Friday, 6 September 2013

Op Shop Selections

This post is about the LP records you find, usually in plastic milk crates or torn, scuffed cardboard cartons, in charity op shops and second-hand shops.  There are some records you will never find in such shops, and some you will always be able to find.  This is about the latter, also known generally as easy-listening or middle of the road albums.

The main criterion for selection is the chance of finding the record in an op shop (nothing to do with musical excellence). I'm proud to present my Top 12 of op shop records.

1. The clear winner is Mitch Miller (and the Gang).  There will be several albums in the shop containing Meet Me in St Louis, Louis, (and several Mitch Miller albums) but this one could not be beaten. A large proportion of the op shop collection will be "sing along" records, or homogenised, generic house-band compilations that will make you sing along to avoid listening to the production.

2. Singalonga Max - Max Bygraves.  Max was the English equivalent of the American, Mitch Miller, so now all bases are covered. Volumes 1 - 10 will also be available at different times, but how could you go past the cover of Vol 4?

3. The highest ranked of the various musicals from the 1960s and 1970s (the era we are essentially dealing with here) is undoubtedly South Pacific. Besides the genuine soundtrack album there may also be several homogenised, generic house-band versions with no indication of who does what.

4. You will never find an Elvis album, or a Beatles album, but you will always find a Gene Pitney album. Don't ask me why. And the Gene Pitney album will have a cover like this. Or it will be a Tom Jones album. In which case there will be a girl on the cover.

5. Winifred Atwell was a honky-tonk pianist who played ragtime like Scott Joplin. Unlike Joplin, enough people bought her records to keep the op shops well-supplied. Her records were all an inch thick and as heavy as a door-stop. I'm not really sure why she didn't use her normal piano or if we would have known the difference. She was a good pianist but not for a whole record.

6. Both Bing Crosby and Christmas records are well-represented in op shops, usually with White Christmas in the title or among the tracks, and this easily canters into the Top 12.

7. Three factors, none of which may be sufficient on its own, form a winning combination when present together. I refer, of course, to movie themes, an easy-listening orchestra, and nudity on the record cover.  The first two of these are found in abundance in the op shop, the third may be limited in some religious establishments known for their wowsery.

8. Is there such a thing as easy-listening, middle of the road classical music? Of course there is, and you'll find it in abundance in your nearest op shop. There could be no better example than the James Last big band playing Fur Elise in the manner of Trumpet A' Go Go without the piano. James Last sold thousands of records in the UK and Australia, and they are now in Frankston op shops.

9. Lots of op shop records are on such labels as Music for Pleasure, Fontana, Reader's Digest and World Record Club.  This example, of "hits" such as American Pie played by an anonymous band and chorus, so that all tracks sound the same despite their diversity in original form, is typical of the compilation genre. There is in fact nothing better about the whole package than the cover art, and that is just silly.

10. Mantovani was one of dozens of bandleaders making records in the 1960s and 70s. Names such as Victor Sylvester, Andre Kostelanetz, Nelson Riddle, Les Baxter were all pioneers of easy listening music and can be found in the op shop.  Mantovani was popular - think of Take the 'A' Train played by saccharine strings - and is always available.

11. I have no idea why Frankie Laine was popular in Australia, but the fact is you'll never find a Slim Dusty album in an op shop, whereas Hell Bent for Leather comes in at no 11. Heaven forbid that marketing might have played a part. Other artists who are similarly well represented include Johnny Mathis, Kamahl, John Denver and Doris Day.

12. I attribute the proliferation of Nana Mouskouri records to the success of her TV shows, or some unknown factor. Most of her popular records were like this one - a collection of French songs including Guantanamera.  Interestingly, the good records she made, of Greek songs, accompanied by the Athenians, cannot be found in op shops.

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Some honourable mentions (Ones I couldn't bear to leave out):

Presumably no-one bought this to hear the Glen Miller Orchestra (they would have been disappointed), but perhaps for the Louis Armstrong bonus tracks!

This is as close as the op shop gets to real classical music, from an obscure label with no known orchestra or conductor, a strange bloke on the cover who looks like Governor Bligh, and "AS SEEN ON TV".

Bert Kaempfert, Billy Vaughn, and Acker Bilk, are three musicians I can think of who subsumed their talent in easy-listening music for profit and are well-represented in the op shop.  This record was half good and my Mum had a copy.

Liberace (Libber-archie) was a flamboyant effeminate piano player apparently loved by all. There are dozens of Liberace records, so you'll always find one, and if you're tempted, one is all you'll need. I can't imagine that this record was made to give anyone pleasure except Liberace and his bank manager.

The Hammond organ, after being the accompaniment in picture theatres for silent movies, made only a brief comeback as the preferred accompaniment for the sing along, but there is still always one record featuring Hammond in every op shop. (I admit the album shown would be a rare find - most Klaus Wunderlich records feature pictures of girls, the preferred accompaniment to 1960s easy listening).

 Helmut Zacharias was another band leader we often heard on our radios, with orchestra of mostly strings to make the sound "easy" and require no response from the listener.  There is a recording of Strauss waltzes in every op shop, mostly made by session musicians called the Reader's Digest Light Orchestra or something similar.

There are records of My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, The King and I, Pyjama Game, Oklahoma and Calamity Jane available periodically so that you'll be able to find at least one of them. Of course, you can always find South Pacific (see above). I imagine because they are not middle of the road enough, West Side Story or Carmen Jones are never available.

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If you can see any anomalies or glaring omissions, please let me know in the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. I've seen a lot of Tijuana Brass and Harry Seacome records. Also Minstrel Show and Rolf Harris are being dumped for obvious reasons