Imagine seeing a photo of something you thought existed only in memory. As you try to process it, the whole thing takes your breath away. Then you get catch your breath and settle down to scrutinizing the tiniest details of the photo.
When I grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in the ’60s and ’70s, everyone went down by Prange’s. It was the biggest department store in that city of 50,000 along Lake Michigan.
The record department was in the basement. You went down the main escalator and there it was, over to your right as you stepped off, a dazzling world of colorful and thrilling LPs spread out before you. 45s? Sure, but those you could get at the neighborhood dime store. Prange’s was the place where you came to ponder the mighty LP.
This photo is from 1969 or later. In the row going up diagonally from the lower left corner are the Beatles’ “Revolver” and “Magical Mystery Tour” and the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar,” the latter released as an import in 1969. I’d love to see this photo at higher resolution so I could try to ID some of the other records.
I never bought a lot of LPs at Prange’s — all I had was paper route money, and not much of it — but what I did buy were among the first albums I ever owned. I still have them all.
— I gave Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Cosmo’s Factory” LP to my friend Mike for his 13th birthday. It came out in July 1970. His birthday was in October. Truth be told, I’d wanted it for myself. Instead, I got Creedence’s “Green River,” which by then was a year old. It all worked out.
When I was 13, I was tempted by, perhaps even obsessed with, Janis Joplin’s “Pearl.” It had been released in January 1971, midway through my eighth-grade year. I liked the music. Mostly, though, I thought her pose on the cover was kind of hot — and, yes, I already had some sense of someone being a hot mess — and I really didn’t want to try to explain that to my parents.
So I never bought “Pearl” at Prange’s. Truth be told, it’s only been in the last 10 years that I finally bought “Pearl.” I’ve since bought three or four copies, always looking for a cover in a bit nicer condition than the one before.
Maybe I’ll even frame it someday. It tells quite a story about a young record digger, even if only he recognizes it.
When a Gordon Lightfoot record you thought no one would ever want is the first record you sell, that’s a sign that it’s going to be a special day.
That was Saturday at the Green Bay Record Convention.
The picture above was taken just as the show opened. As it turns out, the picture was taken from the corner where I spent most of the day.
In baseball lingo, I’m the pinch hitter in our lineup. If the show sells out, I sit at the back door and work as a gofer. If the show doesn’t sell out, I’m comped a table so we’re full. On Saturday, one vendor didn’t show. After giving the missing vendor an extra hour, I opened for business at 11.
“This is really a cheap crowd,” the older guy at the next table said to me late in the day. He was new to the Green Bay show and its record diggers. His crates were a hodgepodge of genres, all seemingly priced by a guide. This gent didn’t have many bargains in his crates. It didn’t seem that he sold a lot of records.
Everything in my crates was marked down to $2, save for the stuff that was already marked down to $1. And, yes, I know full well that I should have charged more for some of my records. But that turned out to be the sweet spot. Our crowds tend to be bargain hunters. I’ve never sold so many records.
I no longer have any records by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, nor any by the Blasters, Jerry Reed, Johnny Rivers or Cameo. Know them well. Just didn’t listen to them anymore.
My collection is down to three Elvis records, and two of them are still in my sale crates, having gone unsold on Saturday. Perhaps another day.
Once upon a time, I had all 14 of the J. Geils Band’s live and studio records. Now there are seven left. Kinda wish a couple of them hadn’t sold Saturday, but it’s time for someone else to enjoy them.
Which is where we’re headed. After Saturday, there are fewer than 1,000 records in my collection for the first time in a long time.
Downsizing is the plan going forward. Been thinking for some time now about getting my collection down to a more manageable, more enjoyable number. Let’s say 100 records. But that’s another post for another day.
For the record, so to speak: When last we gathered, I polled the crowd on whether I should go see an arena show with Bad Company and Cheap Trick or a theater show with Herman’s Hermits after the record show on Saturday. Thank you for your votes. But as it turns out, I did neither. We went to see our niece play hockey instead.
It’s out of print, but you can find the original 7-inch single (Continental CR 1001) on eBay. I found my copy when my friend Jim threw open his garage door and sold some of his records. I’ve since found another copy. It seems to be common.
(This is the sleeve for that 45. You could have bought it for 25 cents if you also bought a carton of Kent, True, Newport or Old Gold cigarettes.)
There’s no music. Just “Louis Satchmo Armstrong talkin’ to all the kids … from all over the world … at Christmas time,” reading Clement Clarke Moore’s classic poem in a warm, gravelly voice.
“But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night. A very good night.’
“And that goes for Satchmo, too. (Laughs softly.) Thank you.”
It was the last thing he ever recorded. Satchmo died the following July.
After a hiatus of many years, I’m collecting baseball cards again. But only a certain kind of card.
These cards. The 2017 Topps Heritage cards, which are based on the 1968 Topps card design. That year, 1968, was when an 11-year-old kid in Wisconsin really got into collecting cards for the first time.
Some of the players in the 2017 set are new to me, but there’s a wonderfully comforting feeling to being introduced to them in such a familiar way. I’m enjoying it.
Likewise record digging. There’s something wonderfully comforting about an experience that’s essentially the same today as it was in the earliest ’70s in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Flash back to 1970, and there is 13-year-old me carefully examining the 45s in the record department in the basement of Prange’s department store or in the rack near the checkout at the Evans variety store. Then I’d look through the LPs, which seemed unattainable, far beyond my allowance.
One of my earliest 45s was “American Woman” by the Guess Who on that great orange RCA label. The flip side, “No Sugar Tonight,” turned out to be the Guess Who’s next single. You know that version, but here are two less-heard covers. They come via fellow bloggers, which is another of the joys of record digging, getting tipped to things you might not otherwise hear.
“No Sugar Tonight,” Steel Wool, from the single on White Whale Records, 1970. Steel Wool is one of the aliases used by singer and drummer Buddy Randell, who’d left the Knickerbockers that year. Thank you to Andrew, the proprietor over at Armagideon Time, for this. It’s from one of his anniversary mixes.
Postscript: My rediscovery of baseball cards brings with it one age-old problem. I’ve bought about 100 cards, yet have gotten only one Brewers player so far. Seems like it’s the hunt for Cookie Rojas all over again.