This album came out as her star was still rising, and the best known songs on it were made so by being recorded by other people.
It’s not in perfect condition, but at $2 who cares. It’s Joni Mitchell at her best, and that’s worth a few pops.
Cost: $2, $654 Remaining