The Joy of Record Stores
I miss that feeling of spending hours searching through the stacks.
I’m not someone who thinks that everything was better in the past or who lives more in their memories than in their present. I depend on things such as computers, the internet, and streaming television that I wouldn’t want to live without them.
As far as music storage and stores go, nothing beats the records and the music-stores of my youth.
MP3s and music apps aren’t better than LPs, CDs, and record stores.
Tower Records is back. Well, it’s back online, but knowing Tower Records exists at all is thrilling for some of us. They weren’t the only record store when I was growing up, but they had the reputation of being the biggest and the best.
I loved Tower Records and spent many happy hours perusing their stock, carefully choosing which artists’ albums I desperately needed and which option I’d buy the chosen recording in — an LP, cassette tape, and later, CD.
I’ve seen in movies there were once record stores where you could listen to albums in private booths, which I’d have enjoyed. Though decades later, they had CD listening stations with headphones. There you could listen to a featured CD and know if the whole CD was worth buying or if it only had one good song.
My secret dream involved CDs and shopping carts.
My fantasy was winning a contest where I’d have 3 minutes to put any of the Tower Record’s stock I could in a big shopping cart, and everything in the cart, I’d get to keep.
I had a whole strategy where I’d start in the CD box sets section, grabbing the most expensive collections. My logic was I’d be able to exchange any collection I didn’t like and pocket the money. Next, I’d go to the import section and grab everything as efficiently and quickly as I could.
I’m not sure Tower ever had a Supermarket Sweep contest like this, but dreams don’t have to be based on reality.
Years later, one of my bank customers gave me a $150 gift card for Music Plus (which was decidedly not even half as good as Tower), and I got to enact a lower-rent version of my ultimate music fantasy. I felt rich going around the store and tossing CD after CD into my hand-held shopping basket.
Tower records was our teenage-mecca.
There wasn’t a Tower Records in San Jose where I grew up, but there was one in Campbell, the town next door.
My friend Cynthia and I would take the bus, which would stop well past the store, making us double back. We’d pass a Taco Bell, which had been repurposed into another fast-food Mexican restaurant, but we hadn’t made the journey for tacos. We’d pointedly ignore the Fako Bell and aim for the grey-brick building with the half-circle windows.
Before the internet, research was more complicated.
Once another friend had to find out the name of the “I’m Special” song — it had turned into an ear-worm, and he couldn’t get it out of his head until he learned the proper lyrics. There was no internet to search, so we headed off to Tower Records.
When the smug clerk told us the song’s title was Brass in Pocket by The Pretenders, we knew there was no way we’d have ever figured it out on our own. Tower Records had saved us from an agonizing death of ear-wormitis.
Record store employees were without a doubt cooler than we were, and they didn’t offer service with a smile or lack of attitude. It was all part of the experience.
After purchasing some new records, I loved going home, ripping the plastic off, and putting the LP on my turntable. Listening to it 10 times in a row while reading the liner-notes word by word was mandatory.
One thing Tower had which the smaller, independent stores didn’t have were events.
I’ll never forget going with two friends to get David Cassidy to sign his newest CD. This was well after his Partridge Family success, but before, he was one of the contestants on Celebrity Apprentice.
The people in line were hardcore Cassidy fans, and they weren’t fooling around. If anyone tried to cut in front of them or go into the store to get a David EPA, the Cassidy-ites would shout obscenities and body block them — it felt like being at a punk show without safety-pin piercings and mohawks.
When I finally got to David and handed him my CD to sign, he was exhausted and seemed embarrassed by the whole thing. I wanted to tell him that The Partridge Family Album was the first adult LP I’d ever purchased when I was a kid, but I stayed silent.
The business of buying and selling records.
To supplement my Tower Records visits, I’d go to used and independent record stores. I’d sell my records to buy more records, never satisfying my hunger for music and comedy albums.
Underground Records was a used record store that bought records, but they were picky. The woman who owned it would stack the albums she wasn’t interested in buying and then would say in a nasal voice, “I’ll pass on these.” If you were lucky, you might make $30, but it was never as much as you thought you’d get.
Record stores were my happy place. I might not have been a collector, but I appreciated those who had an obsession with finding rare collector’s items or music merchandise.
Everything always changes.
I eventually switched from LPs to CDs, and it felt like a huge deal. I convinced myself they were just shrunken records so I wouldn’t feel like I was betraying my first love, vinyl.
One of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do was get rid of my collection of albums and turntable. I miss the experience of listening to a record for the first time and the 100th and hearing the distinctive pops and mysterious crackling noises.
I still have a sizable CD collection, but I rarely play them, choosing instead to listen to MP3s, music-apps, or streaming radio.
Record Stores were great for dates.
One day a boy I liked, and I cut class and went to a record store. He bought me the single of Joe Jackson’s Steppin’ Out, and even though we were never more than friends, I treasured that 45 for years.
The experience of shopping for records, holding those hard protective squares in your hand is only available at the few independent record stores that remain, and they’re probably not open now anyway.
It makes me sad for those who’ll never experience the happiness record stores brought many of us. What I wouldn’t give to have some slacker-clerk sneer at me over the counter and say, “No, you want The English Beat, not The Beat,” as if I was the world’s biggest idiot for getting them confused.