What I’ve learned from foraging for vinyl in second hand stores.

25 12 2012

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.


Hello Records in Corktown, Detroit — a hidden gem for audiophiles

3 11 2012

Sometimes the best is small, well-worn and unassuming.  Sometimes the coolest places to hang and the best stores to patronize are hidden in the dark recesses of urban and suburban areas.

In the heart of Corktown, Detroit, Michigan’s “oldest neighborhood,” is Hello Records.  It’s a vinyl lovers dream!  It’s located at Bagley and Trumbull (two blocks from the former Tiger Stadium.)

Hello Records is a small cozy space.  A really cool, easygoing guy — with a ton of music knowledge — Wade, owns and operates the place.  He has jam-packed the small store full of records.  I don’t think there is much that he doesn’t have (at least at one time or another.)  In Hello Records you’ll an amazing selection of rock, soul/R&B, funk, country and jazz records.  Not surprisingly, Motown works are plentiful.  I, personally, have loved the selection of 45’s of classic and lesser-known Marvin Gaye albums, compilations and 45’s.

This is a very no-frills store. You won’t find CD’s, DVD’s and cheap music merchandise.  You’ll just find LP’s and 45’s at great prices.  Since I’ve been buying vinyl the last month or more, I’ve gotten used to checking out antiques malls, digging through boxes of moth-ball-scented records at (various) Salvation Army and other thrift stores.  Records in antique stores can be reasonably priced; mostly they’re a tad over-priced.  The best you can hope for in a second-hand store is to find maybe two albums out hundreds, that you really like.  Not so with Hello Records.  The selection is so good — probably due to constant rotation (no pun intended) — I can’t help but walk out of there at least $10 lighter in the wallet.  That doesn’t sound like much unless you consider I’m popping in there 3-4 times per week.

Wade knows customer service.  His prices are reasonable and he seems inclined to reward customers buying a lot of material at once and repeat business.  The quality of most of the higher and mid-priced records is excellent.  The records are generally very clean and listenable.  If a record has snap, crackle and pop, but is still listenable, you’ll get it for a nice price.

For me, this is one of those places I could imagine myself loitering in for hours!  Places like this are all but dead.  Hopefully growing interest in vinyl will keep this great place going and other real record will spring up (again) in our cities and suburbs.

Hello Records in Corktown, Detroit, Michigan


Wild, wacky vinyl

4 10 2012

I’m starting to buy vinyl, not to be a pretentious hipster or audiophile, but because I love music.  Buying vinyl allows me to get some old stuff that is hard to find on CD and also to get my hands on some great stuff from places like the Salvation Army or other thrift stores.

Because I am trolling resale shops, hoping to stumble on a rare gem or two, I’m running across a lot of crazy stuff that I can’t even imagine anyone ever having owned.  It’s no secret that there are thousands of crazy, kooky, ugly, bizarre LP jackets.  They can be interesting pieces of  bad pop art.  Some of it has comedic value — good for a cheap laugh.  I found some records yesterday that made me giggle, made me shake my head in disbelief…  I didn’t buy any of these albums, but I hope you can appreciate the pics.

Rockin’ Easy — It’s entirely possible that many of us Generation X-ers were conceived with the sweets sounds of albums like this playing in the background.  What I’m quite sure of is that our parents didn’t “make whoopy” on an unsteady rowboat, in the middle of some scummy pond.

Win This Record (?), David Lindley & El Rayo X — I don’t know what the heck the name of this album really is.  Is it Win This Record, or does that mean that the distribution strategy for this record was to give it away as some crappy prize to a radio call in contest?  Was “caller number 5” the lucky guy or gal to pick up this rockin’ piece?  Clearly, the smash hit on this album is “Talk to the Lawyer.”  I’m speculating that’s a song about a couple heading for divorce.  The can’t agree on who gets the sofa and who gets the china.  An argument ensues and one of the disgruntled soon-to-be-ex spouses says, “Talk to the Lawyer.”  What else could it be?

A Brand New Song, the Carroll McGruder Trio — There’s no beating what I assume to be their stage outfits.  I tried to look up this album and find a track listing, but I was unsuccessful.  This is …err was … a southern gospel group.  I’ll betcha lunch that this is a record full of ole’ time gospel covers, with not a “brand new” song to be found.

Champion of Love, Glad — Just how does one become a “champion of love”?  Is there a playoff system?  How do you score the match.  The lads look like So Cal version of Menudo.  Given their appearance, maybe the band name should be GLAAD.

The Last of the Romantics, Englebert (Humperdink) — Boy, someone really thinks quite highly of himself.  This album was released in 1978.  I’m quite sure that there have been plenty of “romantics” in the last 34 years.   I’m sure she’s thinking, as he holds her steady with a death grip on her face, “Please release me, let me gooooo….”  An aside: everytime I hear or see this guy’s name, I can’t help but giggle at John Lennon having called Paul McCartney “Englebert Humperdink” in the early 70’s.

A Lover’s Question, Jacky Ward — “A Lover’s Question,” “Fools Fall in Love,” and “Big Blue Diamond.”  I don’t know what question the “lover” asked, but I just can’t see Jacky knowing the answer.  “Fools Fall in Love,” obviously, suggests it’s not good to fall in love.  So why the “Big Blue Diamond”?  We are left to conclude that only a “fool” would “fall in love” and give his girl a diamond worth four months rent at the trailer park.

Hollywood in Rhythm, Ray Coniff — Maybe it’s me, but I don’t understand what the connection exists between a skinny mannequin and “Hollywood.”

Swingin’ School Songs — Perfect mid-century collegiate material.  Fight Songs from some of America’s most well-known universities are found on this disk.  I want one of those sweaters, but I just want the block “S” to be green — Go State!  The “artists” are Dave Pell and his Octet.  I’m assuming the gleeful collegians on the cover aren’t the octet since there are only 5 of them.

Heleno — Our man, Heleno (presumably), appears to be a mafia tough guy dressed up for a night out at Studio 54 circa 1979.  Supposedly, you can’t judge a book but its cover.  But you might be able to judge an album buy it.  I’d bet a baker’s dozen donuts that the music on this album is measurably worse than the cover itself.

Whipped Cream & Other Delights, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass — For reasons I still don’t understand, there were two copies of this record in my parent’s album collection.  I never once put this on the turntable, but I was always interested in the cover.  You can find this album anywhere.  By the amount of copies floating around at garage sales, flea markets and second-hand stores, you’d think this album went 10x platinum back in the day.

This is an “album,” or a “long playing record,” kids.

23 07 2012

My personal feeling about vinyl records is that they are cumbersome, not particularly portable, sound awful when scratched, and generally inferior to compact discs. I know many audiophiles will disagree, but that’s where I stand. Still, there’s nothing like an LP for functional, 3 dimensional musical art. I’m glad vinyl is making a big comeback, for that reason alone. I found this Smokey Robinson & The Miracles album at a pawn shop in Hastings, Michigan, and just had to have it. One, the vinyl is pristine. Two, it’s a nice – though slightly campy – piece of Motown art. Three, you just can’t get albums like this on CD. It seems like all that can be found out there are bad “best ofs” and lousy compilations that have the same 5, 8 songs that always get radio play. I hope to soon give this a spin. I betcha it’s a solid album.

My Winter Albums (Part 1)

29 12 2011

Some songs remind us of love, family, friendships, joy, sadness, birth, death, events in our lives and even entire years or seasons. (At least that’s true for me.)  There are entire albums that, regardless of their release date, remind me of winter or are good albums to listen to during that season.

These are my winter albums.

5150, Van Halen — I faked being sick so I could stay home from school and hear the worldwide debut (on radio) of the new Van Halen’s first single, “Why Can’t This Be Love.”  Of my own memory, I can only recall that the day was cold and gray.  The song, though decent, was a bit of a letdown.  Amazon.com says the single was released on March 26, 1986, which sounds about right.  The entire 5150 album.  Was released in April of that year.  Why does it remind me of winter?  I don’t know other than to say that it was cold when I first heard the first single.  I know “Summer Nights” is on that album, but I had played it probably a hundred times before the ground thawed.

Rubber Soul, The Beatles —  I don’t know why exactly, but this album seems like one to listen to as fall breaks into winter, about this time of year.  That’s probably because I always envisioned in my mind the lyrics to “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).”  I imagined the couple drinking wine next to a roaring fire — though the “fire” that was “lit” in the song was the woman’s house burning to the ground after rejecting our protagonist.  Before I had the album, I had Love Songs, the compilation album of Beatles ballads that Capitol released in October 1977.  That has four songs from the British Rubber Soul album.  Love Songs was a Christmas present for me that year and I used to listen to it while wrapped in a blanket, laying on the floor, looking at the cold, gray sky outside.

The Beatles a/k/a “The White Album,” The Beatles — It opens with “Back in the USSR,” a song that plays on love in the cold Russian weather (in stark contrast to “California Girls”; sunshine and girls in bikinis.)  The outro, bleeding into the chiming guitar of Dear Prudence, is a howling, cold arctic wind.  After that, the entire two record set sounds like something that’s played indoors, away from the elements.   As far as I’m concerned, there’s no music on that album you’d think of playing at a beach or a picnic.

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes — “White Winter Hymnal,” I think, sets the tone for the whole album.  These guys nailed the sound of winter (if there is such a thing.)

GN’ R Lies, Guns N’ Roses — In the old days, people used to be music in stores.  Those stores sold music on these large black discs called “vinyl records” or LP’s, meaning “long playing” discs.  These stores also used to sell music on small, rectangular cartridges that had magnetic tape in side them, which contained the music.  These cartridges were called cassettes.  Then there were CD’s or compact discs, which were shiny, plastic-encoated metal discs smaller than an LP.  I once worked in such a store, and spent a lot of hours in it during the holiday season of 1988.  That “record store” was Musicland in the Westland (Michigan) Mall.  We record store employees were encouraged to open and play sample cassettes or CD’s and we played GN’R Lies quite a bit.  Westland is (or was) a blue collar, hard-rockin’ town, and rockers by the hundreds came into the store around Christmas of that year to buy this album.  We were constantly running out of it and having to restock it.  It wasn’t the only big seller that year, but it is an album that makes me think of the winter of my senior year in high school.  I’m no GN’R fan, but it was a decent little album.  “I Used To Love Her” is a classic in my book.

To be continued, should the inspiration hit me…

Long Live Box

15 12 2011

According to CNN, the box set is back (or, in the least, it didn’t disappear entirely.)

The 20th anniversary Nevermind (Nirvana) set and The Smile Sessions (The Beach Boys), The Smiths Complete (The Smiths), along with several others, are featured in this article.


Vinyl records sales still on the rise

12 08 2011

This is hardly shocking news to anyone who follows music closely.  But it is still interesting to hear repeated that vinyl records sales continue to climb.  In an age where the album as a unit is virtually dead and more and more people — including the 30 and over crowd — jokingly ask, “CD? What’s a CD?” it’s kind of cool to see an old format revived.

I’m not sold that vinyl sounds better than CD’s.  I suppose that depends on the system, the turntable, the condition of the album, the speakers and the production quality of the record itself.  But I do understand why people find records to sound more genuine.

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