Tomorrow is Record Store Day, on which we celebrate the unique culture of the independently owned record store. Although vinyl is making a comeback, there are still only a few hundred such places in the United States. Those of us of a certain age can remember when you could buy records everywhere: department stores, TV repair shops, drug stores, even service stations.
One such place was in my hometown, Gibson’s Discount Store. Gibson’s was like a modern chain drug store, a Walgreens or a CVS, in that it stocked a little bit of everything, but also like a dollar store in that much of their stuff was off-brand and sold cheap. It also stocked a few records. Independent rack jobbers would provide the records and the rack to display them on, and the store would receive a percentage of the sales—which is why it wasn’t uncommon to see racks of records in places that would seem strange today.
Gibson’s carried the top albums and a few singles, but it was also the first place I ever saw that carried cutouts. A cutout is an album or cassette sold at a discounted price, usually because it’s been discontinued by the label. A cutout album would have a corner of the jacket cut off or a hole punched in it; cutout cassettes (and later, CDs) usually had a notch sawed in the plastic case. This was to mark them so that they would not sold for full price—or, in the case of promotional copies sent to radio stations and record stores, not sold at all.
Where regularly-priced albums were six or seven dollars back in the 1970s, cutouts often sold for a couple of bucks and sometimes less. And while I loved music, I loved getting music for cheap even more—and as a result, I became a denizen of the cutout bins forever after.
It was at Gibson’s that I scored one of my favorite cutout purchases, the sort of musical bonanza that would have appealed to the geek I was circa 1975. One fine night I stumbled across the Warner Special Products compilation Superstars of the ’70s, a four-vinyl-album collection of hits I knew and artists I recognized. I remember staying up very, very late the night I brought it home, just to listen to the whole thing. It introduced me to certain artists I wasn’t hearing on my favorite Top 40 stations, like Jimi Hendrix (“Foxey Lady,” “Purple Haze”) , the Grateful Dead (Truckin'”), and Black Sabbath (“Paranoid”). It also includes Alice Cooper, Yes, the Doors (the long version of “Light My Fire”), the Kinks, Deep Purple, and the Jefferson Airplane. Most unusual of all, it includes tracks from Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, who rarely appear on anthologies of this sort. There are some odd choices in that company, though, including Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” “Where Is the Love” by Flack and Donny Hathaway, and a couple of tunes by the Bee Gees (“Lonely Days” and “To Love Somebody”), but as a snapshot of the state of pop and rock circa 1973, you can scarcely do better.
The most off-the-wall track on the album is probably the Byrds‘ version of Neil Young‘s “Cowgirl in the Sand,” which appeared on the band’s self-titled 1973 album. I used to skip over it when I played Superstars of the ’70s back in the day, but I wouldn’t skip it now. So here it is, right off somebody else’s copy of Superstars of the 70s.