Unexpected Finds

Raymond Scott

 

Last week I walked into a thrift store and found a Raymond Scott album. Dramatic as this may sound, I was astounded…and still am. I’ve dug through so many crappy shelves of CDs at thrift stores that sometimes I lose hope. I do it for the surprise (and also because they are dirt cheap), but the collection of CDs usually doesn’t feel surprising.

And yet twenty years ago, somebody bought this Raymond Scott album and then very recently decided to donate it to the thrift store. I find both of those actions absolutely fascinating. Who, in this podunk town, bought this album in 1992? And why are they just now getting rid of it?

I only know of Raymond Scott because of my friend Jon. When I was a teenager and Jon has just moved to Ohio, I drove down to visit him for a weekend. The drive was tremendously boring and hoping to alleviate the pain slightly, I asked him if he had any music could recommend I listen to on my way back. That opened the floodgates to all sorts of music that shocked my 17-year-old ears. Not because it was vulgar but because it was so bizarre. Raymond Scott was one of those artists. He’s known for his lively 30’s-era Loony Tunes jazz, but also for being a very early experimenter of electronic music. Moog and Buchla got their start in the 60s. The artsy and academic RCA Synthesizer was 50s. But Raymond Scott predated them all with his strange proto-synthesizers.

So thank you, whoever-you-are-that-bought-this-CD-20-years-ago.

Speaking of early synthesizers, I made another historic discovery that same day at that thrift store. I’ve been been looking for this for about ten years and finally found it: a Hammond M-3 organ.

Hammond M-3

 

Here’s my little brother Daniel giving the organ a test run.

I’ve always had a soft spot for organs. I love organs of all sorts…from church-y pipe organs to electric rock organs, but of course the Hammond B3 holds a very special place. I’ve never expected to have a B3, but I remember a friend telling me long ago about the “close but not quite the same” M3 sibling. Ever since, I’ve kept me eyes open for this fabled M3 organ every time I visit a thrift store.

The vast majority of thrift store organs are made by either Conn, Yamaha, or Lowrey. They look sort of quaint but I’ve always been able to resist buying one. A couple years ago, I saw an old Hammond sitting off to the side in a thrift store. It looked decidedly older and had tubes in the back, but the model number wasn’t familiar, so I passed it up. About a year ago, I had another Hammond sighting, but this one was a slightly newer (70s) organ with solid-state electronics. Again, I walked away.

But last week, I finally hit the (minor-leagues) jackpot. I saw the organ sitting there, and I was struck by how much more of a serious and polished look it had. I felt the keys and looked it over and then managed to slowly slide it back away from the wall. I squeezed my way back behind it and crouched down to read the spec plate on its lower right side. In proud letters: Hammond M-3. I felt a harmonious rush of euphoria. I eventually figured how to switch it on (not intuitive) and played it for a little while, but then started to wonder what I would actually do with an organ and started considering how large and heavy it was.

I had almost worked up the resolve to leave it behind when one of the workers at the thrift store walked by and expressed surprise that it was actually working. We started talking and she mentioned that the organ had been sitting there for about a month and they really wanted to get it out of there. Never to pass up a good deal, I instinctively stated that I’d buy it for half the price and felt a minor victory when she encouragingly said she’d talk with her manager. Two minutes later I had bought it for $50 and the feeling of victory immediately melted back into a feeling of “what in the world am I going to do with this?”

I’m still wondering that question. Meanwhile, the organ sits out in the garage and waits. It’s got a glorious sound and I grow weak-kneed every time I switch it on and listen to its soft primitively-additive synthesis. I’m sure it will find a good home.

The Echoing Green

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In my purchasing of thrift-store CDs, I had hit a dry spell for a little while. I just kept coming across the same k.d. lang and Britney Spears albums. I considered giving up, but not too seriously. And then I suddenly found three Echoing Green albums all at once! It was a very bizarre moment.

The Echoing Green CDs

I’m not necessarily a big Echoing Green fan. I have watched them in concert once or twice and even met and chatted with Joey. I also do admit to buying their “Supernova” album when I was in high school. I liked it at the time, but it seems a quintessential high school album – the type that didn’t age too well with me. Anyway, it was too much of a coincidence to pass these by. Besides, I’ve always been curious what their older material sounded like.

Thrift store records: Vangelis

Vangelis

 

I’m in Ohio this week hanging out with my friend Jon. We stopped at a thrift store up the road from his house. I’ve been there before and it’s usually a reliable source for one or two good items. This time it was Vangelis’ “Heaven and Hell” album, from about 1975.

I like some of Vangelis’ stuff. For some reason I always lump it together with Jean Michel Jarre. It’s probably not fair, but it’s what happens when you’re American and they’re both two European electronic musicians with funny names from the 70s. Sorry guys. Anyway, I’ve never heard this album before it seemed like a good opportunity to pick up a little early Vangelis.

A Sun Came Indeed!

Today will forever tower in the annals of my personal thrift-store history. First, a little back story:

I generally like Sufjan Steven’s music. My relationship with music sort of mimics the five stages of grief. Except I think I mostly just have three stages. First, I will occasionally get very excited about a new artist and listen avidly. If that happens, then I eventually pass into the stage of teenage-style detachment and embarrassment. A few times now, I’m actually made it into the third stage, which is a return to the music as though it were an old friend. I think I’m in that third stage with Sufjan right now.

Someone gave me a pile of his albums many years ago. Free music is never cherished, and I never made a deliberate effort to carefully listen through the various albums. I’d haphazardly toss various albums on the playlist. But I eventually noticed that one album, A Sun Came, stuck out. It had some really redeeming moments, but it also sounded the most unlike the other albums (ok, ok, I’m ignoring the electronic seizure of Enjoy Your Rabbit). I finally looked the album up and it all made sense when I realized that it was his very first.

I was reading about the album late one night last week (researching the exact nature of the “Gadzuki” track) when I uncovered a matter of intrigue: the album originally had a different cover. When Sufjan released the album on the fledging Asthmatic Kitty label, the cover was just a portrait of his face. After Sufjan’s music took off in a big way, the label re-released it with its current hand-drawn cover of some dragon sort of thing being slain. Being a natural collector (and not actually having a legal copy of the album), I vowed to track down one of the original releases. However, a quick search of eBay and Amazon put an abrupt and disappointing end of my quest. There just weren’t any for sale.

And so, boy and girls, that is how we wound up here tonight. I stopped at the thrift store near my house tonight to see if they have any blank cassette tapes for sale. I was looking through the CDs, and with quickened breath and trembling fingers, pulled this from the pile:

A Sun Came

For once in my life, I found something at the thrift store that I was actually looking for! And it was still sealed!

This truly was supposed to happen, because there was not one but THREE copies:

Yes, I have a problem

Of course I bought them all. And I also bought the two Brian Wilson albums that I found:

The full haul

After I had left the thrift store, I got to thinking about it all and decided to write up a super long blog post about the affair. But I also decided that I would start posting a quick pic of albums that I buy at thrift stores. I actually buy quite a lot of music there. I wish I could claim that it was all this good or interesting, but sadly no. I think my blog readers will be quite shocked and understandably disappointed if they knew just how much gangster rap was flowing out of their neighborhood Goodwills and into my CD player. So yes, some of the purchases do wind up being embarrassing. But I thought it would make for an interesting series, perhaps at my expense.

And I promise there will be more pictures and less talking.

Also, if anyone is looking for an original copy of A Sun Came, I’ve sort of got some extras now.