Record Stores

I was visiting the eFest site today and just catching up on the rumors for this year (even though I’m not going…I can still be obsessed a little, right?)

There was a thread about HMV closing 60 stores:  I ended up commenting and thought I’d carry those thoughts over here since they do relate to my passion/obsession/insanity about music.  I also linked from there to a really cool article about record stores in the UK….and I was thrilled to find the first place listed was a small store in Yeovil that I’d stumbled upon in 2008 on a trip and actually visited myself.

I had to say first that I’m really saddened by the impending demise of physical stores.  Almost the first place that I ran to on my first trip ever to London was the Virgin MegaStore on Oxford Street…followed shortly thereafter by a trip to Tower at Picadilly and then HMV on back on Oxford Street (Of those only HMV remains, and how much longer for them?).  The main souvenirs that I would bring home from any trip there was a huge pile of new CD’s…many that I couldn’t find here in America back then.  (Camel for example was a real challenge to find over here.)  Each time I’ve returned over the past decade another store had bitten the dust.  My last trip for Glasto (last summer) there was only HMV and Fopp left to visit.

It’s sort of a chicken-egg thing to me.  They sell less CD’s, because there less places to buy them which just cycles down until they are a niche market for fanatics like me.  I have a few options living in So Cal…But, they are require a major trip (Amoeba in Hollywood or Fingerprintz in Long Beach cool, but a hassle to reach).  There are two somewhat nearby small stores….nearby being within 10 miles….one is a mostly used store and one is a struggling little place that charges a huge premium because of their limited buying power…I try to buy something from them once in a while just as a show of support.)  We are talking about a metro area of millions, with a huge music scene and history in pop music to rival London (Beach Boys, Doors, Eagles, Jackson Browne, X, etc)….and my only close options are Best Buy, Walmart, Target and Barnes & Noble….it’s horrible.  And each of those last four have a poor selection that keeps shrinking every time I visit one of them.

They say they don’t sell enough CD’s, yet without a good selection, there’s nothing to buy.  I spent weeks looking for anything by Hot Chip for example last year.  I saw they were headed to Glasto, saw them on YouTube and wanted to buy the CD.  I visited numerous Best Buys for weeks before I finally stumbled across one that had a copy of their latest CD…forget buying anything from the catalog of previous stuff.  Or, Bonobo….which I never did find until I got to the UK….seen one copy since at Fingerprintz, how can anyone get into a band if you can’t find their music anywhere at all (except online)?  A friend and I joke we’re going to be the last two dinosaurs in the world looking for CD’s in 10 years….and sadly, it’s likely true.

My second job was in a record store, the Warehouse Records, they had 144 stores and each one had some character back then.

The folks I worked with had a passion for music.  I spent more than my first paycheck the day I got it on LP’s I had held to buy.  We took delight in introducing each other to cool stuff…I discovered Dire Straits and played it to death, some else discoved Graham Parker.  One guy looked a lot like Jimi Hendrix and he loved Neil Young and Renaissance…who I came to like simply because he played them so much.  I recall when AC/DC’s Back in Back arrived and Lanny, the resident “metal guy” in the store declared it a masterpiece and lobbied to order many more copies.  (He ended up playing in House of Lords, Guffria and a some other hair bands in the 80’s).  The point being, we had a store full of people we cared deeply about what we sold (the pay sure wasn’t the the reason we worked there….).  That seems to be gone now.  Where is that love and passion in selling music?

I buy stuff off Amazon, even off iTunes on a rare occasion…but ever nothing compares to flipping through stacks and finding something that catches your eye, (or forgotten until that moment).

I mourn that experience going away because it has been so important to me.

And, my next trip to London will have a missing gap where making that special trip to those stores used to reside.



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4 responses to “Record Stores

  1. Laura

    Record store shopping will become immortalized in celluloid by our favorite teen movies. It will become akin to spotting the twin towers while munching popcorn and streaming Netflix, which by the way, is threatening DVD and blue ray. We should chart this stuff Jon… how many things changed from the time you were born?
    Remember Licorice Pizza and Music Plus? We still have a couple of new and used CD stores in town. I once took a tax return and went through the whole store buying nearly every used CD that I ever used to have on vinyl… it was well over $200 by the time I was done. It was one of the best shopping experiences I’ve ever had. After reading your blog, it’s making me want to do it again.

  2. I totally remember Licorice Pizza and Music Plus! Licorice Pizza always had a decent selection of imports and a clearance bin where you could grab bargains on import stuff.

    I worked for a short time at the Music Plus at Goldenwest and Westminster. Their sale prices were usually a slight bit better than the Warehouse prices. I can recall new stuff being $3.99!

    Each store and chain back then had it’s own personality that way. You went to Tower for the deep catalog and massive selection. It seemed like a huge trip up Beach Blvd. to Lincoln….but, you had to make it at least once a month.

    There were independents too. The Rusty Needle on Beach where Dave Donald and I rode our bikes to buy Led Zep IV, ELP – Brain Salad Surgery and Jethro Tull’s – Aqualung. Dave I still laugh about the clerk telling us the Eagles were a flash in the pan and that they would never last…seems they outlasted that store by about 35 years.

    CD prices keep dropping and selections keep getting smaller and smaller in stores. I just found Styx – Grand Illusion on CD in at bin at Walmart that I walked by for $5.00? It seems the decline is well underway and a relic like me isn’t going to be able to stop it. In a year or two Amazon and a few independent stores that are left may be the only place for CD’s. Heck even Borders just bit the dust this week (the sale starts today at the Orange store).

    It’s sad to watch and completely out of our control it seems. The good news I guess (if any?) is we have a short window to grab a bunch of bargains to replace the old LP collections….most of which I still have boxed in the garage anyway.

    • Laura Stuckey

      I used to go to that Music Plus and remember looking at The Who’s Quadrophenia album in the small section for quadrophonic recordings. Only went to Tower a handful of times. Didn’t they used to sell concert tickets… and Licorice Pizza too? I think I’ve been to Rusty Needle. May have bought some bootleg punk rock recordings there and some buttons and patches in the early 1980s.
      Borders was my go-to place for off the wall stuff, but over the last several years the pickins grew mightly slim. No surprise they went to the big jewel case in the sky. I’m not big on books, but seems like e-readers are doing the same thing to bookstores that iTunes, et al has done to music stores. Had someone at work ask me the other day if I pre-ordered the new Stevie Nicks album. I bared my soul and confessed that I most likely will hunt for a music store to buy the CD on the day it comes out. I need to check those supermarket bins more closely for those old reprints. Remember when they used to have LPs with a notch in the jacket in those blow out bins? The weird thing about this music format change is the new medium, it’s not tape, not vinyl and not a CD, it’s just data.

      • I still buy CD’s because the “data” part bothers me somehow. I want a physical item to hold in my hand. I guess that officially makes me old…

        Tower did sell tickets, as did a number of the other stores mentioned. I still recall the logistics of lining up for tickets in the pre-internet days.

        Borders and Barnes & Noble both have been too pricy on their music. Good selection (somewhat) but catalog is always priced at list price. Amazon has just kicked them off the map with selection and lower prices. I just wish there was way to flip through the stacks to look for stuff, that was part of the fun.

        I got an e-reader for Christmas. Mostly for when I travel, the same as my iPod. I love being able to carry a bunch of stuff with very little weight.

        I remember cutout records, those were awesome and some really good stuff would pop up from time to time! I also remember the liquor store up on Bolsa would sell old jukebox 45’s out of a bin for .39 cents or 3 for a dollar. Got some great 45’s that way….:)

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