Introducing a new series where we highlight the hidden gems, one trackers, and undervalued full listens found in your local record store’s dollar bin.
In the record collecting community, there’s this idea that to build a great collection you must dig deep for expensive, rare, first press, private press, exclusively international, etc. records. But there’s a ton of cheap (we mean $3-or-less cheap), amazing records sitting in the so-called dollar bins.
The dollar bin: It stands neglected in a corner of most record stores, yet it will always hold many LPs dear to us. We’ve got an affinity for the beloved titles that have been relegated to the cheap section. Perhaps because of their availability or stealthiness, the fact that there’s this inexpensive record right in front of everyone, a record with a huge tune on it that you can’t believe has been continuously overlooked, can lead to a different kind of epiphany.
Whether it be a one-tracker, multi-tracker or a solid full listen, below are nine records you can likely find for under $3 anywhere, with just a bit of patience.
Lani Hall – Sun Down Lady (1972)
The debut album from Lani Hall, Herb Alpert’s wife and lead vocalist of Sérgio Mendes & Brasil ’66, includes a gorgeous, laid back cover of Lesley Duncan’s classic “Love Song”. There are probably hundreds of renditions of this song out there but Hall’s is absolutely one of our favorites.
Frida – Something’s Going On (1982)
Recorded during the final months of ABBA, Something’s Going On is Frida’s first solo record entirely in English and was also produced by Phil Collins. His massive playing and patented gated reverb drums can be heard throughout, but the one tune you need to hear is the balearic pop classic “I See Red”, the second track on the album. YouTube sends everyone to the Velly Joonas cover, which is great in it’s own right, but the original is huge!
Chaz Jankel – Chazablanca (1983)
Chaz Jenkel was an 80’s underground dance hero and the jazzy right hand man to Ian Dury. As a solo act produced many cult club hits like “3,000,000 Million Synths” and “Glad to Know You”. He has the resumé built for cult status: club and dj favorite, under-appreciated by the masses and an overall sense of playful goofiness. But Chaz still seems to hang under the radar.
Although all of his records can be found in clearance, they all contain a hit or two. Chazablanca is his third release and includes favorites like the acidy disco “Pretty Thing”, the lover’s rock / almost G-funk “I Can Get Over It” and the anthemic single “Without You”.
The Bernie Leadon-Michael Georgiades Band - Natural Progressions (1977)
Featured in the “Mellow” section of Chee Shimizu’s excellent vinyl guide Obscure Sound, Bernie Leadon’s first post-Eagles effort is really a laid back album jam with friend and musician Michael Georgiades. The record’s a mixed bag of sunny California acoustic rock but the gem here is the almost 7 minute album closer “Glass Off”. A perfect beachside sunset tune.
Laid Back – Keep Smiling (1983)
The 80’s danish duo are best known for the album’s singles (the somewhat problematic electro drug anthem “White Horse” and the steel drum synth pop hit “Sunshine Reggae”) but our personal favorite from this fun, beloved — and quite all over the place, genre-wise — record is the breezy loungy synth jam “Fly Away / Walking in the Sunshine”.
Gordon Lightfoot – Did She Mention My Name? (1968)
Gordon Lightfoot’s third studio album is notable in that it was the artist’s first album to use orchestration. Most of the songs are typical of Lightfoot’s bright, uplifting style, but there’s a special cut here — the mysterious, nostalgia-laced “Something Very Special”, which starts with an unexpected delay effect on the guitar that perfectly sets the mood for the entire track.
Herb Alpert – Rise (1979)
Famously sampled on Notorious B.I.G.’s 1997 single “Hypnotize”, Herb Alpert’s 1979 hit album was originally conceived from an idea to remake Tijuana Brass songs as disco instrumentals. The title track “Rise” was actually meant to be an uptempo disco song until drummer Steve Schaefer suggested a more slowed down groove-strut tempo. The suggestion obviously worked – the single reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and has since become a perennial favorite of DJs around the world.
Deniece Williams – This is Niecy (1976)
Deniece Williams’s transformation from background vocalist into solo artist landed in the form of 1976’s This Is Niecy. An introduction to the singers powerful soprano voice assisted by the smooth playing of Earth Wind & Fire instrumentalists, it’s a solid soul record all around with many beautiful moments and one of the most distinguished record sleeves found in the ground bins. With its atmospheric build up intro to the blissed out and heavenly drop, it’d be hard to not call the semi-hit single “Free” the real highlight of the record.
Patrice Rushen – Now (1984)
The emergence and popularity of the drum machine in the early 80’s shines bright in Patrice Rushen’s third record of the decade. Produced and engineered by Rushen herself with a cast of session players, Now encapsulates that signature boogie sound Patrice would come to be known for. A DJ-bag staple with many peak-time and warm-up dance floor ready cuts, our favorite is the intimate and stripped down last track. The reflective, end-of-the-night anthem finds Rushen playing the lead on a Fender Rhodes over an entrancing 4/4 808 beat.
Listen to a playlist featuring selections from the albums above along with more of our favorite bargain classics:
Cover Photograph by Chris Mayes-Wright.