Almanac Music: The Last Record Store

Customer: Hi, do you have the song “I Just Called To Say I Love You?” It’s for my daughter’s birthday.
Barry: Yea we have it.
Customer: Great, Great, can I have it?
Barry: No, no, you can’t.
Customer: Why not?
Barry: Well, it’s sentimental tacky crap. Do we look like the kind of store that sells I Just Called to Say I Love You? Go to the mall.
(High Fidelity – Nick Hornby)

Record shops were doing OK until the late 1980s. Then vinyl had to share shelf-space with the ubiquitous CD and in an inverse relationship, the number of vinyl records decreased as the number of CDs exponentially increased.

Eventually, the vinyl section all but disappeared, and so did most decent record shops (particularly those smaller establishments down around the corner in some alley). About all that remained were CD emporiums “in the mall”. The wonderful artwork of the album cover was now in miniature. And the font size of the printing of all that important information on the back of the cover made it very difficult to read.

In the new age of on-line purchasing, CD shops too have essentially vanished. While the humble record shop belongs mainly to a bygone era, it is encouraging that, in every city, there are some notable exceptions. A number of these icons survive. Some are flourishing, some struggle to stay alive. Also pleasing is the rebirth of vinyl. Long may it continue. In Keiran Deck’s recent Almanac Music post On Record, Keiran interviewed Phil Place, owner of Dynomite records in the Canberra suburb of Kambah. It took me back to all the record stores of my past, to musing over my vinyl and CD collection and to a decision to exhume the decommissioned turntable from the garage and have it restored to functioning status again. Watch out Dynomite Records, Landspeed and Songland in Canberra.

Record shops have always fascinated and enthused me. Bins or racks containing treasures waiting to be discovered. Posters and record covers of all descriptions adorning the walls. Specialist vinyl (and later compilation, anthology or definitive collection CD packs) in hard-to-reach cupboards. The proprietor in earnest discussion on the phone or over the counter with a customer. Amazing discoveries that you just have to own, including the album containing whatever that track is now playing over the speakers.

In the beginning, the nature of the shop didn’t matter. It was the wonders contained within, in the record bins or on the racks. It was the feeling that hit you when you walked through the door. Record shops have provided the sound track of my life. My first purchases as a teenager in 1960’s Adelaide were made at a nondescript shop in Adelaide Arcade – 45’s of Elvis, Buddy Holly, Duane Eddy, Del Shannon and the Big O. My first LP, The Shadows Greatest Hits led to an early career on air guitar. Then came the EP’s of The Beatles, The Animals, The Hollies, The Twilights, Thorpey et al. Verandah Music near the Richmond Hotel was the source of now classic LP’s – The Beatles and Bob Dylan before the Rolling Stones and the Butterfield Blues Band took me to the blues and the music of Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Slim Harpo. And then there was Neil Young. From the 70s onwards, there was the wonderful Muses in Rundle Street/Mall. One of my purchases was Sonola by The Black Sorrows. Now, so many years later, Joe Camilleri is releasing vinyl albums again. There were shops all around the city and suburbs. Their longevity varied but they provided all the blues and contemporary music you could wish to hear, new records or second hand. That shop in Flinders Street – for a while. Then, exceedingly fleetingly, a blues shop back upstairs in Adelaide Arcade. John Davis Records helped satisfy a growing jazz curiosity. And then there was Big Star. Verandah Music and Muses were great but Big Star was the real deal. Dingy and dark. Creaky wooden floors with wooden bins containing loads of blues – Magic Sam, Elmore James, Etta James, Buddy Guy, Charlie Musselwhite. Vinyl or CD.

Away from Adelaide were the likes of 78s in Hay Street, Perth (for the blues of Robert Johnson and Tommy McClennan and new discoveries like Frankie Miller, and Little Feat) and the Record Exchange in Brisbane (my wife Deborah, heavily into guitar-drenched sounds, bought all the Gary Moore in sight). Or somewhere near Wynyard station (or was it Town Hall) in Sydney where I discovered Bonnie Raitt. In Melbourne I visited Basement Discs. Wow. In recent years, Paul Kelly on deck in the basement to autograph a copy of his book/CD compilation How To Make Gravy.

Overseas for work or holiday, whatever the city, a reconnoitre of record shops has been a necessity. The wonderful Bleecker Street Records in downtown New York. A shop near the city centre of Philadelphia where the owner just wanted to talk AC/DC and The Bee Gees. The Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans. I first heard Johnny Clegg in a record shop in France. The now defunct 78 Record Exchange in Underbank, Stockport, Cheshire where I purchased a 78rpm vinyl of Buddy Holly. Can’t play it but it’s in the collection! Why was I in Stockport? Well that’s another story.

But the best record shop of them all, without doubt, was Hound Dog’s Bop Shop in Victoria Street, Melbourne, just up from the markets. Unfortunately now closed, it shone as one of the greatest and certainly the quirkiest record store I have ever come across. An intimate shop full of charm and passion, of wonderful discussion and banter among the clientele. And the proprietor, Dennys, knew stuff – he had the answer to anything you wanted to know about music – rock ‘n roll, rockabilly and rhythm and blues in particular.

On my first visit to Hound Dog’s back in the 1980’s I purchased hard-to-find 45’s. Hits from way back by Jackie Wilson, Bobby Day, Arthur Conley, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. The records all had a big hole in the centre so I had to buy a plastic sleeve to slot onto the turntable spindle. And I had to have that bumper sticker that proclaimed, “Rockin’ and Boppin’ Is Our Way Of Life”. Way to go.
My last visits there coincided with a trip to the MCG. Canberra based for the past ten years or so, I would meet up with scaly mates from Adelaide once a year to see the Crows either beat St Kilda or get hammered (generally) by Collingwood. Arriving on a Saturday morning, I would drop into Hound Dog’s as soon as the doors opened. Behind the counter or out alongside the bins, there would be four or five seen-better-years boomer blokes just like me. Jeans, grey haired or balding, non-designer black T-shirt with or without a salient message or image of Elvis or somebody obscure. One or two of them already into a stubby – as you do on a Saturday morning! Some great guitar from an unknown artist ringing through the in-store speakers. With the turntable non-operational, I purchased CD’s of Bobby Charles, Jackie Wilson (again), Clyde McPhatter, more Townes Van Zandt, Sam Cooke and Lucinda Williams. And a wonderful CD by the artist known as the Tan Canary, Johnny Adams. I urge you to visit YouTube and experience his stunning Reconsider Me as soon as you can. For the sake of your soul. And what were those dazzling sounds in the airwaves? I just had to have that CD also. In answer to my inquiry, Dennys informed me that it was Pee Wee Crayton, a rhythm & blues artist from Texas. We discussed Texas music for a while. One of the other blokes behind the counter quietly listened to our conversation. As I made my purchases he leaned over towards Dennys and, nodding in my direction, said, “Why don’t you play The Singing Nun and see if he’ll buy that too”.

I probably would have.

 

About Peter Crossing

Peter Crossing loves the pure 'n natch'l blues. A conflicted Crows supporter and former resident of Canberra, he has enjoyed the fact that GWS brought an exciting style of Australian football to the National capital. He is a member of the silver fox faction of the Adelaide Uni Greys.

Comments

  1. I got so many records at 78s. The first was the Kinks’ Arthur, etc in 1980.

  2. From 1973 to 1981 I bought a half dozen shiny heavy imported vinyl discs with heavy fold out covers (plus inserts) every pay day. Before I could donate the balance to the bookies.
    Import albums were cheap back then for reasons I don’t remember. I bought the US Rolling Stone magazine printed on newspaper stock (no glossy cover and pages) – some weeks in arrears of its US release by the time it got off the boat.
    Scoured the record reviews for the new Dylan. Springsteen stuck. Steve Forbert disappeared.
    My cool dope smoking mates insisted I needed Ummagumma, King Crimson and Jefferson Starship. All shit that never got a second play.
    I was an Adelaide boy like you PC and I remember a shop in Regent Arcade, and another one in Grenfell Street next to Rowe and Jarman sports. I have no idea of their names.
    While my music buying reduced over time I continued to search for the holy grail until about 5 years ago, when I decided that I could just die happy listening to The Band, Emmylou, Jackson Browne, Bruce, Bob, Go Betweens etc etc.
    Only new purchase that has excited me in the last few years is the Lost on the River; New Basement Tapes collaboration. I probably love it because it sounds old – like me.

  3. Great memories Peter. – can add Modern Love Somgs (import shop run by Bo – also drummer for The Dagoes) and Greasy Pop Records off Frome Street.
    These days some of those memories are rekindled by visits to Landspeed – not quite the same but not bad.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Adelaide Record shops – courtesy of Roadrunner magazine, Sep 1978, p5

    The Muses (Regent Arcade)
    Savery’s Record Bar (39 Rundle Mall, downstairs)
    Now Records (13a Grote St, just up from the market)
    Downtown Records (2 locations – 61 Flinders St, 169 Rundle St)
    Record Man (7 Adelaide Arcade, close to Grenfell St)
    JM Records (57 Victoria Square, in the arcade)
    Soul Train (18 Peel St)
    Andromeda Music (229 Rundle St)
    The Record Factory (downstairs, 6 Rundle Arcade)
    Modern Love Songs (39 Twin St) – http://www.stereostories.com/roadrunner-by-the-modern-lovers/
    Umbrella Music (218 Rundle St, enter from Frome Rd)
    Don’s Records (5 Arcade Lane)
    John Davis Records (24 Charles St)
    Verandah Music – Cheap Numbers (128 Rundle Mall, Richmond Arcade)
    Allans (58 Gawler Place)
    Bookmasters (87 Grenfell St)
    Thirdworld Bookstore (103 Hindley St)

    Bought my first import album from Verandah in 1977 – 801 (Phil Manzanera)

    Still got ’em all, just waiting until I get Colin Thiele’s 1962 Radiola working.

  5. DBalassone says

    The decay of the second hand record store is something that saddens me, but thankfully in Melbourne we still have the two Dixons stores in Blackburn and Brunswick. Last week I managed to grab ‘All is Forgiven’ the second studio album by Tex, Don & Charlie. Wonderful stuff, containing the Don Walker classic ‘Harry Was a Bad Bugger’. Speaking of the holy grail PB; for me it is the trilogy of Don Walker solo albums ‘We’re All Gunna Die’, ‘Cutting Back’ and ‘Hully Gully’.

  6. Umbrella Records! I spent many a lunch hour there when working at the RAH. Purchases included X, The Jam, Ted Nugent, Sam n Dave, Professor Longhair and Motörhead amongst many others. Upstairs with creaking floors, a unique smell and eclectic collection (& clientele).

    Sadly as I got older, so did the turntable, and it eventually stopped turning! Mrs Nose decreed we get rid of it and purchase a high tech CD player in its stead. With the turntable now gone there seemed no reason to keep the vinyl, so out went the above plus my treasured Alice Cooper & Clash collections. When the first person who responded to the newspaper ad phoned at 5:45am and offered to pay my asking price, I had a suspicion my price was too low. This was confirmed when caller no. 2 offered to pay a 50% premium to secure my collection. The phone ran hot all day.

    My recent years has me trying to recall what I had on vinyl, then downloading said album/song. (Swish – a recent discussion with the King reminded me of Graham Parker, who has since been downloaded). However the digital version is not the same as the vinyl experience, particularly as it lacks the album cover. As an aside the 20 minutes approx per side of an LP makes a perfect companion when painting the house. 20 mins is the perfect length to paint, then give the arm a bit of a rest when flipping the record!

    Thanks for the memories of vinyl and the old record stores

  7. DBalassone- a few years back I spent a fruitless day by phone, internet and car searching for Sad But True by Tex, Don & Charlie. Must try again soon! Let me know if you spot it anywhere!

    Great piece Peter. I think Big Star is closed, and Krypton discs in Glenelg closed its doors, a couple years ago so I’m not sure what’s left in Adelaide, if anything.

    So Fresh CDs at Big W?

  8. Dennis Gedling says

    The same problem is inflicting Perth too but I’m guilty of doing a lot of online shopping now for anything new and challenging.

    Good to see Dada’s in Perth is still going strong with the same surly owner through all the years. The trouble is anything special has to be ordered in if you want vinyl as they’ll only stock the stuff they know they’ll sell to ‘vinyl tourists’ wanting classic albums.

    78s offer nothing these days and are competing with JB HiFi for the Gen Y market. Fat Shan’s closed down on Barrack St and is now unfortunately only online. Looks like the iconic Planet in Mt Lawley right under RTR FM won’t last much longer (their much loved DVD store is up for lease). Mills in Fremantle is a shadow of what it once was.

  9. DBalassone says

    Hey Mickey. I’ve seen that album at JB Hi Fi recently – I think the Doncaster Shoppingtown store (in Vic). Let me know if you want me to pick it up. It’s well worth it.

  10. Spent way too much dough at Dirt Cheap CD’s in Collins Place until it moved somewhere else a couple years ago (where there was cheaper rent I’d imagine).

    It always had a very broad range of CD’s (& DVD’s) and the way it was set out made hunting for gold a fun exercise. You could hardly move in there some lunchtimes.

  11. Rick Kane says

    I’ve just come from Basement Discs (Melb) with the new Rhiannon Giddens record (on vinyl).

    I had a great chat with Pat Monahan (who, Dennis, incidentally, a long time ago – 80s – was one of Dada’s surly staff) about vinyl sales. He reckons there hasn’t been a new record printing machine built in the last 30 years. Therefore all those albums being turned into vinyl today are being done so on old presses. And there aren’t enough presses in the world to keep up with demand (small though it is). Consequentially, print runs are currently up to two months behind schedule. Trouble is, no-one wants to invest in building new presses as the demand isn’t big enough and the feeling is that any minute now the bottom will drop out of the market. The cost to print vinyl is pretty high and the price of vinyl records (not second hand) is prohibitive. Interesting production side dilemma.

    Having said that, since I was given a record player for Xmas I am certainly enjoying playing the big black slabs from time to time.

    Finally, for Perthites, don’t forget Plastic Passion in Maylands. Stuart has run his second hand store since the 80s and knows his stuff.

    Cheers

  12. Like others here, I spent far too much pocket money on vinyl music when I was growing up.

    Growing up on what was then the fringes of urban Melbourne you had to wait until the school holidays to get into Melbourne and spend big on records.

    I dropped more money than I care to add up at Central Station/Metal for Melbourne when it was at Princes Bridge (now Fed Square for non-Vic readers) and Pipe Records in the Nicholas Building in Swanson Street. There’s some acts that I honestly believe benefit from being recorded digitally, but there’s something digital can’t reproduce when listening to metal on vinyl.

    Daniel Janecka’s still going strong, not sure how Greta and the Metal for Melbourne crew have fared over the journey.

  13. Coincidentally, I am purchasing a turn-table tomorrow.
    I am sick of thumbing through my old albums and being unable to play them.

    Thanks for this, Peter. It brought back memories of not-so-wasted hours hanging around E.S. Marr’s record store in Williamstown. Is it even worth mentioning that Eddy’s old shop is now a real estate agent?

  14. John Butler says

    PC, Hound Dog’s is an excellent call. The place was it’s own entertainment just for the clientele.

    The Louisiana Music Factory, likewise. I think they have a plaque in honour of RRR’s Brian Wise on the wall. Or so they should.

    JD, Dirt Cheap CD’s moved to the other side of town. It’s in the ex DFO building next to Southern Cross Station. He’s got back into vinyl as well.

    Greville Records was a fave of mine. Warwick Brown will always set you straight if you ask. And he was a fine muso himself – check out his old band Sunset Strip, if you didn’t already know. John Nolan worked at Greville for years.- the John Coltrane of Oz guitarists. Long live the Powdermonkeys.

    Geez I sound like an old fart.

  15. An excellent article. I was debating the value of vinyl with a Gen x type only last week, and despite attempts to outline the way to examine the album cover and artwork, that the songs were placed onto the album in a particular order for a reason, that when I pul out an old (now CD album) to listen to 1 song I invariably have to listen to another track or two before playing the next album etc. , I was met with a blank look – I may as well have spoken to the cat.
    As a Grey myself, I would visit the store on the corner of Rundle and Frome sts – thrash/grind/grunge? Recall buying Rocket to Russia and Stoneage Romeos and a few other albums there. Bought my replacement B52 s album there. Moved to Melbourne, and living in Carlton/Fitzroy, visit Polyester. A lot. Bought the CD to replace the replacement B52s album there. And the replacement Cd for the replacement CD etc. Would drop into another store on Bourke St,but can’t remember the name. Found a store in Hay St, while living in Perth from where I bought the first Presets album (I called and asked them to order it in – they’d never heard from them and I had to call the local community radio station to get the details). Even put my head into Big Star Magill Rd 2 weeks ago – still smells and looks and sounds like a record shop – highly recommend it.

  16. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Late 80s, I tracked down a compilation of 70s/80s independent singles on cassette(think Mannikins, Babeez, Victims, News, plus the usual suspects) before the Do The Pop etc compilations came out on CD.

    Anyways, went down to Andromeda after work to grab them.

    The surly half-wit aging stoner behind the counter took one look at my navy blue Peter Shearer double breasted suit with powder blue oxford shirt and muted paisley tie outfit (as per the systems accountant dress code of the day) and uttered, “What, you? Are you doing this for some sort of sociology experiment?”

    Only time that I remember being openly (mis)judged by a Barry equivalent.

  17. Malcolm Ashwood says

    A enjoyable read , Noughts you missed out a famous adelaide record place
    Fullerton rd home of Chocka Bloch and the Presley room

  18. Peter Crossing says

    Thanks for the feedback and the discussion about record stores and music – not to mention the navy blue suit and powder blue shirt!
    Music is a personal thing but it is really good to share.
    To quote Townes ” “There’s only two kinds of music… the blues and zippidy-doo-da.”
    But as Steve Earle said in a RN Music Show interview, ” A lot of zippidy-doo-da is worth listening to”.

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