Collecting: The Black Hole of the Dollar Bins

 

This past weekend A. and I headed over to the Haight to stop at Amoeba Records.  Her motive for going there has been to search for older Doctor Who serials and other BBC television series, while mine (as always) has been to scour the bins for music.

This time out I was looking for albums by Sinéad O’Connor and Saint Etienne to bulk up my collection, and I knew I’d find both in the dusty dollar bins hidden way in the back western quadrant of the giant store.  I wasn’t let down, either–I found three of O’Connor’s albums I needed (a fourth was found used in her regular bin for $7), and I found a lot more Saint Etienne than expected (plus grabbed two further albums for $4 each in their regular bin).  Further browsing in the store brought up a few more ‘why do I not have this yet?’ albums.  All told, I must have spent about $30 on 14 cds, which is not bad at all.

I have two days off surrounding my birthday in a few weeks.  There’s a good chance I may head there for a second round.

I’m a sucker for dollar bins, I’ll be the first to admit it.  I don’t mind if the jewel case is scuffed up or slightly cracked, or if the cd is a bit worn–as long as it sounds good.  It’s about the music for me.  I’m well-versed in digging for gold in these bins, and I have no problem with spending a good two or three hours getting dirty and dusty doing it.  Back in my nearly-broke days in early 90s Boston, I was a regular at Nuggets, Planet, In Your Ear and Looney Tunes, and back then my finds were all cassettes and albums.  I could buy a dozen full length albums for less than twenty dollars.  And in the late 90s and early 00s, I’d continue to make monthly runs to Boston to find sweet deals.  My record collection was age-worn and scratchy, but it was also damned huge and well-rounded.

Here’s the trick:  the dollar bins are often full of albums that are at least ten to twenty years old, so if you’re in need of that classic album from 1993 that you never got around to buying, chances are it’s in there, the original versions given away now that their former owner ripped them to their computer or bought the remastered-with-extra-tracks editions.  This was the same when I used to do the Boston runs:  in the early 90s, I could easily build up my 70s classic rock collection; in the late 90s it was the 80s pop; in the 00s it was all the Britpop I was too broke to buy first time out.

At this point I’m realizing things have come full circle, as I’m now finding all the albums from my tenure at HMV in the late 90s.  I see titles I once owned either as promo copies or bought at a discount, but I also see many that I’d completely forgotten existed.  On multiple occasions I’ve pulled out a cd and stared at it for a second, that memory connection suddenly refreshed and clear.  And they’d get dropped into my basket.

Yeah, I’m well aware that dollar bin diving is pretty much a lost art now, considering the current state of music downloading, streaming and sharing, but think of it this way–that copy of Boston that you used to have on vinyl and never got around to picking up on cd?  You could either download it from Amazon or iTunes for the midline price it usually goes for (as of this writing it’s one of Amazon’s monthly $5 titles)…or you could buy the dollar bin copy for $1.99.  If you’re a compulsive music collector like I am, this was, is, and shall always be one of your favorite sections in the store.

[Okay, I’ll add this as well: I’m not out to cheat the musician, far from it.  I know they don’t get diddly from used sales, obviously.  My point here is Buying On a Budget, whether you’re a completist and buy in bulk like me, or have limited cash flow.  By all means, if you have the funds to pay the bands, please do so, and they will thank you.  And they’ll be able to stay together and record more neat stuff for your waiting ears.]

So this April, when you’re heading to whatever shop for Record Store Day, spend a little more time than that ten minutes grabbing your RSD Collectible goodies and that hour waiting in line to pay for them.  Spend more time in the regular bins, reacquainting yourself with your favorite bands and others you’ve never quite gotten around to listening to.  And spend a good three or four hours in those dusty dollar bins (and provide your own Wet-Naps).  You’ll be surprised what you might find.

5 thoughts on “Collecting: The Black Hole of the Dollar Bins

    • Same here. I’ll admit my RSD comment may have been a bit heavy-handed…I went last year to Amoeba and saw hundreds of people in line, arms full of the collectibles, and hardly anyone in the aisles…and Rasputin down the street (who didn’t have any of the collectibles) had maybe two customers. It felt like RSD had become the Charlie Brown Christmas for me, with more shiny and less meaning. I make up for it by being a frequent customer throughout the year, though. 🙂

  1. I used to get albums in boston at newbury comics, there is a place here in concord,nh pitchfork records that i find albums now.

  2. I learned all about buying the most music with the least money in the early 80s as a student. Spent like a cavalier in the late-80s-mid-90s, and now I’ve come full circle in middle age. I either buy very expensive or very cheap music with almost nothing at the full retail mark. Like you, I’m less fussy about visual condition. At this point in my life, it’s enough to have a copy to listen to, so my old bias against cardboard sleeve promos went right out the window of late. I recently had my first visit to all three Amoebas last October and was duly awed by the dollar bins, given that used product in their “regular” section was still moderately priced. Of course, they’re in the belly of the beast, so the selection was far beyond what I experience on the East Coast. Huge swaths of my holy want list were duly ticked off.

    • Nice! And yeah, I have to agree that places like Amoeba are great for mass purchasing, and are more often the exception than the norm when it comes to used record stores.
      Let me know next time you’re at the SF Amoeba, we can hook up, have a pint, and bore our significant others while chatting about record collecting for five hours! 😉

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