I’m not much of a “shopper.”
I know what I want. I get in. I get it…
and get out.
But there are two major exceptions. My husband knows, especially if we’re on an out-of-town trip, that he can expect to spend no less than an hour at used bookstores or vintage music stores.
And if, by any chance, the store is both? Well, that could be an entire afternoon.
I strive to be less acquisitive. But no promises if, say, we’re in Montreal and I see a comic book shop,
Or Manhattan, and passing by the (now late, lamented) Colony Records.
He and I do not share the same tastes, but we have parallel interests. So, if we’re in Asheville and walk into the Battery Park Book Exchange, he’ll order a glass of wine and peruse thrillers or travel books while I see whether any Joel Whitburn collections are available.
If we hit a record store, he’ll browse the jazz and classical CDs while I see whether there are any old “American Top 40” sets, or boxes of 45’s or LP’s.
There’s nothing like the thrill of finding something long wanted, but unable to find.
In these days of the Internet and globalization, that’s less and less likely. Still, rummaging through stacks of vinyl transports me to decades past, even as I’m firmly aware of century 21.
One side note: Blame (or, as I prefer it, praise) the suburban Chicago FM outlet WYEN for fueling my love of sad-sack adult contemporary tunes.
As I look at these hard-to-find recordings, I realized most fell into that genre, which may be why they weren’t Top 40 hits.
No matter: I love them just the same.
Without further ado, a few tales from the collectible crypt:
• The days of cutout vinyl:
In the late 1980s, everyone from chain record stores to mom-and-pops pushed out boxes and boxes of LP’s to make way for the booming CD market. You could get lots of music, even hit albums, for $1.99, $2.99, $3.99.
It was a great way to snatch songs you loved on a budget. During one such trip, I secured this copy of Rupert Holmes’ Pursuit of Happiness LP (literally a cutout – look in the upper-left-hand corner). This was not the album that featured “Him, Answering Machine, and Escape (The Piña Colada Song).
Rather, it’s a 1978 release that included my favorite recording of his, the No. 72-peaking Let’s Get Crazy Tonight.
• A garage sale like no other:
I understand why people get hooked on garage and/or estate sales. But I just never developed the discipline for them. (And, besides, I’m an all-you-can-eat buffet for any mosquito in a five-mile radius). Still, when the St. Joseph County Public Library said around 1990 that it was getting rid of its vinyl and moving solely to CDs? Better believe I was at that “garage sale.” I picked up the eponymous LP by singer John O’Banion of nearby Kokomo, Indiana, featuring his No. 24:
Love You Like I Never Loved Before.
• Miss you, Smoky:
Not long ago, I went back to Fort Wayne, Ind., for the first time in decades. Sadly, I couldn’t go to a favorite hangout. Smoky’s Record Shop was long gone, its storied owner and operator Charles “Smoky” Montgomery having passed in 2006.
According to one account: at the time of his death he had 20,000 records available for sale. The Midwest record chain Wooden Nickel absorbed a good chunk of them.
It was at Smoky’s that I was able to get my hands on several tough-to-find 45’s, including Larry Santos’ one-and-only trip to the Top 40, 1976’s We Can’t Hide It Anymore.
• Promising sign:
Less than a year after I met my now-husband, I decided to follow him from Indiana to North Carolina. I was a little nervous about leaving the Midwest for “the South” (as all my friends referred to it).
Within a week of settling into a West Raleigh apartment, I found a hole-in-the-wall shop nearby that sold both vintage comic books and 45 records! I knew then that I’d made the right call.
Unlike Smoky’s, this dealer didn’t seem to care as much about his vinyl: Old 45’s were packed in a couple of cardboard boxes, with no record jackets. On the plus side, they weren’t very expensive, either.
I’m pretty sure I got this copy of Clout’s Substitute (a No. 67 peak in the U.S. but a smash around the rest of the world) for a buck or two.
• A revelation in 30 minutes:
My husband and I took a ViaRail trip through Canada in 2002 for our 10th anniversary (we will reprise it next year for our 30th). One stop – I believe, Edmonton – gave passengers a 30-minute layover.
I found a strip shopping center across the tracks and, voilà, a record store with a box of cutout vinyl in front. Hubby chuckled as, pressed for time, I scrambled for buried treasure.
And I found it: a K-tel album with a song I’d wanted for years, Chi Coltrane’s Thunder and Lightning. I‘d never known that K-tel was a Canadian company and that Canadian versions of its compilations were different from U.S. versions.
For example, this “Superstars’ Greatest Hits” includes these tracks not found on the U.S. counterpart: Five Man Electrical Band’s I’m a Stranger Here, Chester’s Make My Life a Little Bit Brighter and the Downchild Blues Band’s Flip Flop and Fly. Worth the trek back to the States.
• The upside of the Internet:
Clicking a mouse to charge a purchase doesn’t have the same thrill as discovering a record in a bargain bin. Still, if you’ve searched for a song for decades, there’s still the excitement when it arrives in the mail. That’s how I secured, via Japanese compact discs, Bill Champlin’s Sara, Marcus Joseph’s I Don’t Want to Get Over You and the KC/Teri De Sario duet Don’t Run (Come Back to Me).
On the vinyl 45 side, I found a European copy of Barbi Benton’s 1978 Ain’t That Just the Way. (I can honestly say I did not purchase it for its picture sleeve and was quite amused to see it.)
Closer to home, I snagged a copy of Lookin’ for You, a 1979 pop-disco nugget by Paper Cup (optimistically autographed by the band) that came to my attention on WYCR-FM in Hanover, Pa., where my cousins live and I spent summers as a teen.
What are your favorite finds – and why?
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