Op-ed: Diamonds and Despair in the Discount Bins

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By contributor Brady Tighe

Vinyl is becoming increasingly expensive because of its booming popularity. While it is awesome that everyone is now buying turntables and saving the greatest listening format of all time from obscurity, it is awful for my bank account. It is also not good for my sanity to see shitty old albums from previous decades re-released and re-mastered, with a sticker mentioning how “indispensable” or “essential” said records are. The other day, I saw a remastered copy of Face Value by Phil Collins for $37—a sign of the goddamn end times if there ever was one.

In these times of shiny new vinyl, I find that it helps to remind everyone of the complete and utter joys that come from plumbing the discount bins of your favourite records stores for the old and used stuff that has been abandoned to the ether of time. Among these old records (that reek of bong water and mothballs) can be found the greatest of hidden gems, and the worst embarrassments to the concept of pleasing sound. You’ll see awful tacky covers featuring all kinds of awful chest hair, and if you dig deep enough, you’ll find glorious albums that most likely never made it to CD—a true vinyl treasure, typically priced for less than $5.

In tribute to this searching spirit I recently went to my local record store and grabbed a few albums out of the discount bins to review.

1. Live Peace in Toronto 1969 by Plastic Ono Band 

Released 1969, paid $2.99

A band of three famous heroin addicts and two nobodies formed for one gig in Toronto in 1969. The part of the band that matters was made up of ex-Beatle and lousy human John Lennon, his musical equivalent of a howler monkey wife Yoko Ono, and famous racist, soft-rock icon Eric Clapton.

Side one of this record is the band jamming through the only covers they all happened to know how to play, a Beatles tune that’s basically a blues jam, and a virtually screamed version of the hippie-wet-dream of a song “Give Peace a Chance.” It’s listenable, even enjoyable, simply because the talent playing the songs is some of the best to ever grace rock ‘n’ roll (even if they were all dumpster fires of decency).

However, side two is where this record really shines as a conversation piece. It opens with a warning from Lennon that, “Yoko is going to do her thing all over you,” and that is exactly what she does for over 20 minutes of screeching one-word vocals over a wall of guitar feedback. If you want your neighbours to kill you, play this side of the record. Another use for this side of the album would be if you needed to end a house party and want everyone to leave as quickly as possible.

2. Not Fragile by Bachman Turner Overdrive  

Released 1974, paid $1.99

This is an album worth listening to for the scorching, balls-out title track. It is also an album worth throwing into the street, lighting on fire, breaking in half, or just plain screaming at until your vocal chords bleed, for being guilty of containing the song “Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” which has tainted radio for long enough to practically be a crime again the human race.

3. Breakaway by Kris and Rita  

Released 1974, paid $0.99

Want to be a third wheel to Kris Kristofferson and his wife Rita Coolidge crooning their way through a bunch of bullshit country songs? Me neither. However, the album was worth buying for the photos on the sleeve of Coolidge looking unsympathetically at what is clearly a bombed-out-of-his-mind Kristofferson.

Also, Kristofferson has way better duet albums, like all the ones he made with his life’s true loves: whiskey, dirt weed, peyote, and cigarettes.

4. Welcome to the Pleasure Dome by Frankie Goes To Hollywood 

Released 1984, paid $1.99

A complete joy of cocaine-fueled ‘80s electro-pop. An example of an album so over-produced that literally none of the musicians in the band, sans the vocalist, actually appear on the album. Also, how glorious is that title? Every song on this double album is a danceable epic, and proof that new wave was capable of its own Blonde on Blonde.

In addition, it features the most unlikely cover of “Born to Run” to ever exist.

5. Catholic Boy by The Jim Carroll Band

Released 1980, paid $1.99

Jim Carroll is a great poet, and his novel The Basketball Diaries should be required reading for anyone interested in New York’s twisted junkie culture (a seemingly endless well of material in itself).

His music career, however, doesn’t get nearly as much attention, and it really should, as Carroll and his band are a pretty incendiary (and incredibly listenable) punk group. Each one of these songs benefits from Carroll’s skill with words, and one might feel compelled to check under their fingernails for grime after each listen.

Also, the song “People Who Died” is a masterwork.