Sonny & Cher, Live In Las Vegas Vol. 2, MCA2-8004, 1974
There are 1001 books out there on the 1001 most essential records every vinyl fan must have to be considered a serious collector. Beatles records, Bob Dylan’s 60s albums, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones all have multiple entries on these lists. Good condition original copies of these records are very expensive, averaging up to $40 each for records that virtually everyone already knows by heart. Songs from these albums get airplay on the radio everyday, and they languish on lists of best selling digital downloads. These are not obscure records.
This album isn’t on any of these kinds of lists. It spent a few weeks on the Billboard Top 200 album chart, climbing all the way to #175. With their hugely public split about to occur in 1974, this was the last album of new material of Sonny & Cher’s long career. Even though it’s mostly just an album of cover material, you get a sense of what a Vegas ballroom show was like in 1973.
So, while no one will ever call this an essential record, it is a fun one. When I ‘m making dinner or something, I’m much more likely to reach for a record like this than I am Dark Side Of The Moon. When friends come over and want to see my new discoveries, I pull out Sonny & Cher Live In Las Vegas Vol. 2 every time over The Velvet Underground. It’s fun records like this that I find essential, and I can have 1001 of them for the same price as the top 50 critically acclaimed records.
Cost: $1, $264 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
Cass Elliot, Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore, RCA APL1-0303, 1973
Mama Cass was really ready for a make over in the early 70s. Gaining fame as a member of The Mamas & The Papas, Cass Elliot earned her nickname, even though she came to despise being called “Mama”. After three failed solo albums billed as “Mama Cass” on her old record company Dunhill, she signed with RCA as simply “Cass Elliot.
The first two RCA albums also flopped, so for her third, Cass got motivated to make a clean break of anything related to ‘Mama’ even if that meant putting together a cabaret act and leaving rock music behind. After all, her biggest solo hit Dream A Little Dream Of Me was an old American Pop standard and the new musical direction was aimed towards that bullseye.
I just wish it were better. She had one of the most amazing pop voices of all time, it was strong yet sensitive. But these songs, recorded live at a cabaret club in Chicago, are just bad. Yes, she sings her hit, and a couple of other has of the day, but the rest is just pure schmaltz. The era of the cabaret was dying by the mid 70s, and it was not a sign of a strong career move to make. Not that it mattered for poor Cass Elliot. She died of heart failure just months after this record came out. This bad album was the last one she released.
Cost: $2, $374 Remaining
Martha & The Vandellas, Live!, Gordy 925, 1967
Poor Martha. By the time this record came out it was beyond obvious that all of Motown’s creative forces were going towards furthering the career of a few of their artists. Others, like Martha & The Vandellas got the creative crumbs of material deemed not good enough to become a Supremes record. This was the only Vandellas album release of 1967, and the company couldn’t be bothered to design a new cover for it. It’s the exact same template that was used in 1966 for The Temptations Live! The Vandellas even cover The Temptations version of For Once In My Life.
Martha wrote in her autobiography that her performances in Detroit were always attended by other Motown royalty. Diana Ross wold sit in the front row next to Berry Gordy and come up with “notes” on all that went wrong during the show. So I’m sure the pressure was on to have a good show, especially this night. The Twenty Grand Club was located just a mile away from the Motown studios, so it became a home away from home for the company.
As much as I love the group, it’s not a great album. It’s really interesting to hear Betty Kelly get a solo and banter moments with Martha, but the technical recording isn’t very good. There are better live recordings on youtube of the group, and I highly recommend the awkwardness of Casey Kasem interviewing the group at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles before a Dodger Game. Obviously, as with any Motown album, buy it if you see it at a good price, but it may not be the most listened to record in any collection.
Cost: $5, $426 Remaining
Johnny Carson, Here’s Johnny!, Casablanca SPNB-1296, 1974
Casablanca was one of the biggest labels of the 70s, but in 1974, it was just starting out. Without much of an artist roster, they looked for other ways of selling records. Releasing a greatest hits record on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson was one of their earliest releases. Even in 1974, Carson was mining his past to increase his income.
As schlocky as it seems to have a sound recording of a TV that was taped before a studio audience might seem, there are some pretty decent moments on here. Unfortunately, much like the way the show ended up, the Carson bits go on too long and take up too much of the space on the album. Which isn’t helped by the lengthy crowd responses, some of which I suspect were added in way after the fact. No one wants to hear the first 5 minutes of the first show when three minutes of it Johnny Carson being introduced and cheering while he gets ready to begin his monologue.
There’s a really unnecessary poster included, but the real draw are some of the music and comedy bits. Johnny always gave a great introduction, and some of these are just incredible. Lenny Bruce and Bette Midler (“she had an unusual start singing in a Turkish Bath in New York”…which is one way to put it). I wouldn’t go our of my way to find this record, but it was a decent listen.
Cost: $2, $512 Remaining
Elvis Presley, Moody Blue, RCA AFL1-2428, 1977
Naturally, it’s every record buyers dream to find a $2 record that turns out to be some rare collectible worth thousands. This isn’t one of them, despite my momentary hope that it was.
This was Elvis Presley’s last studio album. Moody Blue had been a decent size hit in early 1977, hitting #1 on the country chart, but only #31 pop. RCA wanted to release an album around it, but there wasn’t enough material recorded for one. A followup single Way Down came out in June, and the company took some live recordings and previously unreleased (and horribly overproduced!) tracks to release this album in July. They even pressed some copies on clear blue vinyl to tie in the theme of the title track.
But then the unimaginable happened. Elvis died, and suddenly this record was in serious demand, as was the Way Down single. RCA cranked up their pressing plants, and due to the sentiment, pressed all of the records on clear blue vinyl. An album that might have sold 75,000 copies sold over a million by the end of the year. Nearly 40 years later, one might find one of them in a $2 and think they made a real find. Oddly though, it’s the few thousand copies pressed on regular black vinyl that were pressed before Elvis died that are worth about $300 today. Because vinyl variations usually mean rare, people try to hawk one of these for outrageous prices, when it was fairly priced at $2.
Cost: $2, $554 Remaining
Arco Guthrie, Alice’s Restaurant, Reprise RS-6267, 1968
Happy Thanksgiving! Yes, it’s mean to label an artist for one little aspect of their life’s work, especially one that was produced when the artist was 20 years old, but this record is an important part of assembling an American Thanksgiving dinner. It’s just one of the things that you know by heart and you’ve heard for years, but it just takes on a special meaning when you drop the needle on it just after you put the bird in the oven. Sorry Arlo. I know it’s not what you’re about or what you set out to do, but for 18 minutes and 40 seconds of every year, you’re a one hit wonder.
Yes, there’s a side two. And Arlo had bigger hit records, as well as carried on the musical legacy started by his amazing father Woody Guthrie. But, geese it’s just nice to have a Thanksgiving tradition that has a nodding recognition of approval from those in the know. So who really cares too much about the talented artist behind the tradition. Gene Autry was so much more than Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, and misc fans know the difference between him and Elmo & Patsy. The same goes for Arlo Guthrie.
So, yes, Arlo, accept the fact that you’ve made littering into the ultimate out, that going with the flow is what makes a great thanksgiving, and that a tradition is a tradition. Alice’s Restaurant is an easy record to find, and it’s a guaranteed record to get played at least once a year. There aren’t too many records I can say that about.
Cost: $4, $629 Remaining
Tony Bennett, Live At Carnegie Hall, Columbia C2S-823, 1962
Live albums usually are that great. The music never sounds as good as the original record you already know, and the crowd noises get in the way. Sure, unique ones like Frampton Comes Alive stand out, but that was an album of new material, just performed live.
But sometimes you just catch a great performer at the peak of their talent, Judy Garland’s 1961 album comes to mind. Taking a $1 bet on this record wasn’t much of a risk, but it’s a record that is every bit as good as Judy’s.
Tony Bennett was very much a contemporary artist in 1962, with his recent hit I Left My Heart In San Francisco being featured, along with other hits of the day and past Bennett classics. But really, the swinging jazz-style concert is really great. Seeing that he’s now 90, there probably aren’t too many chances left to see a Tony Bennett concert. I’m glad I can hear one whenever I want.
Cost: $1, $633 Remaining
Diana Ross & The Supremes, Live At London’s Talk Of The Town, Motown MS 676, 1968
It’s a big no-no to take pictures in a casino. At best, you’ll be asked to stop, and at worst, arrested. But I have a fool proof method for pulling it off. Find a casino that was at one point the swankiest nightclub on Earth. Then find a still sealed copy of a live album recorded at said nightclub. Take said album into the former club and now casino, and look for the stage. Then ask to photograph said album on said stage.
Apparently, Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney we’re in the audience in February 1968 when this album was recorded on this stage, all of which was a revelation to the staff that was working at the casino. They were so happy to see my record that they said I could take as many pictures as I want, as long as I didn’t show any players.
I had a harder time getting a photo of the album outside the building. I’m guessing by the looks I got that no-one in 2016 London knows that the now run down Hippodrome knows that it was once a very hip place, or what a vinyl record is. But no matter, it’s a sealed Supremes record coming home for a day.
Cost: $6, $659 Remaining
The Strugglers, Two Beers And Everybody Sings, Warner Brothers 1257, 1959
What was probably a fun album to play at a college party in 1959, a high school party in 1969, or a junior high school party in 1979, is now a very funny Goodwill record to look for. Apparently, there really was a band called The Stugglers, who played old-timey songs in a real club called The Red Garter, in some made up town they called San Francisco.
There’s really not anything of interest here for the record listener, or the music buff. It’s just an odd collection of drinking tunes that had a mild impact on the few people who ever heard it. Really, at this point, it’s the kind of thing you’d see framed at a brew pub somewhere.
I don’t mean to put it down, it’s just that the title of this record is so preposterous, and then to assume that after getting blotto on two beers, “everyone” will sing I Want A Girl Just Like The Girl That Married Dear Ole Dad…it is to laugh. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a third beer.
Cost: $1, $689