Rooting for the record store

Pondering the power of grooved plastic on the occasion of Record Store Day on April 19.
A record player
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George’s Song Shop in Johnstown, family owned since 1932,
boasts an inventory of more than 1 million 45s and thousands of albums.

Record Store Day began in 2007 as a way to celebrate the uniqueness that is the nearly 1,000 independently owned record stores in the United States. It is celebrated on the third Saturday of April, with these Pennsylvania stores participating on April 19.

Online music retailers such as iTunes can never match the tactile power of a brick-and-mortar record store, whether the medium is vinyl, tape or CD.  Here are some of the snapshots that come to my mind when I ponder Record Store Day.

Track 1:
July 27, 1983 was a transformative day in my life.

I walked into DeOrsey’s Records at the Lewiston Mall in Maine, and I walked out having bought R.E.M.’s “Murmur” (As I did with many albums, I wrote the date of purchase on the back.)

It was love at first spin, even if I couldn’t tell what Michael Stipe was talking about. I would join the R.E.M. fan club. I would ask Sara to marry me the night of an R.E.M. concert. I would tear up in 2011 when Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills called it a career (Bill Berry already having retired).

Track 2:
R.E.M. owes its very existence to Wuxtry Records in Athens, Ga., where future guitarist Buck was an employee and future songwriter/singer Stipe was a customer before they teamed up with Mills and Berry.

Mike Mills, R.E.M.’s bassist, will be in Portland, Maine, on Record Store Day, for which R.E.M. is releasing its “MTV Unplugged” performances as a four-album set.


Track 3:
I never owned a turntable (unless you count the Mickey Mouse one – his left arm held the needle) until several Christmases ago, when my wife, Sara, bought me a portable one.

I haven’t used it much, so I was eager to share when my son, Jack, asked if he could try it. Up from the basement he and Sara came with a small stack of vinyl albums, including The Clash, Squeeze and Elvis Costello.

A child of the digital age, Jack needed a quick lesson in handling the vinyl and how to place the needle gently on the outside edge. He didn’t realize that it would advance to songs automatically.

Track 4:
One of the few things I liked about my one year at the University of Rochester were the area’s record stores. House of Guitars is well known among professional musicians, who contributed their autographs to a painted cinderblock wall.

One stood out for its audacity, signed as it was “Joe ‘F——-’ Perry,” which I’m guessing isn’t the Aerosmith guitarist’s real middle name.

A maze of rooms, House of Guitars advertised on late-night TV, owner Armand Schaubroeck, with his Kramer-esque hair well before “Seinfeld,” punctuated the spots with “Hop hop,” perhaps tracing its origin to this Easter commercial.

In this video, Schaubroeck gives a tour of HOG:

Track 5:
Unfortunately, many record stores didn’t make it. DeOrsey’s is gone, as is Manassas Ltd., a frequent stop in Brunswick, Maine, during my high school and college days where you might find a cat lying on top of a row of albums.

Soon after I transferred to the University of Missouri, I found Streetside Records. Every visit was a new discovery, from hearing Chris Isaak for the first time, to finding out that the Replacements had come out with “Pleased to Meet Me.”

I wasn’t there in person for Streetside’s final days, but I was able to eulogize the store in this Columbia Missourian article.

Track 6:
Johnstown is better known for its history of floods and the movie “Slap Shot,” but it’s also the home of America’s oldest record store. George’s Song Shop, family-owned since 1932, boasts an inventory of more than 1 million 45s and thousands of vinyl albums on five floors.

I need to get there.

Track 7:
Vinyl is a big part of Record Store Day, but for purists there’s Vinyl Record Day. It is held every Aug. 12: commemorating the day in 1877 when Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph.
Gary Freiberg, founder of Vinyl Record Day and a vinyl record preservationist, has noted that only 5 percent of all recordings have been transferred to a digital format.






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