Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Dollar Record Bins: An Alternative History of Music (The Sixties)

One of the rituals of record collecting is sifting through the dollar bins of record stores and thrift shops. What you'll discover in the dollar record bins is the real history of American popular music, not the highly selective history found in music books. Focusing on the 60's, most music fans will say it was a seminal era for jazz, with Miles and Coltrane hitting their musical peaks. What the record bins will show you is that for every Miles or Coltrane album sold there must have been dozens or hundreds of Al Hirt or Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass albums sold. This is the "jazz" most Americans were tuned into.

The British Invasion also happened in the 60's. Everyone remembers the Beatles. Music fans will point out other British acts like the Kinks, the Yardbirds, Them, and Donovan who invaded these shores. No one seems to count Tom Jones and Petula Clark. But if album numbers were a sign of force, they were the most formidable British invaders after the Beatles.

Judging by their representation in the dollar bins, classical music was still popular in the 60's. But the traditional classical albums are outnumbered by the light- or quasi-classical albums by such interpreters as Mantovani and the Melachrino Strings and Orchestra. It seems most Americans wanted their classical music deboned of all musical rigor, leaving just a fleshy, soft sort of music. You'll find the Melachrino Strings' Music for Relaxing in most dollar bins. Speaking of soft, fleshy music, the 60's were also the dawn of the age of Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond, who dominate the dollar bins like no other, as any record collector will tell you.

There's good reason that most of these albums have been relegated to the dusty dollar bins of music history. But at one time, this was the music that captured the mood and the spirit of this nation. It's an interesting, if somewhat depressing, education.

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