Van Morrison, Moondance, Warner Brothers WS-1835, 1970
Sometimes a remarkable album comes out by someone you’d least expect from. Yes, Van Morrison had made bit of a name for himself as the lead singer of Them, and with a slightly bubblegum-ish 1967 hit single, Brown Eyed Girl. But who knew he had THIS in him? Brown Eyed Girl was a big enough hit that he got a major label deal with Warner Brothers, and Morrison spent most of 1968 preparing his Warner’s debut, Astral Weeks. It was a very jazzy and abstract record that was a hit with musicians and critics but didn’t really sell.
Moondance was the follow-up, and Morrison spent most of 1969 writing and recording it in Woodstock New York. When a half million hippies rolled into town, Morrison left for the city where he finished the record. Dropping a needle on side one, the record opens with And It Stoned Me, a song that literally jumps out at you. From there, you’re drawn in deeper and deeper until it ends. Crazy Love, Moondance, and Into The Mystic are classics of their-or any other-era. Yes, I love this record.
Oddly, there were no hit singles from Moondance. Come Running and Crazy Love were both released as singles, but neither charted. For some bizarre reason, Moondance was released as a single at the height of the Disco era in 1977, when it climbed all the way to #92. The album only reached #29 on the charts, but despite failing in all of the traditional measures of a hit album, Moondance still sold over three million copies. It has probably never been out of print. Naturally, I held out for an original Warner Brothers copy, with its gatefold cover and extensive liner notes.
Cost: $7, $19 Remaining
Diana Ross, Diana, Motown M8-936M1, 1980
Hard as it is to imagine considering her superstar statue, Diana Ross’ solo career was fairly disjointed. Yes, there were #1 hits every so often, but there never was a remarkable ground breaking record until this one. That I was able to find a really great copy of it for $2 is not a testament to how good it is, but because it sold millions of copies and, well, people don’t like to move with albums.
The legend goes that Ms. Ross was hanging out at Studio 54 one night and heard (and met) producers Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. Their group Chic blended funk and soul in a very clean modern way. Ross, knowing a good thing when she heard it, asked Rodgers and Edwards to produce her next album. She told them she wanted to turn her career upside down, and come out with a whole new sound.
Rodgers and Edwards responded with amazing material, that Motown hated. Their own producer sat down with Ross and stripped most of the disco sounding guitar riffs and sped up the playback speed of the tracks before releasing it. Rodgers and Edwards sued of course, but the public didn’t care. The backstage drama still produced Diana Ross’ biggest album.
Cost: $2, $253 Remaining
Martin Luther King Jr., The Great March To Freedom, Gordy 906, 1968
I don’t mean it in a condemning way, but I too have a dream, that one day I can own a copy of every Motown record issued in the 60s and 70s. And that means trying to collect the four albums the company issued of Martin Luther King’s speeches. It won’t be easy, this is the only one I’ve ever seen, and I was able to buy it for just $5 last year in Richmond Virginia. This was the first of the King releases on Motown’s Gordy subsidiary, and despite the catalogue number of 906, it was just the fourth album released with a Gordy label.
It probably helped that this speech was given in Detroit as far as Motown being there to record it, but Berry Gordy put his own name down as the record’s producer, something that supposedly was a real source of pride for him. Gordy 908 was the “I Have A Dream” speech from the March On Washington and it was issued later in 1963. Both Gordy 906 and 908 we reissued in 1968 after King’s assassination and sold much better than the first pressings. Naturally, I found the 1968 version, easy to spot by the second version of the Gordy label on my record. The yellow spear version debuted in early 1968, replacing the original yellow script and globe logo. Second pressings still have the gatefold covers of the original, and are still more valuable than the 80s pressing on the Motown label.
Before Twitter, the spoken word record was a real thing. Politicians and Preachers made the most use of them, but there weren’t many that sold very well. Motown wasn’t the only company that released King recordings. There were many versions of the “Dream” speech, and many tribute albums that came out after King’s death that all sold well. Motown, always willing to sell a record to someone who wanted to buy it, actually started a special spoken word label to release more speeches and message records. Called Black Forum, the label’s first release in 1970 was Martin Luther King’s “Why I Oppose The Vietnam War”
Cost: $5, $481 Remaining
Stories, About Us, Kama Sutra KSBS-2068, 1973
There are a million stories out there about records and how they came to be. This is a good one but it’s not all that unique. There’s the part about the all-white group (Stories) taking an all-black group’s (Hot Chocolate) song (Brother Louie)and having the bigger hit with it. Stories added a nice twist to that story by having the song literally about a white man coming in to a black family and taking away their daughter…
Another story is about how Stories came about in the first place. Michael Brown, who found pop success in the 60s with his previous group The Left Banke met Ian Lloyd through their fathers who had played together for years in orchestras. They set about creating a new baroque/beatlesque rock band and called the group Stories. About Us was their second album and it appeared headed for the great dust bin in the sky and Michael Brown left the group to work on other projects. A previously recorded track that wasn’t on the album was released as a final single, and Brother Louie shot to #1. Kama Sutra recalled the album and added the single to it and quickly re-released it.
The last story here is how unintended success can ruin things. Shocked by their sudden hit status, the group fell apart because covering British Soul records was not the direction they wished their group to go. There was one more album, but Stories certainly go down as being a one hit wonder. It’s true that the rest of the album sounds nothing like the hit, but original copies of this record without the hit are worth big bucks. As it is here, it was fairly priced at $2…
Cost: $2, $502 Remaining
Roberta Flack, Feel Like Makin’ Love, Atlantic SD-18131, 1975
She doesn’t get enough credit today, but Roberta Flack was probably the best selling female solo artist for a few years in the early 70s. This album was the last one released during that incredible streak. Curiously, it came out 10 months after the #1 title track, but it’s still a fantastic record that blends soul with jazz and pop.
There’s not much to the artwork, but the front cover does imply winter turning into spring. That’s good because that’s the first line of the first song on side one.
It’s a gatefold cover, so at least on the inside we get a small picture of baby Roberta and not much else beyond some really great credits. I’ve been lucky enough to see both Patti Austin and Betty Buckley in concert, and it’s great to know they’re singing the background vocals.
I know this isn’t really a theme week, but I’ve been finding really great records to show. Not just random oddities that fit my budget but very solidly done music that just doesn’t get heard much these days. This album is really great and all it took to take home forever was $2 and about 2 hours of sifting through 2000 used R&B records.
Cost: $2, $650 Remaining
Donna Summer, Bad Girls, Casablanca NBLP-2-7150, 1979
It doesn’t matter to a bargain record buyer what genre of music is on the record. We buy anything! While I personally get more excited about a classic rock album than a classic disco album, finding a great copy of the ultimate disco album is still a good thing.
The Saturday Night Fever soundtrack may be the ultimate disco record, but this double album from Donna Summer is right behind it. Never comfortable with the Love Goddess image given to her by her producer Georgio Moroder, she wanted this record to done more in a rock style than pure dance music. The combination is really great, and the album became the biggest of her career.
After this record, and as the best selling female artist in the world, she felt strong enough to go further with her interest in rock music, but Casablanca refused to back her. She signed with the then new Geffen Records to get more creative freedom. Casablanca chose to do what record companies always do, release a greatest hits package, and mine this album for “new” singles for two years. Both the artist and the company saw the sales dry up, and by 1981 the artist was considered a has been and the company was out of business. Still, this record is really great (it would be an amazing single record!), and one that is easy enough to find.
Cost: $2, $652 Remaining
Melanie, Photograph, Atlantic SD-18190, 1976
We all grow up someday. It can be hard to accept or even know exactly when it happens, but like Johnny Paper in Puff The Magic Dragon, even flower children age. So it’s not really a question THAT a Hippie ages, it’s HOW a Hippie ages.
Melanie was a great Pop Hippie. Probably the last big name to come out of the Greenwich Village, she made a name for herself at Woodstock and a Buddah Records contract followed. Her raspy, yet sunny voice fit the AM radio sound and her 1972 #1 song Brand New Key was her commercial peak, fueled by the line “some people say I’ve done alright for a girl”.
But time and trends change. A grown up flower child is less precocious and sings with a less sunny outlook. Melanie’s voice is still strong, but I can totally see how this wouldn’t succeed at the dawn of the disco era. What might have been a huge hit a few years before quickly ended up in a discount bin.
And it is a great album! Atlantic went all out on packaging, with a gatefold cover a cool schoolbook cover style inner sleeve. But it wasn’t meant to be, and Melanie was dropped from the label.
Cost: $1, $857 Remaining