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Author's Note: This is an update of a feature originally posted on the "Vinyl Vulture" website forum circa 2006 - once I realised the enormity (not to mention the futility and stupidity) of the task ahead, the project was abandoned, but I still contributed the proposed feature anyway. Hope you find it of some amusement (if rather contentious at times)...

The Charity Shop Handicap Stakes

If you are a veteran of charity shop crate-digging, I am sure like myself, you will have noticed that the same dreadful old artists and records keep coming up again and again. And again. In fact it seems as predictable that certain acts and albums will be lurking in any given box as night following day. But have you ever wondered, what exactly is the most common charity shop record of all? And who is the most prolific “artiste”? Well I have, and as such have decided to spend some time I have left on this miserable planet to determine these very facts. So, armed with a list of the following contenders for the “prizes”, for the next 6 months, I shall be fastidiously combing the charity shops the length and breadth of the nation to find the definitive article for both categories. Once this task is initiated, every now and then I shall publish a “top 20” style chart of the current placings, along with a running commentary on how events have unfolded. However, before the “races” commence, I should like to give you the lowdown on those I believe the main candidates for these dubious honours, plus a few interesting outside bets.

The Contenders:

1: Mantovani

On more than one occasion I’ve been in charity shops enquiring about Henry Mancini records and informed “I think we’ve some out the back”, only to be presented with some Mantovani instead. Oh, well, what’s the difference – they’ve both got orchestras, they’ve both got Italian names that start with the same 3 letters... Actually Madam, as far as quality is concerned the difference is as wide as the Atlantic ocean. Unfortunately on this side of the pond Hank was easily outgunned by Mantovani’s sickly string-heavy offerings – a similar situation to the superior Betamax video format being hustled out by the VHS variety because Joe Public was happy to accept relative mediocrity. I would go as far as to say that in the album stakes, “The World of Mantovani” will be a resounding winner, but the question is, will it volume 1 or 2? Pre-race odds: top album: 1-2 on, top artist: 3-1

2: Jim Reeves 

Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran got there before him, and later on “The King” (see below) and John Lennon almost made it into a kind of art-form. But in the easy listening field country-fied crooner “Gentleman” Jim made the definitive case for the old industry saying: “death… a great career move” (update: Wacko has kept the tradition going!). And of course charity shops wait for the inevitable dumping of albums originally bought for such a pathetic reason, in the same way that crocodiles lie in rivers with their jaws wide open waiting for downstream-heading fish spawns to swim straight down their throats. Off the top of my head, I think his “Hymns” album will be foremost in the running, although plenty of others are likely contenders. Odds: album: 10-1, artist: 2-1    

3: James Last 

In my childhood my mother used to buy loads of cheapo easy compos (on MFP, Contour, etc) as non-threatening background noise to eat dinner to, etc. So I thought one day: enough of this, I shall buy the Rolls-Royce of the genre for her birthday, and shelled out a then-exorbitant fiver on the “Best of James Last”, which turned out to be no better than the stuff she had already. Ever since then I’ve had it in for Hansi – I don’t care how many breaks & beats records he appears on, to me it’s still mainly plodding on-autopilot covers of whatever was popular at the time, plus a few forgettable self-written tunes lobbed in merely to leaven the old bank account. He’s too prolific to hope for any individual album getting further than the lower reaches of the top ten, but as an artist he's a good each-way bet for a medal position. Odds – album: 20-1, artist: 3-1

4: Geoff Love 

Probably the UK's most popular instrumental easy listening act, and if you include his works under alias Manuel his prospects of winning are even higher, but I’ve disregarded his efforts under the Mandingo banner, because a: it was a team effort, and b: I won’t find any Mandingo records anyway. One odd fact about Mr Love: if you know your history you’ll know that Lady Jane Grey was the Queen that never was, deposed before her coronation. Well poor old Geoff was the chart-topper that never was: in 1973 it was announced that Manuel's cover of Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto had made No. 1. However within hours this chart was annulled due to "administrative error" and the revised one had it down at no. 3, a placing from which it never rose higher… Maybe justice will prevail posthumously and Geoff will score pole position here? Odds – album: 20-1, artist: 3-1

5: The Bachelors 

They used to be two brothers and a cousin, until the latter was unceremoniously booted out (after a quarter of a century’s service), for allegedly not being able to carry a tune in a bucket. The remaining duo (perhaps these days they should call themselves “the Pensioners” or maybe "The Widowers") still plod around the lesser venues of this country peddling their cheery Oirish naffness to ever-dwindling crowds of coffin-dodgers. Perhaps they should take up the following suggestion to bolster their tour takings: wherever they play, dispatch a flunky around the local charity shops to snap up all their old albums for peanuts, then sign and sell them to the faithful at a handsome profit – stock would never be hard to acquire for this purpose. Odds - album: 15-1, artist: 5-1

6: Andy Williams 

Unlike most of the contenders, All-American Boy and family entertainer Andy Williams actually had one or two decent if cheesy tunes in his locker, but obviously he was more interested in making a fast buck than a reputation, as the proliferation of his many albums in chazza shops prove. Some interesting if irrelevant info: apparently the man was so acutely aware of his lack of inches, that even when singing with guests on his long-running TV show whilst both he and they were seated, his stool had to be that little bit higher than theirs. Odds - album: 15-1, artist: 5-1

7: Perry Como 

In contrast to Johnny Mathis (see below), Perry’s hobson’s sounds like it’s been coated in mogadon – he’s an obvious graduate of the Crosby College of Crooning (also see below). Other than that, I can’t really say too much, except that he’s likely to garner a top ten artist placing courtesy of the millions of Mrs Bradys who were dumb enough to buy his records, especially the "Golden Hits" double LP compilation. Hang on a minute though… I can make an obvious joke by henceforth referring to the man as “Perry Coma” - hold those splitting sides... Odds - album: 10-1, artist: 8-1

8: Johnny Mathis

Ex-athlete Johnny (he apparently came close to competing in the Olympics) made millions of women’s knees go weak for the best part of 30 years, before he finally admitted that his sexual preference was for those “of his own kind”. But surely that isn’t the only reason why charity shop floors buckle under the weight of his LPs? Just as likely is the (sadly too-late) realisation that with his keening and tremulous tones he was completely awful anyway. As far as I’m concerned, like his sporting speciality his records are very much for the high-jump. Odds - album: 25-1, artist: 10-1

9: Bing Crosby 

If anyone was in the right place at the right time (other than “the King”), it was the man affectionally known by millions (but not by me) as “the Old Groaner”. The first main beneficiary of the invention of the microphone, a device without which Bing’s puny pipes would have had at best limited success. Talking of technology, did you know that at the end of World War 2, he allegedly had a hand in helping “relieve” the defeated Germans of their innovative tape recording technology, and consequently cashed-in big time. Although he made millions from what was virtually an act of looting through the misfortune of others, I don't suppose he ever gave any of his ill-gotten gains to the widows and children of his fellow-countrymen (and their allies) who made it possible. Odds – album: 25-1, artist: 12-1

10: Max Bygraves 

One of my few claims to fame (if you could call it that) is that I used to live on the same street as Max. Of course, he resided in a mansion overlooking the Bournemouth chines whilst I roughed it in seedy bedsit-land, but that’s by-the-by. Max recently made headlines for the wrong reasons – records of his donated to a charity shop were politely refused and turned away, the reason given that they couldn’t be given away. Max himself wasn’t too worried, he’d already made millions from flogging his dire “Singalongamax” series to the plebs, most of whom have now departed the planet either physically (by snuffing it) or mentally (by spending their remaining days staring into space in nursing homes). Odds: album 30-1, artist 15-1

11: Elvis Presley

Albums that “The King” put out in the 50’s & 60’s still attract absurdly high prices, even the dire soundtracks. So don’t expect to see too many of those at the chazza shop, unless they’ve been at the mercy of a small child armed with scissors or similar sharp implement (a fate I would happily bestow on virtually all his works). However as Vegas blubber hell beckoned RCA decided to milk his back-catalogue for all it was it worth: budget reissues, compilations, reissues of previous compilations, licencing stuff to budget specialists – nothing was left untouched. And of course when he croaked on the crapper the exploitation machine went into overdrive. So naturally a lot of this has now ended up at Oxfam and the like. Despite that I still don’t think he will worry the main contenders. Maybe he’ll sneak into the top-ten artist chart if he’s lucky. Odds – album: 50-1, artist: 20-1

12: Glenn Miller

Like “The King”, RCA remorselessly repackaged and re-pushed the back-catalogue of the forces favourite, in his case decades after his plane dived into the drink (or had a coronary whilst receiving the attentions of a lady of the night, depending on who you want to believe). There’s no definitive album, but expect a solid performance overall. Odds – album: 50-1, artist: 10-1

13: Frank Sinatra 

Most of Frank’s crooning contemporaries were vapourised by the advent of “The King” in the late 50’s. However, the man himself managed to cling on to top-dollar album status until the late 60’s, when he made the inevitable descent into budget label country. To the previously-denied great unwashed, who consequently bought loads of such cheapo comps, Old Blue Eyes was not so much “The Voice of the Century”, as the voice of a few weeks, as these albums would listened to a few times, then stuck away in a dark corner before being unceremoniously dumped into chazzaland some years later. Odds – album: 100-1, artist: 25-1

14: Golden Avatar 

When at school a big event was a trip to the Smoke, ostensibly to be led around the Science Museum or suchlike, but really to hang out in (then extremely seedy) Soho where we would bump into our peers seeking similar cheap thrills. On one such trip, everyone came back clutching a copy of this album that was being given away in the streets to unsuspecting victims. Listening to it was a variation on the old gag: man finds a rupture belt and kicks himself in the bollocks so he can wear it. Full of dull hippy dippy Hare Krishna claptrap, it was presumably made possible by the misguided sponsorship of the likes of George Harrison, who tragically had more money than he knew what to do with. An obvious contender to be dispatched to the charity shop once one had built up a half-decent record collection. This one is a dark horse (geddit?) for top LP. Odds: album 15-1, artist 100-1

15: David Soul 

Yes, the man still universally known as “Hutch”, despite huge efforts to escape typecasting – didn’t he recently appear in “Casualty” or suchlike? Although he actually started out as a singer, to my knowledge he only ever released two albums, both cashing in on Starsky & Hutch mania, which meant their ultimate fate as charity shop fodder was as inevitable as the dynamic duo enlisting the help of Huggy Bear to nail baddies. So his chances of making the top-10 album chart are good, but will it be the one where he’s riding a horse, or the prophetically titled “Playing to an Audience of One”? Odds – album: 20-1, artist: 50-1

16: Bert Weedon 

The guitarist best-known for his “Play In A Day” guitar books, Bert made an unexpected killing in the 70’s budget album market with his "22 Golden Guitar Greats” album, that I seem to recall being oft-promoted on the telly thus confirming the power of advertising. In most homes where a copy once resided, it was no doubt one of the first to be earmarked for the charity shop clear-out exercise that occurred a few years on, so a good outside bet for the CSHS trophy. However, Bert failed to capitalise on this success, henceforth apparently existing merely as some kind of ironic “living legend”, popping up on light entertainment TV shows from time to time, so he’s practically a non-starter in the artist category. Odds – album: 7-1, artist: 100-1

17: Henry Mancini 

It worked for the “King”. It worked for Glenn Miller. So why didn’t RCA ever get Mancini’s UK sales into gear? Maybe they did sell loads and his albums are still considered so essential that they’ve never been allowed to leave the tasteful collector’s home, but even as a Mancini fan that’s wishful thinking on my part. No, probably because Mantovani had already cornered the market. Anyway, whatever the reason, I can confirm that "Hank" isn’t that easy to come across in chazzaland. It took me the best part of 3 years to assemble the bulk of his releases, and a large part of that is compos or reissues… And you can forget finding copies of his classic early soundtracks like “The Pink Panther” and “Breakfast at Tiffany's”. As such, I am intrigued in finding out if this situation still prevails or not, a few years down the line. Odds – album: 30-1, artist: 25-1

18: Elton John 

In my opinion, Fat Reg is at best of moderate musical talent, a classic case of one making a little go a (hell of) a long way. Apart from a brief (and failed) flirtation with soul music in the mid-70’s, he’s basically peddled the same old rubbish to the masses since he started: plodding dirges, barking vocals, and ham-fisted piano playing – does he play with boxing gloves on? Anyway, although his albums are now streaming into charity shops (and will no doubt stick there like glue), any sense of schadenfreude is assuaged by the near certainty that they were donated merely because they’ve been replaced by his CDs. My tip is “Sleeping with the Past” recorded at the end of the “hair-weave” years, shortly before making himself even more of an arse by wearing a syrup more suited to a schoolboy than a man of his advancing years. Odds – album: 40-1, artist: 25-1

19: Bros

If this “survey” were being conducted 10 years ago, then there would be a real possibility that this late 80’s teeny trash group could have made a big showing in these stakes with the “Push” album, that had been discarded in it’s millions as the band imploded on its own egotism and the next wave of knicker-moisteners usurped them (Take That, who as far as things here are concerned may now be breathing a huge sigh of relief that their heyday coincided with the sharp decline of vinyl LP sales). However, on the whole copies of this LP now seem to have pushed through the charity shop stage, presumably on to landfill, although they may be more likely to surface at car-boots should you be anxious to acquire a copy. Similar acts to fall into this category include Adam & the Ants and Shakin’ Stevens. Odds: album 40-1, artist 100-1

20: The Beatles 

Imagine the sharp intake of breath as the Oxfam stock sorter discovers a Fab Four album lurking amongst the usual detritus of Jim Reeves et al, followed by a triumphant jig around the shop (in the manner of Walter Houston after discovering gold in "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”) holding the prized booty aloft, before dispatching it to the specialist vinyl branch to be priced up at not-a-penny below the ludicrously overpriced valuation in the “Record Collector’s Guide”… And you know in their pious ignorance that they won’t accept a penny less either – for heaven’s sake, millions of the things were sold in the sixties, so why do they make out like they’ve found the holy grail? Hopefully the RC Guide will substantially lower their next valuation on any standard Beatles issue, just for the above reasons. Odds – album: 1,000,000-1, artist: 1,000,000-1

In addition to the “Top 20” above, I thought it would be an interesting sidebar to match some certain similar artists (in musical style, as well as charity shop proliferation) in head-to-head encounters:

 Battle of the 60’s:  Englebert Humperdinck vs Tom Jones

People think the 60’s dominated by the beat(les) explosion, but closer examination reveals the old guard still exerted a considerable grip, the guv’nors being this pair of former working men’s club crooners. Astute manager Gordon Mills targeted their appeal at those too square for the swinging scene, ensuring in their own way they were just as successful as the Beatles et al. In fact, “The Hump” notoriously spiked the Fab Four’s 11-strong run of number 1's with “Release Me”, whilst Jones also hit the top with the equally melodramatic “Green Green Grass of Home”, and both released schmaltz-filled albums that were lapped up at the time. Whilst Englebert stayed true to the faithful, Tom reinvented himself more than once as some kind of retro-cool icon, but even his recent stuff soon wends it way to the charity shops, so he may yet match his rival in this particular draw. Odds - Engelbert: 2-1, Tom: 5-1

 Battle of the 70’s:  Leo Sayer vs Gilbert O’Sullivan 

The parallels between these two “singer-songwriter” artists are almost uncanny: both started up as vaudeville-like novelty turns (Gilbert as a flat-capped Hovis delivery boy, and Leo as a Peirrot-style clown). Once established, both discarded their costumes in favour of 70’s casual wear and bubble perms. Both had crooked managers (O’Sullivan’s was above-mentioned Gordon Mills, whilst Sayer signed up with ex-pop-star-turned-actor/wheeler-dealer Adam Faith) who screwed them financially. And both later sued for misappropriated royalties in their post-fame wilderness years. And of course both continue to give the charity shop ladies plenty of work to do. Sayer's “Very Best of” album is likely to give him a big edge here. By the way, Gilbert says "I'm a writer, not a fighter", so Leo would best him in any physical contest despite being a midget! Odds – Leo: 2-1, Gilbert: 5-1

 Battle of the 80’s:  Howard Jones vs Nik Kershaw 

Two decades ago these unlikely lads were slugging it out to become the deep-thinking-yet-still-loveable icon of the frivolous 80’s pop scene. They seemed inextricably linked (and were sometimes confused for each other) via their dull, earnest and ponderous synth-dominated works that belied their absurd fashion sense of cockatoo/plant pot/bog brush mullets and garish costumes. They also both reached their sell-by date around the same time too (about 3 years or so after their first hits), although charity shops didn’t start stockpiling their LPs until several years later - presumably when approaching-30-something newly-weds departed the family nest. Like the other matches, it will be interesting to see if their close rivalry continues posthumously, so to speak. This is probably the most difficult one to predict the outcome. Odds – Howard: evens, Nik: evens

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