Things I Miss: Record Stores

Our world is changing. Time marches on. But as we progress, we lose some wonderful things along the way. I could probably write a year’s worth of posts on just this subject but for today, I’m concentrating on record stores. And, therefore, records.

Don and I played this old record album the other day. On our turntable, such as it is. And it brought back a host of memories for me. I’m a music lover. In the days when I started to earn some money, usually by baby sitting, I loved nothing more than to go to our local record store and spend hours flipping through the albums, searching for something to buy. Perhaps it was the Rock/Pop section, or Show Music, or Folk. One day it might be Spoken Word. As I got older, Classical was added to my favorite sections, as well as Jazz. Flipping through the albums, looking at the cover art, reading the notes on the back cover – all of it was part of the pleasure of record album shopping. Whole worlds opened up to me. I am absolutely sure that I was exposed to new artists and new genres in a way I would never have been if I had to poke around online or by looking at CDs. Let’s face it, CDs are tiny. The artwork is tiny. The notes on the back are hard to read. And while it’s handy to order a track via iTunes, it isn’t the same as the tactile experience of holding an album in your hands. It just isn’t.

Where can we buy music nowadays? Online or in the CD section of Barnes and Noble or Target (woefully lacking) or Best Buy? Barnes and Noble has the best overall selection and guess what? They are cutting back on the music department. Where are the stores devoted to recorded music?

I fondly remember all the wonderful independently owned record stores of my younger days. No one minded if you spent hours searching, examining, comparing. When I went on to college, a favorite shop was Liberty Music in Ann Arbor, Michigan – primarily devoted to classical music. It had hundreds and hundred of recordings, with a knowledgable staff who could guide you to a particular recording of, say, Appalachian Spring, or could compare recordings for you. AND, you could actually take an album into a listening room and sample it before you made the decision to buy. My dear friend Joe used to work there and I thought that might be the coolest job on earth.

Even when chains came along, I was okay with that. Tower Records? Heaven. Two floors full of music. In fact, I wanted to use a still from Hannah and Her Sisters for this post – the scene with Dianne Wiest and Woody Allen at Tower Records – but I couldn’t find one I liked. Dianne was doing exactly what I loved to do – spend time discovering new artists and new recordings, in person, with the actual product in my hands. I can’t even begin to tell you how many artists I discovered by doing this. How my musical horizon expanded. I owned hundreds and hundreds of albums.

An ‘album’ used to be a concept. The 12 or so tracks were carefully chosen to convey a mood or to reflect the title. When you bought the album, you honored the artist’s concept. Of course, we always had favorite tracks. We’d pick up the needle and move it to Track 3 and play a favorite over and over. Now, we pick and choose online and the artist loses money and the artistic vision that went into recording a CD is muddied. How would Days of Future Passed by the Moody Blues fare nowadays? Or Tommy? Or Sargent Pepper? The concept would be lost in the millions of ‘tracks’ available on iTunes.

Yes, I have iTunes on my laptop and my iPhone. I love having a playlist handy – it’s the same thing I used to do with cassettes. I would record a mix of my favorite pieces on one cassette and play it in the car. However, most everything on my playlist has come from an entire CD I bought. I’ve picked my favorite tracks and added them to my playlist via my computer. A few are tracks I’ve purchased online. I know that iTunes is a handy innovation, but something is lost along the way.

Anyway, I’m digressing here. Back to records. I’m not convinced that CDs are superior in quality to vinyl records. Vinyl seems more alive to me. The quality is different, to be sure, but I think I prefer vinyl. I know I prefer and miss the larger record album, the liner notes, the record sleeve, the beautiful artwork on the cover.

And I miss record stores. I truly do. I would like nothing more than to hop in the car, drive to a record store and explore. Just like a good bookstore encourages browsing and discovering, record shops did the same. Much of my musical taste was developed and expanded in those shops. Now recordings are to be found in a couple of rows (if that) in a large big box store, with only the most obvious and narrow of choices available. Homogenized. Just like all of the chain stores that proliferate across the country. Boring. The same. Nothing remotely individual or exciting about them. No room for something ‘different’ or ‘other.’ No room for exploration.

I miss the experience of it all. In a place where you might have had an actual conversation with a knowledgeable salesperson or with the person standing next to you in the Jazz Section, who might direct you to a new artist, a different recording. Where you were in the midst of fellow music lovers. What was that person buying? Hmmm. Maybe I should check out that album. I miss it.

Ah well.

Happy Tuesday.

 

 

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Comments

  1. says

    I’m with you! Always hit the record stores when I was a teen. Fun to lose yourself in the blaring music. I still have my LPs and 45s too. Don’t think I’ll ever part with them. A friend of mine, my same age, once said we were lucky to grow up when music was so good and an important part of the culture. She hit it.

  2. says

    We had a record store in our town called Splittberger’s. It was a place for us to sit in a little booth and listen to the newest record. We would be there forever, several girls crammed into that little booth…. I don’t remember buying many records at that time. It was the early 50’s and music was just starting to be a love of mine.
    I love the old records too. The album covers were a big part of the music. I was always interested in art and really enjoyed looking through all the albums.
    We have a turn table here and some records. Occasionally we will play some music from our past.
    Balisha

  3. Cori says

    This post really strikes a chord with me. I loved Tower Records, even though it was a chain it had a very independent vibe. I remember going there at midnight to wait for the latest album or CD to come out. Tower had people who were knowledgable about each music section . I live in a very cool main street town with lots of independent retailers but our local music store closed last year. We also have a bookstore(Book Revue) that has tons of great authors that come for book signings. I really try to go there as much as possible. Amazon will do fine without my business but once these places are gone they are gone for good.

  4. Deb says

    First of all, I would love to see you start a “Things I Miss” series. Your writing is so wonderful and thought-provoking. I bet many of your readers would love it too. Memories of the “old” times are blessings.

    I agree that while technology can be so convenient and wonderful (like blogging!), I really just want to be able to “touch” stuff – a record, a CD, a book. I think we miss so much by just having that magical invisible link at our fingertips. I have fond memories of my old “kiddie” 45s that I would listen to in the 60s. The covers were fascinating and I would listen and listen to those records – sometimes even pretending my stuffed animals were singing the songs. Unfortunately, probably in the late 70’s I sold them at a garage sale. Every once in a while, I search ebay for the exact same 45 record case and some of those favorite 45s – but have never been able to find them. I didn’t have a lot of albums – but fortunately I did keep them – and my husband has boxes and boxes of them that at one time time I wanted to get rid of….so glad I didn’t! And I did “rescue” some of the old Christmas albums my folks held on to. Now we just need to break out the turntable that my husband kept and start playing. My 12 year old would get a kick out of it. Sounds like a good thing to do over the holidays!

    Thanks for stirring up fond memories!

    • Claudia says

      Thanks for the suggestion, Deb, I just might start a series.
      My albums are all out in the shed and I fear they are now warped. Too many years of no space to store them correctly.

  5. GinaE says

    I too, used to spend my babysitting money on records as a teen. I could spend hours in a record store, but often
    had my eye set on a particular album I wanted. I find it odd that they still referr to “best album” awards at the grammies. CD’s don’t seem like albums to me. I used to love the photos or artwork on the jackets as much as the
    music. I had a good collection for a long time, but after my last turn table died, I finally had to give them up.
    It was pretty hard to do. I love music too, and find I can’t tackle a tedious task outside or in the house without music to help get me through it.

    • Claudia says

      I wish my albums hadn’t been stored in ‘not so climate controlled’ places. We just don’t have the room here for them and it breaks my heart.

  6. says

    I agree, Claudia. There is nothing like records. Yes, they get scratched and broken, but they give the kind of joy you can never get off of a CD. I loved browsing the record isles and using my babysitting money to buy the latest. Those were the days my friend.

    Hugs,
    Laura

  7. says

    As I usually make most of my choices based on what I hear on the radio — and I listened to public radio as well as pop stations, I didn’t do the usual browsing thing you did. I’d know what I wanted and go and get it (I guess I really don’t like shopping). I’d spend most of my time comparing different recording of, say, Handel, and which one could I actually afford to buy. Yeah, I remember when I didn’t have enough money to buy a double CD.

    Anyway, what annoys me about iTunes is that when I download an entire album and then want to play it from start to end, I have to create a playlist and re-order the tracks in the order they were in the iTunes store. You’d think they’d automatically sort into track order but noooooo.

    • Claudia says

      Now, if you listen to a pop station, its a very different place. No top 40 lists, no way for all sorts of popular music to find its way into the listening ears of the public. Very controlled, very limited.

  8. Donnamae says

    Seems to me we used to call them record players in the 60’s. I still have all of my LP’s. I’d while away many an afternoon listening to the Beatles or the Beach Boys! I miss the record store on State Street, and the deli that we used to frequent in college. Guess deep down I’m an old soul! ;)

    • Claudia says

      We did call them that. Then we moved on to ‘stereos.’

      State Street where, Donna? State Street in Chicago had a great shop called Rose Records and I would go there whenever I was in town on a visit.

        • Claudia says

          I’ve been to Madison, Donna! I love that town. I worked in Spring Green for a couple of months a year and a half ago. Madison was where we went on our day off. I could live there very easily.

  9. says

    Those were the good ole days! John has tons of record albums still in the covers and several years ago I bought him one of those record players that has a REAL record player and a CD player in it. He loves to listen to good, old music records. It’s difinitely a thing of the past. Too bad.

    Judy

    • Claudia says

      We have one of those record players, too, Judy. Though I wish I had kept my component system and separate turntable. I could kick myself.

  10. says

    I agree! i still have, and play, albums I got as a teenager (they are very old!). I miss record stores, and I fear bookstores will soon be obsolete. A book on a Kindle can never compare to holding a book and turning the pages, in my opinion, but apparently a great many people think otherwise.

  11. says

    My daughter and I were just talking about this yesterday, because I was telling her about Rolling Stone Record Shop in Chicago, where I used to go every Friday night after work and buy a new album. Flipping through the albums was the best!! I got rid of the hundreds of albums I owned many years ago, when my turntable crapped out and I couldn’t find a new one. Now they have turntables that hook up to the new sound systems and I could kick myself for getting rid of them. I love my CD’s, but I really miss the old vinyl for just the reasons you stated.

    If an album got scratched, I used to put a penny on top of the needle arm and the album would usually play ok then. Did you ever do that? I also remember playing albums on the stereo and recording my favorite tracks on my dads reel to reel tape player. Jeez, I’m showing my age. LOL!

    • Claudia says

      Same thing here, Kim. What a boneheaded thing to do (I’m speaking about me, of course.) In my case, I stored all of my albums in the hot attic and/or shed. Not good.

      Yes, I did that penny trick, too!

  12. Kelly says

    Progress is good. I welcome many changes and only wish my parents were here today to witness some of them. But, on the other hand, I really miss records and oh, the album covers! I still love them.

    • Claudia says

      Progress is good. But why does it have to be an all or nothing thing. Why isn’t there room for all forms of recording: albums, 45s, CDs and MP3s?

  13. says

    Interesting that you just wrote about this…my husband and I were just discussing turntables and record albums a few days ago with our almost-22 year old son! He even said he wishes he grew up in the 70’s so he could’ve experienced all that first-hand. ;-) We are actually going to look into buying a turntable in the near future. We still have some record stores (used records, of course) in and around Chicago. Goodwill stores have a lot of record albums, but you really have to look through them all to find anything decent.

    • Claudia says

      I saw a used record store in Manhattan the other day, right near the Strand bookstore. I’ll have to include it on my next visit.

  14. says

    I am so with you! I loved music stores and spent any spare cash I had on albums. I still love Simon and Garfunkel. All I Know is forever embedded in my brain. I had boxes of albums that I carted around from house to house for years. I even had one Elvis album that was a demo that he used to promote his music before he hit the big time (courtesy of my radio dj boyfriend). A few years ago I gave my collection to my youngest son -who loves my old music as much as I did/do.
    This generation will never really understand the thrill of walking into a record store that sold nothing but records, will they? xo Diana

  15. says

    Im right there with you.. I miss being able to go into the local record store and Sam Goody’s in the mall. Each had thousands of albums to choose from. Nowadays you have to order everything online if you want a selection and as you said, CDs are nice but something is definitely lost..

  16. says

    Hello Claudia,
    I have similar feeling about books, I love paper books. I don’t want to move on to the Nook! lol! But I too, loved vinyl records! Making that move was hard as well. There is a texture to vinyl record music that is just not there in a CD. Is it better? I don’t know, but it was familiar to me. When I do hear a vinyl record played it does really spark memories.
    My son who is going to be 20 soon, has a strong passion for classical music. He, not having my history with vinyl, has not had any issues with learning about music online. He has taught me so much! I am amazed at his musical growth. So I wonder what he would think if he heard me play a vinyl record? I wish I had some left to find out!
    Anyways, love you post!
    Happy Holidays!
    Terri

    • Claudia says

      I bet he’d love a vinyl record, Terri! By the way, I googled how to bleach a bottlebrush tree yesterday and first up was your video! It was so helpful. Thank you!

  17. says

    Had to come back and tell you that my hubby and I went to high school together. Class of 1965 ~ think American Graffiti. The guys always had lowered cars and we “cruised” the hot spots, just like in the movie. Anywho, they had record players in their cars! The were mounted under the dash, upside down. Not sure how the record stayed in place, but every time you went over a bump the arm and needle bounced and skipped on the record. We were Motown fans ~ and believe it or not, v e r y rowdy.

  18. KimberlynCreations says

    You’ll have to come to Cleveland, there are two record stores less than a mile from me. Also some indy book stores no more than 15 minutes away and the awesome Half Price Books stores. While you’re here you can visit the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame. Drop by anytime!

  19. says

    I love this post! I loved getting my dad to drop me off at the record store to browse- it was The place to be! I grew up more with cassettes (I have a little saddness that my kids will never know the frustration of having to wind the tape-lol), but I love a good record. So many hours I spent laying on our sofa listening to The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, etc, etc….great memories.

  20. says

    We have not been able to replace the needle n our record player. Just last night we were pondering what to do with the records if & when we downsize. Beetles, Joan Baez, Dionne Warwick, Peter, Paul and Mary, etc. And yes, we have a box of 45s ( Fats Domino, Elvis, The Platters, Little Richard, Arlo Guthrie, etc) as well because DH played in a rock & Roll band to help pay his way through Cornell and saved his collection as well as his Fender guitar.
    I think the garage sales are where you’ll find the best stuff…and you’ll get that hands on thrill. But…I’m afraid you will need new needles more frequently because of the scratches on the records.
    Over time there are many things we miss for sure! These days the big one for us is exploring new towns. You see, they are all so much the same now.

  21. Patti says

    I still have all of our albums from the 60’sand 70’s…I can’t bear to part with them. I don’t listen to them anymore but I guess they represent part of my past that I don’t want to let go of …just yet. Great memories! ~Hugs, Patti

  22. says

    We had several lovely independent record shops in town when I was a teenager and on into my 20s. Now there are only 1 or 2 shops that specialize in vinyl. (And going into them makes me feel like a dinosaur since I have many of them at home and bought them when they were NEW!) Did you sometimes buy classical records because of the pictures on the front? I did! :)

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