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I went back.

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I had no real good excuse to go back to the 50-cent bin at Allentown’s Double Decker Records.

But I went anyway, leaving roughly $10 in their coffers and walking out with another pile of secondhand (maybe even third- or fourth-hand) goodies.

I didn’t get any of the country or gospel stuff that turned my head the first time I went … mainly ’cause I couldn’t find any of it.

Instead, this latest batch is roughly equally split between Seventies mellow gold and classical.

Here’s the latest. Cheer or throw stuff as you choose:

101_1391To Be True, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass: A former No. 1 album on the R&B charts (for the week ending May 10, 1975), and a marvelous showcase for the finest voice Philly soul ever produced. Of all the stuff I bought, this got played first.

101_1393Tumbleweed Connection, Elton John: In 42-plus years of my existence, this is the first Elton John album I have ever owned. A few months ago, something brought me to a YouTube video with the entire album, and I listened to it all, thinking, “Y’know, this is pretty damned good.” Have listened to Side 2 since I got it home and my opinion has not changed.

101_1394There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Paul Simon: Forgetting that I will probably receive my parents’ vinyl copy of this in a month, I gave in to a whim and bought it. I hadn’t heard the full album from start to finish in many years. Put it on again last night and I thought it was solid, if a little too polite and well-groomed in places. (I had an incorrect memory that “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” went double-time at some point, the way “Kodachrome” does. It would have been better that way, methinks.)

101_1397The Marblehead Messenger, Seatrain: Double Decker Records had two Seatrain albums, neither of which included the band’s one semi-hit, “13 Questions.” I’d read about them, and something in their style (Wiki called it “roots-fusion”) sounded appealing, plus I’m a sucker for anything Massachusetts, so I figured this was worth a shot. (Also: Produced by George Martin.)

101_1398I’m In You, Peter Frampton: The second album on this list to stall at No. 2 on the U.S. album charts. I have written in the past (not in this space) about my deep fondness for the title track. As for the remainder … well, it was 50 cents, and in good shape. And Stevie Wonder and Ritchie Hayward are on it. I’ll listen at some point.

101_1400Beethoven: Christ on the Mount of Olives, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra: From Frampton, to this … let’s play Segue Fever!
This record looks like the feel-good hit of the season, doesn’t it? Its aura of suffering and seriousness helped draw me in. This just looks like the sort of cultural work I need to chew on, and can only aspire to be worthy of and to understand. I feel like maybe I should drag nettles along my forearms while I listen.
(I do know that the Philly Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy was a force to be reckoned with; so whatever I think of the music, I’ll at least know that it’s being conducted and played about as well as it can be.)

101_1402Modest Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition, Leopold Stokowski and the New Philharmonia Orchestra: Thanks perhaps to early exposure to EL&P, this is probably my favorite classical piece. And even though I’ve got CDs of Vladimir Horowitz playing it on solo piano and someone heavy (George Szell and Cleveland, maybe?) playing the orchestral arrangement, I’m still up for an additional version.
The bonus jam on this elpee is something called The Engulfed Cathedral, which sounds frothy and danceable.

101_1405Charles Ives: Symphony No. 1 and Three Places in New England, Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra: All the stuff I said about Ives in my first crate-digging expedition still applies. And hey, there’s Ormandy and the Philadelphians again. Not sure why I haven’t spun this one yet … maybe during dinner prep while I’m making tonight’s spring rolls?

101_1406Various and sundry by Britten, Elgar and Schoenberg, Victor Desarzens and the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra: It looked interesting and  curious and sorta modern-ish, and it was 50 cents. If it sucks I’ll frame the cover. (The classical music industry has provided lucrative work for all manner of artists over the decades, hasn’t it?)

101_1408Camille Saint-Saens, I can’t read the rest of the bloomin’ cover but it’s a bunch of preludes for organ: I like pipe organ music.

101_1410Moments, Boz Scaggs: I read a contemporary Rolling Stone review of this that said it was a pretty good record, so I thought it was worth a shot. (I’m vaguely interested in what Boz was doing in the wilderness before Silk Degrees made him a superstar.) Features the studio version of “We Were Always Sweethearts.”

101_1413Bombs Away Dream Babies, John Stewart: The popularity of the single “Gold” (with help from Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks) lifted this one into the Top 10 on the LP chart in the summer of 1979. “Gold” is the only song I know, but I was in a mellow-gold mood, so I decided to give this a chance.
And really: Put a white guy in a white suit with a white Les Paul against a white background, and you’ve pretty much got the ultimate visual representation of mellow gold, haven’t you? If the music on the album is half of what the cover photo promises, it ought to be an easy ride.

101_1416Compositions by Bartok and Hindemith, Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra: What were we saying a moment ago about classical music providing extensive opportunities for graphic artists? I assume the two gents on the cover are Bartok and Hindemith, and not, say, Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg. This one promises to break up the mellow gold nicely.
101_1418Bartok: Concerto for Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf and the Boston Symphony Orchestra: I’ve been meaning for years to try to work Bartok onto my dance card. Robert Fripp, who I consider one of the most creative and interesting guitarists to reach mainstream rock notoriety, has cited him as an influence. With a world-class orchestra playing, I figured it was worth a shot.
101_1420Beethoven: Emperor Concerto, Glenn Gould, Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra: We heard from Stokowski and the ASO the last time I went digging for vinyl. Here they are again, this time in the company of the great Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.
“Will he ever get away from this highbrow shit and back to pop?” you ask. Well…
101_1422Chicago 13: This album — Chicago’s first LP without any hit singles at all, I believe — is so bad it’s almost legendary. I thought I had gotten away from buying bad music just to make myself laugh, but I guess not, quite. Features “Street Player,” the dance mix of which I enjoy unashamedly. Can’t wait to hear the songs where Peter Cetera sings in a lower register.
101_1423The Pretender, Jackson Browne: Another YouTube special; I found myself a while ago listening to the entire thing online and thinking, “Hey, this is much more accessible than Late For The Sky, and really is pretty good, except for the mock-flamenco Mexican-restaurant nonsense of ‘Linda Paloma,’ which I would instantly and invariably skip over if I owned my own copy.”
Well, now, I do.

101_1426Living and Dying In 3/4 Time, Jimmy Buffett: I have a dear old friend — one of my truest and longest — who introduced me years ago to both the first Ramones album and Blood On The Tracks, which gives you some idea of his eclecticism. In recent years he has become fond of Jimmy Buffett, so I figure I’ll check it out myself and see if there’s anything to it. (I made sure to find an album from Buffett’s earlier years, before he turned into a franchise.)

101_1428Sibelius: Symphony No. 5 and Karelia Suite, Alexander Gibson and the London Symphony: I have lit’rally no idea why I picked this up. We’re almost done, anyway.

101_1430Feels So Good, Chuck Mangione: The third album on this list to stall at No. 2. The title just about says it all, doesn’t it? Dunno why Betty got rid of her copy, but I’m glad she did.

What I got.

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Time was when I would get home with a new batch of records and jump headlong into it, giving everything a hasty first evaluation so I could decide what to slap on cassettes for the car.

I’ve had my newest pile of 11 records since Saturday and I’ve only listened to one so far. Habits change when you get older, I guess. (No more cassettes, for one thing.)

So I can’t tell you much about the highlights or the skips on these albums. But I can tell you what I picked out and why I brought ’em home with me, in case you’re interested.

Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band: In preparation for my return to the Boston area this weekend, I picked up this 1978 album by one of the city’s great rock n’ roll cult heroes for the rousing sum of $3. The record (dedicated to Jack Kerouac) doesn’t have Alexander’s anthemic “Mass. Ave.” on it, but I suspect it’s going to be great fun anyway.

Present and accounted for is lead guitarist Billy “Loose” Loosigian, possessor of one of the great names in rock history. If you are hiring somebody to play guitar in your garage-rock band, a guy named Loose is always a solid choice.

Graham Parker and the Rumour, Stick To Me: Seventies Graham Parker for a buck? Absolutely, even if the album reportedly suffers from a rushed recording job. (I am sure this copy must be pretty worn down to sell for $1. But if the production values are low to begin with, it won’t matter as much. Will it?)

Charles Ives, Symphony No. 4, performed by Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra: I love everything about Charles Ives; I would listen to Alzheimer’s patients playing Charles Ives. This was the first (and so far only) LP of the stash I’ve actually listened to. I put it on loud on a sunny summery afternoon and it sounded eccentric and big and warm and only gently staticky. America!

(Speaking of which, Ives’ status as a pioneering American composer sometimes inspired record-company art departments to great spasms of red, white and blue. CBS’ designers outdid themselves with this record cover — mansions and tall grass and flag-draped statues. America!)

Ives’ Symphony No. 4 was not performed until 11 years after his death, in 1965. I am not sure if this recording is the actual world premiere, or a studio version cut shortly afterward. The front cover says the former but I still suspect the latter. Stokowski formed the American Symphony Orchestra in a bid to make classical music more accessible to Americans. It didn’t work; we’d still rather listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd. America!

Bernstein Conducts Ives (featuring the New York Philharmonic performing several Ives compositions): Everything I just said, only twice, including the red-white-and-blue cover art (shivering wintry this time).

In addition to a “DEMONSTRATION: NOT FOR SALE” stamp, the back cover of this record carries a fascinating bit of radio history. The record jacket is stamped: “CONCERT NETWORK INC., 171 NEWBURY STREET, BOSTON, MASS. 02116 / MAY 11 1966.”

I had no idea, until Wiki told me, that Boston’s legendary alternative/modern radio station WBCN played classical music before adopting its underground rock format in 1968. The ‘BCN call letters originally stood for “Boston Concert Network.”

So this album might have been in the collection of one of Boston’s most renowned stations — albeit before it gained such lofty status. (There is a timing mark of 24:50 next to the listing for Symphony No. 3, another suggestion that this record might have been played on the air.)

That’s pretty damn cool.

Also cool: In the bottom right of the back cover, there’s a tease for “Other recordings of Ives’ compositions you might enjoy” … and the first one listed is the Stokowski recording of Symphony No. 4. This record is wicked awesome.)

Keith Jarrett, Backhand: It’s Back Hand on the front cover, “Backhand” in the track listing and Backhand on the record label. It’s also compatible with quadraphonic systems, not that that helps me a whole hell of a lot.

I have heard parts of this record before so I look forward to the rest, particularly because I have a fondness for Jarrett as a creative force that’s not dissimilar to my fondness for Charles Ives.

Mahler, Symphony No. 4, Bruno Walter and the New York Philharmonic: I have heard secondhand that used vinyl stores are lousy with high-quality classical recordings … entire box sets by well-known orchestras going for $1, just ’cause no one seems to want them.

The 50-cent bin at Double Decker Records seemed to bear this out; there were a fair number of classical recordings that appeared to be in decent shape. I snapped up a couple just on general principle. This was one of ’em.

(I have said in the past that I prefer solo classical performances to orchestral settings. I still do. But for 50 cents I can broaden my horizons a little bit.)

The back cover bears the handwritten inscription “February 1946 (May 1967),” which I’m guessing refers to the recording and release dates. But that’s just guessing.

Ralph Vaughan Williams, Pastoral Symphony No. 3 and In the Fen Country, Sir Adrian Boult and the New Philharmonic Orchestra: “In The Fen Country,” alas, is not another tie-in to Boston.

Y’know how some albums — especially from the ’60s and ’70s — had that nubbly cardboard? Once you got into the ’80s it was all kinda thin and glossy. But in earlier years, sometimes you’d get an album that had that gently textured, somewhat thicker-feeling cardboard. It felt sturdy and reassuring and analog and awesome.

Yeah, I might have laid out 50 cents for this on account of the nubbly cardboard. 😉 As for the tunes … well, it’ll be an education.

Music of Delius, Sir Thomas Beecham and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra: Not factory-sealed but still in the plastic (which I don’t think is a good thing, but so be it.)

I have no clearly explicable reason why I bought this. Vinyl is a hell of a drug.

Robert Noehren, 16th and 17th Century Organ Music: I dig classical organ music and this was recorded in Buffalo, so, bing, another two of my hard-earned quarters won their wings.

The Interwebs tell me Robert Noehren was an interesting guy: In addition to playing classical organ, he also designed the instruments. Buffalo’s First Presbyterian Church had a Noehren organ, as did a church in Milwaukee. Alas, the instrument being played here is not of Noehren’s own design.

Peaches & Herb, 2 Hot!: Yeah, I don’t have a great explanation for this one either, except that it breaks up the litany of classical LPs pretty nicely. I think I was hoping for some brainless disco grooves … and then I remembered this pair specialized more in ballads. So I might have to put my boots on and sog it out.

This LP pretty much captured P&H’s moment in the sun: It hit No. 2 on the U.S. album charts in 1979 and included their two big hits, “Shake Your Groove Thing” and “Reunited.” If you need a Peaches & Herb album, this is the Peaches & Herb album you need. At least that’s what I keep repeating to myself.

Rickie Lee Jones, Pirates: I’d seen some strong reviews of this record — some proclaiming it one of the best of 1981.

But it seemed in my experience to have fallen behind the shelf. I didn’t know it and didn’t know anyone who did. So I said sure, why not?

The lyrics suggest Jones pretty much covered all the same ground she covered on her first record. So I might not be dazzled. We’ll see. Donald Fagen’s on the record somewhere, apparently, playing synth.

Firesign Theatre, Dear Friends: A former colleague in Massachusetts (there’s that state again) indoctrinated me into the cult of Firesign by letting me borrow a couple of LPs from his college years.

They could be pretty dopey (read that any way you want) sometimes, but I respect them at their best. The first time I heard Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, I was simultaneously touched by the ending and convinced that, were I to spin the record again, it would be totally different. (It was altogether a deeper reaction than I ever would have predicted from a record called Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers.)

Anyway: Dear Friends is a collection of bits recorded from the live radio shows Firesign hosted in Los Angeles (“the city of … Emphysema!”) between September 1970 and February 1971. I’ll bet enough of them still hold up to be worth my 50 cents. And there’s hamburger all over the highway in Mystic, Connecticut …

And finally, Todd Rundgren, Runt. More or less Rundgren’s first post-Nazz solo album. (“Runt” was briefly made out to be a band at the time, but TR wrote and sang all the songs, and he’s alone on the album cover.) Includes the endearing wide-eyed piano jive of “We Gotta Get You A Woman,” which landed our lad on the Top 40 for a couple weeks. America!

I owned a copy of this years ago and traded it in, for reasons I cannot remember. Perhaps with my first spin, they will all come crashing back.

What I didn’t get.

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At some point soon I’ll fill you in on what I picked up earlier today, when I went vinyl-shopping for the first time in lit’rally years.

(It was a hoot; I picked up about 10 albums for $10.07. The damage could have been much worse.)

Instead I’ll write about the stuff I didn’t buy that sticks in my head, the way things manage to do even when you’ve pawed through hundreds of records.

Chuck Mangione, Fun and Games: Skipped right past this one in the 50-cent bin. Probably should have considered it, as it has Chuck’s 1980 Winter Olympics theme tune, “Give It All You Got.” Also contains a song called “Pina Colada,” which I know nothing of but sounds like it might contain the distilled essence of 1979. Speaking of which …

Rupert Holmes, Partners in Crime: I like “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” and “Him” well enough, as turn-of-the-decade earworms go, so I’ve wondered what a full LP of Rupert Holmes would sound like.

I took out the inner sleeve today (also in the 50-cent bin), read some of his lyrics, decided his writing wasn’t that enthralling, and put it back. But I still sorta wonder, in a reduced way, what a full LP of Rupert Holmes sounds like.

The Sounds of the 1970 Liberty Grenadiers: I might be fudging the title a little bit. Assuming the cover was accurate, this was a recording of the 1970 edition of the marching band from Liberty High School here in Bethlehem.

Such things must have been popular that year: I have a copy of a similar, locally pressed record that captures my high school’s 1970 concert and jazz bands in action.

I’ve never listened to more than five minutes of that record, and I wouldn’t listen to more than five minutes of the Liberty Grenadiers either. So I have no idea why this record sticks in my head. Just as a local curio, I guess.

The Best of Porter Wagoner, Vol. 2: I’ve concluded that the high points of country music are lost on me.

But I still aspire to appreciate them, at least a little bit. It is quintessentially American music, after all. And my dislike for country is based in part on city-boy (well, suburb-boy) disdain and superiority, which is never a positive personal quality.

There was a raft of ’60s and ’70s country records in the 50-cent bin (Merle Haggard’s I’m A Lonesome Fugitive was another), and I thought I should pick one up and camp out with it and get my arms around my personal Country Problem once and for all.

Maybe some other time.

20 Rockin’ Originals: I don’t actually need a copy of this Fifties compilation album. The excellent American Graffiti soundtrack and a Chuck Berry greatest-hits collection ably fill any need I might have for greasy kid stuff.

No, this one sticks in my head for its cover photo — a “glamour shot” of a blonde with a football jersey and a weird, tongue-lolling, vaguely glassy expression. It made me think of drunken teenage indiscretions, and of high-school football players swapping gossip in the locker room (“Give Carol Ann a glass of wine and she’ll do just about anything.”)

Quickie oldies compilation albums are supposed to make you think of rockin’ good times, not of the complicated psychological needs and weaknesses of teenage football players and the girls who service them. I can’t explain how my mind works, except that it runs some weird routes sometimes.

(Google Images indicates there’s an alternate version of this album cover on which Carol Ann is hiking her football jersey up above rib level — and no, she’s not wearing Under Armour. See, it’s not me inserting the sexual subtext. I’m just a good clean all-American boy who likes crates full of vinyl.)

Ferrante & Teicher Salute Nashville: I’ve riffed on Ferrante & Teicher in the past as the epitome of easy-listening cheese … without actually owning one of their albums or listening to more than 30 seconds of any of their songs. Scarcely seems fair or honest, does it?

If I’m gonna get to know The Grand Twins of the Twin Grands, though, it ain’t gonna be through their Nashville album.

Richard Pryor, That Nigger’s Crazy: Almost bought this one just for the street cred, but it was pretty well worn down.

(There was a classic Willie Colon/Hector Lavoe album there, too, that would have been mine if it didn’t look like Ondrej Nepela had performed his short routine on its vinyl surface.)

The Cash Family Singers: Gospel music has been able to penetrate my godless soul a tiny bit more than country has. A gospel singer who’s really giving it up (as opposed to showboating) hits a particular nerve that’s hard to ignore.

The gospel I’ve heard has all been performed by the best-known acts in the business, so I can’t gauge the odds that a local/small-time gospel group could hit the monkey nerve.

But for 50 cents, I could have found out with any number of records, including this one.

Google does not turn up a Cash Family Singers discography, just a sparse list of references going back 40 years. This record was probably a small-time pressing sold off a merchandise table outside a congregation hall somewhere.

Its mysteries are not for me to uncover.

Not unless I go back …

Big Joe and Phantom 33 1/3.

I’ve been having the oddest dreams lately.

Yeah, I know, it’s kinda skeevy to tell the world what goes on in one’s head at night. But these are harmless enough, plus they fit with my usual cultural fixations. So here goes:

Probably five times in the past three months or so, I’ve dreamed about record-shopping.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I actually shopped for vinyl, or consciously contemplated shopping for vinyl. But there I am, after lights-out, rifling through racks of records.

And not just any records. The cool thing is, the albums I contemplate — and sometimes pick up and examine — never exist in real life. A sampling of the phantom albums includes:

– A second Sex Pistols studio album with a cover resembling Women and Children First — dark blue border, lighter-colored center picture. (Of what, I forget.)

– An Elvis Presley album, recorded live in Houston, during a snowstorm, with a cover resembling the ’68 Comeback Special album.

– A double album called British Sea Power — not the indie band of the same name, but a Sixties-issued collection of old recordings of songs once sung by British sailors.

– A KISS vinyl box set in a big Kodak-yellow box, plus a KISS studio album called Lost In The Tears. (The latter title would work quite nicely for a Paul Stanley power ballad, IMHO.)

– A goodly dozen Eric Clapton albums, including one that was either Northern Irish rebel songs or Irish drinking songs, or maybe some of both — I remember Clapton looking a little out of focus in the back cover photo.

For what it’s worth, Elvis is the only performer on the dream-list whose music means that much to me in my waking hours … though I’d give that album of Limey sea chanteys a spin or two, just to check it out.

I never actually end up hearing any of the albums. I’m pretty sure I don’t even end up buying them.

In the most recent dream, just a night or two ago, I kept accumulating piles of LPs I wanted to buy; putting them down; and being unable to find them again.

It didn’t hassle me then, and it doesn’t hassle me now. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, nor was there any pressure to buy. Ultimately, there was no more emotional engagement than if I’d been walking between rows of rosebushes.

And that’s why I like these dreams: There is no stress or negativity attached. I go into stores, I see weird unfamiliar records, I turn them over in my hands, and then I wake up.

It beats the heck out of skipping class all semester and then going to campus the day before the final.

He’s such a fine dancer.

I’ll have some extended periods of free time to myself in the week to come.

These often lead me back to my neglected shelves of vinyl LPs, in search of music I always tell myself I’ll listen to again when I have a little time for peace and quiet.

The record I’m most thinking about re-exploring this coming week is The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Genesis’ surreal double-album exploration of an alternate-universe New York City through the eyes of a spray-can-wielding hoodlum named Rael.

It was roughly around this time of year — December or January in either my sophomore or junior year of high school —  when I bought my copy from the second-hand bins of my favorite record shop.

I got to know Lamb at a time of bare trees, biting winds and early snow; that’s probably why I’m homing back in on it now.

Plus, there are certain albums whose sounds and moods feel redolent of certain times of year. The Stones’ Some Girls feels like June to me, and an urban June to boot, with the heat rising and the windows open and the sweat starting to form on the back of your neck.

Lamb, in contrast, is a cold, cerebral chessmatch of an album, right down to its spare, pallid white cover and the icy, mock-classical piano arpeggios that kick off the proceedings. Music for barbecues, this ain’t.

It’s music to be chewed on when you’ve got time to chew on it — like when the roads are crappy and the winds are whistling and you’d just as well stay inside anyway.

In preparation for diving back into the world of Lamb, I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite moments on YouTube.

One of them is an almost-semi-sorta instrumental, both grandiose and shambling at the same time, in which our hero Rael meets the Grim Reaper and he turns out to be … quite the character.

Peter Gabriel’s liner notes to the album paint the picture more than the song itself, which has only three lines (the last of which is delivered in a loose, delightful falsetto that reminds me of Men at Work’s Colin Hay.)

Still, the song and the liner notes work together to set a scene. I picture the Supernatural Anaesthetist described in the song as someone akin to Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor — all curly hair and flowing scarf, hiding his power under a facade of loopy eccentricism.