Holy shit! I just realized that I haven't been in a record store since the pandemic started. Over a year! That is the longest I've been out of record stores since I was twelve years old. I'd become so used to shopping for essentials only (grocery stores, hardware stores) that I forgot about the most essential thing I shop for!
If you're like me, nothing beats buying music in record stores. Downloads just don't cut it, nor does browsing online for physical product. You need to see a mass of records, you need to flip through bins, and if the store has used bins, start at the 99 cent bin. (I found The Fabulous Wailers in a 99 cent bin in a record store where the proprietor had his head too far up Bjork's ass to notice his mistake.) So, the tiny local shop is on my list for this weekend.
That brings me to tonight's double feature. A movie and a read. The first is a documentary about Tower Records. Tower Records was a global chain that started in the Bay Area (San Francisco). When they opened their first store in San Diego, the chain may have had a half dozen branches, but their buying power allowed them to price everything so low that the independents couldn't compete. That wasn't on my mind as a teenager. What was on my mind was the immense inventory. When you went into Tower you were likely to find shit that you wouldn't see elsewhere. A lot of music that you didn't even know existed. One time when I was there all four members of NRBQ were browsing in different areas of the store (they had a gig that night about thirty miles away). There they were, the bass player just feet from where I pulled their first LP from about ten years earlier. If you're familiar with NRBQ, you know the breadth of taste that they share (their first LP had covers of songs by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Sun Ra, Eddie Cochran and Bruce Chanel). So, yeah, my browsing there was such that friends wouldn't go with me because it was hell getting me out. Before the store closed for good, I would shop for at least a couple hours every Saturday.
The other thing tonight is an oral history of Amoeba Records. I think they're up to three stores now (two in the Bay Area and one occupying the former home of the Tower Records on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, a short walk from the Whisky A Go-Go.) I've only been to their San Francisco store, but it passed the litmus test. They had bin cards for both the Japanese band Seagull Screaming Kiss Her Kiss Her, and the Nomads, a band from Sweden. Over the course of two days I spent eight hours browsing their racks. What they had over Tower was used records. Again, soup to nuts.
All Things Must Pass at YouTube Documentary about Tower Records
An Oral History of Amoeba Music, ‘The Greatest Store in the World’ at Fifty Grande