A Year in the Dollar Bin – 2012

You thought maybe I wasn’t going to do a 2012 music mix? I thought so, too, until the idea occurred to me to compile some favorite songs from my dollar-bin finds from the year. In my musical tastes of late I’ve been way too caught up in what records from yesteryear can be found on the cheap to pay much attention to new releases. To get together a mix of 2012 releases would have taken me a good few weeks of research, and I just don’t have the energy for that.

As you may know, I do love a bargain, and for the price of a new LP (not you LP — *our* LP — we could never replace you, nor would we ever try), which generally runs $15-17, one can acquire a solid cubic foot of awesome and/or interesting vinyl by trawling the dollar bin. As this photo attests, J-Man and I have been doing just that pretty much every week for the last couple years. For a while our living room floor was half-covered in leaning piles of LPs. We’ve acquired some new shelves, however, and so the problem has been at least temporarily resolved.

Anyhoo, here’s the mix, and below you can find the program notes, which you can take (as the ramblings of a half-mad record hoarder) or leave as you please. In most cases, these were actual dollar buys, but I did pay up to $3 for a few of them. What can I say? Prices are going up everywhere, even in the dollar bin.

1. Cal Tjader – Ode to Billy Joe
Five hundred years ago when I was in my mid-20s and a music snob, I would have hated this. Now that I’m in my mid-520s and still a music snob, I love it. I got this record at a flea market for $2. It’s on Skye Records, a label that Tjader, Gabor Szabo (see below), and Gary McFarland started together in the late ’60s. If it’s on Skye and it’s a dollar, I’ll get it.

2. Judy Collins – Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues
There are certain artists I have dismissed without really listening. Up until recently, Collins was one of these. I thought her stuff was all just lite versions of songs like “Send in the Clowns.” Well, there are those, but her first few records are more straight-ahead folk, and then the next few (before “Send in the Clowns”) are really interesting interpretations of ’60s songs. This is now pretty much my favorite version of this Bob Dylan song. She brings out the darkness and vulnerability in the narrator that I have often missed. The orchestral arrangement may take some getting used to, but I find more in it every time I listen.

3. Bobby “Blue” Bland – Goin’ Down Slow
Such a great singer, and such a great build in this song.

4. Kool and the Gang – Spirit of the Boogie
Man, in so many ways this record cover speaks to me and says, “Buy me! You won’t regret it.” This was two bucks at the same flea market where I got the Cal Tjader platter.

5. MandrĂ© – Keep Tryin’
It’s very hard for me to pass by a record cover like this one and not buy it for a dollar. I mean, damn!

6. Acerina y su danzonera – Almendra
Again, I bought this record because of the awesome cover. The delight on Acerina’s face is infectious, just like his music. He was born in Cuba but moved to Mexico with his family when he was a boy. He became very popular in his adopted country playing danzon, a style of Cuban music.

7. Brute Force – Do It Right Now
Before this record was re-issued recently, one would have had a very hard time indeed finding a copy of it. The interesting thing about shopping in the dollar bin is that often one can acquire label samplers there that contain songs that are otherwise difficult or impossible to find. I picked up a copy of “Embryo Sales Meeting Winter 1970,” a promo put out by Herbie Mann’s Embryo Records. A couple of the other songs on here are from records that have never been re-issued and cost not less than a bunch of money. Playing guitar on this song is Sonny Sharrock, one of the most awesomest guitar players ever.

8. Gabor Szabo – Rambler
Gabor Szabo is my number one all-time favorite Hungarian jazz guitar player. No fooling. (Attila Zoller, of course, is my next favorite Hungarian jazz guitar player. I mean, duh.) This was an amazing find at $1.99. There are moments here that sound kind of Grateful Dead-ish, no? Not Szabo’s normal sound, but still quite good.

9. Joan Armatrading – Down to Zero
Both a joy (to me) and an injustice (to the musicians) is the fact that for under $10 one can get copies of some artists’ entire run of records. Joan Armatrading is one of those artists. This album really takes me back to college.

10. Art Garfunkel – A Heart in New York
Again, I’ve often more or less dismissed Art Garfunkel as the lesser-talented member of one of music’s most successful duos. However, he made a number of really good and interesting records, pretty much all of which are to be found in the dollar bin. In fact, I could make a mini-mix of Garfunkel songs from dollar records. I settled on this song as a wee post-Sandy salute to New York. You’ve still got money on your mind, but here’s to you.

11. June Tabor – And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda
June Tabor is best known for having done a few records with The Oyster Band in the ’90s. She should be better known for her work on her own. She has a stunning voice. J-Man picked this one up for three clams. This song makes me teary. The first version I heard was by The Pogues, but it was written by Eric Bogle and covered by many artists. You can learn things from songs, history, for instance, and why war is just horrible.

12. Paul Clayton – Shenandoah
Paul Clayton was a downtown NYC folkie of the ’60s, a tragic case who killed himself when he was yet very young. There are many who believe he was gay and closeted and that this contributed to his depression and suicide. This is another record I picked up due to its cover and label. It was released on Tradition Records, which was started in the ’50s by gazillionaire heiress Diane Guggenheim under a pseudonym. If you inherit a ton of money there are many worse things to do with it than start a folk music label. She “discovered” the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, and put out their first records. Paddy Clancy helped her run the label for a number of years. Again, anything that’s on Tradition and costs a dollar, I’ll buy it.

13. Interlochen Arts Quintet – Two Movements for Woodwind Quintet
This, a stunning “new music” piece, was composed by Arthur Custer. Occasionally, very rarely, in fact, a record like this one surfaces from the depths of the dollar bin. The other pieces on it, by Barney Childs and Raoul Pleskow (yeah, I’d never heard of them either), are just as intriguing.

14. Lani Hall – Love Song
Lani Hall is likely best known as Herb Alpert’s wife, but she’s got a really good voice and made some decent records. This is a slinky little number that’s hard to get out of your head once you’ve heard it. (And Jen has just reminded me that it’s a cover of a song made most famous by Elton John.)

15. The Pointer Sisters – River Boulevard
Before they got so excited that they just couldn’t hide it, The Pointer Sisters released some excellent R&B records on Blue Thumb, a kooky label that put out whatever they wanted, all of which was excellent. If something is on Blue Thumb and costs a dollar, I buy it.

16. Conjunto Jarocho Hueyapan – El Siquisiri
Both this and the next song appear on Traditional Folk Music in Ventura County: The Anglo and Hispanic Traditions. That this record exists at all just fascinates me. Believe it or not, government money helped fund its recording and release. Who’d have thought it? Culture! Government! Isn’t that socialism?

17. Jess Sutton – Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms
When I was a kid, there was an ad on TV for one of those KTel compilations of country songs as sung by Boxcar Willie, who supposedly had sold millions of records but of whom no one I knew had heard. One of those songs was this one, so I will forever more associate it with an ersatz hobo singer, even though it was actually written by Charlie Monroe and originally performed by the Monroe Brothers.

18. Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks – How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?
Does humor belong in music? Why yes, this little bit of novelty replies.

19. Cowboys International – Wish
This album (1979) pre-figures much of the ’80s new wave sound, with a little harder edge. I had never heard of the band, but the cover intrigued me, and the presence of Terry Chimes (Clash) and Keith Levene (PiL) in the credits sealed the deal.

20. Dave Brubeck Quartet – Countdown
I got this record and the sheet music for “Take Five” at a yard sale for $5. I think I might follow up this mix with a jazzbo edition, but I wanted to make sure to include a song from this record, to pay tribute to Brubeck, who died at the end of 2012, one day shy of his 92nd birthday.

21. The Voices of East Harlem – Right On Be Free
This was a ’70s gospel group of teenagers from Harlem. I defy you to watch this clip from their appearance at Sing Sing and not get the spirit. If you watch this and don’t get the spirit, see a doctor immediately, for there is something wrong with you. Damn.

22. The Swan Silvertones – Call Him Up
Sometimes the dollar bin brings more surprises than one even expects. I expected, for instance, the record advertised by the sleeve that I bought, but got something different. They’re both gospel collections on Gospel Premium Album, a label about which I can find out practically nothing on the interwebs. I’m sure I would have been just as happy with the “right” record, except I have to wait until this one is finished spinning on the turntable to figure out the artists and titles.

23. Marianne Faithfull – The Ballad of Lucy Jordan
If you’ve seen Thelma & Louise (and there’s no reason you shouldn’t have), you’ve heard this song. When I first heard it, a couple years after it came out, “the age of 37” seemed so foreign, like the most distant land on the horizon of the future. I just *knew* then that I would have done so so much by that age. Now, well, it seems very young indeed, an age at which a person is maybe just starting out. I got this for two bucks at a moving sale.

I hope you like it!

12 responses to “A Year in the Dollar Bin – 2012”

  1. Josh K-sky says:

    This looks great, Tim, thanks.

    Voices of East Harlem are amazing, I think I found them through Oliver Wang’s Soul Sides.

    Fun Fact: Track 23 was written by Shel Silverstein (who also, you may already know, wrote “A Boy Named Sue.”)

  2. Bryan says:

    Yes! I’ve been waiting for this mix.

  3. Rachel says:

    Thanks for sharing your amazing knowledge! I can’t wait to listen. (Also, this makes me long for the great big art of the LP. I just don’t see people getting similarly nostalgic about digital PDF “booklets.”)

  4. Dave says:

    This is very exciting!

  5. T-Mo says:

    Oooh, now I’ll explore Soul Sides. I hadn’t heard of Oliver Wang.

    I also didn’t know that Silverstein wrote the Marianne Faithfull track, or that Dr. Hook (whose records are readily found in the dollar bin, too) did the original. As far as I know, he wrote all of their material, including one of my favorites: “Get My Rocks Off.” I often wonder what went through the minds of BBC viewers when they saw this.

  6. J-Man says:

    Wow! That’s some freewheelin’ homoerotic tight-panted truckin’. So simultaneously icky and compelling.

  7. Dave says:

    Tim, this is fantastic, but you’ve got to admit that Nina Simone’s recording of Tom Thumb Blue’s is not to be surpassed.

  8. T-Mo says:

    Dave, in almost all ways I find Nina Simone to be unsurpassed. I’m a big fan. I’ve never, however, been able to get into her Dylan covers. It just sounds to me like she’s not trying very hard on her version of Tom Thumb’s Blues. She doesn’t really put her back into it like she does on so many other songs (“Wild is the Wind,” “I Put a Spell on You,” “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Pirate Jenny,” etc.). Also, the piano part is bit too uniform and tame throughout, not dynamic and percussive enough, for my tastes. Just one man’s opinion.

  9. Josh K-sky says:

    Oh my God this mix is fantastic. MUST RESTRAIN URGE TO START BUYING RECORDS

  10. T-Mo says:

    But why restrain yourself? They’re just a dollar!

  11. Josh K-sky says:

    The answer’s in the picture above.

  12. T-Mo says:

    It’s not clutter; it’s a resource. Also, we can stop at any time.