Earlier this year it was reported that worldwide sales of vinyl records outnumbered CDs for the first time in about 20 years. Admittedly streaming accounts for the bulk of recorded music sales but vinyl has made a remarkable comeback. It’s one of the few occasions that an old technology has been reborn and embraced by both young and old aficionados right across the globe.
There was always a serious collector’s demand for rare and classic vinyl, but now that market is even bigger with numerous specialist shops and websites catering for crate diggers and the like. One question that remains however – just where do all those albums that nobody no longer loves or wants end up?
Anybody who has been to an op shop, a junk shop or a bric-a-brac style antique store, in recent years, will almost certainly know. These are the graveyards of unwanted vinyl, mostly from the 60s, 70s and 80s, that somebody has donated but nobody is willing to pay even a buck. Sure you might strike it lucky and find the odd album that is both musically desirable and collectable, but for the most part you are thumbing through the cultural sins of your ancestors.
The exercise is not without a certain despondency as you realise that these were once cherished albums, regularly spun on an old HMV radiogram for the delight of all the family. Reflection soon turns to depression when you find nothing of interest but the same godforsaken albums and artists in just about every second hand shop.
There are some artists that appear repeatedly in every op shop bargain bin – like James Last, Bert Kaempfert, Max Bygraves, Hugo Montenegro, Harry Belafonte, Demis Roussos, Mantovani, Liberace, Perry Como and Bing Crosby. There’s invariably an album from the Band Of The Scots Guards and multiple copies of those wretched compilation albums like Ripper, Roar and Top Of The Pops. Surprisingly Australian artists are not all that well represented, although you might pull out the odd album from Jamie Redfern, Kamhal, The Seekers or the now despised Rolf Harris.
The generation of middle class Australians that bought these albums in the late 60s and 70s is rapidly expiring and it’s likely that when gran or old Uncle Bob died his album collection, along with other unwanted possessions, was consigned to the local Salvos or Vinnies. There they can sit for decades, testament to so called ‘middle of the road’ tastes from an era half a century ago. And it’s highly unlikely that this easy listening music will ever undergo a revival or be seen as collectible as early Australian pop, rock, jazz and country.
One of the largest collection of these unloved and unwanted albums was once housed at the old Gould’s bookshop at the city end of King Street in Newtown. Over the years Bob Gould’s shops had accumulated thousands of new, remainder and second hand records at his various stores. They had all been well picked over with anything decent or collectable long gone. The numerous leftovers, which featured many of the artists listed above, filled the racks at the old King Street store – possibly the most extensive vinyl graveyard of its kind in Australia.
A few years ago, with a few hours to kill in Newtown, I decided to thumb through all the racks with the faint hope of finding some rare hidden gem or at the least, an album I might actually buy. Sadly the only thing I collected was a pair of dust blackened hands and a deep sense of melancholy – a bit like strolling through a graveyard and reading the inscriptions on headstones.
From time to time you’ll meet crate diggers and op shop junkies who recall the moment when they found some truly amazing or collectable album, amidst the pile of easy listening dross. I’m sure it does happen but I’ll to admit I have yet to experienced my own eureka moment.
For many years there was a popular mythology that elephants moved to a remote and secret location just before they were about to die. These ‘elephant graveyards’, with their plentiful supply of ivory, were seen as a kind of El Dorado with anyone who discovered one rewarded with untold riches. The analogy does not quite fit a bunch of old 70s albums, sitting dolefully at the rear of a suburban op shop. But every time curiosity gets the better of you, and you flip through the rack, there’s that very faint hope that the holy grail will eventually be unearthed.
In the meantime if you all you find is a copy of the Currie Brothers’ Hot Stuff, be eternally grateful. Who would knock back such a groovy cover like that?