I had the experience of a lifetime this past week at Amoeba Music on Haight in San Francisco. It was slated to be the highlight of our two-day anniversary trip, and oh what a highlight it was. At the end of two hours I think we walked away with only about $40 in damage, but that accounted for a CD and about 10 vinyls, the chief of which was Derek and the Dominoes’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, definitely a favorite in our house. Here’s my top five list of things I love about independent record shops.
Industry Wisdom – These dudes and gals know their stuff. Cold. They know what’s hot, what’s not, what’s old, and what needs to be sold. Granted the Grateful Dead albums at Amoeba on Haight are $30 and up – as it should be! That’s a premium item in a premium location. I appreciate that because it shows that there are intelligent people running the joint. Amoeba was also full of their staff picks and top ten year end lists across every genre. Record shops really attract the music historians, nerds, and the intelligentsia that is hard to find other places.
Getting my Hands Dirty – Simple as that. I love to stakeout my spot on the clearance LP bins and just rifle through them one by one until my finger tips are black with jacket dust and my clothes have that “vintage” smell. It is easy to find lots of collector’s LPs online, but I can’t get the same experience as I can standing on the cement floor of that record shop, with all the wonderful neck-aches and joint pains that go with it.
Connecting with the Past – While it is not 100% accurate to say that vinyl recordings are the way music is *supposed* to sound, it is the way that music from the 70s and before DID sound, by default, and that makes it inherently awesome. Regardless of the potential for premium sound quality with FLAC and other digital formats today, nothing else can actually recapture the way the music sounded back in the day. Vinyl is the original papyrus; you’re hearing pretty much exactly what Janis, or Jimi, or Waylon heard in the 60s and 70s (depending on your speakers but let’s leave that for another day). Enter the record shop and you can basically go back in time. Try it and see.
Crazy Good Selection – Amoeba has the best I’ve seen, but all record stores end up with great finds, no matter how much you want to pay, simply because they’re just aren’t that many of them anymore. Basically all the great vinyls of any kind of quality are either in someone’s private collection, or in these shops. Goodwills and thrift stores of course carry many, but the off chance you’ll find a good one is almost not worth sifting through a hundred Lawrence Welk and Gospel Christmas albums. The record shops know what their customers want to buy, and they stock accordingly.
Crazy Good Prices – Seriously, a DOLLAR for Jackson Browne’s The Pretender? $3 for Cream’s Goodbye? Even $8 for Joni Mitchell’s Miles of Aisles? Those are ALL steals. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Needless to say, next time I go to an Amoeba, I’ll be bringing a lunch. And a dinner. And possibly breakfast.