Fallout — gone; Jam — gone; Bedazzled — gone. Now, after almost 80 years, Fillipi Books and Records is joining the list of dearly departed record stores. So where can the Puget Sound area's vinyl worshippers — and they are passionate, if not legion — go to indulge?
Fallout — gone; Jam — gone; Bedazzled — gone. Now, after almost 80 years, Fillipi Books and Records is joining the list of dearly departed record stores. So where can the Puget Sound area’s vinyl worshippers — and they are passionate, if not legion — go to indulge?
“Seattle has lost some of the best record stores we’ve ever had,” says Northwest writer, collector and music historian Peter Blecha. “This limits the options for new people entering the [vinyl collecting] field.”
Despite compact discs’ two decades of dominance on the music scene, many music lovers either never abandoned vinyl or are new converts to the old technology: audiophiles who love the sound of analog over digital, collectors who can’t live without that rare record, and music fans nostalgic for the days when studying liner notes and album covers took precedence over algebra and chemistry.
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Happily, several stores are still going strong, and new record-sellers have appeared to serve the reawakening vinyl needs of the CD generation.
That’s fitting for Seattle, and grunge, which Blecha says played a vital role in the resurrection of vinyl records after CD sales passed them by in the ’80s. Particularly effective: the Sub Pop label, whose initial fame stemmed from its vinyl singles club.
“It wasn’t a CD club, it wasn’t a DVD club. It was vinyl 7-inch singles,” Blecha says. “I don’t think there were any grunge records recorded that didn’t come out on vinyl. That was a Northwest-driven aesthetic thing that the major labels jumped on.” When bands like Nirvana switched from local labels to the big time, the national labels had to go along and produce vinyl versions of their work.
Diverse music, fans
Fremont’s 3-year-old Jive Time Records is doing more than just staying in business; it’s expanding into a newly opened two-story, all-vinyl shop on Capitol Hill. Owner David Day doesn’t have a definitive reason for the store’s success, though he credits helpful clerks (no “High Fidelity” Jack Black attitudes here) and a wide range of product.
“We don’t really specialize in one genre of music,” he says. “Our customers are about as diverse as our inventory. We have high-school kids up to old men collecting blues and jazz. People are just interested in underground music. Vinyl’s just a natural place to go to explore that.”
Kids also pore through racks of mainstream classic rock like Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. “Even though they didn’t grow up with it, they still seem nostalgic for it,” Day says.
Another reason younger customers buy the store’s used vinyl is the price. The Who’s “Who’s Next” for $5 in Jive Time’s sale rack surely beats a $12.99 CD on Amazon. And would you even notice those famous stains on the cover photograph at CD size?
Across town, a skinny kid who looks about the same age as the first CD flips through a rack of indie punk records at Singles Going Steady. He’s searching for a present for his 21-year-old sister, who’s getting her first turntable this Christmas. Above his head, black and white fliers stick to the ceiling, advertising punk and metal acts in town. A display case of studded leather collars sits on one side of the front door; an incongruous Britney Spears poster adorns the other. She looks uncomfortable. She shouldn’t.
It isn’t all punk, affable owner Pete Genest says. Though the small Belltown store carries quite a selection of that genre, there are also reggae, ska, rock and metal records. What sets it apart, besides the collars, is the quantity of new vinyl, about 65 percent of the stock. Genest says his customers often choose vinyl because the music they want can’t be found on CD. A lot of smaller bands these days often put out just a single, he says.
Vinyl draws collectors
Of course, not all vinyl fans are young. And they aren’t all searching for rare new songs. Collector John DeBlaiso, who produces the Northwest Record and CD Convention three times a year (the next show is March 20 at Seattle Center) sees all kinds at his shows.
Big sellers are looking for ’50s jazz — the earlier the better — and ’60s psychedelic, really out-there bands like the Licorice Experiment and Marble.
“Oddball” records are also popular, he says, like a 1968 William Shatner album featuring “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” priced at $100. The vocal stylings of Leonard Nimoy, however, are not as rare.
Inside the vast warehouse of vinyl that is Ballard’s Bop Street Records & Tapes, owner Dave Voorhees describes his customers’ obsession, raising his voice to be heard over the twanging vocals of the Carlisles’ 1954 single “The Mainest’ [!!] Thing” spinning on a turntable in the corner.
“There really aren’t many CDs that are collectible,” he explains. “There are all kinds of vinyl. Some people collect vinyl to listen to it. Some people collect it to have a rare record.”
And there are the audiophiles who hear a difference between CDs and records.
“They just feel that it’s got a kind of warmer feel to it,” Voorhees says.
Easy Street Records clerk, musician and disc jockey Glenn Crowe, 29, agrees, though he collects both forms of music.
“Computer music is an illusion of continuity, more like the movies,” he says. No matter how many bits are pieced together, you’re not hearing the music exactly as it was played, as you are with analog. “There’s this roundness; if you’re playing it really loud you can feel it in your chest.”
Though Bop Street has an estimated half-million records, representing just about every musical genre, Voorhees has a special place in his heart and his store for devotees of album artwork. A back room is lined with shelf after shelf of releases categorized by cover art: smoking, naked people, outer space, whatever. He pulls out “Bill Carty Blasts Off,” with the ’60s comedian’s goofy face floating zanily across the sky.
“This should be in the floating heads section!” he says. Well, of course.
Record options online
If you can live without the atmosphere of the dusty record store, you may have even more options at your fingertips.
“eBay has caused a revolution in record collecting,” Blecha says, though he didn’t start using the auction site until a few years ago. On a whim he searched eBay for the rarest record he could think of. Four keywords and $200 later, he owned Seattle country star Bonnie Guitar’s 1956 Fabor release, “Dark Moon.”
But there is a downside to searching for records online, be it through eBay or through other outlets where you tell the sellers what you’re searching for.
“By giving them your [want] list, you’re showing them your hand,” Blecha says. This in turn may affect the price. Store owners are also feeling the effect, because collectors can sell items online rather than through them.
Blecha, who recently sold his 20,000-piece collection of Northwest music memorabilia to Experience Music Project, still buys and listens to records. Like others who remember the days before CDs, he can’t help poring over those album covers when he pulls out the vinyl.
“I still do it with the albums I have when I do listen to them,” he says. “You can set it there and try not to look at it, but there’s still that attraction.”
Heather McKinnon: firstname.lastname@example.org