Chances are those over the age of 50 have owned a record collection. It’s a Gen X reality. Maybe back in college or as a 20-something, before the advent of the compact disc. Flash forward 20 years and records haven’t disappeared entirely, but infinitely easier methods exist for listening to music. So what does one do with a bunch of old albums?
Records come with inherent drawbacks. They are big, bulky, and from a technological standpoint, dubious. Relax, when the time comes there are options for moving quality rock, soul and blues albums short of giving them away at a neighborhood yard sale.
I navigated this dilemma recently as some 400 albums of mine remained in my parent’s basement, representing 20-plus years of collected music.
This was a problem on two fronts. One, my folks resided in a flood district. Records respond poorly to water.
Secondly, my folks were in the active process of jettisoning unused clutter from their basement. Three bulky wooden crates and the loose contents from another were not helping matters.
I will be honest. I lugged these albums from Kentucky, to Iowa, back to Kentucky, up to Washington, DC, down to New Orleans and back. I had zero interest in picking them up again. Especially not to drag them over to my own basement.
The time had come. Cash me out. I was ready to sell.
Vinyl was quickly displaced as the medium of choice by consumers once the compact disc arrived on the scene in the 1980s. We are witnessing a similar challenge for supremacy currently between CDs, digital downloads and streaming services. It remains unclear what source will ultimately triumph, but bet on technology. Convenience usually wins.
It certainly did where records were concerned. I had no interest in purchasing another turntable just to take a step back in time and play some Cat Stevens album from 1972 when the odd mood struck. Anything on vinyl that garnered frequent spins was re-purchased on CD. I made my break with vinyl and moved on. What remained was this last bit of business about finding a home for my 400 orphan albums.
First off was getting this mess back in alpha-order by artist to see what all was here. Separate piles were made denoting groupings of alphabet letters, like A-D, E-H, etc. During the sorting it became clear water damage ruined some 100 records.
The remainder were in pristine condition. Nearly all sported clear outer-plastic protective sleeves, internal dust jackets and luscious grooves from frequent cleanings.
This assemblage of titles hit a sweet spot in American music – the 1960s into the 1980s. On the early end of the spectrum were titles from Elvis, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Yardbirds and the Kinks.
The anti-war 1960s were well represented by counter culture hippie bands like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and the Doors. This bled into the acid rock of the 1970s with Deep Purple, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
It was the stuff that makes hipster dreams come true. Virtually all releases were represented from bands like Cream, CSN&Y, the Police, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, R.E.M., Creedence Clearwater Revival, Fleetwood Mac, The Cars, The Who, Tom Petty, Queen and Neil ‘fucking’ Young.
Sorting through the iconic album covers, I noticed this odd sensation when touching certain ones, like a flashback, to a crystalized moment, where this particular album was the soundtrack to events taking place.
Kiss – Destroyer (1976). I saw myself raging around my room at age 12 screaming Shout It Out Loud into a coat hanger serving as a microphone.
Journey – Frontiers (1983). My hand was negotiating its path into this particular wholesome high school girl’s sweater as Faithfully played to reassure about my intentions.
Steely Dan – Gaucho (1980). My sophomore year at Eastern Kentucky University, Babylon Sisters were shaking it as a heated game of darts was in full tilt inside a smoke-filled dorm room.
These albums had not been touched with any regularity for 25 years. Yet several were intimate accomplices. We grew up together. Mine was the generation when mom & dad both started working day jobs with regularity for the first time. We kids were left to our own devices. As long as neither the police nor the school called home, everything else was fair game. There was no Internet. I had my friends and rock-n-roll to guide the way.
One album that distinctly jumped out was AC/DC Highway To Hell (1979). As an 8th grader in 1980, Angus was an icon of rebellion. The cover rendition of him sneering in his schoolboy uniform, with horns and devil’s tail was inspired. On the turntable Bonn Scott sang about Girl’s Got A Rhythm and Touch Too Much. This was educational programming in my world, and beat the hell out of vacation bible school.
My passion for rock music started early with playing my mom’s old singles of Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Fats Domino. In 1976, the Steve Miller Band released Fly Like An Eagle and I discovered Kiss Alive! (1975) . This got me to set down the 1950s songs, as I eagerly moved into the heavy atmosphere of the anti-disco 1970s.
Two early foundational recordings came as gifts. From my aunt in Pennsylvania, Led Zeppelin II (1969), and from my aunt in North Carolina, Lynyrd Skynyrd Gold and Platinum (1979). I wore those recordings out as a kid nearing high school.
Back then, going to the music store to purchase an album was a big deal. Allowance money had to be saved, and any potential selection carefully scrutinized to ensure it would advance my growing taste for what rock-n-roll had to offer. This constituted an impressive assemblage of classic blockbuster albums.
Pink Floyd The Wall (1980); Van Halen Women and Children First (1980); Billy Joel Glass Houses (1980); REO Speedwagon Hi Infidelity (1981); Foreigner 4 (1981); Police Ghost in the Machine (1981); The Kinks Give The People What They Want (1981); Journey Escape (1981); Styx Paradise Theatre (1981); The Clash Combat Rock (1982); The J. Geils Band Freeze Frame (1982); Go-Gos Beauty and the Beat (1982); John Cougar American Fool (1982); Men at Work Business as Usual (1982); Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues (1983); David Bowie Let’s Dance (1983); Def Leppard Pyromania (1983); and ZZ Top Eliminator (1983).
A couple college buddies had recently sold off the majority of their collections, only they held back their most prized recordings. I had no use for remnants. I was opting to go all in. One price for the entire collection.
I investigated selling these online, through e-Bay or a record reseller community site like Vinylom, Discogs or Music Stack. Generally, this required uploading each album description, or a roster of albums, perhaps with photographs and pay a commission of 8 percent and higher on any sales. That would take forever to input. #HardPass.
Instead I reached out locally in Lexington to CD Central. A chunk of my music was purchased used back in the day from Cut Corner, an institution long since closed, but ironically existed in the same approximate vicinity as CD Central’s address at 377 S. Limestone, directly across from the University of Kentucky.
There was a cathartic appeal to returning these records to a friendly location from whence they came. True, three crates of music had to be hefted once again, but upon return, the car would be empty and my pockets lined with cash (in theory).
Walking into the store I carried under my arm a sampling of 20 albums. The owner, Steve Baron, was straight forward, pleasant but business like. Essentially, he runs an independent record store. He can’t buy what he can’t move.
I handed over a stack of wax and took a look around. At the time there was a dog that lived in CD Central named Zena, a collie shepherd/husky mix. She was a sweet animal, with a wonderful disposition. The two of us checked out some old Blues artists to kill time.
This sampling consisted of trophy albums mainly. Either splashy hit records or reference recordings that collectors would snatch up fast.
One example was the 1977 multiplatinum offering Out of the Blue, from the Electric Light Orchestra, with its expansive double LP foldout depicting the ELO spaceship in full effect. Another inclusion was Yessongs, the live 1973 three-album set from Yes.
There was the Doors – L.A. Woman (1971); The Doobie Brothers – Takin’ It To The Streets (1976); Lynyrd Skynyrd – Street Survivors (1977); Janis Joplin – Pearl (1971); Bruce Springsteen – Born To Run (1975); Black Sabbath – Live Evil (1982); and Grateful Dead Dead Set (1981).
As Baron lifted his head from inspecting my offering, his eyes glowed with animation as he asked, “You have more of this stuff?!?”
Indeed I did. A whole car full.
For the final time I pulled these hateful crates from my vehicle, trotting them from the parking lot behind CD Central, up to the front entrance, cursing with every step. Out of breath and sweating profusely, as I attempted to realign my strained spine, I informed the owner, “That’s it. Everything is in the store.”
It would take about an hour to inspect the lot and set a price. As this was akin to giving away a piece of myself, I felt a drink was in order. The venerable Two Keys Tavern was a block down and open for lunch.
There really wasn’t a price that could compensate my relationship with these recordings. We covered a lot of ground together, from childhood to the person I am today. It sickened me I had allowed a quarter of the collection to be neglected to the point where water could damage it – but that was emblematic of where technology had allowed their priority to slide. It only seemed fitting to down a couple parting shots of Maker’s Mark in a bid of farewell.
Upon return the owner was in full enthusiasm mode, complimenting the makeup of my collection and its condition. Adding, that most of what folks try to sell him is yard sale quality – unkept, usually scratched and with any inserts long since lost.
This reassurance did calm my growing reservations, and ease the sense of abandonment felt for leaving these treasured possessions behind with no clue of their well-being. Baron, the CD Central owner, had seen this moment before – separation anxiety. It’s hard to let go and walk away.
Placing a check in my hand for $450, Baron clapped me on the shoulder to say, “Don’t worry, we’ll find a good home for all of these.”