50s record store Rock Flashback: Cutouts

Flash Records, Los Angeles, mid 1950s (Getty Images/Michael Ochs Archive)

This past April 16 was Record Store Day, “a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently-owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally.” That there are only 700 such places left in the United States is sad, because those of us of a certain age can remember when you could buy records everywhere.

One such place was in my hometown, Gibson’s Discount Store. Gibson’s was like a modern chain drug store, a Walgreens or a CVS, in that it stocked a little bit of everything, but also like a dollar store in that much of their stuff was off-brand and sold cheap.

It also stocked a few records. Independent rack jobbers would provide the records and the rack to display them on, and the store would receive a percentage of the sales — which is why it wasn’t uncommon to see racks of records in drug stores, department stores, and even in service stations back in the day.

Gibson’s carried the top albums and a few singles, but it was also the first place I ever saw that carried cutouts. A cutout is an album or cassette sold at a discounted price, usually because it’s been discontinued by the label. A cutout album would have a corner of the jacket cut off or a hole punched in it; cutout cassettes (and later, CDs) usually had a notch sawed in the plastic case. This was to mark them so that they would not sold for full price — or, in the case of promotional copies sent to radio stations and record stores, not sold at all.

Where regularly-priced albums were six or seven dollars back in the 1970s, cutouts often sold for a couple of bucks and sometimes less. And while I loved music, I loved getting music for cheap even more — and as a result, I became a denizen of the cutout bins forever after.

It was at Gibson’s that I scored one of my favorite cutout purchases, the sort of musical bonanza that would have appealed to the geek I was circa 1975. One fine night I stumbled across the Warner Special Products compilation Superstars of the ’70s, a four-vinyl-album collection of hits I knew and artists I recognized. I remember staying up very, very late the night I brought it home, just to listen to the whole thing.

superstars of the 70s album 385w Rock Flashback: Cutouts

I know now that Superstars of the ’70s is a bit unusual in that it contains a handful of artists whose music is rarely found on various-artist anthologies of this type: [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]the Rolling Stones[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Led Zeppelin[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Black Sabbath[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]the Eagles[/lastfm], and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Yes[/lastfm], all of whom were available for the series as a result of their association with Warner Brothers, Elektra, or Atlantic Records. As an indication of what rock radio — as distinct from the Top 40 — sounded like in 1973, when the set was released, you can’t do better, although you might argue over the inclusion of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]the Bee Gees[/lastfm], [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Judy Collins[/lastfm], or [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Roberta Flack[/lastfm].

The most off-the-wall track on the album is probably [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]the Byrds[/lastfm]’ version of [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Neil Young[/lastfm]’s “Cowgirl in the Sand,” which appeared on the band’s self-titled 1973 album. I used to skip over it when I played Superstars of the ’70s back in the day, but I wouldn’t skip it now.

For more on the Superstars of the ’70s series, click here. For more Rock Flashbacks, click here.


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