An Album Forgotten, Now Finally Found

Originally posted February 8, 2008

The world is filled with music I’ve always meant to acquire.

And the wonderful – and horribly unfair – thing about that is that musicians keep making more of it all the time, making it an utter impossibility that I’ll ever catch up.

I’ve been aware of being behind for nearly forty years now, since I started taking pop and rock seriously during my junior year of high school, which ended in 1970. By the end of that year, I had the bare beginnings of a record collection and was keeping my eyes and ears open for whatever came next. As I’ve mentioned before, my first collecting project was to obtain everything the Beatles had released, and as 1971 dawned, I had six Beatles albums, one-third of the eighteen that existed in the versions released here in the U.S. by Capitol/Apple and United Artists (which released the American version of the soundtrack to A Hard Day’s Night).

I was also becoming more aware of other things that I liked, other musicians and bands that I enjoyed. Many of them seemed to me better suited to be heard from the speaker of my old radio in my room than from the speakers of the stereo in the rec room. I was beginning to realize, in other words, that not all of the music I liked would merit investment in an LP. Some of it was best left to radio or to singles, a medium in which I rarely invested.

Let’s take a look at the Cash Box Top Ten for the first week in 1971 and see which of those singles I ever bought on an LP (by that group or artist; I’m not going to spend hours mucking around in all the K-Tels and Roncos), and when.

The Cash Box Top Ten for January 2, 1971:

“My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison (All Things Must Pass, first purchased in 1981.)

“Knock Three Times” by Dawn (Never purchased.)

“One Less Bell to Answer” by the 5th Dimension (Greatest Hits on Earth, purchased in 2001.)

“Black Magic Woman” by Santana (Abraxas, purchased in 1989.)

“Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” by Chicago (Chicago Transit Authority, purchased in 1978.)

“Stoned Love” by the Supremes (Never purchased.)

“The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles (Anthology, purchased 1998.)

“I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family (Never purchased.)

“No Matter What” by Badfinger (Never purchased.)

“The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin III, purchased 1999.)

(I’m not going to dig into the CD index, but as to mp3s, I have seven of those ten songs; I do not have the Dawn, 5th Dimension or Supremes songs. The Partridge Family tune? Yes, I have the mp3, and that falls neatly into “guilty pleasures,” a category that JB the DJ discussed this week at The Hits Just Keep On Comin’.)

All in all, that’s not a bad Top Ten. We surely wouldn’t have to look too hard to find a worse Top Ten in that era. But if I wasn’t collecting that music at the time, what was I collecting?

Here’s what the log says I acquired in 1971:

The Beatles (The White Album) by the Beatles
Crosby, Stills & Nash by Crosby, Stills & Nash
“Yesterday” … And Today by the Beatles
Pearl by Janis Joplin
Ram by Paul & Linda McCartney
Stephen Stills by Stephen Stills
Jesus Christ Superstar
Abbey Road by the Beatles
Something New by the Beatles
13 by the Doors
Aqualung by Jethro Tull
Meet the Beatles! by the Beatles
Naturally by Three Dog Night
The Concert for Bangla Desh by George Harrison et al.

Not a bad selection for a new listener in 1971. (Out of those, Stephen Stills, Pearl and Abbey Road remain among my favorite albums. The Jethro Tull has not aged well, to my ears.)

There would have been more on the list except for a bargain I made with my parents in January. Browsing through the records at the local J.C. Penney store, I found a copy of the White Album. Lacking the $9 or so that was the price for the double album, I called home to get a credit card purchase authorized. Okay, said Dad, but no more records until school was out. I agreed, and I came darned close to living up to that agreement. A school group was selling the Crosby, Stills & Nash album as part of a fundraiser during the last days of school, and I bought the record with maybe two days left in the school year.

But, as must be true for any lover of any type of music, there was always music that I wanted to have that never came home. Sometimes that’s through oversight, sometimes through simply never running into the record (or CD) when the cash to invest was available.

One of the records from 1971 I always intended to buy was Shawn Phillips’ Collaboration. Rick and I talked about it when we got wind of its release, and he bought it, so I got to listen to it occasionally, enough to know I liked it but not enough to really know it well. As the Seventies advanced, I saw Rick less and less as our lives diverged. And somewhere along the line, as I began to frequent flea markets and used record shops, I realized that I hadn’t heard Collaboration – or indeed, any Shawn Phillips – for a while. I found a decent copy of Faces, Phillips’ fourth major release, and a slightly scratched copy of Second Contribution, which I believe was his second major label release. But I never found a copy of Collaboration until the mid-1990s, when I came across one at Cheapo’s in south Minneapolis that looked okay. It had a minor bit of hiss in the quiet parts.

No matter, I thought to myself as I listened. When I finally get a CD player, I’ll buy the CD. I was assuming that since most artists’ earlier releases were being remastered and issued on CD, Collaboration would be easy to find.

Ha!

I have no idea which reissued album is the most difficult to find on CD, but I would bet that Shawn Phillips’ Collaboration – issued in 1999 on the Wounded Bird label – is in the Top Ten. When I wander online through Amazon, it’s rarely available. When a copy of Collaboration is available through the website’s associates, it’s liable to cost $40 or more. A quick look at GEMM this morning finds only one copy of the CD available, but it’s a Russian reprint and, I suspect, a bootleg.

So when I got my USB turntable, one of the first albums I listened to was my copy of Collaboration. The minor hiss on my old stereo turned into major problems when run through the very sensitive software I use to rip LPs. Even the noise removal utility didn’t help without distorting the music. So I went looking and found another LP copy of the album here in town. I laid it on the USB and fired up the software. It was better, but still too hissy in the quiet parts, which abound.

I gave up and figured if I were supposed to have Collaboration in my RealPlayer, it would come to me. And not long ago, I ripped and shared Transcendence, a later Shawn Phillips album, here and at a couple bulletin boards I frequent. I got an email from a colleague at one of the boards, thanking me and asking what it was I was seeking. Collaboration, I wrote back. And soon, I got a link to what I think is a rip from the rare CD, along with permission to share it here.

The album has the same sense as Contribution and Second Contribution: Quiet and sometimes haunting melodies, outstanding musicianship, lyrics that from a distance of more than thirty years can seem forced but are often nevertheless insightful (if clearly rooted in the early 1970s by their attitude), and an overall sound that Phillips fans will love. Some assistance on strings is provided by Paul Buckmaster, who did the same for many of Elton John’s recordings around the same time. I’m not sure it’s quite as good as Second Contribution, but it’s certainly a fine album.

Tracks:
Us We Are
Burning Fingers
Moonshine
For Her
What’s Happenin’ Jim
Armed
Spaceman
Times Of A Madman, Trials Of A Thief
8500 Years
The Only Logical Conclusion
Coming Down Soft & Easy
Springwind

Shawn Phillips – Collaboration [1971]

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