Friday, April 15, 2011

An Ode to the Record Store

My first favorite record store was Record World in the South Hills Mall in Poughkeepsie, New York. As a young teenager, I also sometimes purchased records at department stores such as Caldor, but Record World definitely had the best combination of price and selection around.

It was at Record World that I'd flip through the discographies of bands like Blue Öyster Cult, Rainbow and Judas Priest, trying to determine which of their older albums were worth taking a chance on.

It was at Record World that I would purchase a mediocre EP by a band called Cintron, after seeing them as an opening act at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center. But, of course, purchasing records that didn't live up to your expectations was all part of the process back in the pre-internet days.

It was also at Record World that I hemmed and hawed over paying $8 for a full-length LP, rather than a more reasonable price of $5 to $7.

Record World is now a pet store, or something like that. It hasn't been in the South Hills Mall for years...actually, decades. In fact, the South Hills Mall has basically been rendered obsolete by the nearby mega-mall, the Poughkeepsie Galleria.

I've moved around a lot since those days, and I've had plenty of new favorite record stores, and eventually those record stores became CD stores, but I've continued to call them record stores.

Even long after I stopped buying new records—I'm not one of those music collectors who's remained a vinyl junkie, although I admire those folks—I still maintained a relationship with old-fashioned record stores.

First, I went through a phase where I scoured countless used record stores—fairly successfully, I might add—in search of every record that Neil Young never released on CD. Then, these stores became my destination for the purchase of albums so that I could frame and hang the covers on my wall. I suspect I own at least a dozen records that have, in fact, never been listened to by my ears.

But, over the years, there's only one record store that I've held in as high esteem as Record World. That destination would be a place called Rock Bottom Records in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. I lived in New Hampshire for only one year—from spring of 1996 to spring of 1997—but after moving to Boston, it still remained a frequented destination when I was in the area or just passing through.

Long before music stores came up with the idea of in-store listening stations, Rock Bottom had an area with racks of hundreds of used CDs and a few portable CD players with headphones that patrons could use to preview albums.

I remember vividly in April of 1997 when both Son Volt's Straightaways—their eagerly anticipated followup to Trace—and The Jayhawks' Sound of Lies—their first album of the post-Mark Olson era—came out on the same day. I previewed and purchased both of them at Rock Bottom, and, for some reason, hearing them in the record store for the first time was a goose-bump-inducing moment.

On another occasion, I was going about my business, listening to various used CDs there, when the album playing on the in-house stereo system caught my ear and really grabbed my attention. I asked the store clerk what it was, and he responded with such enthusiasm that it was the solo record by Smashing Pumpkins' guitarist James Iha. Let it Come Down may never have become my favorite guilty pleasure album if not for Rock Bottom Records.

Another night, as I was leaving the store, I was overhearing a discussion between the store clerk and another customer, as he tried to explain who England, Dan & John Ford Coley were. He was trying to identify their most recognizable song, showing a little frustration as he admitted he was drawing a blank. As I opened the door to the street, I turned in his direction and said, "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight." After a several second double-take, he realized I was identifying the song rather than asking him out.

Unfortunately, Rock Bottom Records has been out of business for quite some time. Other than Newbury Comics, a regional chain of stores that remains a model of success in a fading industry, I haven't had a favorite record store since.

And, as that previous sentence reminds me, I really hope this post is more than just an ode to a dying breed.

Tomorrow is the fourth annual Record Store Day, an idea conceived by a few like-minded folks "as a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally."

If you're out and about tomorrow, make a little side trip to one of the many participating stores. If you're anywhere close to my age, in the very least it will be a chance to flip through a few stacks of albums and reminisce about the days when those wonderful vinyl discs measuring 12 inches in diameter were your musical medium of choice.


  1. I just might do that tomorrow, Charles Simone! I just might!

    Maybe I'm nuts, but I think I bought The Mollusk at that store (with the headphones!) around that same time. I always liked playing in Portsmouth, even if I drunkenly called it Burlington a few times after a show.

    word verification: seput

  2. Two quick record store stories:

    - When I was 18 or thereabouts, I took guitar lessons on Monday evenings and made a point to stop at a small record shop in South Euclid, Ohio, on my way home. A good-looking girl was the sole employee on duty each of those evenings, and I was a bit smitten. I never had the courage to say more than "hello" and "I'm buying these." That lasted several weeks until one night her biker boyfriend showed up, and I wistfully lost interest.

    - For years, hippie and counter-culture central in Cleveland has been the Coventry area along the road of that name in suburban Cleveland Heights. I grew up close by. Record Revolution - a shop that had everything - was in the heart of the commercial strip. A few years ago, we were back visiting our older son, then studying at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He was looking through the used CDs at Record Revolution and got all excited. He found for sale a copy of the CD recorded by the band he was in during high school in New Jersey.

    Those experiences don't come as easily at the megastores, and they don't happen at all with online purchases.


  3. Great stories, Dan. Thanks for sharing. I'm pretty sure the first one sounds like something that, just as easily, could have happened to me.

    Lee, pretty cool that we (may) have that store in common. I do remember going to one of your shows at the Elvis Room. I believe that was the tour when you made the dubious decision of taking Skip along as your "tour manager."

  4. Wow, Dan, how did we NOT know each other? Bizarre. I'm writing this from my parent's house in Wappingers. The South Hills Mall is visible from the back yard. I spent many hours lost in those Record World bins in the exact same sections. My old bedroom still houses the Triumph, BOC, Rush, and Rainbow records acquired with precious allowance and lawn-mowing dollars. There are some Kiss and Billy Joel 7"s there I'm sure!

    Got my hair cut right across from Record World (parted in the middle, feather back, of course). I see concrete, orange carpet, fake plants, Spencer Gifts!. Got tickets at the Ticketmaster in the Sears right there. Would hustle back to the Kmart end for a few games of Missle Command at the Dream Machine.

    Yesterday my sons looked through my coin collection, much of it purchased at Kay-Bee Toy and Hobby when it really was as much a hobby store as it was toy.

    Later in life I discovered the records stores in San Francisco and made several trips just to look for vinyl gems. Ameoba records and several other small specialty stores became temples for me to practice my devotion to the analog groove.

    I still buy and listen to records though the pace has slowed dramatically. Three kids and a dog will do that. But it's all there in my listening room, waiting patiently. I look forward to getting back to it.

    Thanks for this post, Dan. I hadn't considered just how formative those experiences really were.

  5. Awesome comment Joe, thanks.

    You do a much better job than I could of capturing the magic of the South Hills Mall as a kid.

    Flipping through the racks of posters in the back of Spencer Gifts. My buddy and I purchased Strat-O-Matic Baseball and Football at Kay Bee Toy and Hobby. There was always one game on the shelf with the box open, so we were able to look at the cards before we decided to buy. Thanks for reminding me of that.

    I waited on many a line in the back of that Sears store, waiting to purchase tickets for a Mid-Hudson Civic Center concert at Ticketmaster.

    Oh, and Dream Machine! My older cousin worked there, so we usually got hooked up with a few free tokens.

    Thanks for adding to the memories, Joe.