I know what you're thinking - anyone with some spare change in their pocket can score anything they want on the sidewalks of Hollywood. What's the big deal? I'll get to that.
It might help to show some alternate titles I considered for this piece:
"Giving It Away on Sunset Blvd" (pretty good)
"Amoeba Takes Out The Trash" (not as good)
"Free Crap" (not good at all)
I went to a Dodgers game last weekend. On the way home, the car automatically steered itself to Amoeba Records as it often does when I'm in L.A. I shouldn't have to tell you that Amoeba is one of my favorite stores. Now I have one more reason to like it.
As I was leaving the store with some newly purchased items, I noticed three boxes on the sidewalk labeled with the magic word "FREE." They were full of CD's. I was interested. I approached, tentatively at first, fully aware that free items often carry a hidden cost - a cost that one is not always willing to pay. Ah, what the heck. I dug in.
It wasn't too bad. It wasn't too good, but it wasn't too bad. I expected 100 copies of some vanity pressing by a sensitive singer-songwriter or some new emo-rap-metal-teenybop-polka sensation. To my relief, it was just a bunch of used CD's that Amoeba decided were unfit for sale - broken cases, water-damaged, scratched-up discs, out-of-style, etc.. - and they didn't want them used as landfill. Very environmentally conscious are those folks at Amoeba.
I was sorting politely with one other bargain-hunter, being fairly selective, and made it through about a box and a half when word hit the street and it turned into a feeding frenzy. I escaped with my life and these 18 free CD's.
David Bowie - ChangesBowie. This has all the hits you would want, like "Changes, " Suffragette City, " "Heroes," and so on. It also has "Fame '90's Remix" which no one would ever want.
Sex Pistols - The Swindle Continues. This is another repackaging of the Dave Goodman/Spunk demos from the early days of the band. There is some other stuff thrown on, like "Here We Go Again" and a version of "Silly Thing" which is different than the one on "The Great Rock and Roll Swindle" - I think. If this compilation had stopped here, it would be fine, but it goes on to include some really bad sound-alike songs that are obviously not the Pistols. I don't know what the story is there.
Spike Jones - Spiked. "Knock, knock. Who's there? Emma. Emma who? Emma gonna have trouble with you?"
Leon Redbone - Double Time. I remember seeing him on TV when I was a kid and being stupefied. He is really a good interpreter of old 20's-40's standards. He was sort of like Tiny Tim, only with a deep voice without the vibrato, without the ukulele, and without the creepiness. While we're at it, throw in a white suit, a panama hat, and a mustache. He was absolutely nothing like Tiny Tim.
Skatalites-Hi-Bop Ska. I don't understand why this was thrown out - it's really good. These guys were kind of like the Meters or the MG's of Jamaica. This is a mostly instrumental collection recorded in the 90's with guests including Toots and the Maytals and jazz guy Lester Bowie. This is in pretty good shape, too. I don't know why this wouldn't sell. There must be some twelfth generation ska revival backlash that I don't know about.
Ann-Margret - Let Me Entertain You. I wanted to read the liner notes and look at the pictures in the insert, but the pages of the booklet were stuck together. I'm not kidding. I'd like to think that it's only water damage.
Beck - Guero. Too 90's.
Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Now I Got Worry. Too 90's in its 70's retro-ness. It makes me wonder whatever happened to Mojo Nixon.
Wham! -Make It Big. You know that you like "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go." Admit it. Even if you're being ironic, you still like it.
Jellyfish - Spilt Milk. I remember seeing these guys about the time that this album came out. They were really good and had some catchy songs, but insisted on wearing really goofy-looking Alice In Wonderland inspired psychedelic costumes with big fluffy hats. I guess they were looking for a gimmick and found the wrong one. It's really too bad. The album is too slick and overproduced. It sounds like they wanted to sound like Brian Wilson or Phil Spector but ended up sounding more like Toto meets The Archies -- only in a bad way. Somehow, that makes me want to like it.
Space Ghost- Musical Bar-B-Que Sampler. Not only is "Don't Send In The Clowns" a great title for a song, but it also happens to be the best song ever written. Case closed.
Bob Marley - Exodus. This has some hits on it - "Exodus," "Jammin'," and so on. It looks like someone used this for an ashtray, but it plays fine.
Jeff Buckley - Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk. I haven't listened to this and I probably won't. It looks too depressing.
Pizzicato Five - Made in USA. Wacky Japanese pop trio. Best song title: "Twiggy Twiggy/Twiggy vs. James Bond." You get the idea.
Esquivel - Cabaret Manana. You can't go wrong here. I know that the retro-lounge trend came and went a long time ago, but I will listen to this just to prove my sincerity. I liked this stuff before it was cool and I'll listen to it long after it stopped being cool.
Various Artists - Mambo Mania, The Kings and Queens of Mambo. I like Rhino compilations because they make me feel smart. I admit to knowing very little about Mambo, but there are plenty of names that I recognize here, like Mongo Santamaria, Desi Arnaz, Tito Puente, Cal Tjader, and Xavier Cugat. If you know as little about Mambo as I do, you probably recognize those names too. And you feel smart.
They Might Be Giants - John Henry. Their children's albums are better than their regular albums.
Cab Calloway and His Orchestra 1934-1937 - How many performers could ever sing "Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-hi" in every song and get away with it? No one except Cab Calloway ever had the guts to try it. Combine that with a white tuxedo and you have a legend. He was so smooth that most people didn't even realize that his songs were all about drug addicts and prostitutes.
This brings it full circle back to my intentionally misleading but attention-getting title.