A guy on my block plays records day and night

Although the visual above was created as a humorous meme, I must confess that I have often done this throughout my life.

Some people collect stamps, or coins, or model cars, or comic books, or baseball cards, or friggin’ Beanie Babies. Me? I’ve been a music collector since I was ten years old: 45s in the 1960s, vinyl albums in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s (and then again in the 2020s!), and CDs in the ’80s, 90s and beyond. Sure, I listened to the radio a lot (AM in the ’60s, FM in the ’70s and ’80s), and it was always a kick when a deejay played a favorite tune or artist, but there was nothing like owning the music I loved so I could play it whenever I wanted.

Of course, not everyone shared my passion for collecting rock music, but I had plenty of company. I’d find them at the local record store perusing the bins, shopping for something specific or maybe something brand new with an attention-getting album cover. I also had a few close friends who collected albums — Chris, Mark, Barney and others — and I recently solicited their thoughts and remembrances about when and why the album-collecting bug bit them.

In my pre-teen years, I collected several dozen 45s (maybe as many as 100), which was the primary format of marketing music to teens in the ’50s and well into the ’60s. Most of them were played on a very cheap record player, usually in stacks that ultimately damaged the vinyl surfaces, so only a few have survived all these years later.

Concurrently, I remember my father had a pretty good-sized collection of LPs, and even some old 78s from the ’40s. He favored the “easy-listening” crooners like Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney and Perry Como, plus movie musical soundtrack albums and some Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey big-band stuff as well, and hearing them whetted my appetite for starting my own collection a couple of years later.

Barney remembers getting his first quasi-decent record player in middle school. “It was an old hi-fi that was a piece of furniture with a turntable and one speaker. Generally, I didn’t buy LPs without hearing at least one track, either at a friend’s house or on radio,” he said. “Only rarely did I buy a record based solely on a recommendation without hearing a single track. Basically, everything I bought was based on wanting a song that I had heard.”

When I’d visit friends’ houses in my middle school years, I’d see their older siblings’ collections of rock/pop music albums and think, “Wow, that’s what I want.” So I started collecting albums in late 1968, which was, coincidentally, right around the time the record-buying public began buying more LPs than 45s. I received The Beatles “White Album” for Christmas, and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends,” and treated them as my most prized possessions. I saved up and bought a used turntable, amplifier and speakers from a friend’s father who was upgrading, and that meant I was getting significantly better (and louder!) audio quality. That accelerated my weekly treks to the record store, hoping to find something to add to my collection.

Chris recalled, “When FM rock radio arrived, a whole new category of music was introduced to me. They would play long songs or whole albums, and I knew I had to have that! I’d often go to the store just to look at the album covers! Even if I didn’t know the artist, if the cover looked cool, with funky art or a beautiful woman, I’d consider purchasing it.”

Even better was if you had the chance to become chummy with one of the record store clerks who might play a track from an album you were considering buying. There was a store called Record Revolution near where I lived that had the most incredible Altec Lansing “Voice of the Theater” speakers, and they would always be playing new releases. I bought many new albums over the years after being blown away by hearing a few tracks there.

Mark concurs. “I was browsing in Record Revolution one day and remember hearing the opening salvo of ‘Yours is No Disgrace’ from ‘The Yes Album’ through those massive speakers. I’d never heard of Yes before, but Wow! They ended up playing the whole album, and I bought it the same day.”

By early 1970, my collection had blossomed to about 70-80 albums — Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?”, Judy Collins’s “Wildflowers,” Cream’s “Wheels of Fire,” Creedence’s “Bayou Country,” The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” and “Magical Mystery Tour,” Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” — that reflected my burgeoning musical tastes. I loved the melodies and harmonies that Simon and Garfunkel were offering, but I was also intrigued and energized by the harder rock of Steppenwolf, Jefferson Airplane and Led Zeppelin.

At my high school, there was equipment in the library for us to play an album while six of us could listen in with headphones. Upperclassmen would commandeer the turntable, so we’d hear whatever they wanted to play, which were sometimes eye-opening selections (Moody Blues, Canned Heat, Leonard Cohen, Genesis) that I would sometimes buy later.

(These are kids listing to educational material but you get the idea)

Record collectors often found each other and exchanged albums to turn each other on to their favorites. Says Mark, “An important resource was friends (like you) who introduced me to new material, and vice versa.  We would loan albums to each other, and the ones I enjoyed I eventually purchased.”

I was always on the lookout for new music that piqued my interest. In addition to listening to FM radio, visiting record stores and swapping albums with friends, we couldn’t help but notice the way the music business marketed their wares to us collectors out there through the media. Some record labels — like Atlantic Records (see below) — would use an album’s inner sleeve to advertise as many as 100 albums by other artists in the Atlantic stable. I would make note of many of these selections and examine them more thoroughly at the record store.

Readers who came of age in the 1970s will no doubt remember ads like the one shown below for Columbia House Record Club. They would hook us with “11 albums for $1.00” offers, which sounded too good to be true (which it was). We’d send in our dollar with a list of 11 albums (or tapes) we wanted from the list of titles, and we’d be overjoyed when they showed up in the mail a week or two later. But then they’d be after us to order more albums over the next several months, for which we’d be charged the retail amount. Some people tried to game the system; a guy in the 1990s was prosecuted for having received nearly 27,000 CDs, using over 2,000 fake accounts and 16 P.O. boxes!

“I very much used the record clubs, Columbia and BMG, for a large number of albums,” says Chris. “I just loved, loved, loved getting the big box of new albums in the mail!” 

When I headed off to college in 1973, my collection was up to 250 and growing. I became leery of loaning them out to people who didn’t treat them with the loving care I did, but I became known as the “go-to” guy as a source for great music. As the era of making “party tapes” on Dolby cassettes blossomed, I would borrow albums and record the individual tracks I wanted (or sometimes the whole album), but that didn’t stop me from adding to my collection with new vinyl when warranted.

Many avid record collectors also attended their share of rock concerts, where they would sometimes be treated to a great warm-up band they’d never heard before, which would often precipitate buying their latest LP. In Chris’s case, he not only worked at a record store and as a deejay for a spell, he also spent many years working at a popular Cleveland-area concert venue for many years, and was exposed to a lot of music he otherwise wouldn’t have learned about, and those albums often became a part of his collection.

By the late ’70s, stores that specialized in buying and selling used albums started sprouting up, which allowed vinyl fans the opportunity to greatly expand their collections. “There was a store called The Record Exchange that I patronized multiple times per month,” notes Mark. “I’d bring a very long list of songs I was looking for, and with cheap used albums, there wasn’t as much risk trying something new or unheard, or something old, to fill in my collection.   And I could exchange the albums I didn’t like, which I regularly did.”

Those of us who collected vinyl, and perhaps still do, believe they get more enjoyment out of their collections than do those who collect, say, baseball cards or stamps. Those things are fun to look at, and memorize, and maybe trade with fellow collectors, and they may hope to make money in the future when they sell them if they hang on to them long enough. But albums can be played over and over, giving many other people the enjoyment of sharing great music with those who might not otherwise hear the album, or that artist.

I guess the main point I’ve been driving at in this essay is this: I think you can learn a great deal about people by perusing their record collections. Does your friend own a lot of albums, or only a few? Or maybe none at all? One newer friend recently explained to me, “I like music, but I usually don’t know the name of the song or even who’s singing. It’s just something that’s on in the background. I certainly never felt the need to buy records.” Another said this: “I had a stereo and bought a handful of albums, but my best friend had a gazillion albums, and he let me borrow his now and then, which was good enough for me.”

A more important gauge of someone’s personality was the albums you found when riffing through their collection. This is all very much a subjective thing, but if you came across a Miles Davis album, you knew you were dealing with a discerning listener. What genres were represented or ignored? Was there a ton of Waylon Jennings but no Chuck Berry? Which artists were over- or under-represented? Did you find just “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Abbey Road,” or was the complete Beatles catalog there?

If you had any Captain and Tennille or Barry Manilow, I probably didn’t hang out with you much. If your stash was limited to Kiss, Thin Lizzy and Judas Priest, I questioned your ability to tell great rock music from garden-variety dreck. If you had the complete works of Pink Floyd and a couple Cheech & Chong albums, then maybe we shared a few joints at some point.

I suppose many record collectors, consequently, could be accurately described as snobs. We knew what we liked and didn’t like, and we spent our money accordingly. We spent nearly all our disposable income on music, and we loved every minute of it. Stamps? Rare coins? Antique furniture? Clothes? Please. Music, we firmly held, was how we spent our hard-earned dollars, and we felt sorry for you if you didn’t know about all this great music that we knew so well, and owned.

Over the past couple of decades, younger generations still listen to music, but their collections have been virtual, to be found on computer files. True, vinyl has made a comeback, and kudos to those in their 20s and 30s who have discovered the pleasure of holding a new album purchase in their hands. There’s nothing quite like it.

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Criminally overlooked albums of the Seventies

Regular readers of this blog know I love to shine a light on “lost classics” — excellent songs from little-known or less-than-great albums, or neglected deep tracks from commercially and critically successful LPs.

It has always been a labor of love for me to scour the vaults looking for the tunes from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s we heard a few times and forgot all about, or tracks we never heard in the first place. What a joy it is for a music lover like me to discover “new” music from the old days!

The Seventies in particular was an extraordinarily fertile period for great music. In my search for lost classic songs, it has been my pleasure to come across some “lost classic albums” — LPs that barely made the Billboard Top 200 album charts when they were released, but are, in my opinion, consistently strong musical collections that should have been widely praised and purchased. I have gathered 12 lost classic albums of the 1970s that almost certainly flew under your radar at the time but are very worthy of your attention today.

The Spotify playlist at the end offers five tracks from each of these dozen records, but I encourage you to dive deeper into these albums if you like what you hear.

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“Off the Shelf,” Batdorf and Rodney, 1971

The singer-songwriter era of the early ’70s brought us some beautiful music and introspective lyrics from the likes of Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Cat Stevens and others, but the most criminally overlooked artists of that period, in my opinion, were John Batdorf and Mark Rodney.  Their virtuoso acoustic guitars, great vocals, Batdorf’s superb songs and pristine production values were all in abundance on their amazing debut album, “Off the Shelf,” as well as the follow-up, “Batdorf and Rodney,” and, to a lesser degree, their final effort, “Life is You” (1975).  Tunes like “Oh My Surprise,” “You Are the One,” “Where Were You and I,” “Let Me Go,” “One Day” and especially the effervescent “Can You See Him” all deserve a place among the highest-regarded songs of the genre.  Batdorf continues to release quality new music (four albums since 2006) as a solo artist, but I keep returning to “Off the Shelf.” A phenomenal record.

“Lazarus,” Lazarus, 1971

Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary discovered this trio of musicians (Billie Hughes, Carl Keesee and Gary Dye) from Texas, got them a recording contract and hired them as his warm-up act in 1971.  Their self-titled debut album has some of the most stunning harmonies and melodies I’ve ever heard — “Blessed,” “Warmth Of Your Eyes,” “Listening House,” “Eastward,” “Rivers” and “Whatever Happened.”  They later toured behind label mate Todd Rundgren to promote their second album, “A Fool’s Paradise,” but sadly, they never caught on with the buying public.  In the ’80s, singer-songwriter Hughes developed a strong following in Japan and Europe, where he found success writing for film and TV.  His song “Welcome to the Edge” was nominated for an Emmy for its role as theme song for the soap opera “Santa Barbara” in 1991.  He died in 1998 at age 50.

“The House on the Hill,” Audience, 1971

Howard Werth and Keith Gemmell were the chief musical talents behind Audience, a British art rock band that was well received by critics but never achieved chart success in the U.K. nor the U.S.  They played in support of Led Zeppelin in 1971, and were paired with Elton John’s first producer Gus Dudgeon in making what I consider to be their finest of four albums, “The House on the Hill.”  Werth’s voice is admittedly an acquired taste, but his electric classical guitar stylings and Gemmell’s impressive playing on electronically altered sax and flute resulted in several outstanding original recordings, including “Indian Summer,” “Raviole,” “Jackdaw,” “Nancy,” “You’re Not Smiling” and the 7-minute title track.  This is a superlative album well worth seeking out.

“Songs For a Tailor,” Jack Bruce, 1969

For three years (1966-1968), Jack Bruce was one of the hottest musicians in the world, playing bass and handling lead vocals for Cream, the British power trio that also featured a young Eric Clapton and drummer Ginger Baker.  Cream broke up in 1968, and Clapton went on to more success in Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos and a lengthy solo career.  Baker moved to South Africa and was only marginally involved in music afterwards.  Bruce continued playing in various jazz bands and jazz-rock trios throughout the ’70s and ’80s that involved the likes of Leslie West and Robin Trower, and their output was average at best.  However, Bruce’s first solo album, 1969’s “Songs For a Tailor,” is a bonafide gem, with stellar playing and excellent songs like “The Clearout,” “Theme From an Imaginary Western,” “Ticket to Waterfalls,” “Weird of Hemirston” and “Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune.”

“Howlin’ Wind,” Graham Parker, 1976

Growing up in London in the Sixties, Parker was influenced by Beatles pop, pub rock and Motown soul, and all those influences showed up when Parker and his band, The Rumour, released their high-energy debut LP, “Howlin’ Wind,” in 1976. Although he’s mentioned in the same breath as fellow Brit New Wave pioneers Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, Parker didn’t reach the chart heights of either of them. In fact, he never found much fame in the U.S., but if you give “Howlin’ Wind” a listen, you’ll hear shades of the R&B stylings of Van Morrison and the melodic, heartfelt rock of Bruce Springsteen in his songs, especially “Soul Shoes,” “White Honey” and “Between You and Me.” This LP and its strong follow-up the same year, “Heat Treatment,” are perfect party albums that you probably missed when they came out, but it’s never too late to become a convert. Check him out.

“Emitt Rhodes,” Emitt Rhodes, 1970

This multi-talented multi-instrumentalist is a classic example of a musician who got royally screwed by the industry.  Emitt Rhodes had been a member of two fledgling Sixties bands, The Palace Guard and Merry-Go-Round, and after they disbanded, Rhodes continued writing and recording songs to fulfill their contract with A&M Records, but they chose not to release his songs.  Instead, he invested in recording equipment and set up a home studio in his parents’ garage, playing all the instruments and singing and producing his own album.  He got a contract with ABC/Dunhill, and the album reached #29 on the charts in 1971, and was a big hit with critics as well.  “Fresh as a Daisy,” “Somebody Made for Me,” “Long Time No See,” “Lullabye” and “With My Face on the Floor” all have irresistible Beatlesque hooks and vocals that recall Paul McCartney.  A&M then released his earlier work, which confused buyers, and ABC demanded he release a new album every six months, a grueling pace that he found impossible to meet.  Discouraged, he soon quit the business but built a career as a producer/engineer.  The “Emitt Rhodes” LP is a hidden treasure.

“Ahead Rings Out,” Blodwyn Pig, 1969

Original Jethro Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams was a blues purist and didn’t enjoy life on the road, so he and Tull frontman Ian Anderson had a falling out over Anderson’s non-blues songs and a punishing tour schedule.  Abrahams left and formed Blodwyn Pig, who released two albums before folding.  Their first, “Aheads Rings Out,” released in the waning days of 1969, offers the explosive “See My Way” and several excellent blues tracks like “It’s Only Love,” “Dear Jill” and “Summer Day.”  Although the album got little attention in the U.S., it reached #9 in England, rivaling Tull’s concurrent “Stand Up” LP that year.

“No Other,” Gene Clark, 1974

With high-profile musicians like Roger McGuinn and David Crosby around, it’s not surprising that Gene Clark was sometimes the overlooked jewel of The Byrds’ lineup. Clark served as frontman and one of the lead singers, writing or co-writing some of their finest tracks (“I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” “She Don’t Care About Time,” “Eight Miles High”), but his stage fright and fear of flying led to his premature departure. He signed with Geffen Records in 1973 as a solo artist, but his remarkable tour-de-force LP “No Other” got the cold shoulder from David Geffen, who refused to promote it, and it consequently tanked on the charts, which devastated Clark. The album has undergone a dramatic reappraisal in recent years; AllMusic’s Thom Jurek calls it “a sprawling, ambitious work that seamlessly melds country, folk, jazz-inflected-gospel, urban blues, and breezy L.A. rock in a song cycle that reflects the mid-’70s better than anything from the time.” I confess the album went under my radar at the time, but I’ve since become a huge fan. So much great music to absorb here!

“Blows Against the Empire,” Paul Kantner, 1970

Singer/guitarist Kantner has been the mainstay in every phase of the great San Francisco band — Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Starship.  He fancied himself something of a countercultural revolutionary, and was obsessed with science fiction, so he combined those two interests and came up with a song cycle about hijacking a starship and starting a new world on some distant planet, since Earth appeared doomed to him.  Kantner’s solo concept album “Blows Against the Empire” was a bit silly lyrically, perhaps, but the music was excellent, thanks to the participation of several key musicians:   Grace Slick, Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jack Casady, David Freiberg and Harvey Brooks.  Songs like “Let’s Go Together,” “A Child is Coming,” “Have You Seen the Stars Tonite” and “Starship” are as good as anything on earlier Airplane albums and later Starship LPs.

“Kongos,” John Kongos, 1972

Born in South Africa, John Kongos had some modest success there in the Sixties with a number of groups before moving to England in 1969.  He enjoyed two Top Five hits there in 1971 — “He’s Gonna Step on You Again” and “Tokoloshe Man” — but they never reached the Top 40 in the US, and the album they came from, “Kongos,” reached #30 in the UK but failed to crack the Top 200 album list here.  Too bad — the songs are engaging and beautifully produced, recalling early Elton John at times, particularly “I Would Have Had a Good Time,” “Gold,” “Tomorrow I’ll Go” and “He’s Gonna Step on You Again.”  This one might be tough to find but well worth the effort.

“Sunburst Finish,” Be-Bop Deluxe, 1976

One of Britain’s better progressive rock/art rock bands that never made much impact here in the U.S. was Be-Bop Deluxe.  Despite their name, they didn’t traffic in bebop music, preferring blues-based British rock not unlike David Bowie.  Three of their seven albums reached the Top 20 in the U.K., but none did better than #60 in the U.S.  Singer/songwriter Bill Nelson had a knack for great song riffs and quirky science-fiction lyrics, and it all came together nicely on their 1976 LP, “Sunburst Finish,” which includes great tracks like “Ships in the Night,” “Fair Exchange,” “Crying to the Sky,” “Sleep That Burns” and “Life in the Air Age.” If you’re a fan of Ziggy-era Bowie, you’ll enjoy this LP for sure.

“What If,” Dixie Dregs, 1978

Although their albums failed to chart, The Dixie Dregs have had an appreciative following from their founding in the early ’70s up to the present day. Led by guitar virtuoso Steve Morse, the group focuses almost exclusively on instrumental tracks that are so eclectic as to almost defy categorization. One critic tried, calling them “a cross between The Allman Brothers and Mahavishnu Orchestra,” which correctly pinpoints their leanings toward Southern rock and jazz fusion. And yet, there are elements of country and bluegrass here as well. You’ve got to hear it to believe it. The Allmans’ keyboardist Chuck Leavell brought the group to the attention of Capricorn Records, who released “Free Fall,” “What If” and “Night of the Living Dregs” in the late ’70s. “What If” is their most artistically proficient, and it’s an album I played often when the rest of the world had fallen for disco fever.

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