The newest (and most addictive) joy of charity shops

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Some of the charity shop CDs pile up on my office couch (image: Graham Brown)

If you are a regular reader of this blog you may have spotted that Mrs Brown (Kathie Touin) and I are habitual visitors to charity shops. In fact, my previous blog entry “Mysterious books” was about charity finds.

But in the past year or two there has been a sinister development. I find charity shops are beckoning me through their doors with shameless and tempting displays… of CDs.

I love music and I have a large collection of CDs. Hang on, I will make a rough count. Mmm, might need to take my shoes and socks off, where’s the calculator? Now, of course, you understand that Kathie’s CDs are mixed in with mine so it’s hard to give an accurate figure. Well, ok, between us it must be more than 2,500.

In the past few years the sales of CDs has gone down considerably. In April The Guardian reported: “Streaming music revenues surpassed income from the sale of traditional formats for the first time last year, as [their] booming popularity… puts the survival of the CD at risk.

“Revenue from music fans paying for services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music surged more than 41% to $6.6bn (£4.7bn), accounting for more than 38% of the total global market for recorded music. The sale of physical formats, primarily CDs, fell 5.4% to $5.2bn to account for 30%.

“It marks a tipping point for the music industry, which has depended on income from CDs to fill record labels’ coffers and artists’ pockets since the 1980s.”

It certainly feels like a tipping point but it’s a poor shower of rain that doesn’t benefit anyone. My impression is that as people are moving to streaming and downloads they are not only buying fewer CDs, often they are actively disposing of their collections – hence the large numbers on display in charity shops.

Musicians look away now, but this is an opportunity to pick up some excellent albums for perhaps 50p or 75p each, sometimes, whisper it, five albums for £1. Prices vary – they are particularly low here in Orkney, a little higher I noticed in Aberdeen and more so in Edinburgh.

Not only is this a chance to fill gaps in my collection, but at these prices there is no worry about trying an unknown CD or artist just because the cover looks interesting – though, to be fair, this is something I have also done at full price in music shops over the years.

So what is the worse that can happen? I have made a donation to charity and I have a CD to enjoy, or re-donate if I don’t like it.

The only potential problem is faulty CDs – at such low prices one can hardly go back to complain. But so far, despite some of the CDs looking as if the previous owner drove their pick-up truck backwards and forwards over them, I have only come across the odd track that skips, and usually only on certain more sensitive players.

So, I hear you ask, what have I been buying? Ah, well, that reminds me, there is another problem – storing all these treasures, because I have rather a lot of these charity shop bargains. With that in mind, we only have time for me to tell you about a few of my many charity shop purchases.

But they include compilations by:

The Ink Spots, songs such as Whispering Grass, a style of singing you never hear these days;

The Shangri-Las, I already have a collection of their tracks but I can never get enough of their gloriously melodramatic songs, gothic even, the best known perhaps being Leader Of The Pack, great production by George “Shadow” Morton, a bit like Phil Spector but less saturated and more listenable, and my new CD has two tracks not on my other Shangri-Las compilation;

Nat King Cole, it seems strange to say this about one of the greatest artists of the 20th century but I think he is under-rated, his singing and his piano playing are beautiful;

Ray Charles, three different collections, two of them double CDs, from a man who influenced all who came after him;

Louis Armstrong, a double CD of Satchmo magic, this cost me a whole 99p in Aberdeen;

Michael Nesmith, perhaps the most musically talented of The Monkees, an early purveyor of country rock;

Johnny Cash, I have many original Cash albums and compilations, but Ring Of Fire The Legend of Johnny Cash is an unusual collection, spanning songs from his early days to the end of his career, from Ring Of Fire to Hurt, always happy to hear these again on any album;

Julie London, I probably have most of the tracks already, as with some of the other compilations I have bought, but it’s always good to hear them again with a few surprises;

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, what a distinctive label sound Tamla Motown created;

Anne Shelton, a Forces sweetheart from the Second World War, not as well known as Vera Lynn but excellent, songs such as Coming In On A Wing And A Prayer and You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To.

Kathie has listened to some of the new purchases with me. We spent a happy Sunday morning, while Kathie was baking for a charity event and I was pottering about, listening to a compilation by Nancy Sinatra and another by the 1920s-style Temperance Seven.

This charity shop CD mania that I have contracted also allows me to buy CDs which, in normal circumstances, I would not buy – which might be a bit, well embarrassing, to splash out for.

Firmly in this category is Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell II (Back Into Hell) – you know, the one with I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That). Meatloaf, or producer and songwriter Jim Steinman, certainly liked their brackets (for some reason). Anyway, it sounds great played loud in the car (it really does).

What else have I found?

David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs, one of the few Bowie CDs from that era not in my collection; Ry Cooder’s Chicken Skin Music, I defy you to sit still while listening to this; the musicals Evita (original studio recording), Fiddler On The Roof (film soundtrack) and Porgy And Bess; Renee Fleming’s album The Beautiful Voice, you need confidence or an over-eager record company to give your album this title, but she gets away with it, among the tracks are Canteloube’s Bailero, one of my favourite pieces; and Dawn Upshaw’s I Wish It So, not the first of her albums I own, this one featuring some of the lesser known songs by the likes of Sondheim and Bernstein.

Folk is represented by, among others, the Wild Welsh Women (yes, really); Mad Dogs And Englishmen’s Going Down With Alice; and Fred Neil’s Bleecker & MacDougal which, according to its Wikipedia entry, had “a significant influence on the folk rock movement” and seems to be a Japanese release which could be of some monetary value (as well as artistic).

Then we have some of Paul Mealor’s beautiful choral music; Ysgol Glanaethwy, a Welsh choir; An Affair To Remember by Hal Mooney & His Orchestra, originally released in 1959 when, the sleeve notes tell us, “the big band is on the way back”, which it wasn’t but it is a super collection of great music beautifully arranged. And so on.

Oh, there is also the pile of CDs I have yet to listen to, which includes Alan Bennett reading Edward Lear poetry; two albums by Doctor John; Cheap Thrills by Big Brother & The Holding Company (the only gap in my Janis Joplin collection); an album of vintage US TV ads; a double CD by someone called David Frye of the albums I Am The President and Radio Free Nixon (no, I have no idea either); a Stan Freberg collection (remember Day-O? – “Too loud man” – then you are older than you look); the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Cast Your Fate To The Wind; and many more.

I think this blog entry is a bit like my CD collection – a bit rambling and muddled. Sorry about that.

Now, what to listen to next?

Graham Brown

To find out more

Slipping discs: music streaming revenues of $6.6bn surpass CD sales (Guardian) – https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/apr/24/music-streaming-revenues-overtake-cds-to-hit-66bn

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One thought on “The newest (and most addictive) joy of charity shops

  1. Lolz! U be like well old mate the soundz ur groovin to…. Or something like that. I love the weird and wonderful stuff you pick up. I have certainly had my musical horizons broadened. Usually, but not always, in a good way.

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