Overlooked
by Tommy Burton

My bandmate and musical soul brother, Danny, once said something to me that has stuck. I always thought Danny to be a bit of a cheapskate, cutting corners at every opportunity in order to save a few bucks. When buying music, he would often spend several minutes scouring the cut out bins diligently searching for some lost gem. While he is a cheapskate, he is also an unconditional fan of music. I finally asked him why he spent so much time in the cut outs when there was much better music to be found in the proper sections. He replied that some of the music in the cut out bin "wasn't bad, it's just overlooked." That really made sense, and the more I thought about it, the more true it rang. I have found some fine records lost in cut out hell. I've also had the chance to go back and pick up some out of print titles by some of my already favorite artists. While they may not be among the artist's finest works, they certainly belong in my completist collection.
The most likely reason a title will end up in the cut out bin is because a record company will ship out large quantities in the hopes that it will sell large amounts. These records will sit on record store shelves for months until, finally, they are returned to the record company in order to make room for the next batch of hopefuls. These records are then "cut out" or "marked," the company quits producing the title (out of print), and they are returned back to the record stores at discounted prices. It's like their last chance.

The consensus among the general record buying public is that if a record or song is good, it will sell. That's a false argument. Just because an artist is selling gobs of units, does not mean that the artist in necessarily good. New Kids On The Block sold millions of units, but I can almost guarantee you that in twenty year's time, they will not be remembered for their artistic merits. I recently attended a Big Star show. "Who's that?" you are probably asking, and rightfully so. Big Star was a band that formed in Memphis, TN during the early 70s. Despite strong critical acclaim, the band sadly fell through the cracks and never reached commercial stardom. This wasn't because their music was bad, it was simply overlooked. But, by the late 70s, many bands were turning on to Big Star and they have gone on to become one of the most influential bands in popular music. Even though you may have never heard of them, I can almost promise you that they have influenced a band that you like. Van Morrison's modest sales record in no way is a reflection of his artistic merits. Van has countless numbers of devotees inspired by his long and varied career. A very long way from "Brown Eyed Girl" indeed.

Don't get me wrong. I am in no way saying that all artists who sell large amounts of records are bad or artistically void. The Beatles are the biggest selling band of all time, and I think that most people will agree that they are also one of the most influential. There are lots of great artists that sell very well. There is also plenty of great music that's being heard on the radio. Of course I know that saying whether and artist is good or bad is completely objective, but I am trying to point out that a lot of great music by great artists sometimes will "slip through the cracks." The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds was greeted with a very mild response when it was released, but it has since become known as one of Brian Wilson's greatest achievements.

I'm going to present a scenario of the way modern music business works: A large record company will throw, say, ten different titles in a given release week. Maybe one of those titles will hit, in that it will pick up in sales. The company will see that they are on to something, and then proceed to throw thousands and thousand of advertising dollars into promoting that title. What happens to the other nine? I may or may not be exaggerating.

Our own Rusty Spell can tell you a personal story of a great band that got "overlooked." When he was an undergrad at the University of Southern Mississippi, he discovered that the campus radio station was having a drive to raise funds. With a simple donation, he could pick from a few boxes of promo CDs the station didn't play and/or want any more. He picked around ten titles that looked interesting to him. One of those titles was Whale Music by a Canadian band called the Rheostatics. The record was released on Sire, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. A very major label. He fell totally in love with this record and has since become friends with the band. He runs their very comprehensive U.S. website. He also discovered that the band had been recording and performing in Canada for a few years before signing to Sire. They released only two titles on the Sire label before they were sent back into the indies as those two titles were met with meager sales numbers. Great music. Largely unheard by a mass audience.

One of my biggest thrills in music is when I am turned on to an artist that I haven't heard of, and that artist ends up being just great. (This is my hint for you guys to send me some music.) I love discovery. This is what keeps me digging in those old record stores. Usually, an artist is connected to some other one that I really like, and then that guy plays on this record produced by so and so...you get the idea. It's just that, sometimes, you have to dig a little deeper.

So, the next time you are able to score a deal on some cheap music, dive in. You just might like something. While there may really be some bad music in those cut out bins, there is some of it that isn't. It's just overlooked.

Copyright 1 May 2002 We Like Media.
You may email Tommy Burton.

Click here for Big Star.
Click here for Rheostatics.