Leaving the Record Store Empty Handed

There’s nothing quite like Friday or Saturday afternoon trip to local the record hop, following payday and flush with cash, determined to make a small dent in that want list of yours. Now we all have our favorite store. Perhaps yours is the small, single room, been there forever store, that’s so precious and few in numbers these days, or likely an even smaller store with predominantly young staff and young owners hoping to make an honest buck off this “kids like vinyl” thing. Speaking personally, there’s a store in the St. Louis metropolitan area called The Record Exchange that takes a large portion of my weekly paycheck. Now this store has a certain charm (or perhaps lack thereof) that the more frequented, trendier outlets in the city don’t really possess. The latter are tidy, organized, and tend to charge exactly what you would expect for trickier to find items. The Record Exchange basically leaves stacks upon towering stacks of to be priced items throughout the place for your perusal. And considering that the store is one of the largest in the Midwest, you can frequently stroll though what appear to be long forgotten hallways built out of record stacks so tall, you’re just a touch concerned for your safety.

I’m only slightly exaggerating, but the sheer number of discs available there makes it the ultimate browser’s store. Now by and large, this place serves as an effective means to pick up a large portion of the classic rock, soul, and classic country canon relatively on the cheap so you can easily endeavor to get your collection up to that John Peel level of expansiveness to make all the guys and gals swoon. But don’t expect any too many of your preferred and coming artists amongst the bins to represent your keen avant-garde taste as The Record Exchange’s measly “Alternative” section contains quite a bit of INXS, if that clues you into their concept of the term. However, there is indeed the occasional rare gem (and since the owner’s a big Elvis and late 50’s/early 60’s rock and pop fan, you’re likely to get it at a steal if it’s something that falls outside his purview) but you are going to have to work to find it.

But this little post is not about finding that rare, much sought after item buried in a long forgotten hallway, since not every trip to your local vinyl emporium has you coming out a winner and can occasionally lack the supple bounty of the dozen plus vinyl stack, leaving you with nothing but a full wallet, and a bitter attitude about the severe lack of Rapeman live bootlegs running through your town. In fact, while browsing though those alphabetized bins, there are certain titles that seem to come up again and again, serving as bad omens that today’s trip will not be a success. Using my preferred store as an influence, here’s a handy guide to the worthless platters destined for the discount bin that may help you recognize the beginnings of your lackluster raid.

DAVID BOWIE The “Historia De La  Musica Rock” series. What is it? Who put these often just plain baffling compilations together? Why don’t they have the decency to speak English? There are of course answers to these questions, but I doubt that we would find any of them all that interesting to actually bother with the research that would entail (after all if it’s not the first google result, it’s just not worth it). Their quite tacky covers were probably more likely to catch the attention of your mother, if you told her you liked David Bowie, only to ensure you got it at your birthday as you hid your disappointment, “Gee, mom…thanks.”   But it doesn’t matter if you’re perusing T. Rex or James Brown; this is most likely littering the bin and could be an awful sign of things to come.

MICK JAGGER This one, no matter how many times I’ve flipped past it, is always still in the shrink wrap, causing one to wonder if anyone ever got around to actually listening to it. It’s often thrown in at the back of the Stones bin so it serves as a clear sign that you’re not walking out with that Satanic Majesties lenticular cover you always keep hoping you’ll find. You know, Jagger has been finding his name tossed out in a lot of pop lyrics lately, whether it be Maroon 5 or Ke$ha. one has too wonder if She’s The Boss is representative of the ultimate sense of rock god cool that they apparently think they’ll evoke.

JAMES TAYLOR Like many of his soft rock 70’s brethren operates primarily in a nether-region between rock, soul, male, female (you know, because he’s kind of a pussy) and your standard singer-songwriter fare. But James Taylor succeeded where his contemporaries failed as he managed to be equally offensively boring with any genre he was dipping into. This album cover is particularly egregious as it fails to warn you anywhere that this is actually a James Taylor record you’re purchasing and not some long forgotten sequel to Diver Down.

If you’re busy doing homework on the Dylan discography this will signal your point of no return. Often, Dylan fans have to be satisfied with copies of Empire Burlesque or Shot of Love to signal their coming disappointment, but for me this one’s always driven the point home. It could be worse, whenever I was searching for an old copy of Duty Now for the Future (since I didn’t want to pay for the reissue) an album by Cliff DeYoung (better known as the second Brad Majors from Richard O’Brien’s Shock Treatment) had to gently inform me that my trip would be a failure. Who are The Dynatones? With a name like that, it looks like we’re reaching dangerous ska territory, so let’s all just agree to move on and speak no more of them.

ZAPPACOSTA If you guessed that we were looking for some Zappa records here and came away empty handed, then you are indeed most wise.  Of course there’s always a Zappa record to be had at your neighborhood record store, just never of the ones you want. And even if you fancy yourself as an uber-completist, you’d still be in a better shape buying this than anything by both either Dweezil or Moon Unit.
SEALS & CROFTS This may be just me, but this album appeared to be following me everywhere I went throughout the store. In the dollar bin. In the S’s. In the Jazz section. In the COMEDY SECTION??? The feeling was remarkably eerie. Then I came to a horrible realization, the album is a virus. This was definitive dollar bin fodder that had the unique ability to spring to life and infect the VG to VG- albums around me and make copies of itself on any other album in the store that it saw fit. Soon the covers of everything from Birth of the Cool to Heaven Tonight were festooned with 70’s soft rock beards. Eventually Seals & Croft was not enough, Christopher “Fucking” Cross, Jennifer Welles, Phoebe Snow (my God, why are they all so ugly) were taking up every conceivable space in the store, not content to confine itself by genre, all aisles were overcome by the plague until the KISS solo albums seemed like a beacon of hope. Will the gently plucked Stratocasters ever stop? Does every song have to be backed by some soft, light, jazzy electric piano?  Soon I find I’m fully immersed and infected myself wondering, is there more to the Bee Gees than the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, how many Three Dog Night albums is it acceptable to own, and where the hell does Barry Manilow find the sheer nonchalance to name his debut Barry Manilow I”? As if he knew there would be a second! I stumble out of the store looking for a stiff drink, but every bar has been replaced by a Margaritaville, where the beverages are so watered down and the fish tacos so filling, by my third drink I’m still hopelessly searching for that light buzz. I turn on the radio to hear middle aged DJs puking out their spiel for free tickets to see geriatric soft rock superstars, HAS THE WORLD GONE MAD? You try to talk some sense into these people, but you’re told to “Chill out.” “You had to be there.” “This one got me through a lot of hard times.” Finally I escape home to the comfort of my own record collection finding a touch of solace in that at least Aja doesn’t completely suck.