The memory is a wonderful thing. We all remember the awesome albums, the "Help!" and the "Easy Come Easy Go".
We overlook the fact that we spent countless dollars throughout our lives on albums that were essentially worthless.When I was around thirteen and finally had $4.99 to purchase a record album now and then, my modus operandi was hampered by the fact that one of the only stores that was traversible by city bus was JC Penney. Penney's basement not only housed their booming catalog department but also bins of record albums. Unfortunately, the store management didn't want to take space away from the fiberglass drapery displays and shiny aluminum percolators, so the record racks were skinny. We had Loretta Lynn and George Jones, Melba Montgomery and, of course, Johnny Cash. If Alice and I showed up at just the opportune moment, we might snag a Merle Haggard. I had the damnedest time locating Waylon Jennings' RCA debut. So I bought a lot of stuff I didn't even want because I just wanted to buy something. If someone were to look at my record collection, they'd think, wow, she must be a big fan of this "Carl and Pearl Butler". No. This was what the store had.
I eventually amassed a decent collection of albums by artists I actually liked -- Merle, of course, Lynn Anderson, Faron Young. However, the records released by some artists I truly admired were awful. Tammy Wynette would stick two hits on an album, the first track on Side A and B, and fill the remainder with dreck; cover songs or vanity songs written by a distant relative or friend of the producer. Country albums weren't viewed so much as "artistic" as they were regarded as "$$". Rock fans wanted albums; country fans wanted the hits. It took Merle to change all that.
In the seventies, I bought Barbara Mandrell albums and a lot of Statler Brothers, some Gatlin Brothers; one by a new group called the Oak Ridge Boys; some gems like Gene Watson and a brand new girl named Emmylou. I was in love with Eddie Rabbitt. Albums got better, but I mostly dropped the phonograph needle on the hits, with a couple of deep tracks thrown in. Barbara Mandrell's albums, for instance, could be counted on to feature crisp clear renditions of her latest hits and a bunch of forgettable stuffing. There were artists who never quite garnered a lasting career, but should have, like LaWanda Lindsey. I also remember purchasing a disc by someone called La Costa. It turned out she was Tanya Tucker's sister. I was enamored of her album for a while. She had a track called "Best of My Love" that I really liked. The credits beneath the title read, Frey and Henley. No clue.
By the eighties, I knew what I wanted and what I wanted to buy. By then, at least, I had Musicland, which was one quick zip away from my house to the local mall. My sister sent me a gift certificate for a CD. I didn't own a CD player. So I bought one. The very first CD (free, thanks to my sister) I bought was "Keys To The Highway" by Rodney Crowell. I took it home, scraped off the shrink-wrap with my fingernail, pried open the hard plastic clasp with a kitchen knife, inserted the flat circle into my new player and stood back and let the crisp music caress my ears. The CD wasn't even that good, but that sound!
Thus began my collecting phase. I determined to buy every single George Strait CD and I did. But as much as I love George, every album wasn't a gem. Every once in a while George released one that made my heart soar, but frankly, I granted George a whole lot of leeway. Dwight was more dependable. Dwight was my "other collectable". The eighties for me can be summed up by the names George and Dwight.
By the nineties I had Mark Chesnutt and Diamond Rio and Restless Heart. One cannot go wrong buying an album by Mark Chesnutt.
And then I stopped.
I now have lots of digital albums that will dissolve like ether once my current computer dies. Now people buy "songs", which isn't a bad bet. Albums, aside from the Beatles and Merle, are money suckers.
My work is done.
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