In my Middle School days living in Ann Arbor, my mother and I would go to a store called Meijer’s.
A brief Google search seems to indicate these stores are still around. They were perfect for Mother and Son shopping. They had everything. Think: Super Walmart. Our usual procedure was for me to go to the record section on the department store side and mom would grocery shop on the other. She would come get me when she was ready to check out.
The record section there was one half of an aisle. If memory serves, there were probably about 40 – 50 records in a bin and the aisle was probably 15 to 20 bins long. Something like this.
However, the Meijer’s bins had no nice plastic dividers to separate the Blues from the Rock or Gospel or Country. Everything was just dumped in as it came in wherever there was space in a bin. They were all cut-outs and off sales and it was literally like digging for gold. 95% of what was there was absolute crap. Understand that this was stuff other stores sent back and were here for their last hurrah. I would start at one end and just start flipping though them. Flip, flip, flip, flip… hmmmm…. what’s this? I would read the back of the album, gauge my desire for it and determine if I wanted to add it to my maybe pile or return it to the bin. I would work my way from one end to the other. My eyes would be tired by the middle of the aisle, but I pressed on. How could I stop when the very next flip could lead me to an album of great import to my collection?
There was a real tactile component to this search, feeling the album in my hands. There is a lot to be said of the old days when you could learn a lot about a band by looking at the back of the album. I learned a lot about bands I had never heard of before. Who was in the band, names of songs, producers and other random facts, most for bands I had heard of but didn’t have any of. Maybe this was why I was always so good at random music trivia.
There was a fair amount of good bands worst albums, the ones that didn’t sell very well. There were items like Journey before Steve Perry, horrible (in my opinion) 70’s Santana, and tons of one hit wonder albums.
I seem to recall that a lot of them had a round sticker on them that said: “The Nice Price”
That’s not to say that I didn’t buy any of this stuff. I did.
After a weekend of hearing a couple awesome Santana songs on WABX (Rocks Detroit!) I bought “Santana – Borboletta”
Both albums were not great and single-handedly turned me off to Santana for many years, until I manned up the money to buy “Santana – Santana” and “Santana – Abraxas” and found out that those albums are fantastic and WAY make up for those Meijer bin purchases.
I also made some forays into Beatles solo albums that were abundant in the bins. I was in a big Beatles phase then and these seemed no brainers. They were not Beatles albums though and despite some good songs here and there, they rarely got played.
“George Harrison – George Harrison”
and “Ringo Star – Rotogravure”
I also bought and tried VERY hard to get into YES. I bought this cut-out classic. “Yes – Tormato” and remember the track “Arriving UFO” was played a lot, but overall, I just couldn’t get comfortable with the art/prog rock they were oozing. Several attempts over the years also failed. I respect their talent, but I think I only have the song “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” in my collection.
There were some diamonds in the rough in there though, albums that turned me on to bands that became staples in my collection.
I went out on a limb and bought “Jethro Tull – Live Bursting Out” having only really heard about a handful of Tull songs.
This album changed my life. I loved every song and I swiftly purchased from Meijer’s the rest of the binned Jethro Tull albums.
“Jethro Tull – Heavy Horses”
and “Songs From The Wood”
I would play all 3 in a Tull fest in my Ann Arbor apartment room, digging on flute and reading the lyrics and liner notes, of which there were many on the Live Bursting Out album, detailing who solo’s and instrument swapping and other tidbits.
I also went for this one.
Wings Greatest was a very natural progression from The Beatles that I was listening to. I guess I favor the Paul in my Beatles over John, but that’s just me. This album got played a lot. I love every song. Surprisingly I have never actually purchased any other Wings album except for the goliath 3 LP “Wings Over America”. I loved all those songs too, so one would expect that I would have gone out and purchased all the Wings albums, but this one is the only one I kept consistently. Interesting. In recent years I have been wanting to go back and get Wings and early Paul solo work. Hmmm…
Another one that I used as an experiment and turned out to lead me down the right path was “AC/DC – Let There Be Rock”.
I had heard “AC/DC – Highway To Hell” when I was at Jeff’s house and heard about them all the time at school but wasn’t really sure if it was me. I saw “AC/DC – Let There Be Rock” behind some Paul Anka and Judi Collins and snatched it up quick. My room rocked to “Bad Boy Boogie” and “Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be” and “Dog Eat Dog” and when I ran into someone who had all the Bon Scott AC/DC later at UW Milwaukee I dubbed them all, but none ever rivalled the grooved jammed rock on this album. The drum lines were simple enough for me to pound out on my mattress with my drum sticks that the guy downstairs (who was a drummer in school – his practice sessions right below my room with drum head dampers were pretty damn good) gave me. I would head bang and drum on my pillow and belt out the lyrics until I was sore and hoarse. This album is solid.
If I managed, bleary eyed, to get to the end of the aisle of bins, then the honing process began on the pile of keepers I had accumulated. I would divide the pile into A) essentials: albums that seemed a great deal and I hadn’t seen 100 times before and I really really wanted, and B) those that I was choosing simply because the A pile was empty and I had spent all this time searching and these were the best options of Meijer’s selection of the week. I rarely had any money however, so I had to lean out the pile to what I could reasonable expect my mom to volunteer to buy for me. That meant that I had to get it down to a choice # 1, and then a backup # 2 and # 3. It happened sometimes. I was a good kid and didn’t spend much on anything else.
Big shout out to Mom here. Thanks mom!
She would return to the aisle with a full cart of groceries to get me, and knowing full well that I was going to beg her to buy me these classic albums that Meijer’s was selling for crazy cheap prices (well below mall records prices I always added) she would usually find me with 2 or 3 albums in my hands. Ready.
A no was a no, but often it was a yes, or a “pick one” and I was ready for any contingency. I would squirrel the unselected stack of leftovers in the back of a bin in case we were back in a few days to save me some bin rummaging, and we would head to the checkout. If I’m not mistaken, these 3 classics were purchased from the bins too:
Black Sabbath – Vol 4
Jon Anderson – Olias Of Sunhillow
In hindsight, probably over half of the albums I owned came from there up until the time I went off to school at UW Milwaukee. Then the used record store and dub recordings took over my collection.
Back then though, the ride home from Meijer’s was magical. I would tear off the plastic and investigate the liner notes and gatefold pictures and growl with disappointment if the paper sleeve was the plain old white kind with nothing to read on it, no lyrics, no nothing. The beauty of Meijer’s was that if there wasn’t a must have, I could try new stuff for cheap that could sometimes educate me about bands and help me hold my own in conversations, or at least be able to recognize who they were talking about. I bought my first Grateful Dead album from there just because I wanted to find out what all the hubbub was about. I got “The Grateful Dead – Working Man’s Dead”
It was SO not what I was expecting. I played it only occasionally, but years and years later, and now that I have everything The Grateful Dead released and tons of bootlegs, it is still the one I go to when I need some Dead in the air. “New Speedway Boogie” has my favorite line of all:
“I don’t know, but I’ve been told, it’s hard to run with the weight of gold. Other hand, I’ve heard it said, it’s just as hard with the weight of lead”.
When I got home with these Meijer’s albums I had already determined the play order and would go directly to my room and start spinning them. I would curl up and read the lyrics along with the songs, or study the pictures inside and try and absorb the album any way I could. Sometimes they were life changing, sometimes barely listenable, but it was always the fact that I had searched and recovered them from depths of the Meijer’s bins that gave them at least a little positive value.
Years later, tapes were the new cut-outs and were even cheaper, but I never found anything as life changing as I did during the Meijer’s days. Maybe by that time my musical taste had formed, or I had heard and learned about most bands of the era and nothing was new and as experimental as some of the record bin purchases.
The Meijer’s days still rule.
There were gold albums in those bins, even if some were just gold plated.