I spent all my money at the record store

Less than two miles from where I live is a great little store on Santa Monica Boulevard IMG_2704called Record Surplus that bills itself as “the last record store.”

While this is clearly not technically true, it sure seems like it sometimes.  Ever since the iTunes Store debuted online in 2003, record stores began closing their doors all over the country, and retailers who once had sizable music departments have repurposed that space for other product categories.

I find it profoundly sad that the majority of music purchases made today are downloads.  Quick and convenient, to be sure, but without any of the fun, the wonder, the sense of discovery and community that made a trip to the local record store in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s such a warm and enriching experience.

I grew up in Cleveland, one of the nation’s hotbeds of rock record purchasing.  As in ba92f54e4bb9aa93b811d39f2a634dba--tobacco-shop-schools-inmany major American cities, we could buy albums from many kinds of retailers.  They were available at Woolworth’s, appliance stores, department stores, traditional music shops like John Wade Records (where I bought my first few albums), and even trendy clothing stores like J.P. Snodgrass.

Then there were the major chains like Peaches, Record peachesTheatre, Coconuts, Record Rendezvous, Camelot Music, and Disc Records, each with multiple locations across the region.

But the best record-buying experience was at the independent record store, and in Cleveland, the #1 place was Record Revolution, a very hip shop in the Coventry Village neighborhood of Cleveland Heights.  You could find all the new releases, comprehensive back catalogs, an enormous amount of imports unavailable elsewhere, and eventually, used albums.  The guys behind the counter were walking encyclopedias of knowledge and opinions, and they played the best stuff on the store sound system, which featured massive “Voice of the Theatre” speakers.

For music-loving record collectors like me, it was a slice of heaven.  I recall visiting Record Revolution at least once a week throughout my high school years, and for many years afterwards.  I could spend hours there, scouring the bins for rare releases, and 0071e8a4785a344ffa6403279c0efaf0--vinyl-records-old-schoolfinding albums by unfamiliar artists with cover art that mesmerized me.  I don’t think I ever left without at least one new album under my arm, often one that was recommended by an employee there.

“Record Revolution gave me a sense that I was entering a new world,” recalled Chris Abood, a longtime Cleveland friend and sometime disc jockey whose voluminous record collection rivaled mine.  “I wasn’t just buying records, I was having an experience there.  The records I bought there seemed more valuable because it was the coolest record store in Northeast Ohio.”

There were plenty of other independent record stores around Cleveland — The Shoppe, Melody Lane, Wax Stacks, Budget Records, and shops specializing in used records like The Record Exchange — and they all had people working there who had a passion for music.  They were helpful and genuinely interested in talking about, and recommending, bands and albums, both past and current.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all this because I’ve been reading a book called “Record Store Days” by Gary Calamar and Phil Gallo, first published in 2010.  Both authors have Record-Store-Days-hi-res-coverbeen heavily involved in the music industry, starting as record store customers, then employees, eventually major music writers and TV/film music supervisors.  Their book, subtitled “From Vinyl to Digital and Back Again,” goes into great detail about the history, culture, evolution and resurgence of record stores, with numerous photos and stories from the retail segment’s heyday.

With the birth of rock and roll in the mid-’50s came the phenomenon of the record store as community center, a place where teens would congregate to pore over, listen to and purchase the latest hits as 45-rpm singles.  Those of you who came of age in the ’50s and ’60s may remember that some records stores offered “listening rooms,” where buyers could take a MattatuckMusichandful of singles from the store’s racks and give them a spin on the turntables before deciding if they wanted to buy them.  (Some small shops like the aforementioned Record Surplus offer this convenience today.)

As the record-buying audience increased, and the favored format evolved from singles to albums in the late ’60s, many independent stores opened in cities large and small across the country.  Some specialized in blues records, or jazz, or country, depending on the preferences of the local market.  At the same time, general interest record stores born from humble beginnings grew to become national, even international success stories, such as Tower Records in California and Sam Goody in New York.  In Los Angeles, Wallichs Music City was the leading music retailer.  In Toronto, Sam The Record Man was considered THE place to go for any avid collector.

The mainstream outlets offered the more conventional records (Sinatra, movie soundtracks, classical recordings) and some of the most popular pop/rock releases (The Beatles, The Stones, Simon and Garfunkel), but they had to be persuaded by popular demand to stock the so-called “rock underground” music being played on the burgeoning FM rock radio stations (Frank Zappa, Canned Heat, Lou Reed).

Their reluctance to do so brought about the many hundreds, even thousands, of eclectic hole-in-the-wall stores with names like School Kids, Orpheus, Criminal Records, Mars images-22Music, Zodiac, Streetside Records and Mojo Music.  These shops, with a savvy eye on their clientele, typically created unique environments, often covering every inch of wall space with album covers and psychedelic posters, and they would add headshop-type paraphernalia and alternative magazines to their mix of products for sale.

Lenny Kaye, responsible for the groundbreaking “Nuggets” garage-rock compilation, worked at Village Oldies in New York in 1970.  “There’s a vast fraternity of record collectors, and the record store was their hub,” he said, “There was not a lot of information on these groups or the labels, so you’d gather at the record store, and it would be like a library.  You could browse at will for hours and hours, and share stories and trivia about the songs and the bands.”

These kinds of stores thrived throughout the 1970s, and even endured the introduction and eventual dominance of CDs over vinyl that took place during the 1980s.  By the 1990s, record store chains consolidated, and their retail spaces all started to look homogenized.  The employees working the counter at these stores were no longer passionate music people who knew about obscure albums by little-known British bands.  The big box stores — Circuit City, Best Buy, Borders, Wal-Mart, Target, Barnes & Noble — became the retail leaders, even though they made most of their money on appliances electronics and household goods.  They became bigger and stronger, hoping to eliminate the competition.

images-23The independent stores remained the industry’s neglected heroes, carrying, for example, grunge records before the genre became widely popular.  Many of these stores, or their generational successors, today remain popular niche outlets for the serious music lover looking to buy something beyond the “American Idol” artists and boy bands.

“Record Store Days” points out that the owners of smaller niche stores were, in effect, curators, carefully selecting their stock based on their location and clientele — beach towns, college towns, funky urban neighborhoods.  Kimber Lanning, owner of Stinkweeds in Phoenix, explained her strategy:  “I’ve made a career of being one lap ahead of the competition.  I have always sold things that will be popular a year later.  The more popular something became, the fewer copies we sold.”  Rand Foster of Fingerprints in Long Beach agreed.  1414304-360x240“The important part of retail music is the culture you’re selling.  It’s the museum element that stimulates people.”

In their book, Calamar and Gallo offer many sidebar stories about specific contributors’ remembrances of first visits to record stores.  Here’s one from early 1969:  “I found myself in another world — rows and rows of records, the smell of incense, and T-shirt iron-ons in the air.  The store was mystery upon mystery.   The Who had so many albums!  Who are Led Zeppelin?  Is that a pipe?  I brought the first Who record home and lost my mind…  I soon became incapable of displaying any fiscal responsibility in the face of a record I was curious about.”

The book quotes famed screenwriter/director Cameron Crowe, who wrote and directed the coming-of-age rock movie “Almost Famous” (2000).  “Record stores are a community of shared passion.  You see the look in people’s eyes and know that everyone is there for maxresdefault-21the same reason.  Record stores were way more personal than radio.  The music just sounds better.  And you feel like you’re in the beating heart of the thing that you love.”

In “Almost Famous,” Crowe wrote this line for the character Penny Lane to deliver:  “If you ever get lonely, go to the record store and visit your friends.”  Says Crowe,  “I did feel that those records in that store were my friends, and I really miss that.”

With the return of vinyl, record stores are starting to sprout in cities everywhere these days.  If you do a Google search of “record shops” in your area, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised to see how many options you have.  Here in Los Angeles, the supersized amoeba-musicAmoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood is in the process of relocating and downsizing, but they intend to remain a dominant force in record retailing (vinyl and CD), including continuing their tradition of sponsoring release-day appearances and signings and even concerts by the artists.

As “Record Store Days” notes, “In chronicling the evolution of record stores, it’s a bit astonishing how often history repeats itself.  The creation of vinyl-only stores in the 21st Century neatly parallels the creation of LP-only stores 60 years earlier.  The number of owners who were employees and then bought the store they worked in continues to this day.”

So, although well over 75% of all music today is acquired through online sources, there are still stores you can frequent — to hang out, chat about music with like-minded souls, and purchase an actual record album that you can hold in your hands and cherish forever.

Meet me at the record store, even though it ain’t there anymore, you can sing to me that song about time moving on…”  — “Record Store,” Butch Walker, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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When I was 17, it was a very good year

Last weekend, I returned to my home town of Cleveland and participated in my 45th high school reunion.  It was so great to see old (in both senses of the word!) classmates and wander the grounds and the halls of my alma mater, which brought back fond memories of my formative years.

I was particularly pleased to hear a lot of great music playing in the background — songs from 1972 and 1973, when we were in our senior year.  My friend Chris, a former DJ and music lover like me, played a pivotal role in compiling the tunes we would be hearing, then activating the “shuffle” mode and letting the music wash over us.

It was an incredibly fertile year.  At that time, the 45-rpm single was no longer the 1973-featureddominant form of recorded music, although there was still a vibrant Top 40 Billboard chart that offered everything from romantic soul and glam rock to straight pop and syrupy ballads.  More people were buying albums by then instead, and the list of albums released that year is truly mind-boggling.

Let’s look at the hit singles first.

As the 1972-1973 school year started in September 1972, the singles charts were still dominated by some of the songs from the summer months:  “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass; “Long Cool Woman (in a Black Dress)” by The Hollies; “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers; “Alone Again (Naturally)” by maxresdefault-16Gilbert O’Sullivan; “Hold Your Head Up” by Argent; “Where Is The Love” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway; “Goodbye to Love” by The Carpenters; “I’m Still in Love With You” by Al Green; “The Guitar Man” by Bread; “Saturday in the Park,” Chicago;  “Black and White” by Thee Dog Night.

A new batch of singles began their rise in October and November:  “Backstabbers” by The O’Jays; “Go All the Way” by The Raspberries; “Everybody Plays the Fool” by The 117397274Main Ingredient; “Garden Party” by Rick Nelson; “Listen to the Music” by The Doobie Brothers; “Tight Rope” by Leon Russell; “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Crofts; “Burning Love” by Elvis Presley; “Living in the Past” by Jethro Tull; “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues; “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash; “Elected” by Alice Cooper; “Ventura Highway” by America; “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” by The Temptations; “Operator” by Jim Croce; “My Ding-a-Ling” by Chuck Berry.

As the holidays rolled in, these were the songs Top 40 radio was playing:  “Me and Mrs. Jcover-large_file-1ones” by Billy Paul; “You’re So Vain” by Carly Simon; “It Never Rains in Southern California” by Albert Hammond; “Your Mama Don’t Dance” by Loggins and Messina; “Do It Again” by Steely Dan; “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy; “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest; “Crocodile Rock” by Elton John; “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder; “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” by James Taylor; “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” by Johnny Rivers.

During the first three months of 1973, the airwaves were filled with tunes like:  “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver; “Oh Babe What Would You Say” by Hurricane Smith; “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” by Dr. Hook; “Don’t Expect Me to Be Your Friend” by Lobo; “Killing Me Softly With His Song” by Roberta Flack; “Could It Be 131hook32973I’m Falling in Love” by The Spinners; “Danny’s Song” by Anne Murray; “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” by Tony Orlando and Dawn; “Right Place Wrong Time” by Dr. John; “Sing” by The Carpenters; “Witchy Woman” by The Eagles; “Duelin’ Banjos” by Eric Weisberg; “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got)” by The Four Tops.

My senior year concluded with the radio playing hits like these in April, May and June:  “Cisco Kid” by War; “Space Oddity” by David Bowie; “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray; “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter Group; “Peaceful” by Helen Reddy; “Hocus Pocus” by Focus; “Will It Go Round in Circles” by Billy Preston; “My Love” by Paul McCartney lou-reed-walk-on-the-wild-side-rca-5and Wings; “Kodachrome” by Paul Simon; “Love Train” by The O’Jays; “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple; “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealer’s Wheel; “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed; “Give Me Love” by George Harrison; “Long Train Runnin’” by The Doobie Brothers; “Reelin’ in the Years” by Steely Dan.

Talk about a mixed bag!  Like every year, there was garbage in there (I think my readers can identify which tunes I’m talking about) along with the stellar tracks that still hold up very well many decades later.

Meanwhile, over on the album charts, my senior year offered an almost unbelievable cornucopia of excellent stuff.  Some artists even found a way to release two solid LPs in one calendar year.  You never see THAT happen anymore…

Typically, albums do better on the charts when they include a hit single or two carney-frontsimultaneously climbing the Top 40 listings, and there were many examples of that:  Leon Russell’s “Carney,” Paul Simon’s “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon,” Rod Stewart’s “Never a Dull Moment,” Steely Dan’s “Can’t Buy a Thrill,” Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man,” Cat Stevens’ “Catch Bull at Four,” War’s “The World is a Ghetto,” Bill Withers’ “Still Bill,” The Doobie Brothers’ “Toulouse Street” AND “The Captain and Me,” Lou Reed’s “Transformer,” Carly Simon’s “No Secrets,” Jethro Tull’s “Living in the Past,” The Temptations’ “All Directions,” Elton John’s “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player” AND “Goodbye 16b47c4f5272ccc3becd0087f8f95961Yellow Brick Road,”  Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly,” Jim Croce’s “Life and Times,” The Allman Brothers’ “Brothers and Sisters,” Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Red Rose Speedway,” Alice Cooper’s “Billion Dollar Babies,” America’s “Homecoming,” Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” AND “Innervisions,” Neil Diamond’s “Moods,” Chicago’s “Chicago V,” Joe Walsh’s “The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get,” The Moody Blues’ “Seventh Sojourn,” Dr. John’s “In the Right Place,” Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” Edgar Winter Group’s “They Only Come Out at Night,” Grand Funk Railroad’s “Phoenix,” Pure Prairie League’s “Bustin’ Out.”

220px-DavisBowieAladdinSaneAnd yet, some of the classic LPs of the year sold well without benefit of a hit single:  David Bowie’s “Aladdin Sane,” Yes’s “Close to the Edge,” Todd Rundgren’s “A Wizard/A True Star,” J Geils Band’s “Bloodshot,” Emerson Lake & Palmer’s “Trilogy,” Humble Pie’s “Eat It,” Van Morrison’s “St. Dominic’s Preview,” Joe Walsh’s “Barnstorm,” Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken,” Jethro Tull’s “A Passion Play,” Diana Ross’s “Lady Sings the Blues,”  Led Zeppelin’s Yes-closeHouses of the Holy,” Johnny Winter’s “Still Alive and Well,” The Who’s “Quadrophenia,” The Small Faces’ “Ooh La La,” Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Birds of Fire,” Traffic’s “Shoot Out at the Fantasy Factory,” Joni Mitchell’s “For the Roses,” Santana’s “Caravanserai,” Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” The Grateful Dead’s “Europe ’72,” The Eagles’ “Desperado.”

Also, in the same year came debut albums by artists who would soon be major stars:  Aerosmith, The Marshall Tucker Band, Bette Midler, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Peter Frampton, Bob Marley, Lynyrd Skynyrd, KISS, Jackson Browne, 10cc.

And then there were the albums that flew under the radar that I was lucky enough to stumble upon at the right time.  Technically released in 1971 but discovered by me in the fall of ’72, Batdorf and Rodney’s “Off the Shelf” was on my turntable for untold hours in the winter and spring of 1973.  It’s interesting, almost creepy, to note that the lyrics to the leadoff song, “Oh My Surprise,” addresses the issue of reminiscing about the good old days:  “I thought I could never go back to those years I loved so well, oh my surprise, oh my surprise…”

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517EgECnPrLThe year 1973 was a significant year for another big reason, according to Michael Walker, author of the revealing 2013 book, “What You Want is in the Limo.”  In his introduction, he maintains that 1973 was the year that the Sixties finally died and modern rock stardom was born, when bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who and Alice Cooper put together monumental, physically punishing concert tours that set new standards — for attendance, for the quality and quantity of recreational drugs, for the amount of equipment and lighting on stage, for backstage and hotel hijinx, for the sheer volume of sound coming from the speakers.

“The bands and music of the ’60s created an outsized hunger for rock culture but lacked the infrastructure to deliver it,” Walker writes.  “In 1973, supply finally catches up with demand.  As the ’60s bled into the ’70s, the naive counterculturalism that bound rock bands in generational solidarity to their audience began to fray.  A new generation of AliceCooperfans too young for Woodstock inherited the tropes of the ’60s, minus the boring poli-sci socio-overlay.  Thus do peace, love, and understanding devolve into sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  The sex was younger, the drugs harder, and the rock and roll louder, longer and infinitely more belligerent.”

Walker makes a valid case that, post-1973, the rock music got bigger but more indulgent, more of a business and less of a pleasure, more destructive and less creative.  “The template created in 1973 will, three years later, metastasize into mega-albums by Peter Frampton and Fleetwood Mac and, in the ’80s and ’90s, tours upsized from civic arenas to Jumbotronned stadia and records shipped in R-52_LedZeppelin1973_Gruenthe tens of millions, though by then the rituals, commodified by corporate patronage, will seem increasingly scripted.”

Of course, there were many exceptions to these statements, but there’s no question that rock stars became more distant from their fans by the mid-Seventies.  In 1970-1972, you could still go see a show by a big name group and not have to take out a loan to buy a ticket.  Walker sums it up this way:  “1973 distills a decade’s worth of decadence into twelve awesome months and resets the clock for the rest of the Seventies and all that they imply.  It’s a year that, by any measure, ought to be its own decade.”

For a guy who graduated from high school that year, I must say I wholeheartedly agree.  The singles and albums outlined above demonstrate that fact.

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I’ve compiled two playlists on Spotify for this post.  The first includes some of the more commercial hit singles from ’72-’73, and the second offers a sampling of some of my favorite deeper tracks from the albums of that period.