Top 5: Record Store Day

Saturday April 16 is Record Store Day, “a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally.” If you live in a major metropolitan area or a college town, there’s likely at least one good record store to shop—and by “good,” I mean a place that carries the music you can’t find anywhere else, a place whose stacks and racks are stocked with surprises, a place where you can kill an hour browsing and feel fulfilled even if you don’t buy anything. That there are only 700 such places left in the United States is sad, because those of us of a certain age can remember when you could buy records everywhere. Here are five places from my past.

1. S&O TV: My first record store, in my hometown. The owners sold TVs, stereo equipment, and records up front while they fixed TVs in the back. (I went to school with their kids.) It was there that I bought my first 45s, laying down 95 cents for “Domino” and “One Toke Over the Line” and the rest, until I stopped buying singles long about 1973.

2. Gibson’s Discount Store: Singles were cheaper at Gibson’s—only 88 cents—but the selection wasn’t quite as good. It was at Gibson’s that I was introduced to the phenomenon of the cutout. I became a denizen of the cutout bins, not just at Gibson’s but everywhere I could find them. As much as I loved music, I loved getting it at a discount even more. (Tomorrow’s Rock Flashback post at WNEW.com will talk a little more about cutouts.)

3. Schultz Pharmacy: Gibson’s had records because some rack jobber provided the rack and stocked the merchandise. This is why you could often buy records in drug stores, department stores, and even at service stations back in the day. I bought several albums over the years at Schultz Pharmacy in my hometown, where they kept the record rack right between the greeting cards and the jewelry counter.

4. Victor Music: On Sunday afternoons, the family would pile into the car and drive an hour to the mall in Madison. Victor Music was the store of all stores at the mall. It’s the place I see in my head when I imagine the quintessential record store of the 1970s: dim lighting, dark carpeting, big speakers cranking loud, and rack after rack after rack of albums, singles, cassettes, and 8-tracks. Victor Music also sold the stuff to play your music on. If I’m recalling correctly, I bought my big honkin’ Channel Master 8-track deck there.

5. Victrola: In the mid 80s, I lived in a small college town in Illinois, which was home to Victrola, which might be the greatest record store I have ever known. It was owned by a grumpy ex-hippie who offered a vast and impressive selection of music, in print, cutout, and used, and I spent a staggering amount of my limited take-home pay there. If you couldn’t find something you wanted, you could ask him to get it, but then you’d have to talk to him.

I am not the record fanatic I used to be. I’ve embraced other ways of acquiring music now, the very methods that are driving record stores to extinction. But I still visit Madison’s Exclusive Company a couple of times a year, and I occasionally dip into some of the used shops around town, because some old flames never burn out.

Here’s a single I bought at S&O TV 40 years ago this spring. It’s not the actual record—I purged a few singles from my collection over a decade ago (which I’ve regretted ever since) and my copy of this was one of ’em—but it’s a song I handed over my 95 cents to get, a decision I didn’t make lightly back then.

“Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You”/Wilson Pickett (buy Wilson Pickett here)

9 responses

  1. Nice one,, jb. My magic hometown place was Bud’s Music Center in downtown Hopkins, MN. First two 45s purchased there in 1957: “Bye Bye Love” (Everly Brothers on Cadence; still have it) and “Goody, Goody” (Frankie Lymon on Gee.) Having stopped buying records there by 1965, I dropped in again in 1971 and snared a mint Buddy Holly “Well… All Right” on Coral in the oldies section for the usual 98¢.

    My final trip to Bud’s in ’72 turned up a bunch of goodies, including George Carlin’s “Wonderful Wino” 45 on RCA Victor, Who non-charter “I’m A Boy” on Decca, some Bobby Darin and Dion & The Belmonts originals in picture sleeves and Stan Freberg’s ‘Real St. George’ EP; a great find, what with “St. George And The Dragonet” still getting local airplay at the time on oldies KRSI. Best of all was a mint Mala 45 of The Rag Dolls’ great girl-grouper, “Dusty,” which never has been reissued. Bud’s is still in business, but their real specialty is and always was musical instruments and lessons.

    I bought my first two CDs in 1984, sans CD player, having decided to wait a few months for Sony’s first portable. One was a Commodores “love songs” compilation, to *finally* get non-crackly copies of their hits. The other was a West German Polydor Bert Kaempfert collection, which sounded astoundingly better than the umpteen generations-removed U.S. Decca vinyl (and with Bert’s original “A Swingin’ Safari” having been the show’s theme for years, it was as though “The Match Game” was being televised from inside my head.) Damned if I can remember exactly where in Oklahoma City I got those discs, though.

  2. I started buying singles at age 10 in summer 1968 at Singer — yes, the sewing machine company. For reasons I don’t understand to this day, they had a record department, and it was stocked with albums and their own weekly Top 50 singles, which were 59 cents. The department was run by Delores, who was likely my first older-girl crush. She was probably 17 or 18. I started spending most of my allowance there getting singles and helping Delores rearrange the Top 50 bins every week (talk about a thrill). When Delores left the company the next year, the manager asked if I’d like to come in every Wednesday after school to continue rearranging the singles bins with their new Top 50 chart. Instead of being paid in cash, he’d give me three singles every week. At age 11, this was nirvana. My collection grew quickly. This continued until spring 1972, when Singer eliminated the record department. I think the last free singles I got were “Levon” by Elton John and “Glory Bound” by the Grass Roots. As for Delores, I never did see her again after she left in 1969, but I’ve always been grateful that she helped spur my love of pop and rock records.

  3. Interesting, as I’m reading this post, the song “One Toke Over The Line” is playing on my computer. I’m listening to an American Top 40 show from April 1971.

  4. I can remember the layout of probably 75% of the record stores I visited throughout the country. I bought my first LP at Green’s Department Store, part of the S.S. Kresge chain later to become K-Mart. My first cassette came from a Caldor dept. store. I think that the few 8-tracks I owned were either stolen or recorded at home from albums. None of the earlier stores had an outstanding salesperson which is necessary to bond to a particular place.

    I had my favorites but it was thirty years before I was really impressed with a record store. The first time I walked into a Tower Records I spent six hours there. It was forty miles away so I only visited once a month. I don’t think I spent less than $300. When they finally got around to opening one thirty miles closer, the internet had already become popular.

    While the web offers more than any brick & mortar could it nearly eliminates the ability to find a surprise record in the racks. Something you’d long searched for, or a cover you couldn’t resist. Cutout bins just don’t hold the same appeal online.

    1. The feeling of finding something on your most wanted list “in the wild” is greater than the feeling of finding it by searching Amazon.com, and there’s no way to duplicate it.

  5. I bought my 45s, LPs, and baseball cards at McGregor’s Drug Store and Jendusa Pharmacy, both in Waukesha. I spent a lot more on the cards than I did the music.

  6. In my head I can still see the record rack at our local appliance store. McCartney’s “Red Rose Speedway” is there as well as the Dennis Coffey LP w/ “Scorpio,” but the one that grabbed my eye and eventually my wallet was “Chet Atkins Picks on the Beatles.”

    Yah Shure: Just yesterday while junking I picked up two great purple Capitol 78’s: Freberg’s “St. George” that you mentioned and Ramblin’ Jimmie Dolan’s “Hot Rod Race,” the prototype for “Hot Rod Lincoln.” I also picked up the sheet music recently for the Freberg record, a really odd find as there’s no “music” per se.

  7. I frequented the cut-out bin in the Woolworth’s store in the mall, and I recall one day looking at a $1 copy of “McLemore Avenue,” Booker T and the MG’s versions of tunes from the Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” I thought, “I’ve got the original at home. Why would I want someone else’s versions of these songs?” Clueless then and sometimes still so.

  8. […] have probably read about this already at other blogs, including the excellent The Hits Just Keep On Comin’ and Clicks and […]

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