From the Braver Institute
Last week I told you about my attempt to visit my old friend Jim while I was in Chicago. I had intended to stop by the record store where Jim works and surprise him. While things didn’t go quite the way I had planned (my friend wasn’t working that day), it wasn’t a wasted effort since it was really cool to see the inside of a record store once again. Stepping into that record store was like stepping into a time machine.
I think back with great fondness to the days of flipping through albums (that’s what we used to call the things that music was stored on before the digital age, kiddies) somewhat bewildered by the barrage of images on the covers. At the time, the record industry provided not only music but also something to look at. Album covers may have been my first real exposure to the world of art—well pop-art anyway.
Even if I didn’t have two nickels to rub together, an hour in the record store was time well spent. Looking at all of the new albums and revisiting ones I had seen on previous visits, I would try to decide which one would be my next purchase when my finances allowed. Many of the album covers produced in my lifetime have become iconic images in pop culture—Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon for instance.
Sometimes there was more going on on the album cover than on the record inside. It is said that you can’t judge a book by its cover, and the same was true about albums. I recall an album my older brother Farr bought by the goth rock band Bauhaus. It was the imagery on the cover that convinced him to buy it. I recall that what was recorded was largely dreadful and it is my guess that this particular album had been listened to only once as a result.
The first album I ever bought and paid for with my own money was The Beach Boys, Little Deuce Coupe, but for some reason I don’t really count that as my first album. I think it was mostly because it was an impulse purchase while visiting a department store in Denver. I mean there I was, a kid in Denver, who needed to buy some kind of keepsake of the visit. It was there. I was there. It was three-fifty. I had three-fifty. I knew I liked the Beach Boys.
The album that I truly consider to be my first was purchased at The Sound Center which was a record store in my hometown of Marquette. I had been a fan of Wings for a few years, and now, after flipping through countless records on equally countless occasions, I determined that I was going to buy Wings Greatest (as I grew older I realized that buying a greatest hits album was something a true fan would never do, but hey, this was my first trip around the horn). $7.95 seemed like a lot to pay for an album but that was the going rate for music at the time. It was certainly a better deal than buying singles, which sold for seventy-five cents each at the time. Thinking about it now, $7.95 really was a lot to pay. Adjusting for inflation that would be worth around twenty-eight bucks today. That would be an awful lot to pay for an album.
I bought a number of albums at the Sound Center but then Music Street came along and they started to get my business. I don’t recall if Music Street put the Sound Center out of business or if they came along because of the Sound Center closed its doors. Either way Music Street was now the place. (On a side-note; Jim and our mutual friend Stan ran into the members of Humble Pie outside of Music Street and got an autograph from Steve Marriott. Good luck with something like that happening at Walmart.)
The eighties rolled around and with it came compact discs. I remember loving the clarity of the music but something was lost with CDs and that something was the album cover. I can still recall sitting in my bedroom listening to an album and staring at the cover the whole time I listened. If the cover became boring to look at there were always the liner notes— at least the better albums had such things instead of just a plain inner sleeve. Staring at the reduced images in a CD jewel case lacked something to be desired.
Through the late eighties and into the nineties I grew to accept that albums were gone and CDs were the future. The music buying experience was still similar. Racks of CDs to flip through replaced racks of albums. More music could be displayed in less space. Stores that sold CDs were still called record stores out of habit I suppose. (We called albums records but that nomenclature never applied to CDs even though they are all recordings.) I would try to stop into Teletronics every week to pick up or order a new CD.
Teletronics was the last record store I was ever in that still had the real record store feel. Chain stores, like Musicland and Sam Goody, came along with their prefab hipness and style and killed the independent record store. It didn’t bother me one bit to see digital technology drive a stake through the heart of those vampires.
It’s good to know that there are places out there still that do a great job of keeping the record buying experience alive. If there is a record store in your town, stop in and take a look. Its the closest thing you may ever find to a time machine.
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