Back in the mists of the past, you know, the two thousands, an employee at Bull Moose records in Maine thought there should be a special day for record stores. Something like Free Comic Book Day that was so successful for the independent comic book shops. So after a meeting of record store owners, the details were hashed out and in 2007 Record Store Day was started. Today stores all around the world are involved, with hundreds of special recording made just for the day, artists performing at the stores and issuing limited editions of their work. The first year Metallica played at Rasputin Music in San Francisco while Billy Bragg played at Piccadilly Records in England.
After an interview when Eagles of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes announced he was Record Store Day’s Official Ambassador, they decided that wasn’t a bad idea. There have been official ambassadors ever since, including artists like Jack White, Ozzy Osbourne, Josh Homme, and Iggy Pop. This year Dave Grohl is the spokesman. Most musicians have spent their fair share of time in record stores digging through bins, looking for that one blues album, working in the stores or getting the people who work there to sell their stuff. The lead singer of Wilco even said there wouldn’t even be a Wilco if there wasn’t independent record stores.
This year over 3000 stores in over 2 dozen countries celebrated Record Store Day. The Foo Fighters did a concert at a store in a strip mall in Niles, Ohio for 150 people. Kim Gordan from Sonic Youth was signing albums at Rough Trade Records in New York. Third Man Records Detroit Michigan, Jack Whites record store, put on sale a reissue of Elvis Presley’s rare first single, My Happiness, in packaging resembling the 1953 original. People lined up the night before at some of the major stores.
This is the first year we’ve had Record Store Day at Obsessions here in Anchorage and Steve, the owner, has been preparing for it with serious dedication. The front windows have been painted like a young woman getting ready for her first date and everyone has been given careful instructions on how the special release records were going to be laid out in the store weeks ahead of time. We all made lists of what we wanted and compared them. “Hey are you going to get the Sex Pistols on yellow vinyl?” “No, I really want the Citizen Dick limited.” We would check regularly to see what he would actually be getting in from the list and revise accordingly. “Looks like he won’t be getting the Foo Fighters Laundry List. Whelp, that’s off the list.”
When the big day came, The MND and I had originally planned to get there a half hour before the store opened. After all it’s a new store in town and a small market but we changed our minds, instead getting there an hour early. Good thing because there was already a dozen people camped out on the sidewalk despite it being 35 degrees with a bitter wind. Steve, his family, and some volunteers were struggling to set up a tent so they could set out coffee and record shaped cookies. With a few extra hands and appropriately added curses, the tent stayed erect and Steve’s wife started passing coffee down the line. There’s a moment of disconnect where I’m sitting on ice cold concrete re-establishing just how deeply I love hot coffee and I do that location thing on Facebook. Sure there are people who are happy to let everyone know where they are every minute of the day but I usually reserve that kind of thing for major events. There are probably a half dozen of those on my timeline. So obviously I was way more into this than I realized.
I spotted the young lady from Rolling Stone magazine cheerfully shooting pictures of everyone. Apparently RS had picked ten record stores to profile for Record Store Day and Obsessions being in Alaska made it interesting enough that they sent someone up. I hope we proved interesting enough, if only to bring attention to Obsessions. (Edit: We did indeed prove interesting. Out of all the stores in the US, Alaska proved interesting enough to warrant three photos out of the dozen they used for the article. Two of the pictures included Yours Truly and The MND.) One of the sad things about boutique stores in Anchorage is they tend to disappear if they can’t make it past the three year mark. If they can survive the three years, they are usually good to go but it tends to be a struggle and I want Steve to make that mark.
The MND is checking the music forums on his phone to see what proud vinyl addicts are posting of their hauls for the day. The special edition Social Distortion first album with rings of blue and black on 180 vinyl just made me drool but there were none to be had at Obsessions. I envied those people, they were already home listening to their music and I was freezing my butt off. Meanwhile another 30 people lined up behind us and more were coming. In line we talk about the death of other record stores in town, how they just couldn’t survive the days when vinyl became almost obsolete. There are all ages here, from the barely 20 year old woman in front of us with purple hair, who are here for the Dresden Dolls and Heart. Behind us is a deployed army officer on her second tour in Alaska who is hoping to get the special edition My Chemical Romance.
Then the doors opened and the 400 square foot store was packed. The rule about every battle plan falling apart when it meets the enemy becomes fact because all my plans go right out the window. I manage to grab The Doors Strange Days mono pressing that The MND had on his list. I did manage to find Iggy Pop & The Stooges Have Some Fun, Live at Ungano’s which is a limited pressing just for Record Store Day. I’m packed in tight with folks but we’re all politely switching from bin to bin. Then I get the self-named The Velvet Underground. This album was the Holy Grail for years, it was sort of the best of their first three albums but released just as The Velvet Underground and was mastered from the original tapes. Nobody could get it for a long time and here it was being re-released on heavy vinyl. Well, you can’t pass that up.
So I’m standing in line waiting to check out and I keep looking at the Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bullocks (77 US WB – okay not a British but there’s no way I could afford one of those anyway) that is sitting up on the wall. I know it’s not the yellow vinyl special edition, it’s actually an original, in great shape for an almost forty year old album and expensive but dammit, I want that sound. I’ve done the lecture on how punk is best on vinyl. How it brings back having the band sweat on you and the feeling of people slamming against one another. I point at the album and make a noise in the back of my throat. The owner’s wife instead of making me get out of line has the crowd body surf the vinyl to me across the store.
I’m listening to the needle drop of it right now. The MND had to do a little work because it was done low-fi. Set at a lower volume then records are usually. The record however was in perfect condition and sounds a lot more layered than you would expect a punk album to sound. Crap, could I actually be accusing the most iconic punk album of having depth? Maybe not, but it draws you in, makes you part of the album. You can understand why people wanted to be part of that scene, were happy to put safety pins in their nose and color their Mohawks. This sound draws you in, wants to make you part of something. It’s laid out for you in the grooves.
The MND was happy with his haul as well. Besides The Doors he glommed onto the Happy Mondays Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches on yellow vinyl and the The Kinks Kinksize Session 7 inch. Into the stack went Otis Redding Otis Blue and Bruce Springsteen Born in the USA (RSD issue). The Boss is from my childhood, he explained when I blinked at him which made me feel really old since I remember when his first album came out and everybody talked about him being the next Dylan. He also picked up two Tori Amos albums, Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink that Steve was holding for him.
He made a needle drop of her Little Earthquakes album for me and I have to say it’s bloody amazing. As he put it, “Time to use the CD as a coaster.” Sure it sounds like hipster talk but I compared the songs before I deleted them off my hard drive. The digital sounded cramped and tinny compared to the analog. Especially on a song like ‘Me and a Gun’ where it’s just her voice you can really tell the difference. ‘Crucify’ is the song that most people are familiar with and I have to say the emotional punch is doubled.
Of course, since we are junkies and never truly satisfied we did our usual vinyl crawl checking out the used spots and hit B&N. I couldn’t help myself, once having started spending money the process wouldn’t stop. I picked up The Pogues Rum, Sodomy and the Lash because you can never have enough Pogues. This was from the original pressings without the song ‘A Pistol For Paddy Garcia’ that was added to the 2005 re-release which is fine because it means the pressing is better. Then I see the Suicidal Tendencies limited edition first album on white vinyl, okay that goes on the stack This was actually a special pressing. Just as I thought I would get out the door without spending anymore I saw the Jane’s Addiction Nothing Shocking album complete with the uncensored cover. Dammit.
The MND was just as caught up in the fever. At the used record store he found The Music of the Cosmos from Carl Sagan’s show and just couldn’t pass it up. At B&N he snaps up Etta James At Last an album that has been on his list for a long time and he didn’t even realize was out. To go with the Strange Days album he just had to get Morrison Hotel and because for him there is no such thing as too much Rush, the Caress of Steel album.
He also picked up The Who’s My Generation in mono. The whole question of “Why buy mono, obviously stereo sounds better?” is perfectly valid up to the point that the albums are mixed for mono. You can find albums that were rushed out when stereo came out where they took mono albums and faked them to sound like stereo. As you can imagine the result sucks. If you want to hear what it was meant to sound like listen to the way it was originally recorded. Does it take a little getting used to, sure. Is it something that is worth your time, maybe? It just depends on how into this you want to be.
In the words of the poet Ice Cube, “Today I didn’t even have to use my A.K. I got to say it was a good day.”