Scrounging for CDs at the Thrift Store
The Thrill of the Hunt!
I'm a member of a dying breed -- the CD collector. While most 21st century music fans have moved away from physical media into MP3s, digital downloads, and iPods (and true audiophiles have rediscovered vinyl), I am still obsessed with those little silver plastic discs. I've been collecting CDs since the early 1990s and have fond memories of the many hours I've spent scrounging through bins at hole-in-the-wall music stores and record swaps, digging ever deeper in the hopes of uncovering long-lost audio treasures. The problem is that the record stores which once dotted our great land in seemingly never-ending numbers have become an endangered species over the past decade or so, as the onslaught of iTunes and Spotify continues to reshape the music business (whether or not that's a good thing, of course, depends on who you talk to). Even big-box retailers like WalMart or Best Buy, which once boasted healthy music selections, have downsized their CD inventories to the point where music is pretty much an afterthought. So what's a CD addict to do when he wants to do some scroungin'? If you're like me, you hit the local thrift shops. I'm lucky enough to have one right in my hometown that supports a local women's charity. The shop is in a rickety former church building that's cramped, dirty and smells like feet on warm days but nine times out of ten, if I dig through the bin of used, abused and unloved CDs that are shoved into the corner of the store, I'll usually come away with something interesting.
I specialize in albums from the hard rock/metal genres (as I like to put it, "I collect anything with loud guitar and an attitude"), but I'm not averse to occasionally going "off the reservation" if I find something unique, odd, or cheap enough. Over the past couple of years I've picked up some amazingly weird CDs in that store - hard to find '80s Christian rock, rare releases by forgotten hair metal bands, and once in a while, even a -- gasp! -- country CD or two. I don't score every time I visit but I've had enough "hits" over the years that it makes putting up with the occasional "misses" worthwhile. Here's what I found on my most recent scrounging excursion...
Styx - "A&M 25th Anniversary Classics, Vol. 15"
(A&M Records, 1987) I've always had a love-hate relationship with 70s/80s arena rockers Styx. Part of me has always wanted to like their stuff, but it seems like every classic hard-rocking song like "Renegade" or "Blue Collar Man" in their catalog has got a sickeningly overblown cheese-rock ballad like "Babe" or "Don't Let It End" that cancels it out, and prevents me from getting into them bigtime. This musical schizophrenia affected the band members as well; after years of butting heads over Styx's direction, the theatrically-obsessed vocalist/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung split with guitarists Tommy Shaw and James Young (the "rockers" of the band) in the mid 80s. Several reunion attempts followed and today Shaw and Young continue to perform as Styx with the use of replacement members.
This 14-track disc (part of a series of budget-priced compilations released to celebrate the A&M label's 25th anniversary; other volumes featured such artists as Chuck Mangione, Humble Pie, The Carpenters and Joe Cocker) provides a nice even mix of the "rockin'" Styx material and the "wimpy" Styx stuff (I'm still not sure which side of that fence 1983's addictive ear worm "Mr. Roboto" falls on) so this collection is sure to satisfy most casual fans. It'll probably be the only Styx CD I'll ever need. I just have to make sure to keep my finger near the "skip" button for when "Babe" comes on (that song gives me a pain!).
Living Colour - "Vivid"
(Epic Records, 1988) Living Colour's debut album was a pretty big deal upon its release in 1988. The all-African American rock band was championed by none other than the head Rolling Stone himself, Mick Jagger - who produced several of the tracks on Vivid and allowed the band to open a series of Stones tour dates. Thanks to Sir Mick's generosity and to MTV embracing their hard-rocking single "Cult of Personality," Vivid crashed the Billboard top ten and sold double platinum. I owned a cassette single (remember those?) of "Cult" back in the day but had never heard the rest of the album until now. In addition to "Cult", Vivid still holds up pretty well after all these years thanks to tracks like the heartfelt "Open Letter (to a Landlord)", the funky "Funny Vibe" (featuring cameos by Chuck D. and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy) and the sarcastic "Glamour Boys," all of which showcase the shredding guitar work of Vernon Reid and the powerhouse vocals of Corey Glover. Living Colour was one hell of a tight band!! They released several more hard rockin', socially-aware albums during the 1990s before going on hiatus in the early '00s, though last I checked they were back together again.
"Cult of Personality"
Rick Springfield - "Greatest Hits"
(Evergreen, 1988) Yeah, I know... why the hell am I buying a disc by Rick Springfield? ... but this album was simply too weird to pass up. I'm sure that most of you are familiar with at least one of Rick's hits like "Jessie's Girl," "I've Done Everything For You," "Don't Talk To Strangers" or "Affair Of the Heart," but... absolutely none of those tracks appear on this West German (!) compilation. In fact, I doubt any of the songs on this so-called "hits" CD were ever "hits" at all!
Before hitting the big time in the early '80s as a musician and soap-opera heart throb, Rick had plugged away in relative obscurity for almost a decade and released several barely-noticed solo LPs. That era is the source for this CD's track list. Judging by these songs, it appears that young Rick was being groomed to become the next big bubble gum pop star ala David Cassidy or Donny Osmond. His highest profile gig at this time was in a short lived cartoon show called "Mission: Magic," in which the not-yet-famous Rick (playing an animated version of himself) would send the characters out on each week's "mission" (which I assume must have involved magic) and then ended each episode by performing a song. (Rick's theme to the show is included on this CD, though it's misidentified as the "Theme From Missin' Magic.")
In other words: this "Greatest Hits" CD is nothing more than a cheap cash-in by someone hoping to make a few bucks off of Rick's forgotten early recordings. The songs are all pretty typical early 70s pop/rock fluff, none lasting longer than three minutes, aimed squarely at a teenage-girl market that didn't catch on to Rick till years later. Still, I had to pick this up, just because of the hilarious front cover pic of a youthful Rick sportin' a godawful red, blue and yellow plaid jacket straight out of The Partridge Family. If I ever meet Rick Springfield, I'm going to ask him to autograph this CD cover. (I hope he doesn't punch me.)
"Theme From Mission: Magic"
REO Speedwagon - "A Decade of Rock N Roll: 1970-1980"
(Epic Records, 1988) The main reason that I noticed this disc on the rack was because it was housed in one of those old school "fat boy" double-size CD packages, which most major record labels stopped using by the early 1990s in favor of "slim" 2-CD jewel cases. I haven't seen one of these big boys in dog years!
Anywhoo... kinda like Styx, REO Speedwagon was one of those bands who've had a few songs I've always liked, but there were never enough of them to make me want to buy a full album. Though they're mainly remembered today for their sappy early '80s AOR ballads like "Keep On Lovin' You" and "Can't Fight This Feeling," I've been told many times that REO's best stuff actually pre-dates that era. Before they broke into the mainstream with 1980's Hi Infidelity album, REO Speedwagon had spent ten years on the Midwestern concert circuit, releasing a string of hard-rockin' but under-performing albums and building a rep as a must-see live band. The bulk of the songs on this 2-disc collection shine a spotlight on REO's hungry years, and I gotta say, I'm digging this material a lot more than I expected to. Though I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard it for myself, early REO Speedwagon was some pretty damn fine booty-shakin' bar-band rock, not as sleazy or raunchy sounding as their early 70s contemporaries like Foghat, the J.Geils Band or early Aerosmith, but certainly in the same ballpark. Who knew? I may never buy another REO Speedwagon album, but I'm definitely hanging onto this one.
Pretty Cool, Huh?
You can't beat that kind of audio enjoyment for only a buck apiece. I'm already looking forward to my next thrift-store CD scrounge. Do me a favor, people: don't just throw your old CDs away, donate them to your local charity/thrift shops. Not only will they raise money for a good cause, but believe it or not there are still plenty of people like me out there who are more than willing to give them a loving home. Thanks!