It’s not really known how many “new to you” albums the average music consumer listens to in a year, though the r/music fans on Reddit seem to have numbers that start at around 100 and go up into mathematically unrealistic territory. I’m not sure how much someone absorbs if they’re listening to three or four new albums every day for an entire year, but it can’t be all that much that actually makes a lasting impression. There has to be an absorption limit on new information entering the human brain, and that information providing actual value.
I started listening to albums I’d never heard before, exclusively on vinyl, in April of 2021, mostly because I didn’t want to carry 10 crates of records with me in a move. Now, in September, I’ve hit 100. I’ve sold off some that didn’t speak to me, and many more seemingly spoke to no one and are destined for a donation pile, but the gems have been pretty amazing; things like Supersister, Dave Frishberg, Catskill Mountain Goose Chase, one song off of a Kirk Whalum album, Icehouse, and Zebra have all been discoveries.
I started listening to things I already had, but never had time for, after being abundantly cautious about avoiding Covid. Not being able to dig through thrift stores was difficult, but if that’s the worst of your problems, you’re doing pretty good. I wanted to understand everything, from good to terrible.
But after a time, if becomes exhausting to write about albums that just aren’t good, or just ones that don’t fit into your sense of taste. The worst thing an album can be in generic, and it’s hard to avoid them, because generic has always sold. Generic is profitable. Challenging art designed for mass consumption will probably fail, and the result is millions of boring records.
Here are just a few.
England Dan & John Ford Coley
Dr. Heckle & Mr. Jive
If mayonnaise had a soundtrack. You might recognize this due from their biggest hit, “I’d Really Love To See You Tonight“, which is probably one of the top 25 adult contemporary anthems of all time. Whether or not you see that as a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to you. You may be at a time in your life when you just want to lay down in a soft, marshmallowy cloud of indifference where nothing feels bad, and nothing feels good, and you fear not death. It’s a sensory deprivation chamber without the introspection.
Keep or toss? I don’t know why people buy music like this. It feels like music like this just faded into existence out of nowhere, from no one, and disappears when you turn off the radio. What is real? This is really getting donated to Goodwill.
Nancy Shanks recorded one album under the name ‘Nancy Shanx’, one later album under the name ‘Nancy Shanks’, and sang vocals for Tori Amos a few times as ‘Beene’ (and was mentioned in Tori’s song ‘Jackie’s Strength’). But for most of her career, it seemed like she was fame-adjacent, with a few bright moments, but not quite a household name.
Maybe it’s because this album was never remastered and released digitally, but all of the recordings available have the warmth and atmosphere of a transfer from vinyl or a cassette tape. Somehow, this makes it all sound exactly like 1977. It’s maybe the most 1977 adult contemporary pop vocal album I’ve ever heard. It has a way of transporting the listener; not because it does anything exceptional, but because it absolutely encapsulates everything about soft 1977 radio-friendly music. Every note, string section swell, and soft cymbal hit is exactly where you’d expect it to be. It’s a strange thing to sound exactly like a thing, without being a more familiar version of that thing. Her voice is like a skeleton key that fits into everything, even this 1988 soundtrack hit from The Secret of My Success.
Keep or toss? This copy is sealed, so I think I’ll try to sell it. Someone needs to make a really good copy of this, though, because some songs are hard to find.
Noel Paul Stookey
Something New and Fresh
This was only purchased because it looked like it had a glow-in-the-dark cover. And fortunately, when I got it home, it did. I will always be a sucker for novelty covers. The record itself doesn’t feature a Side A or B, but sides New and Fresh. And as an album, it’s all over the place in the weirdest way – not something you’d expect from the Peter Paul & Mary guy.
A weird barbershop song about abstaining from drugs. Some very traditional ’70s pop. Adult contemporary. Country folk. Some bossanova. Some really weird robot stuff. It’s clear that this is a guy just doing whatever he wants, and having a good time doing it. It’s a really broad cross-section of 70s music, all in one place. There’s so much here that it’s hard to get a good read on it, but it has enough to be pretty interesting and unexpected. Being surprised by an album is great.
Keep or toss? Absolutely keep… if only for the cover.
Love and Kisses
Love and Kisses doesn’t actually seem to do anything special, and they knew it, so they chose a pretty memorable (and very controversial) cover. All three of their albums (which are really just extended singles) feature attention-grabbing nude photographs, but this one is definitely the creepiest.
This disco group was completely manufactured. it’s not some great organic story of friends from high school deciding to form a band together, but rather a bunch of people put together in a room to record something that was designed to be a money-making radio hit. It wasn’t anything new for disco, and it’s still happening today, just in a constantly mutating, unavoidable form.
Maybe this is really great disco, but at this point in the journey, it all sounds the same. And this is the samest of all.
Keep or toss? Undecided. Creepy album covers are a pretty important sub-collection., but this may be overly creepy.
What looks like it might be a really cool New Wave band is, in fact, Weather Channel music. Like so many of these smooth, technical, guileless, feckless albums, I don’t know how it exists as something someone would want to buy and put on repeat. It’s truly unfathomable. You wouldn’t put this on to seduce someone, or to liven up a party, or even just to casually listen to if you have any real interest in music. So, why?
More power to these guys, but I’ve not yet found my foothold into this just-this-side-of-MIDI music. As a soundtrack to a Super Nintendo game where you have to play blackjack? Sure. But I don’t know why it would exist anywhere else.
Keep or toss? Donation pile.
A compilation of bands that came from Michigan, by a label called Seeds & Stems. The only thing unique in this collection is “Long Hard Road” by Mitch Ryder, who launched the label with this record, and subsequently released a ton of his own records on the label.
There’s not much to say about compilation records, but for some reason, this one is a bit collectible, and it sells for about $15-20.
Keep or toss? Sell. It’s a better concept than most compilation records, but I don’t really see the point.
Harry Shearer’s first wife, who recorded a single album in the 60s, and took a break until the 2010s, in part to earn her doctorate in psychology and music, all while performing with a list of significant musicians. Sometimes being a musician isn’t about recording albums. And sometimes you can judge an album completely by its cover and you’ll be dead on.
One thing that’s slowly started happening in these piles of records is that I’m kinda starting to actually enjoy some of this music that might be considered “hippie stuff”. Songs like Erik’s “Child of the Sea”, Far Cry’s “King”, and Don Fardon’s freakbeat “Dreaming Room” are a whole atmosphere, and Penny Nichols is on the softer side of all of it, just a gentle, mellow, echo-y, harmonious afternoon of an album. They give the impression of carefreeness, even though they were being performed in a time terrible for its own reasons. Maybe it’s because there really isn’t a kind of psychedelic music that feels hopeless; it’s all hopeful stuff. And even though I live in a state of constant existential terror, medication can only tone it down so much. For the rest, there’s stuff like this.
Keep or toss? This moved from a toss to a keep. It’s worth about $10, but I kind of have a vision for this now. I want to build an afternoon around it, one fine Sunday, and just see how it feels.
A perfectly talented singer of cabaret-style songs. I’m pretty sure that Olivor is essential listening if you’re into female vocalists.
Keep or toss? This is going to someone who can appreciate this more.
Totally Out of Control
One listen to this didn’t feel too impressive; it sounded like some guys trying to sound like The Beatles. Another listen seemed to expose the idea that this album was actually pretty great, despite the fact that “Long Long Day” might bear a few too many similarities to “Paperback Writer”, and “Be a Man” might sound like it’s a lost Lennon song. Somehow, they’re still really great songs, as are the rest of the Beatles-adjacent songs on here. Somehow, they stand up in spite of being so clearly based on those that came before them. Not coincidentally, brother Mark Hudson actually even went on to work with Ringo Starr in the late ’90s (in addition to becoming a pretty successful producer and songwriter on his own).
What I didn’t realize, though, while listening to this album for the first time, is that I’d already seen the Hudson Brothers in action, when a friend linked me to the absolutely most batshit intro to a TV show I’ve ever seen (which was subsequently featured on Family Guy). If you haven’t experienced The Hudson Brothers Razzle Dazzle Show… maybe don’t sit through the whole gawky experience, but at least watch the introduction
It’s hard to take them seriously after seeing this absolute goof of a show. It’s kind of hard to imagine these absolute matching-outfit tools writing and performing a hard-driving track like “Killer on the Road” at the same time they were performing in this nauseating nightmare, but somehow they managed both.
Keep or toss? Keep, but try very hard to ignore the fact that they’re responsible for this truly embarrassing TV show.
The entire purpose for picking up unknown weirdo records is to find gems, because the world remains unexplored, and some art remains under-appreciated. This is one of those really amazing gems.
Nobody seems to talk about this 4-song record from the late ’80s New Wave / Synth Pop world, and it’s a tragedy, both that it’s gone unnoticed, and that there’s only 4 songs. It would probably be easy for any skilled musician to mimic the sounds of the late ’80s and early ’90s, but this EP has great intention beyond that. The music is energetic and interesting, and lyrically complex, so it’s truly surprising that all of the musicians here seem to have evaporated after this release. As in most cases where I can’t find the origin of an unexplored record, I uploaded it to YouTube so that someone involved might stumble across it and reach out. Musicians Mark R. Gill, Gregg Hatten, and David O’Flaherty are tough to track down, and I suspect that lyricist Penmore Smith is a pseudonym for someone else – perhaps Milquetoast Productions label runner Michael E. Lichman (who has not yet responded to a message I’d sent out)?
Only Gregg Hatten went on to record and remix a wide variety of singles, mostly in the Electronic/House genre, and as someone with a more unique name than the rest, and a vague (but public) trail of hints that lead to contact information, he’s the focus of my next attempt to figure this out.
Either way, this is possibly my favorite find in the first 100 records – and it only took 100 tries to get here.
Keep or toss? Keep at the top of the pile. This is the most mint of gems – and not only because I found it sealed with the original fold-out calendar inside.
I was hopeful that after 100 records, the world would have returned back to normal, and it did, for a little while. Normal-ish. There were weekends that felt a little less dangerous in between swells of the plague, but as of mid-September 2021, we’re back in it. Family members are getting sick, we’re avoiding indoor gatherings so we don’t accidentally spread it around, or incubate something more insidious. It’s never been fear, but a sense of responsibility to care about others, even if it’s not reciprocated, and to make just a small effort to reduce the small possibility of making something worse that really doesn’t need to be. It’s not hard to spend that time inside just appreciating what you have for a little while, taking the time to learn about stuff you’re into, or want to be into. It’s exciting.
It’s really not hard.
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.