I’ve certainly learned nothing important, nothing that will help me improve my life or the lives around me. But I think I learned a lot about what the two generations before me liked in music. The “Greatest Generation,” and to a lesser extent the “Baby Boomers,” listened to a lot of stuff that you never hear anymore. Artists that I’ve heard of all my life, but who really meant nothing to me, were wildly popular 35-55 years ago.
When vinyl died its first death in the late 80’s and early 90’s, a lot of people replaced their favorite vinyl albums with cassettes and CD’s. I know because I worked at Musicland at our local mall. What I also know is that 95% of the stuff that fills vinyl bins at second-hand stores, flea markets and even record stores that specialize in vinyl, weren’t replaced. When grandma and grandpa died their kids gave away their collections.
You know that these old records sat around for years, maybe decades. A lot of ’em smell like mothballs and the mustiness of a mid-century home’s basement (you know those places, asbestos tiles and wood paneled walls.) But I digress (as usual.)
Here’s the stuff that you are guaranteed to find at your local Salvation Army, Goodwill or _____ second hand store:
* Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
* Perry Como
* Andy Williams
* Multiple disk classical, hymns and Christmas songs packages
* Barbara Streisand’s 70’s stuff
* Barry Manilow
* Bobby Vinton
* Any number of classical works
* Acker Bilk — Who the feck is that guy?
* Johnny Mathis
* Roger Whittaker
* Lou Rawls
* Marches of all types
* Al Hirt
* Lawrence Welk — a favorite of my grandmother
* Mitch Miller
* Polkas, polkas, polkas and more polkas; polka records by the dozen — There were and are a lot of Polish folks around Detroit so that explains a bit of that.
There are cooler (to Generation X-er’s and hip Baby Boomers) things to be found, but they finding real gems is like hitting the Daily 3 or 4 lottery. Aretha Franklin — I’m not a fan but … — is not too hard to find. The Detroit second hand shops, meaning those right in the city, always have some Motown platters. Sadly, most of those records are pretty beat up. But they are there to be found. Of course, Detroit is a rock town so you’ll find Foghat, Nazareth, ZZ Top, Ted Nugent and Bob Seger. Elvis is easy to be found, but usually it’s some lousy compilation album that has been beaten to death. What you’ll never find in those stores are the giants of the vinyl era: The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Kinks, good Elvis stuff, Chuck Berry, Neil Young… the core of the early rock and classic rock periods. You gotta go to a record store for that stuff and you’ll find it there for a few bucks more than what you’d pay at Salvation Army.
The great thing about the few records stores that are out there is that they only buy old records with an eye toward re-selling them. They might buy a beat up Zeppelin album, but you won’t pay more than a $1 for it. The bulk of what they take in for sale at $5, $7, $10 to $20 has to be in great shape and/or really hard to find. The real gems are in the records stores.
Maybe I didn’t really learn anything about anyone. Maybe what I really learned is that Herb Alpert and Mitch Miller sold a shitload of records in their day and probably retired and/or died billionaires. Their albums are as common and easy to find as squirrels on a tree-lined street.