Sunday, April 25, 2010

I ♥ Record Shopping

"Idaho retailers are primed for the comeback of vinyl records"

(Note: the above headline was created by a Spokesman-Review editor. I do actually realize that vinyl records have been "coming back" for many years. What can you do, I guess.)

I’ve been a music nerd long enough to remember head banging to my mother’s Paul Simon and Barry Manilow 8-tracks in the back seat of our 1979 Chevy Citation.

These days, my computer has become the main stereo of the house and the iPod dock in my car provides the musical backdrop for all my driving adventures. It’s an amazingly convenient and easy way to do it, but as someone known for irritating friends and family while on vacation by spending entire days dragging them from record shop to record shop, I can’t get over the feeling that there’s something desperately missing from the digital music experience.

Essentially, MP3s lack the luscious tangibility of CDs and vinyl albums, and the physical act of actually going into a store and leisurely flipping through the dusty racks is something I’ll probably never tire of. While our local area isn’t exactly a destination spot for music-shopping junkies, the majority of items in my admittedly out-of-control massive collection of CDs, tapes and records were likely purchased right here in the good old Idaho Panhandle.

Fire up the old Victor Victrola or dust off that totally tubular boom box from the ’80s and check out some of these local places to search for collectible oldies and current hits in whatever format tickles your fancy.

Founded in 1973, Coeur d’Alene’s the Long Ear, 2505 N. Fourth St., is undeniably the top bunny with area music shoppers. Store owners Terry and Deon Borchard have managed to survive and thrive in an era when both mom-and-pop record shops and massive chains like Tower Records are shuttering their doors for good faster than you can say “iTunes.”

The Long Ear’s sizeable cult of regulars return time and time again for not only their impressively broad selection of new and used CDs and vinyl (along with an assortment of posters, incense and gifts), but for the royal treatment the Borchards and their knowledgeable staff have always given their customers.

I stopped in this week to peruse their record rack and came away with not only a few treasures to add to my record pile, but also some free swag made to commemorate Record Store Day, an annual celebration honoring independent music retailers worldwide. Delightfully, lurking in the record racks for 99 cents, I found a used Liberace album which had been cleverly redecorated by it's previous owner with random scrawling and Chinese fortunes ("You're going to have some new clothes"). (Click image for more glorious detail)

The last 15-or-so years have seen an increasing resurgence in the popularity of vinyl albums, and the majority of new releases are once again being pressed up for retail. Even mega-chains like Hastings, 106 E. Best Ave., have gotten into the action with a not huge, but fairly reasonable selection of new vinyl. They tend to cost a few dollars more than a boring old CD or an iTunes download, but they’re frequently packaged with a certificate for a free digital copy of the album. Plus, there’s just nothing quite like the smell of a freshly-opened record on a sunny afternoon.

It’s also fun to scour Hastings’ huge clearance CD section, which is stuffed with long out-of-print nonhits and oddball mysteries, which for only a buck or two each, are a low-risk way to try new stuff.

If you have a fetish for classic 45 rpm singles like I do, Collector’s Records (appointment only, call 208-664-4549) is going to make you do the watusi with joy. Owner Richard Ochoa closed his shop at Fourth and Best years ago, but has continued to sell his collection of more than 10,000 singles out of the basement of his home. You probably won’t find the latest Rihanna hit, but you might unearth that obscure, long-forgotten oldie you’ve been hunting down for years.

Of course there’s nowhere better to find crusty old records than in thrift stores. St. Vincent de Paul, 108 E. Walnut Ave., Coeur d’Alene, and 202 W. Seltice Way, Post Falls, has a notably large, continuously rotating selection, but often seems picked over, leaving not a lot to choose from, unless 101 Strings or Christopher Cross happen to rock your world. Still, I have had major luck there, once finding a rare Elvis 45 which I spotted later that afternoon on eBay for $350.

Believe it or not, hissy old cassette tapes have recently become hot in hipster circles, and thrift stores make it easy to jump on that bandwagon with prices usually in the 25- to 50-cent range. Just think, you could purchase the entire Abba oeuvre for less than a measly $5 bill.

On my last Sunday drive to Sandpoint, I was a bit disappointed to find that town’s only music shop, Main Street Music and Games (111 Main St.), locked up tight. Peering through the window, I did see quite a few tempting CD racks, and I’m excited to make a return visit on a day they’re actually open. When I do, I’m bound to find even more titles that the Get Out International Library of Music simply wouldn’t be complete without.

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