The first, & best place to find 80s music on CD are thrift stores. In the Tulsa area, we have the Salvation Army Family Thrift Stores. I’ve found numerous full-length 80s classic like Sting’s “The Dream Of The Blue Turtles,” Billy Ocean’s “Greatest Hits,” and The “Miami Vice” soundtrack for ridiculously low prices. If you catch them on the right day, the savings can be significant: they had CDs priced for $1.99, but had a “half-off” day, taking them down to 99 cents a piece!
Another good place to check for 80s CDs are resale shops like “Vintage Stock.” The prices may be a bit higher (about $6 per CD around here) but you have the added advantage of the store usually guaranteeing the CD will play… thrift stores usually provide no such return policy. I’ve been able to pick up Chris DeBurgh’s “Into The Light,” Erasure’s “The Innocents,” and Roxette’s “Look Sharp!” albums at such locations.
Another, perhaps too obvious, location is on Amazon.com. If you’re willing to take a used CD, you maybe able to pick some CDs up for a penny plus a couple of dollars of postage and handling. One difficulty there is that you can’t look at the CD before purchase and so you don’t always know exactly what you’re getting… and some sellers may not be too forthcoming with information via email.
Besides price, is there another reason to pick up original releases of 80s records on CD at thrift shops, resale stores, and second-hand shops? Absolutely. You may have noticed that when you find a recent release of a classic album, especially if it’s been “remastered,” often what that means it’s been run through a clipper, a dynamic volume limiter which makes the recording louder but often removes a lot of the “punch” of the original recording. If you’re listening in a noisy car or through earbuds it might be OK, but if you like to sit back and critically listen to your music, you’ll find it abrasive and lifeless.
When these albums were originally released on CD, often the original master tapes were dumped to the digital format without a bit more processing applied. This means the earliest CDs often have the wide dynamic range you remember from the albums. (Ironic, isn’t it, that today’s commercial CDs tend to have LESS dynamic range than vinyl records of yesteryear?) At worst, you may find the early CDs may be a bit bright or bass-shy; often a little fiddling with your tone control will fix such issues and give you a much more pleasant listening experience.
Are there downsides to building your library this way? Absolutely. First, as I mentioned above, if it’s from a thrift store, they often sell everything “as-is”… so look very carefully at the CD to make sure the double-length album you’re buying isn’t only going to take 15 minutes to “skip” through! Additionally, you’re at the mercy of those who have either sold their CDs to second-hand stores or given them to thrift shops… in other words, you’re not likely to find Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” or Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” for 99 cents! Raiding second-hand shops also means once you’ve gotten the “good stuff” out of their collections, you’ll have to find new stores or wait until somebody new is willing to part with their copy of The Fixx’s “Reach The Beach.” You’ll also need to look at the CD case and CD itself if you can to make sure the published and copyright dates match or nearly match. If you get a CD that’s copyright 1986 but published 1997, you’re at risk of it having been “clipped.”
One more source BlackLight Radio uses for out-of-print PartyMixes for our Friday & Saturday night shows is Burning The Ground: DjPaulT’s 80s & 90s Remix Blog. Paul is obsessive about finding unreleased-on-CD 12″ remixes and extended versions and restoring the recordings to near-CD quality. He has an audiophile-quality turntable and cartridge which feeds a tube preamp, and (after using a record “vacuum cleaner” to turn the surface of the record to near-mint condition) he records these rare & unavailable tracks into his computer at a 96khz sampling rate and a 24 bit depth. Translated into English: he records it at a HIGHER quality than CD. Paul then goes through and BY HAND removes any clicks, pops and ticks.
Without DjPaulT, our Friday & Saturday night PartyMixes wouldn’t sound NEARLY as good as they do.
I hope this article helps you in building your digital 80s library. What are your favorite sources for finding 80s music at a reasonable price? Do you have any tips or tricks on getting the best-sounding copies of our favorite recordings? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.