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


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.

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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Delicious Vinyl

25 08 2009

Looking for some Rolling Stones tunes on youtube, I stumbled across this user, WABC77.   He has a really interesting approach: he plays great old songs on vinyl, recording the removal of the disk from the sleeve and it spinning/playing on the turntable.   More interesting than his gimmick, if you will, is the amazing sound of the vinyl.  I’ve not heard music on vinyl in a decade at least.  I don’t profess to be an audiophile.  So the crispness, clarity and warmth of these records really took me by surprise.   The Stones’ song, “19th Nervous Breakdown” is one of my favorite among his collection.

If you’d like to check out the rest of his youtube videos, look here.


Puttin’ it on wax in Motown

3 05 2009

Until today, I had no idea that vinyl records are made in my hometown, the Motor City.  The May 2, 2009, Detroit News ran a feature article on Archer Records Pressing company which manufactures vinyl records.  Apparently the company is one of maybe a dozen companies in the entire world:

It is unclear how many record-making companies still exist. Web sites count between eight and 10 worldwide, and three to five in the United States.

Check out Archer Records Pressing’s website http://www.archerrecordpressing.com/

Apparently the techno music scene in and around Detroit has help keep the company going.  There is no mention of it in the article, but I wonder if small companies like this are hired to press vinyl for major label releases.  Vinyl is making something of a comeback and lots of artists these days seem to want their music on vinyl.

This is just one more example of why Detroit is and has been a major player on the world stage of music.

ONJ and a star-struck 5 year old boy

11 02 2009

Let Me Be There

Let Me Be There

Have You Never Been Mellow?

Have You Never Been Mellow?

One of my earliest musical memories is of going through my mom’s record collection, finding these two albums. I’d pull them out and stare at the pretty woman on the covers. Some nights, to unwind, my mom would play them back-to-back.

It’s funny that I can very distinctly remember — almost hear — the two title songs, “Let Me Be There” and “Have You Never Been Mellow.” My mom played both records all the way through, but those are the two songs that I can still hear. I’d have to play the albums to remember the other songs. I’ve not heard either album in over 30 years. Maybe we’re hardwired to remember the best (or the worst) things and those were probably the two best songs on those albums.

Since then I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Olivia Newton-John. I’m not much of a sentimentalist, but those albums made me feel good as a kid. They probably put my mom in a good mood and the mood trickled down to me. Maybe I liked the songs, too. Whatever the case may be, I’d like to find those albums on CD and give them a listen, just for old-time’s sake.