The changing demographics behind charity shop CDs

Baby-boomers, Brexit and classic rock bargains

I’ve rarely been able to go past a charity shop without having a quick browse through their second-hand CDs. To be fair this usually doesn’t take long. Shops usually have a shelf or two with around 100-150 CDs for sale and usually the majority of them hold no interest for me at all as they fall into two categories:

1. Old-time easy listening – the likes of James Last, Vera Lynn, Max Bygraves, Harry Secombe and so on. You get tons of these in most charity shops. My guess is that they belonged to people in their late 70s/80s who have either died or gone into nursing homes and their CDs have been passed on to the charity shop by their families.

2. 90s/00s chart pop – the likes of Take That, Spice Girls, Ronan Keating and numerous X Factor winners. Again, you see tons of these in charity shops and my guess is they belonged to 30-somethings or early forty-somethings who have offloaded them, either because of changing musical tastes or because they don’t want to have anything as desperately uncool as CDs in the house and have switched to downloads. Occasionally, you see some Britpop-era CDs amongst these and (particularly as I wasn’t able to afford to buy too many CDs back in the 90s) I’ve been able to pick up numerous second-hand bargains by the likes of Blur, Cast, The Boo Radleys, Ocean Colour Scene, The Levellers and so on to add to my collection.

However, what was very rarely seen, until recently, was the kind of classic rock albums that are the mainstay of my CD collection. This is starting to change it would appear and in the past year I’ve picked up numerous CDs for 50p or a pound by the likes of Ray Davies, Lou Reed, Brian Wilson, Fleetwood Mac, Meatloaf, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy.

It could be that these are the result of people either switching to digital (or switching back to vinyl) and disposing of their CDs in the process. But I doubt that accounts for the bulk of them somehow. My guess is that just as we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of rock star deaths – guys in their 60s and early 70s being tragically taken away from us, we are probably also witnessing a similar trend amongst rock fans as well. A tragedy for their families, certainly, as I know only too well. But good news,perhaps, for the quality of the CD shelves in charity shops.

The baby-boomer generation may have unwittingly cast a huge question mark over their grand-children’s futures by voting for Brexit in such overwhelming numbers but at least their impeccable good taste in music is available for the benefit of future generations and can now be snapped up at bargain prices at a charity shop near you.

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15 thoughts on “The changing demographics behind charity shop CDs

  1. Charity shops? I imagine in the UK they must be somewhat similar – I was there in 1980 and poked around London a bit – but in the US, there are many diverse second-hand opportunities to buy used CDs. Here in Ohio, there are many GoodWill stores everywhere, and, to a certain extent, some of your findings ring quite true. Good blog!!! I’d love to do a transporter kind of thing and just browse in some of those charity shops you talk of….. I don’t think any of the easy listening artists you mentioned were familiar. Very interesting…..

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  2. I went to an antique mall and found some great old vinyl albums. They weren’t as cheap as say a charity shop but still a great option. I might need to start doing the charity shops as well. Good luck in your searches.

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    1. Good point – I should have mentioned that. Bloody annoying they are too because I can’t think anyone ever buys them. And I suspect it’s to do with the shop volunteers not knowing much about CDs. Charity shops which actually specialise in music – like some of the Oxfam shops don’t have these as much as the managers know what they are selling.

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      1. Sometimes the cover mounts are worth a punt, particularlty if they rerepresent an era like the Britpop one or indeed any other era that interests – I got a great psychedlic rarities one once

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  3. Yes the days of finding “bargain vinyl” in charity shops are long gone. The shops got wise long ago to the value of some second-hand vinyl (I believe Oxfam even employ specialist vinyl pricers).

    Nowadays the vinyl section in charity shops is so depressingly predictable I’ve stopped looking. The quality is so low it’s laughable. I’m amazed any of it sells.

    A typical charity shop vinyl section consists of a few battered musty smelling Mozart records, something with a ripped sleeve by Milli Vanilli, Paul Young’s No Parlez (with the previous owners name wirtten in biro on the sleeve) a Best of Roger Whittaker, Herb Alpert & Tijuana Brass and something by Bernard Manning. Oh and some dreadful album of Hammond Organ cover versions on the Hallmark label that’s actually in great condition because the previous owner only ever played it once because the music was so dreadful.

    Unfortunately charity shops are where unwanted vinyl goes to die.

    I can’t remember the last time I bought a record from a charity shop but you can still pick up bargains on CD though.

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    1. I think that’s right for vinyl yes – but CD wise there are sometimes real bargains to be had. Obviously, the charity shops exist to raise money so I commend them in trying to get a good price for their stuff but nevertheless I’ve picked up some great £1 a go CDs lately.

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  4. Interesting read thanks and hadn’t really thought of it this way. There are a lot more classic rock CDs in charity shops now and even some decent 80’s/90’s indie rock/pop, which you never used to see much of a few years ago. Recently picked up most of the Divine Comedy’s backlist from one charity shop in Ealing and they had loads of REM, Oasis, Samshing Pumpkins etc.

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    1. There can only be a finite number of Val Doonican and James Last CDs in circulation and there is probably a dwindling number of people left alive who own them, and so I think we are starting to see classic rock CDs turning up to replace them!

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