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Posted by gustav at 07:01PM, Wednesday, December 01st, 2004

The c75 Record Store Guide

Our guide to the best vinyl record shopping we've found. Why vinyl, you ask? I respond, why CD? Why make the record company execs rich for their luddite practices and their abuse of the artists they claim to be "protecting," for their myopic views and least-common-denominator marketing? Why pay $18 and up for a music format that will never sound as nice as good old vinyl, particularly for reissues that are remastered differently than the artists intended, if the record companies ever bothered to issue them on CD in the first place? I'd rather pay $3 or $5 for the original obscure, rootsy, personal music, pre-DRM, pre-jewel-box, with 12x12" album art and legible liner notes.

Amoeba Music -- 6400 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA
(There's also one of these in SF)
Rocky is in love with the electronica selection here: early Orbital on vinyl ranks among other hard-to-find pleasures. Gustav found some good funk, too. The folk selection is extensive, with rare issues we've never seen elsewhere (a sealed reissue of an Incredible String Band album which, sadly, was pressed grungy and tracks like shit.) Rock is mammoth; classical is disappointing, small, and conservative. Gustav takes issue with the difficult-to-navigate genres, where, for instance, funk will leap across three aisles for no evident reason, and also with the tendency to over-sub-categorize. Shop at peculiar times of day to avoid the adoring hipster throngs. Rocky thinks this is the Best Place Ever. Bonus points for stocking laserdiscs.

Looney Tunes Records -- 1001 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA
Gustav's favorite for classical. This place isn't big, but the selection is astonishing. It's tough to do better for classical shopping, whether you're searching for historic recordings of Wagner, 20th Century chamber music, Oistrakh that was never released on CD, Martinu concertos, or totally obscure 80s American avant-garde released on label samplers or academic pressings. There's a good selection of the standard 50s fare, and an okay, but not outstanding, rock section. Good selection of soundtracks, and solid R&B, too, but not much in electronica. Condition ratings tend to be reliably conservative, for classical anyway: Gustav bought a disc that was marked "$1, no returns, big scratch on one side" that tracked just fine.

Mojo Music -- 904 Mass Ave, Cambridge, MA
Mojo has a great selection of rock, and good folk. Solid 50s pop/ballads, too. Gustav found some folk and overseas bootleg rock rarities, and Rocky picked up one or two LPs, last time we were here. Condition is fine -- although you might be sketched out by the wobbly direct-drive listening stations -- and prices are quite good. Quite a big selection of rap singles (with which we're not that familiar), as well as dance singles, which weren't particularly organized, but yielded some fun stuff.

Mystery Train Records -- 178 Main St, Gloucester, MA
This is where we picked up our first copy of "Jolene". Decent country, standard 50s and 60s fare, and a fun selection of moderately obscure rock. The classical selection tends to favor big names and historic recordings (everyone's favorite Nazi soprano, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, doing the Vier letzte Lieder, for example) -- but there's a place for those in our collection. Isn't there in yours? Prices are a little on the high side.

Newbury Comics -- 211 Alewife Brook Parkway, Cambridge, MA
There are a bunch of these springing up everywhere around Boston, but the Alewife branch is the only one with a vinyl selection worth seeking out (that we've found, anyway.) Quality and selection vary, but this tends to be the one local place for us to go to find new rock releases (Wilco, etc.). There's a smattering of jazz reissues, and a small and not particularly thrilling assortment of dance 10- and 12-inches. No classical. Aside from the dance section, the vinyl is generally 100% new. Of the other branches, only the Newbury Street one has any vinyl to speak of, and that's usually too crowded and cramped to be any fun.

PDQ Records -- 2342 N Dodge Blvd, Tucson, AZ
Gustav adores the vast selection and range of genres. This is a friggin' warehouse, with more vinyl than you could possibly keep track of. The range of stuff tends to vary: there's always an enormous (but sometimes ho-hum -- think, 15 copies of "Moondance") standard rock section, and good folk; the classical section can either overwhelm you with its avant-garde breadth (pick from 15 Terry Riley LPs), or disappoint ("Only one Cage LP? Argh!!!"). Electronica and the genres Rocky tends to favor can be a little weak -- but sometimes you'll find gems. PDQ tends to have a lot of special editions, half-speed mastered LPs, and rare items. Prices are okay, but not great. Condition ratings range from sketchy to conservative; overall, we expect that the vinyl may be a little more damaged than we might get elsewhere. The album covers thematically arrayed across all the walls are an unmatched display of the tactile/visual/sensory love you only get from vinyl, and worth the visit, for locals, while for serious record collectors, PDQ is worth a trip to the desert. Bonus points for stocking laserdiscs.

Round Again Records -- 278 Wickenden St, Providence, RI
We just found this, and we both love it. This is a tiny place, but very focused, and with a deceptively large selection. You'd be hard-pressed to find a bad record. The selection here seems to center around an axis of 50s and 60s recordings of ballads, pop, and jazz: think, Peggy Lee meets Elvis and Sinatra, with a smattering of beautiful Louis Armstrong albums in the background. The vinyl tends to be in great condition, and it's all been cleaned on the proprietor's Nitty Gritty vacuum cleaner. Prices range from ridiculously cheap to fair, for the collectibles. There's a neat collection of mid-range and high-end audio gear for sale, which is always pleasing.

Stereo Jack's -- 1686 Massachusetts Ave, Cambridge, MA
This Mass Ave stalwart has a robust selection of jazz, bluegrass, R&B, and the like. We're not real jazz people, so it's hard to figure out whether the stuff they stock is good or rare. The country/roots selection is nice, and prices are generally quite good: Gustav bought "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" for about $2.

Twisted Village -- 12 Eliot St (Harvard Sq), Cambridge, MA
They might as well call this "Esoterica." If you want weird-ass electronica, prog, and bang-on-a-can style "classical," this is the place. Sadly, we don't visit very often: the studied hipper-than-thou selection of recordings can make shopping here feel a little clinical and distancing.

Bull Moose -- 82-86 Congress St, Portsmouth, NH
There's a smattering of these around Maine, and now one in NH, too. The vinyl selection is great given its relatively small size: you'll find hot new releases (Goldfrapp EPs and any sort of electronica you'd like, along with new pop, and rock reissues) and a fine jazz and folk selection. I've been shopping at Bull Meese longer than anywhere else. Prices are just fine.

Joe's Record Paradise -- 1300 East Gude Drive, Rockville, MD
We were running late for the most expensive and foodgasmic meal we've ever eaten, so we didn't have time to dally; we still picked up about 20 pieces of wax, and they damn well rocked the house: Marvin Gaye, vintage Willie Nelson stuff I'd never seen before; Peggy Lee; a Bean Blossom bluegrass festival recording; anthologies... The selection runs towards country, vintage, and funk, but there's nothing wrong with that.

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