Record Store Day Diary

By David Chiu

The last couple of years have been a very sad time for record stores everywhere and especially in the city. Both Virgin Megastores in Times Square and Union Square have recently shut down. And the great Tower Records, particularly the one in the East Village, has been closed for nearly three years and the space still remains unoccupied. With the exception of J&R Music World, there are hardly any places with wider selections where I could browse all day in the aisles, or wait on line to have musicians autograph my CDs. (And I’m not including Best Buy).

I’m finding myself downloading music more but I miss the thrill of the physical object in my hands- the artwork and the act of reading the liner notes or lyrics. And it’s not the same feeling when you order something through Amazon.

I knew I wanted to be a part of the second annual Record Store Day. For those unfamiliar, Record Store Day is when all the indie record stores across the country sell special items available only on that day, ranging from a vintage seven-inch vinyl record to a limited edition CD. Some places even hold in-store artist performances. The day’s purpose is to reinforce the importance of record shops, which, as evidenced by the closing of Virgin, are a dying breed.

When the day finally arrived, I headed for J&R Music World in City Hall bright and early. I know what you’re thinking: yes, J&R doesn’t usually come to mind when one thinks of the kitschy indie record shop as it’s more known for its electronics and computers. But the store actually has a decent and wide selection, and it was listed as a participant on the Record Store Day Web site.

What I really wanted to buy was Queen’s First EP by Queen. Containing four songs from the band’s previous albums, it was first released in Britain in 1977 but never in America. To my recent surprise, I learned that it was being reissued here just for Record Store Day; plus it was numbered so it had collectors’ value. As a fan who owns nearly every Queen release, I absolutely had to get this.

So when I got to the Queen CDs section at J&R I panicked because the EP wasn’t there! OMG! I thought—that meant I had to go to another place. Fortunately, the special Record Store Day items were towards the back of the store. Not only did I grab Queen’s First EP, I also bought vintage 45 singles of The Smiths’ “The Headmaster Ritual” and New Order’s “Temptation” packaged in their original picture sleeves. (I think they were the last copies). There were other items displayed including stuff by the Pretenders and King Crimson.

That was just one part of the fun: Outside of the store, J&R employees set up a table where they gave out free CDs. Granted, most of them were by unknown artists or record company samplers, but to my surprise they were handing out the Rolling Stones’ soundtrack to the excellent Shine a Light concert movie and lots of classical music CDs, so I got those. It was like Christmas in April. I wished I would’ve brought a bigger bag.

Then I took the R train and schlepped to another participating indie record shop Other Music, located in the East Village. Unfortunately, I wasn’t lucky enough to get inside as a line already developed around the corner before the store opened. Other Music was really treating this as a major event as it scheduled a listening party for the upcoming new Bob Dylan album as well as DJ sets. When the doors finally opened around 11:15 a.m., they were only letting in a few people at a time. I snapped a few pictures and left.

All in all I made a pretty respectable haul. More importantly, it was fun to check out albums again. There were some great times back in the day when I used to buy 45s at Tower, or old LPs at now-forgotten West Village places like Revolver Records. I could still spend a whole day browsing and looking for that rare gem or bargain.

All I know is I’ll be ready for the next Record Store Day in 2010. For now, I can’t wait to hear the Smiths and New Order 45s I bought, except for one thing: I don’t have a turntable.