Saturday is Record Store Day. There is perhaps no type of store I find more deserving of its own day than the record store (well, maybe the bookstore...hey, why is there not a Book Store Day?). So to celebrate in my own little way, I present my memories of 33 and 1/3 record stores--some gone, some barely hanging on, some doing quite well, but all holding a special place in my heart. Enjoy. And go out to your local record store on Saturday and tell it how much you love it. Buy some stuff too, assuming they don't throw you out after you're spotted confessing your affection for a building.
1. Music Factory, Staten Island Mall, Staten Island, NY (RIP)
This is the first record store I can remember, though I'm not entirely sure I ever bought anything there (I want to say it's where I bought Piledriver (a/k/a The Wrestling Album, Vol. 2), but I cannot confirm that with my memory). But it was located in the sweet spot of the Staten Island Mall, the lower-level Sears wing, where you could stand in one spot and see the Music Factory, Waldenbooks (good for buying the latest wrestling magazines), Farrell's Ice Cream Parlor (with its awesome birthday drum and excellent waffle fries), and the Time Out arcade. It was, as far as I could tell at the time, the coolest spot of land in the entire world.
The strongest memory I have of the Music Factory was not its musical offerings but the posters that hung from the ceiling. As I recall, each poster had a number, and you would give that number to the cashier, who would return with your poster. I remember an awful lot of posters a young Catholic school boy shouldn't be seeing. And, oddly, I also distinctly remember a promo poster (not for sale, though I doubt anyone would've bought it) for Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride" on the side of the store. Not sure how that got in my brain.
2. Sam Goody, Staten Island Mall, Staten Island, NY (RIP)
Music Factory closed before I ever really got into music, so the Sam Goody (lower level, Macy's wing, next to Lerner, later moved a few stores down) became my go-to spot for 45s. I'm trying to remember the price and coming up with 3 for $1.99, which sounds too low. But there was definitely some sort of 3-for deal. And I loaded up on all the cool songs. You know, like Pee Wee Herman's "Surfin' Bird," The Fat Boys' and Beach Boys'"Wipeout," the Jump 'N the Saddle Band's "The Curly Shuffle." Yes, I was born with awesome musical taste.
In any event, I still have a lot of those 45s. So, thanks, Sam Goody. You got it.
3. Majors Records and Video, Staten Island, NY
This was what passed for the local record store, tucked inside the Pathmark Shopping Plaza. I rarely bought anything there, though, because Sam Goody was so much better (and cheaper). The time I did spend in Majors was mostly spent ogling the VHS videos they had. And I did this for many years before we even had a VCR.
Majors' place in my heart, though, was established on September 11, 2001. That morning, I had thought about going downtown to J&R Music World before work to pick up the new Bob Dylan CD, "Love and Theft." But I figured I could wait until after work. By the time I got to work in midtown a little after 9, the world had changed. So, later that afternoon, after walking through the shocked city on the way to the ferry and then taking a packed boat home to Staten Island, where that awful acrid smell from downtown Manhattan wasn't completely pummeling my nose and there was still some semblance of normalcy, my dad and I went to Pathmark. And, because I still wanted, maybe at that point needed, to hear the Dylan album, I walked into Majors and bought it.
One of many times a record store came to the rescue.
4. Sam Goody, Woodbridge Center Mall, Woodbridge, NJ (RIP)
Holidays in grammar school and high school meant there were department store sales. And sales in New Jersey were even better because there was less tax. And so my mom would head to the Woodbridge Center Mall to grab some bargains at Stern's while I roamed the mall in search of music, books, and wrestling magazines. The Sam Goody in the Woodbridge mall was way bigger than the one in Staten Island, and I probably bought a few 45s there, too (pretty sure it's also where I bought Paul Simon's "Graceland"). But my favorite purchase there was the Dragnet/Thank God It's Friday t-shirt I bought when the movie come out. I wish I still had that shirt.
5. J&R Music World, Manhattan, NY
The first record store I truly loved in Manhattan, and maybe where I've spent the most money over the years. It's a shell of what it used to be, but back in the day, it was the place to go to when new stuff came out, or when I needed to buy a cassette quick so I could run over to the concerts in the World Trade Center plaza and get it signed after the show. I also have seen a bunch of cool in-stores there, too, including Joe Ely, which may have actually been the first in-store I went to.
6. Sam Goody (W. 8th St. and 6th Ave.), Manhattan, NY (RIP)
The third in the trinity of Sam Goodys I Have Loved. They also had cool in-stores here, in a large space on the second floor. I saw Jill Sobule there for the first time and remember being absolutely floored by her song "Mexican Wrestler," which I still love.
I also cleaned up here when they went out of business. There were multiple trips involved.
7. Tower Records (W. 4th and Broadway), Manhattan, NY (RIP)
Another great chain store, back in the days when chain stores each had their own unique vibe to them. Just browsing through their country section on the top floor led me to a lot of great stuff. Another place with great in-stores. Two of the best were Dick Dale and Elvis Costello. Also got Lucinda Williams's autograph here, at the end of a very long line. She seemed completely exhausted when I got to the table, so I only had her sign five things.
8. Tower Records (W. 66th and Broadway), Manhattan, NY (RIP)
Forever in my heart, because it was here that I got the Avett Brothers for the first time. I'd seen them before, but they weren't as on fire as they were at Tower. I remember watching them tear into their songs (I remember either Scott or Seth cutting his finger) and thinking that I wanted to see them again immediately. Luckily, they were playing in Brooklyn that night, so that was easily taken care of. The in-store and show came at a time when I needed music really bad, and I will forever be grateful that I was on the second floor of Tower that Saturday.
Aside from that, it was another Tower with a great selection of stuff. I think their country section was even better than the downtown one.
Other in-stores attended there: Emmylou Harris, Brian Wilson, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Marah, and Les Paul.
9. Bleecker Street Records, Manhattan, NY
Still kicking ass. Their CDs are still a tad on the high side, but the real treasures are down in the basement. I've found lots of great records there over the years, and it's generally the first place I go to when I'm looking for a specific album or 45.
10. Generation Records, Manhattan, NY
I have bought a few, ahem, unofficial CD releases there, and a few records downstairs, too (where I also once snagged an advance copy of the Drive By Truckers' Brighter Than Creation's Dark months before it was released). It's odd to say, but I like the sound of the steel stairs as you head to the basement the best. You don't get that sound when browsing online.
11. Coconuts/FYE (51st St. and 6th Ave.), Manhattan, NY (RIP)
Not a very good store if you valued things like a wide selection, good prices, and a helpful staff. But check out the people I met there: Pete Townshend, Leslie Nielsen, "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Spinal Tap, and George Jones. So, yes, I miss this store.
The Townshend signing was, I think, the day after Thanksgiving (he was promoting the CD/DVD release of Psychoderelict). I expected a huge line, but when I got there, there were maybe 10 people there. And the signing was supposed to start in less than 30 minutes. All of us were stunned, but then we found out that people who called the store earlier in the day were told Townshend had to cancel because of a family emergency. Then, somehow he un-cancelled. But it wasn't clear if the un-cancellation was actually happening. Then, as we were pondering this (and watching Psychoderelict over and over again), in comes Pete. I think I went up to the table three times. He signed a card for me, a Who album for my sister, and a Psychoderelict promo flyer for my sister's boyfriend. So I got three Pete Townshend autographs and bought nothing. It was a good day. For me. Not so much for Coconuts or Pete Townshend.
12. Disc-o-Rama Clearance Outlet, Manhattan, NY (RIP)
Back in the days when I would think nothing of bending down, I used to spend hours going through the 49-cent and 99-cent crates here, buying anything that sounded even vaguely familiar. I can't recall everything I unearthed, but I definitely remember taking home a promo CD of Whiskeytown's Strangers Almanac because I'd read an article about the band and they sounded cool. After the CD spent years in the vehicles and apartments of retired journalist Bryan Chambala, it now rests in my collection.
13. Academy Records (W. 18th St.), Manhattan, NY
Maybe my favorite used CD store of all time. If I've spent the most money at J&R, I've definitely bought the most CDs at Academy, likely in the hundreds. I fondly look back on one day when they were boxing up all the 99-cent CDs and selling boxes for like $5 or something. I bought two, and the best of the yield was a Jimmy Sturr CD and Bobby Brown's Don't Be Cruel.
I don't go in as much as I used to, because it makes me a little sad. Their country/folk selection, which used to take up six big rows, is now down to a few dozen. But they do have a good vinyl selection these days, so all hope is not lost.
14. St. Marks Sounds, Manhattan, NY
I first discovered the used CD stores of Saint Marks Place before going to see Sponge at Coney Island High with my sister, her friend, and her friend's sister. My first go-to spot was the place right next to Coney Island High (which I am so bummed I can't remember the name of), but the two Sounds stores (now down to just one) quickly became my favorites. The smaller one (where you gave the sleeve with the liner notes to the cashier, who then went in the back to get you the actual CD) was actually my favorite of the two, though I learned to love the bigger place after awhile.
15. Pier Platters, Hoboken, NJ (RIP)
I was around for the last few years of Pier Platters (because my sister lived in Hoboken), and I'm still a little pissed I passed on the vinyl Last Waltz (with booklet), leaving it for the next time only to find it snatched up the next time. Lesson learned. Buy first, think later.
16. Tunes, Hoboken, NJ
Another of my current favorites, walkable from the office and still with a pretty good selection. If I want a CD the day it comes out, I go to Tunes. Their cheap used CD selection still occasionally turns up some gems, but, back in the day, it was phenomenal. I spent hours going through them, and I don't regret a single minute of it.
17. Curmudgeon Records, Somerville, NJ
Employers of Maybe Pete drummer extraordinaire (and frequent driver of me to cool places) Johnny Macko and the site of another of my favorite in-stores. I also snagged a bitchin' mummers LP and a treasure trove of polka records while I was there. And any place where I can leave with a bunch of polka LPs is cool with me.
18. Rhino Records, New Paltz, NY
Rhino was on the way home from upstate (if we took the scenic route), and its space in my heart was created when I bought my first copies of No Depression there. So, in that way, it's one of the more important record stores in my life. I'd noticed a long time ago that it was gone from the plaza where it once stood, so I was happy to discover last month that it reopened in a different space in downtown New Paltz. And I was happy to spend some money there when I visited.
19. Strawberries, Hudson, NY (RIP)
Conveniently located two doors down from the Fairview Cinema, so after I saw a movie, I would immediately go look for the soundtrack there. Definitely bought the Dragnet soundtrack there. Also bought Comic Relief cassettes there. And, because I feel close to you, I will also let you know that this is the only record store where I purchased a Grateful Dead product, the grey vinyl 45 of "Touch of Grey." We all have our youthful indiscretions.
20. Rebop Records, Ithaca, NY (RIP)
For a reasonably hip college town, Ithaca was not a hotbed of good record stores in the mid to late 1990s. Of the crop, Rebop in Collegetown was the best. They had a good selection of stuff outside the mainstream, decent prices, cool posters you could buy for your wall (I picked up a Bottle Rockets poster, a Whiskeytown poster, and, my favorite, a poster of the cover of The Band's Jericho, with a Peter Max painting of Big Pink). They also came up to campus to sell CDs once a week, and I remember asking them if they had a copy of The Band's High on the Hog when it came out. They said they doubted it (I'm not sure they even knew The Band had a new CD out) but took my number anyway and promised to give me a call. The call came quickly, and they apologized for leading me astray, because they definitely did have a copy. And after a short bus ride, that copy was mine.
21. Sounds Fine, Ithaca, NY (RIP)
The worst of the Ithaca record stores, but the place where I found the first few NRBQ tapes I love, so they get a tip of the hat from me. And my copy of Mojo Nixon's Whereabouts Unknown was bought here. Several years later, after many group listenings/singalongs to "Tie My Pecker To My Leg" and further adventure in Mojo World, a few of my friends and I (mostly my friends; I was the money) started a magazine named after a line in a Mojo Nixon/Jello Biafra song. And 12 years later, that magazine (sadly, minus its "Haircut") still exists. Let's hear it for us!
22. Discount Records, Ithaca, NY (RIP)
Also not a great store, but it was better than Sounds Fine (and right next to Rebop, so it wasn't like you had to make an extra trip). They were good about getting new releases, too, so I would often peruse the racks and try to find something to review for the newspaper (we were on an integrity kick and didn't accept free CDs). I didn't review it (or I don't think I did), but I bought the Bottle Rockets' 24 Hours a Day here.
23. Academy Records, Brooklyn, NY
When I get off the L train, I put my head down so I don't get angered by the hipsters and lift my head up only when I get to Academy Records on North 6th. I rarely leave without something good (last trip: a Shel Silverstein record and a Peggy Seeger/Ewan MacColl record that was signed the next night by Ms. Seeger in Woodstock). I'm still not entirely sure how a record store in Williamsburg has such a consistently good selection of country LPs, but I'm not complaining.
24. AKA Music, Philadelphia, PA
The Reading Terminal Market is the first stop when I arrive in Philly, but if I've got some extra time and I haven't completely stuffed myself, I'll walk off some of the calories on the way to AKA. I've left there empty-handed a few times in the recent past, but I'm hoping that's just because I'm being more selective in my old age.
25. Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Nashville, TN
I have the downtown location (the one by the Opry's cool, too, and they have the Green Hornet) to thank for my Porter Wagoner figurine (and Bocephus and George Jones magnets). And it's also where I picked up my first Elizabeth Cook CD after I saw her on the Opry. Now she's the host of my second favorite show on Sirius, which, sadly, I don't get to hear anymore because my work computer is too old to handle the SiriusXM Internet player. Damn you, once again, Technology.
26. Grimey's, Nashville, TN
I made a point of taking the bus out to the old location on my first trip to Nashville and walked way too long (out of my own stubbornness) to check out their new (well, new to me) digs on my trip last year. Grabbed a bunch of cool stuff (Wanda Jackson 45, Government Cheese and Jason D. Williams CDs) and would've likely done more damage if they weren't setting up for a Ra Ra Riot in-store at the time. Fear not. I'll be back.
27. Vintage Vinyl, St. Louis, MO
Another record store where I saw an Avett Brothers in-store performance. This one was less intense, because they'd had some van troubles on the way to Twangfest and were both quite late and noticeably fatigued. But their van troubles gave me more time to browse through the many, many records, and I found a good copy of Shel Silverstein's Freakin' at the Freakers Ball LP. And, of course, on my last trip, I found Gaye Cox. I'm not sure I want to go back to St. Louis again, but if I do, I'll definitely be back at Vintage Vinyl.
28. Amoeba Records, San Francisco, CA
My favorite of the three, I think. I've certainly spent the most time there. And though there is no more harrowing bus ride I've ever taken than the bus that takes you to and from the Haight, I will gladly brave that journey again the next time I'm in San Francisco (I'm aiming for the fall; please send your donations directly to me).
29. Amoeba Records, Hollywood, CA
Number two on the list. I had a slight panic attack when I was in there and realized that the brick of Griddle Cafe pancakes sitting in my stomach was itching to get out immediately, thus potentially putting a damper on my first Amoeba Hollywood experience. After trying to will the feeling away, I decided the time was now. But I wasn't done browsing. So I stashed my records away, bolted across Sunset to use the bathroom at the coffee place, and soon all was once again right with the world. And my bowels. I've said too much. Let's move on.
30. Amoeba Records, Berkeley, CA
Just because it's third doesn't mean it's bad. I should also note that it is one of only two record stores where I have shopped after a shard of glass nearly took off part of my finger roughly two hours prior.
31. Rasputin's, Berkeley, CA
And this would be the other place. Not only is it the better of the Bay Area Rasputin's, but I also like it better than the Berkeley Amoeba. They've got a great selection of vinyl downstairs, and I bought a bad-ass Steve Earle poster there, too.
32. Rasputin's, San Francisco, CA
My Record Store Day selection for 2010. Their elevator's a little scary, but if a scary elevator ride is all I need to get through to find a copy of Pete Seeger's Goofing-Off Suite 10-inch LP in good shape, then bring on the rickety elevator. And that album's all nice and signed now, so thanks for making that happen, Rasputin's.
33. Angry Mom Records, Ithaca, NY
After a quick visit there last Friday, I am ready to declare it my Current Favorite Record Store (I got two--yes, two--Freddie Blassie records!). It's in the basement of the excellent Autumn Leaves (I bought many cool books from them when they were in the tinier space across the Commons), and it is a testament to how much I love Angry Mom that I now barely even pause to look at the books upstairs anymore. If this store existed while I was in college (there was a pseudo-Christian bookstore--Logos--there at the time; I don't think they even used the basement), I would have developed my vinyl obsession much earlier and thus appeared even less attractive to the young women of Ithaca College. Hard to believe, but true.
33 1/3. Nobody Beats the Wiz, Staten Island, NY (RIP)
Not really a record store at all, but that didn't stop me from spending endless hours staring at their wall of cassettes and racks of CDs while my mom and/or dad waited for me to make up my mind. I am still not a very decisive shopper, but I was worse in my younger days (and I was particularly terrible in video stores; it would take me just short of forever to pick something at Palmer or Blockbuster Video). Still, my diligence paid off at the Wiz, where I distinctly recall buying two of my favorite double-cassette sets, The Last Waltz and The Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration. I also met Tommy John and Harry Carson there when the store opened, but then some creep stole my Giants yearbook and baseball card in the parking lot as my friend and I were playing.
There are other record stores I could tell you about, but that'll do for now. And, remember, Saturday's the day. But you don't need a special day to shop at your local record store. They'll gladly take your money--and give you good music in return--any day of the year,