Even as music increasingly moves online, for true fans the local brick-and-mortar record store will always be the holy place of discovery and sharing, where like-minded fanatics and novices gather to dig through the bins for new releases, dusty gems, and 180-gram gatefold pressings, trade band tips and debate the merits of albums. No website can replace the sights, sounds, and smells of a visit to a great independent record store, of which there are around 1500 in the U.S.A., including many excellent ones here in our fair city. Nor can clicking play on a digital file ever replace the experience of taking a lustrous black vinyl LP out of its sleeve, gently placing it on the turntable and cueing up the needle, and having that rich, warm sound and presence envelop you from the speakers. (Or that familiar dusty crackle, depending on the age and condition.) Musicians and discerning listeners alike continue to esteem vinyl for the finest sound, and to shop at record stores for the knowledge and camaraderie of the fan community on both sides of the counter. And the perfect day to do so is Record Store Day, which has been rescheduled this year from its traditional weekend in April to two days of exclusive releases this summer, Saturday, June 12, and Saturday, July 17.
Record Store Day was created in 2007 to celebrate record store culture. It was started by a consortium of record store owners led by Eric Levin of Criminal Records in Atlanta in response to the rise of online music, from which independent stores were taking a beating. The Record Store Day organization coordinates releases of extra-special records, CDs, and cassettes that are only available at participating independent stores for in-person purchase that day, and stores often host live events as well. Rasputin’s Music in Mountain View, CA hosted a signing and meet-and-greet with Metallica for the inaugural Record Store Day on April 19, 2008.
Since then the holiday has been a great success at raising the visibility of record stores and reminding fans of their importance. From an initially small number of RSD-only titles, the list has grown every year into the hundreds, with fans lining up for hours outside stores to try to score these limited-edition releases and exclusive colored-vinyl pressings by artists from the famous to the obscure. Over the years a bonus RSD was added to Black Friday after Thanksgiving, and the event spread to indie stores around the world. According to the RSD website, “in 2009, Jesse ‘Boots Electric’ Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal) declared himself the ‘Record Store Day Ambassador’ as a way of shouting out how important the stores were to artists and since then Joshua Homme (Eagles of Death Metal, Them Crooked Vultures, Queens of the Stone Age), Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop, Jack White, Chuck D, Dave Grohl, Metallica, St. Vincent, Run The Jewels, Pearl Jam and Brandi Carlile have worn the ceremonial sash.” This year, Fred Armisen will be the official Record Store Day Ambassador—in addition to being a comedian he is an avid music fan and drummer for several bands, including his current gig leading the 8G house band on Late Night with Seth Myers.
Recorded music has had a fascinating history since Edison developed the recordable wax cylinder system at the turn of the 20th century. The wax cylinders started off in jukeboxes but soon became popular for home use as their durability improved. By the 1920s cylinders had been superseded by phonograph disc records, which spin on a turntable. Early discs were made from brittle shellac. In the 1940s polyvinyl chloride plastic became the material of choice, which is why records are referred to as ‘vinyl’. (Note the mass noun ‘vinyl’ for the plural or to refer to the material—it is considered incorrect or at least facetious to use ‘vinyl’ for the singular or ‘vinyls’ for the plural; ‘record’ is correct for the singular.) 7-inch, 10-inch, and eventually 12-inch discs were introduced with progressively longer playing times. Early discs played at a variety of speeds until a standard of 78 rpm (revolutions per minute) was settled on; after World War II most 7-inch records moved to 45 rpm and 10 and 12-inch records to 33⅓ rpm. Quality improved along with innovations in recording and reproduction techniques and home systems. By the late 1950s microgroove 33⅓ LP (long playing) records became a popular format for albums of several songs or longer performances, which were often grab bags of recordings cobbled together by labels until artists like the Beatles started composing and recording unified LP-length songwriting statements. Stereophonic sound puts left and right channels on the opposing sides of the groove for hi-fidelity listening with a more spacious, three-dimensional quality.
The classic album era lasted through the mid-1980s until cassettes began to supersede vinyl, especially with the portability of the Sony Walkman and their usefulness for home recording. CDs (compact discs) soon replaced those, and MP3s achieved dominance in turn. But all along, even through the ‘death of vinyl’ years of the 1990s, vinyl endured, especially with dance and hip-hop DJs, for whom high-quality 12” singles always reigned supreme. Every format has its uses and advantages, but nowadays bands and fans are rediscovering the special joys of LP records, which include their uniquely warm analog sound, their large-scale, often elaborate cover art, the never-ending hunt for rare and collectible treasures, and the portability and punchy sound of 45 rpm singles, all of which are celebrated on Record Store Day. Vinyl sales have made a wildly impressive comeback since the 1990s, with something like a 30-fold increase from the very low millions to sales of 27.5 million units last year and continuing to rise; still, a drop in the bucket compared to streaming music, but definitely a growing reappreciation.
Music lovers of a certain age fondly recall the local record store from their formative years; for me, it was the Headstand in El Paso, TX., and later Hogwild Records in San Antonio. Younger music fans in Los Angeles have likely shopped at Amoeba Music (where I worked for many years), which began on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in 1990, opened a second location on Haight Street in San Francisco in 1997, and arrived at 6400 Sunset in 2001; it recently moved to 6200 Hollywood Boulevard, and the new location I am happy to say is spectacular and thriving. Though the biggest independent, Amoeba is just one of many great Los Angeles record stores, including Rockaway, Record Surplus, Canterbury, Poo-Bah, V.I.P., Atomic, Fingerprints, the Record Parlour, Permanent, Cosmic Vinyl, Going Underground, and many more. Long before Amoeba arrived, Angelenos shopped at bygone record stores big and small, including many now-defunct chain stores, the iconic Tower Records on Sunset, Aron’s Records, Moby Disc, Rhino, Penny Lane, Tempo, DB Cooper’s, Music Man Murray, and Licorice Pizza, as well as smaller shops that specialized in goth, punk, and metal like Vinyl Fetish, No Life and Green Hell, which though gone are not forgotten by their loyal customers.
Enjoy these vintage pics of record stores (and even one of the audio-visual collection at the Central Library taken in 1969) from the library's photo archive TESSA—and be sure to support your local record store on Record Store Day and every day!