Surfing through record bins

record collectionIt all started with a single record. One evening, my wife brought home Dave Rose’s “The Stripper and Other Fun Songs for the Family.” She spent 50 cents on it in a thrift store in Thousand Oaks. Billie wasn’t really sure why she bought it. She just thought it was interesting, and remembered the title song from her childhood (who doesn’t?).

At the time, we owned a few of my old rockabilly records, some 70s stuff she had before we met, and a handful of ’80s new wave LPs that I hadn’t been able to unload. At most, we had 50 albums in the house on the day we first put on “The Stripper.”

Soon, we were wearing new grooves in that old Rose LP. What great music. It was bold, greasy, full of raunch and roll. Plenty of brassy horns, snorting sax, big drums, slinky guitar and enough rhythm to rock any room.

Tracks like “Night Train,” “St. James Infirmary,” “Black and Tan Fantasy,” “Harlem Nocturne” are all standards we should all know, but Rose and his band delivered these tunes with a gusto and verve that few musicians on today’s pop radio could understand. “My Heart Belongs to Daddy,” one of the sexiest songs ever written, and closes out side two with more attitude than even Madonna could muster.

Immediately, my wife wanted to find more music like this. So we started haunting thrift stores and garage sales. Before long, we had crowded our house with more than 1,000 LPs. We didn’t just look for the next David Rose. We figured if we found Rose by accident, we might find other good stuff by accident, so we squandered our lunch money on anything that looked interesting. We bought polka and ragas. We bought music from South America, Central America, Tonga and Tahiti, Poland and Latvia. If there is a culture out there that produced music, we eventually found it and bought it. If a record was in good condition and looked enertaining, we bought it.

I went through a phase of buying all the Dixieland I could (readily available in bargain bins these days). I loading up on the Dukes of Dixieland, The Firehouse Five, Pete Fountain and Al Hirt. I discovered a piano player named Big Tiny Little, and bought several of his albums.

Then I went through my Latin phase, buying any record with “Cha-Cha-Cha” or “rumba” or “mambo” on the cover. This resulted in the obligatory Xavier Cugart and Tito Puente platters, but also led me to Prez Prado and a rather generically named LP “Cha Cha, Anyone?” and a performance of “Quien Sera” by a group of unknown Porta Rican musicians that is among the finest recordings ever made. I fell so much in love with this recording that I forced my guitar teacher to transcribe the six-string part and teach it to me.

But the love of that David Rose album (it turns out, btw, the rest of Rose’s work is pretty lame) also drove us to seek out what I call “Adult Pop from the 1950s and 1960s.” This means Peggy Lee, Jackie Gleason, Tony Bennett, Carmen Cavallaro, and Julie London, among others, not to mention Dean Martin. Of course, it also means Frank Sinatra. When I first started on this quest somebody told me that it is almost impossible these days to break into collecting Sinatra records at a reasonable price. Well, I soon proved that guy wrong. I now own more than 30 Sinatra LPs — all in very good to near mint condition. I didn’t really start out to build a big Sinatra collection (I mean, I already had some of his CDs), but when you see one of his records collecting dust in a thrift store, and it’s in good shape, you’ve got to buy it.

The interest in adult pop, or what is also sometimes called lounge, or cocktail music, led quite predictably to exotica. We’re talking Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, mainly. In fact, one of my best finds was a still-sealed copy of Lyman’s “Taboo.” Exotica remains among my favorite music to relax by, or put on when my wife and I want to enjoy a romantic dinner. Exotica is also a little more collectable and harder to find in good condition than the rest of this stuff, so there are a few $7 or $8 exotica LPs in my collection (and they book for more).

I’m sure some of the albums I have are worth quite a good bit of green. I’ve seen some of them on sale for $25 to $50, and the book value on a couple is over $200. But that’s not why I buy them. I buy them for the love of the music, and that’s why I usually stay away from used record stores that charge collectors prices (not all do), Ebay and any place that isn’t likely to charge more than $7 or $8 dollars for any record, no matter how rare. And at least 90 percent of the records I’ve bought, I paid less than $1 for. I’ve found used vinyl is the most cost efficient way to explore obscure, rare and hard to find music.

As of today, I’m down to about 500 records, though. Storing 1,000 records is just a bit much. I had to weed out. Some of the records I decided to get rid of are on consignment at a local record store, Grady’s on Main Street, and a few I sold at our recent garage sales. The rest went back to where most of them came from — a thrift store. That’s not to say I lost money on these records — regardless of what I get on consignment from Grady’s — the reward of being able to hear all of these LPs at least once was worth whatever price I paid for them, not to mention the fun of looking for these treasures in the first place.

But old LPs aren’t all about music — part of the joy of old records are the record sleeves. Some of the album covers I’ve come across are as entertaining (in some cases, more so) than the music. Here is a slide show of some of my favorite LP covers (NOTE: to view the slide show, click the link, a pop-up window opens … click on each image (anywhere on the image) to see the next cover).

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