Jerry’s Records is a local institution and a national treasure. If it were up to The Orbit, a giant likeness of Jerry Weber’s head would be carved out of the steep Mount Washington hillside so he could keep his eyes on all of us. Believe this blogger: he’s spent [those “with lives” would say wasted] an inordinately large amount of his adult life and disposable income in and around the nation’s recorded music purveyors. A visit to Jerry’s, coupled with the obligatory post-hunt beer and pizza at Mineo’s and/or Aiello’s, is also a great way to deal with ugly February bluster.
If you’re a red-blooded music-loving (or, heck, just music-casually-enjoying) Pittsburgher, you owe it to yourself to pick up a turntable** and get thee down to Jerry’s. If you don’t, you’re really missing out on one of the great joys of living here–cheap records, as far as the eye can see, Jerry holding court from his junk-filled checkout perch, and the constant stream of Pittsburgh’s weirdo record fiends drifting in and around***. Oh, and you can walk out the door with some great music too.
This blogger loves records, but he’s also a career cheapskate and Jerry prices his merchandise to move. These are not marked-up collector’s-only stuff by a long shot (Jerry gets plenty of those items, but sells them in separate auctions). So we thought it would be a fun exercise to imagine the vinyl neophyte climbing up Jerry’s long entrance stairway with a $30 bill burning a hole in the pocket and the goal of walking out with an instant (if starter-sized) record collection. There are a ton of records that line Jerry’s sea of bins for three or four bucks each and are reliably available for your purchase any time you choose to stop in.
Here then is The Orbit‘s rough guide to making the most of previous generations’ recorded jetsam and a prescription for walking out Jerry’s door with what may not actually be a great “score” in record-hunting circles, but is at least a fine nuts-and-bolts starter kit.
Diva (motion picture soundtrack)
Vladimir Cosma’s soundtrack to Jean-Jacques Beineix’s 1981 French neon-lit art/cult thriller plays like an old-school mixtape put together by a new wave sorcerer. No two tracks sound at all alike (except the one that gets two versions), but they all play great together. There’s an aria from an opera, a robotic dance jam, some eerie mood pieces, something that sounds like modern harpsichord, etc. Those are all really good, but if you’ve seen the film, it’s the heartbreaking Satie-esque “Sentimental Walk” piano solo that sells this record. Diva must have had a good run at Filmmakers back in the day because Jerry ended up with a bunch of copies.
Duke Ellington The Uncollected, Vols. 1-5 (1946-1947)
Jerry has so many Duke Ellington records they’ve been separately binned by record label, taking up linear feet of browsing space. Ellington’s material between the earliest (pre-album era) stuff in the 1920s through at least the late ’40s is untouchable and was repackaged countless times later on–so there are a lot of options. Smithsonian’s complete year 2-LP sets for the late ’30s and ’40s are great (and also turn up frequently), as are these five “uncollected” volumes from Hindsight that seem to show up all the time. On this day, we picked up Vol. 5 from 1947 with “Swamp Fire,” “Jumpin’ Punkins,” and “Frustration.”
The Romantics The Romantics or In Heat
I know, I know, but hear me out! If The Romantics are known at all, it’s as one-hit-wonders for the sports-rock/dude comedy staple “What I Like About You.” Those of a certain age may be able to conjure up their couple other minor MTV-ready power-pop hits, preposterous top-heavy pompadours, and matching tight leather outfits. But these two albums (at least) are both exemplars of hopped-up three-chord songs with themes that run the gamut from chicks, to girls, to sexy ladies. Yes: The Romantics pretty much cover the full range of the human experience. Whatever. Either record is well worth the three clams.
Fleetwood Mac Bare Trees
Rumours and the self-titled/white album are not as common as you’d think given the bajillion copies they sold back in the day, but Jerry’s got the hell out of Mystery to Me, Penguin, Heroes Are Hard To Find, and Bare Trees. All of these are from the pre-Buckingham/Nicks “classic lineup.” The latter comes from the transitional Danny Kirwan/Bob Welch regime where the ecstatic heavy psychedelic blues of Then Play On and Future Games [you’ll have to cross your fingers and go to the New Arrivals for these] gives way to grooving pop rock. Bare Trees is not The Mac’s best album [that distinction is an evergreen music geek bar room debate topic], but it’s totally solid with no clunkers and well worth picking-up.
No particular title here–whatever you get will be some kind of collection–but ideally any of the Bluebird Records Complete 2-LP sets (I think there were three volumes total). Recorded eighty years ago at this point and they still sound absolutely great. In our household, these records are always in heavy rotation and have achieved “desert island disc” status for Waller’s any-occasion/always-great combination of show-tune song-smithy and barrelhouse wink-and-nod boogie-woogie.
Blood, Sweat & Tears S/T
Yeah, it took some arm-twisting from Mike Shanley, but he finally sold me on B,S&T–and I’m glad he did. “Spinning Wheel” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” have deservedly made their place in the radio canon, but the whole record is solid. With everything old becoming new again, it’s a little bit of a surprise that “horn rock” never got the full-on retro treatment…or maybe it isn’t. Either way, there’s a whole new generation yet to develop a gag reflex at the sound of David Clayton Thomas’ voice.
Buck Owens I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail/I Don’t Care/Roll Out the Red Carpet/etc.
Pretty much anything from Buck Owens’ mid-60s Capitol Records peak period with gunslinger Don Rich on lead guitar is terrific. Jerry reliably has a wide cross-section of them in stock, in great shape, and ready to twang. If you see Buck’s grinning mug and slick Brill Creamed hair, it’s a safe bet. There was a time I picked one of these up with every trip to Jerry’s. That time is here for you right now, whenever you’re ready.
Popeye (motion picture soundtrack)
The soundtrack from Robert Altman’s legendary 1980 cocaine-fueled, Malta-filmed comic strip adaptation is as weird, wild, and wonderful as the film itself (amazingly) turned out to be. The thirteen Harry Nilsson-penned/Van Dyke Parks-arranged songs totally hold up to their great melodic pedigree and surprisingly lose nothing from Robin Williams’ and Shelley Duvall’s in-character performances. Worth it alone for the two great Olive Oyl (Duvall) numbers “He Needs Me” and “He’s Large”.
The Bee Gees (the pre-disco records)
The Bee Gees had at least three acts before the Rayon, jive-talkin’, and eights on the high-hat. There were the early Beatles-like pop harmony records (1st, Horizontal, and Idea), the pair of loose concept albums (Odessa and Trafalgar, about the Crimean War and the death of Lord Nelson, respectively), and the early ’70s breakup and transition period (Cucumber Castle, 2 Years On, To Whom it May Concern, Life in a Tin Can). Each era succeeds in some measure of rich pop production, warbling squabbling-brother harmonies, and hardcore creep rock. This junkie has them all, and so does Jerry. Take your pick: they’re all recommended.
* Some of these records may run more like $4 or $5, so if you take The Orbit up on this challenge, it may actually cost you $35-$40. Relax: it’s still a bargain and a good time.
** Galaxie Electronics (same building/same entrance) will happily sell you a (reconditioned) turntable and/or service the one you’ve got.
*** Footnote: On our most recent visit, a regular named “Shoeless Bob” popped in to drop off some homemade mix CDs for Jerry. [Apparently even Jerry needs more music!] True to his sobriquet, Bob arrived in what was near zero-degree snow and ice outside with just some very wet, pallid bare feet projecting from his bluejeans.