By Jamie Lee Rake
It’s a cheap enough hobby. And, if administrative costs don’t take up too much of a percentage, it does at least a bit of humanitarian good.
Record shopping at charity thrift shops, that is. If one’s tastes are broad enough, you’re patient enough and never got rid of your turntable or hopped on the narrow berth of the bandwagon that has deemed playing vinyl with a needle an audiophile experience preferable to those provided by digital files and, compact discs (how passe’!) there’s a world of music once owned by other people to explore and reclaim. And if you’re helping disabled people find work, families after a natural disaster, a local parochial school or another ostensibly non-profit cause, so much the better for everyone, yes?
Perhaps I’ve not gone to the right shops at the right time, crapshoot as this kind of past time is, but yours truly has yet to hit upon the kind of mother lode of the type that started me trawling these kinds of establishments. Per visions fueled by an article by the late Lester Bangs in the little-remembered New Wave Rock Magazine and the recommendation of a friend in Milwaukee with similarly Catholic musical interests, my original hope was to happen upon untold treasures of 60’s punk, or what Little Steven Van Zandt might call garage rock, at deep discount.
Collectors must have already decided ? & The Mysterians, Love, The Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Syndicate Of Sound, Count Five, et al ultra obscura were worth hoarding by the time I got into the game (let’s just say I was in high school, OK?). Though I’ve yet to have my eyes bug and checking account lessen by the charitable second-hand purchase of the sonic documents left by bands later to grace Nuggets, Pebbles, Boulders and other compilation album series not named for geologic formations, trawling through such retailers has added immeasurably to the breadth of my collection.
It was my plan for the first stop on this ongoing journalistic / critical tour to be either at the one great source for such shopping in my hometown or the emporium about 12 miles south-southwest where I first so shopped (the latter of which has been extremely fruitful on my last couple visits). But, what the hey, after a recent lunch with a friend in Neenah, it occurred to me that it’s been far too long since I visited…
Appleton’s St. Vincent De Paul. Even then, my visit to 1924 W. College Ave. proved exceptional to the usual dictates of a trip to any given St. Vinny’s with the idea of spending money on rekkids in mind.
There’s no science nor formula to what may catch my eye, and disposable income when it comes to resale music. Certain genres and qualities generally heighten consideration, though: picture discs (happened once or twice, and the only way I’m ever likely to buy anything by Bon Jovi), colored vinyl (to my recollection, it’s only happened for me in these circumstances with children’s 45’s), foreign pressings, comedy (stand up, conceptual/skit, musical,…’sall good), the folkie and heavy rock springing from the Jesus hippie Christian revival that took ‘hold in the U.S. in the late ‘60s-early ‘70s (near the levels of 60’s garage punk in terms of collector awareness and priciness, alas), r&b/soul/disco (the obscurer the better, 12-inch singles and 7-incher’s with extended mixes on the b-side, are most welcome).
70’s – 80’s new wave/dance-oriented rock, box sets of operas and oratorios and other classical works, reggae (better on Jamaican, European and domestic indie labels), country prior to the class of ‘89 (y’know, Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt et al, not that all those guys haven’t recorded material worth owning), polka (especially from Wisconsin, though most any music from the Badger State’s a temptation), industrial and other electronic music, jazz and blues from prestigious and compelling acts and labels…
You get the idea that I don’t often walk out of such places empty handed, right?
So, oddly, what grabs me at the Appleton SVP? It’s all instrumental, but ranging from the highest to lowest of brows.
But let’s start with the middlebrow. If German bandleader Bert Kaempfert is remembered at all by most contemporary pop listeners, it’s as he who makes mad hits, according to a name check Bare Naked Ladies’ 1998 hit, “One Week.” But hits he did make, including a 1960 U.S. chart topper, “Wonderland By Night,” though it’s puzzlingly absent from the late ‘60s Longines Symphonette Recording Society quintuple LP box set Strangers In The Night (yep, Kaempfert wrote the Frank Sinatra smash of the same title).
A fellow vinyl fiend friend at my church poo-poo’ed my talking up of this beaucoup of Kaempfert, but there’s plenty to commend, again, if your tastes run wide enough. For me, the jazzy-but-not-quite-jazz, loungey-but-not-quite lounge strains of the late Teuton’s horn-heavy-but-light orchestrations set off myriad triggers from my youth. Not minor among them are the snappiness of the music that once played when the “Technical Difficulties-Please Stand By” graphic would appear on TV screens back when terrestrial stations were the only option (and like a dutiful dumb arse/smart arse, I would often literally stand by the idiot box until regularly scheduled programming would reappear).
The background music of that long-disabused combination night spot-cum-eatery, the supper club, come to mind, too. From the time before middle of the road or easy listening radio became adult contemporary, Kaempfert was, if not its king, certainly among its royal court.
Plus, long before Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel gave popular advocacy to the notion of “world music” (I’ve not heard music from any other planet…you?!), Bert K. respectfully-if unerringly smoothly-incorporated stylistic turns from around his home continent as well as the dark one to its southeast, Africa, and South America to boot. That cosmopolitan flair’s heard aplenty throughout Strangers.
Plus, my copy came with a scad of Longines Symphonette literature. It may be a retrospective hoot to think that a watch company went into the biz of releasing mail-order multi-LP sets of grown-up music, and payable on installments and by subscription, if you like. The label’s 1968 catalog reads like a handbook for forces opposing the flower power/Woodstock generation sprouting up around it: Librace’s ornate piano, Al Hirt’s blustery trumpet, the reassuring warmth of Steve Lawrence & Edie Gorme’s, Burl Ives’ and Bing Crosby’s vocals…with the roaring ‘20s, Beethoven’s symphonies and old time radio (the memory of which in the year Richard Nixon won the presidency would be roughly the same age, or less, as current memories of Nirvana’s Nevermind) in the mix as well. Already among my archive are Longines’ Mantovani, Judy Garland and faux Hawaiian music anthoogies, so no shame here.
My guess is that The 18th Century Corporation’s Bacharach Baroque (United Artists) may have come from thew same donor as the Kaempfert. Recording information on its sleeve and a check on Discogs.com reveal it to be from the same era . Certainly, it seems reasonable to assume the same buyer who would purchase a Longines box of Bert would go for instrumental mash-ups of Burt Bacharach’s melodies and the kind of instrumentation and arrangements Johan Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries would have lent them.
The combination of the the man who lent his pen to biggies for Dionne Warwick, Jackie DeShannon, Dusty Springfield, Herb Alpert, et al and he was was best-known in his lifetime as the chief musician for a Lutheran congregation and father to a passel of young’uns does make for, per Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, two great tastes that taste great together. But it’s an acquired one, light and particular. And though one may at first think of harpsichord when thinking of baroque musicality, then-up & coming German classical & jazz guitarist Sigfried Schwab is given a front cover credit and copious space to ply his string bending. Another fine find, but one for which I will likely have to be in a rarer mood than I may be for Kaempfert.
Not by design, but this trip to St. Vinny’s turned out to be quite…Germanic. The idea of an orchestra conductor talking about pieces he enjoyed conducting struck my highfalutin fancy, so that’s how An Evening With Bruno Walter (Columbia) ended up with me at the check-out. Turns out the fellow from the Fatherland shown neatly bow-tied on the cover doesn’t talk that much about the W.A. Mozart and Richard Strauss pieces for which he wielded the baton, but there’s no faulting the way he leads The New York Philharmonic through their paces. Breaking from the national theme but staying on the classical, also nabbed was pianist Byron Janis and Antal Dorati leading The London Symphony through Sergei Rachmaninoff’s third concerto for the ol;’ 88s in ‘61; this piece by a Russian composer appealed to me by way of its label, Mercury’s Living Presence subsidiary, about which I recall reading such good things as to the warmth and vibrancy of the recording. Both qualities hold true, and I’ll be seeking out more from that imprint, surely.
Middle…high…that leaves lowbrow, doesn’t it? And could the bar be set any lower than the breastploitation of a Russ Meyer cinematic oeuvre? Sure it does, but suffice it to say the the music’s playful as the feminine mammary glands on often unclothed display are prodigious in boobtacular 60’s romps Lorna, Vixen and ‘80s glam metal band name inspiration Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, as evidenced by Original Motion Picture Soundtracks (vaguely credited on the cover to Meyer, but actually composed & arranged by Igo Kantor, Bert Shefter and Paul Sawtell).
LP’s at this SVP run mostly 10 cents each, while CD’s range between $1-2. But I splurged. It came as a bit of a disappointment that the booklet consists solely of movie credits and shots from the flicks, many worthy of Playboy issues contemporaneous to the movies’ release. No essays about the making of the music, its scene-setting variety nor its relation to the scenes the melodies underscore. Since Meyer was all about tease in his movies, this compilation maintains that m.o. by including dialogue snippets in several of the compositions; at least it’s a tease for those of us who have never seen the entirety of any of the celluloid from which these tunes derive. My breath shan’t be held in anticipation of finding any of the other three volumes of the series of which is a part at a similarly discounted price; should that be the case, these sonic whiplash-inducing default samplers of beatnik jazz, bossa nova, cocktail smarm, pop psychedelia and juxtapositions of multiple aural weirdnesses will be among the more accessibly strange items in my collection. And in keeping with the unintended motif running throughout my finds this afternoon, the label responsible for this, Q.D.K. Media? German!
Next time: Benefiting Calvinistic academia (and reasonably good improv comedy)