What 365 albums look like.
That is 2 full shelves of a Billy Bookshelf by IKEA, plus 62 album improperly stored on the top shelf, plus the first, last and a personal favorite from the past year. I promise that I only set the 62 albums down on their sides for a minute for the photograph and then properly stored them on the lower shelf. I just spent a year creating this collection, there is no way I want them to start getting ring wear now!
I know virtually everyone in the record world today is talking about the 50th anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but I went record shopping and spent my last dollar on Mrs. Miller’s Greatest Hits. Very few people celebrated the 51st anniversary of this record last month, and I wanted this blog to be more about the Mrs. Millers of the world. If you’ve never heard this record, please know that your $1 copy is out there somewhere, and it will make a nice warm up to a Florence Foster Jenkins watch party.
I never got to do a theme week of classic soul albums that used stock photos of white people to sell records.
I never got to show the lengths some people went to sell records, even when they had no business being in the record business.
I never got to do a side by side comparison of two records and poll my readers on which record was scarier. The answer would have interesting.
I do the warning label on the Falwell record though. Keep away from Excessive Heat like molten rivers of lava, swarms of locusts and plagues.
But I think I did manage to avoid a cheesy ending. Record collecting is a lifetime pursuit for me, and a lifetime pursuit doesn’t end after one year. I still have the first records I bought with my own money 40 years ago, and I hope I’ll be collecting for 40 more. From time to time, I’ll be blogging about my finds, so, please stay tuned.
Miriam Makeba, Pata Pata, Reprise RS-6274, 1967
There is a world of possibilities waiting for a vinyl collector in the world music bins. Sure, you’ll find some junk, but you’ll also find some incredible experiences that you might not ever find out about any other way. I think most people know about The Beatles struggles-as an English speaking group no less- to be taken seriously in the US, so imagine how incredible a non English speaking international recording star had to be to even get a record release in this country. They would have to be well established and yet still able to create new music. It would be one thing to perform in a language somewhat familiar to Americans like French, Italian, or Portuguese, but it would be miraculous for a record sung in the Southern African language of Xhosa to catch on. Yet here one is.
It’s just a real shame that an artist with the stature of Miriam Makeba was subjected to the liner notes that Reprise came up with to sell this record. “Mama Africa”, her unofficial nickname given to her by an adoring continent would probably be surprised to know that she was “as splashy as Victoria Falls”. Still, it probably wasn’t as hard to overcome as growing up in poverty in Apartheid in South Africa. On her own since she was a young teen, it was a fortuitous meeting in London with Harry Belafonte in 1959 that led her to international fame, even though she never set foot in her homeland until the 1990s. Along the way, she became a leading voice for the struggles of black South Africans and performed around the world spreading the message.
This was by far her biggest hit in the US. While there are horns, a big beat, and amazing background singers, this is not an R&B or Soul record. Xhosa is indecipherable to understand a word of, but its clicking sounds and vocal pops create an incredible rhythm. It’s both foreign and familiar in a way, and a real joy to listen to. Almost every decent record store has an international section, and I’ve found some very interesting things in those bins. And they are much cheaper than international travel.
Cost: $6, $26 Remaining
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
Dino, Desi & Billy, I’m A Fool, Reprise R-6176, 1965
Known the world over for their total credibility as a rock trio, no one from their families had anything to do with Dino, Desi & Billy’s success. Frank Sinatra himself personally plucked this band from middle school obscurity and singed them to a major label deal, not based on any phone calls from anyone’s mother, but because of their (very) raw talent. It’s not every boy band that can lip sync weekly on national TV on shows produced by their parent’s production companies, based solely on their talent.
Known as the thinking man’s Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Dino, Desi & Billy met in grade school in Hollywood. By Junior High, they were ready for their big break, performing for Frank Sinatra in Dean Martin’s basement. Quickly signed to Frank’s Reprise Records, they were assigned top notch producers Billy Strange, Jack Nitzsche, and Lee Hazelwood. This was their first album and by far their biggest hit, but attempts at success were made for years, and the group made numerous TV appearances. It kinda came to an end only when Desi Arnaz Jr. joined his mother’s TV show, and Dino & Billy went to college.
As much as I kid, Billy Hinsche became a member of The Beach Boys in the 70s and sang backgrounds for Elton John and Waren Zevon. As for the others, Dean Paul Martin died in a plane crash, and Desi was briefly a TV heartthrob, at least until he took Marcia Brady on the cheek on The Brady Bunch. This is actually a pretty poor excuse for a pop record, but it’s fun to hear just for the cover of Like A Rolling Stone.
Cost: $2, $260 Remaining
Soundtrack, Laugh In ’69, Reprise RS-6335, 1969
This is an even easier soundtrack to produce than yesterday’s. It sounds like they just took pre-recorded bits from the show and strung them together into an album. The comedy bits from the sketch show could be played in any order from any episode. All they had to do was to take the least visual puns they had and segue them together.
The back cover pretty much gives the schtick of the show away. For some reason, the corniest puns of all time ended up making Laugh In the #1 TV show on the air when this record came out. I’m sure the jokes didn’t age well, TV writing got much better in the 70s as boundaries got expanded by people like Archie Bunker, but Laugh In certainly pushed the visual boundaries of the era. I don’t think people realized how corny it was, they were too busy looking at Goldie Hawn in a bikini doing the frug with “PEACE” written on her mid section.
So what if I don’t listen to this again. This record really is from a different era, and it was fairly priced at $2. Still, I’m glad I found it, even if I have to explain who Spiro Agnew was to anyone under 40 years old who listens to this with me.
Cost: $2, $351 Remaining
The Vogues, Turn Around, Look At Me, Reprise RS-6314, 1968
I won’t say that I love records like this, but I “get” records like this. And I’m probably close to alone on feeling that way too, because records like this are among the easiest to find in great shape for virtually no money. There are two top ten hits on this album, and one very soft smooth sound that delivers them. I’m sure at the time this record really appealed to a certain segment of the population even though the sound quickly became dismissed as elevator music.
The Vogues had been a huge vocal group in 1965-66. Their pop-rock hits You’re The One and Five O’Clock World made them one of the biggest American groups at the height of the British Invasion. But it didn’t last, and The Vogues were in need of a new sound. This was their comeback record. Issued a major label, Reprise, The group does their level best to sound just like The Lettermen.
This mint condition, $1 record won’t get a lot of play anymore, but it makes for a nice addition to a collection. Especially if you live in a town with no elevators.
Cost: $1, $369 Remaining
$71 Spent, $2.64 per record
The Beach Boys, Holland, Brothers/Reprise MS-2118, 1973
I love 70s Beach Boys albums. They’re wonderfully crafted and really strange at the same time. Holland is one of the best of the bunch. The group actually moved to a homemade studio in Baambrugge, Netherlands, a move that most of the band described as “awful”. Brian Wilson didn’t make the trip, and was still on the downward slope of a long decent into mental illness.
Fans of the classic lineup of the band won’t be very familiar of this group of musicians. Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar became full fledged Beach Boys for about four years, ending soon after this album came out. The “hit” of this album, Sail On Sailor is actually sung by Chaplain, which may explain why it’s so hard to place the voice from any other Beach Boys single.
Speaking of singles, Holland came with a “bonus” 7″EP that plays at 33 1/3 RPM. From a nasty tell all biography of the band, I learned that The Beach Boys’ contract with Warner Brothers/Reprise stated that a certain percentage of each album had to be written by Brian Wilson. As his condition worsened though, the band found themselves at odds with their leader. When the band heard Brian’s contribution Mount Vernon & Fariway (A Fairy Tale) they were aghast. It’s really hard to get through and not at all like the rest of the album. Contractually obligated to release something from Brian, and with only this to release, the band came up with this idea to include the music on a separate record. Look in any used 45 store under “Beach Boys” and you’ll find this bonus record.
Cost: $3, $396 Remaining
The Sinatra Family, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, Reprise FS-1026, 1968
If you’re like me, finding a record like this is about as great a gift as one could ever hope to receive. I can’t imagine the nerve it would take for an artist to try something like this today. Getting the whole family together for a Christmas album, despite the fact that the whole family has no business singing anything.
I suppose it helps when Dad owns a record company. Especially when Dad is trying to remain relevant to record buyers by appearing younger than he really was. The times, they were a changin’ too, and the smooth vocal style that The Sinatras were known for was hopelessly out of touch with fans of Janis Joplin and The Doors.
So while this record may have failed at the time (the inch long cut out on the jacket implying that a retailer returned this to the distributor because it didn’t sell), today we have a kooky kitschy ding dong of a Christmas record that is just so much fun. The stand out track is the reimagining of The 12 Days Of Christmas, with all of “the kids” getting presents for their father. I can just imagine Frank Sinatra in the lavender tie Nancy got him or playing with the nine Scrabble sets that Tina oddly bought. Tina, by the way, makes Nancy seem like Maria Calas, with serious tempo and pitch problems that would have her booted from American Idol in the preliminary rounds. This record is a must to find, it’ll bring you comfort and joy all year round.
Cost: $3, $542 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
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