The underappreciated used CD bins

It’s 2007 and I’m 15 years old, hunched over a wire crate trying not to make too much noise while my mom explores another section of f.y.e. I’m digging through a container of used CDs on super sale, sorting through cracked Mariah Carey cases and old U2 albums reduced to four dollars after no one ever bought them, when I learn the beauty of these bins. 

Amid mediocre follow-ups and one-hit wonders were Menomena’s Friend and Foe, and Broken Social Scene’s self-titled LP. This crate held some of the best new music I would ever find. The albums were stupidly cheap and would outlast any laptop or iPhone. Sure enough, they later became two of my all-time favorite albums, and it’s time you find yours.

Sale bins overflowing with used CDs are cracking at the sides with love. These are albums that music-lovers had to part with to make money, albums they once were recommended or intrigued by but now have saved as MP3s on their laptop. Much like consignment stores, these bins are filled with well-worn and well-loved picks that are worth putting up for sale once more. It’s up to you to snag them before someone else does. 

The “great sale dive” seems a bit contrary. Judging music based off looks alone after we’ve been told all along not to judge a book by its cover is uncomfortable — unless, of course, you’re a proponent of this method. In this instance, get used to it.

Before heading out, look at most of the albums you own (hopefully you actually have physical copies) or stream online. Is there a theme throughout their covers? After a band’s name, the album cover is often the reason you’ll click on a stream link. There will be some theme present, a general look that marketing teams recognize and go after when promoting an album. Rap albums glorify the rapper, country albums rest in faded palettes, and  folk LPs can’t resist nature themes. It gets targeted listeners to stay true to their favorite genres, and there’s a 99 percent chance you stay true to yours.

Once you’ve found that theme, take a look at the outliers. Since nearly everyone claims to listen to everything, then you should have some oddball albums that you love despite their differences from your usual tunes. The song names may be all abbreviations or written in alternating caps. Stylistic choices are there for a reason.

Now it comes down to location, arguably the most misunderstood part of this whole exercise. If you’re a Top 40 radio station listener who doesn’t change the dial or a tough-to-please critic who can’t stand lyrics of any kind, there’s no right or wrong store to visit. Go to f.y.e., Newbury Comics, or Weirdo Records. It doesn’t matter how big or small the record store is. Just find a pool of used CDs on sale. A six-by-10 foot store whose walls are made entirely of CDs may have 60s pop music from Japan that sounds a lot like Rihanna. Best Buy could have a country artist you’ve never heard of whose instrumental work could score a Terrence Malick film.  

Let ignorance and intuition lead your trip. They’ll be the most reliable compass to score you songs that catch you completely off guard. You might be conscious of artwork marketing and visual preferences, but don’t overthink it. Immerse yourself in the store’s own culture; let it become your travel abroad experience. Enjoy being the naive wanderer the music world allows you to be.

So when you’re picking through the pile trying to find something new to you, stop and inspect the record. What does it look like it would sound like? What does it remind you of? Is the band name an unfortunate mistake on what otherwise seems to be a creative and intriguing buy? Skip that morning’s five dollar Starbucks and put it toward an album you may be clutching to your chest for the next three months. This year is just beginning; don’t let your New Years’ resolution to hear more new music fall flat. Something great is waiting for you — and it’s half off, unscratched, and (gasp) in physical form.