The Rolling Stone Record Guide

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It wasn’t the beginning of it all, but it was the catalyst.  Music for me began with The Beatles and John Denver, played in our living room by my sister.  She was 11 years old than me and when she left the house, so did the music.  Fast forward to seventh grade, when I listened to whatever was on the radio sitting in the back of a neighbor’s Toyota Corolla on the way to school.  “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Silly Love Songs,”  “A Fifth of Beethoven,” “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, “Shout it Out Loud,” “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” “Love is Alive”… not everything was great, but it became a regular diet.  Then came my first stereo, which was quickly fed Wing’s “Greatest Hits,” Beach Boy’s “Endless Summer,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” and the Star Wars soundtrack.  Add a bit of radio, and you can fill a year with that stuff.

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In 1979, “The Rolling Stone” magazine/publisher released their Record Guide.  The timing was perfect.  I was interested in the magazine by the point, but I was already a generation of readers beyond their cultural relevance.  It was a monthly source of album reviews.  I didn’t care who authored the magazine’s or the book’s reviews (largely Dave Marsh and John Swenson in the latter’s case), but they were informative, shaping my musical interests and preferences.  And, when the reviews weren’t so informative, they were humorous:

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Please note: Ratings varied from one star (poor) to five stars (indispensable), but, where deserved, they also offered the square blocks you see here, indicating “Worthless: a record that need never (or should never) have been created.  Reserved for the most bathetic bathwater.”  While many have taken exception to the ratings assigned to many albums, usually at the cost of their favorites or with the benefit of hindsight as to more recent artists (at the time) that rated well shortly became irrelevant, the Record Guide, as evidenced by its wear, remains one of my favorite books in the house.

The depth of reviews varied between a few helpful words, a commentary on several key albums by an artist, or a lengthier narrative, for Dylan and the Stones, for example, that charted the artist’s growth.   Aside from introducing new artists to me and connecting the dots for artists I grew to like, the Record Guide essentially started me on “collecting,” albeit tempting me to waste money on bands that didn’t suit me or, worse, pushing me towards completionist tendencies for those that I did.  In any case, I’d put dashes by the albums I thought I might like, then crossed them off as I found them.  And find them, I did.

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And that particular joy didn’t come from amazon.com.  It came from a lot of visits to record stores, department stores, “head shops,” or anywhere else that sold new and used records.  There was joy in musical discoveries, but just as much for the search itself.  There were many, many unplanned stops from my accommodating mom plus road trips with friends to cities with more and better stores just to find records.  Those shops are mostly gone today, and where music sellers remain, reading through a trough of CD spines doesn’t compare with walking one’s fingers through a rack of vinyl.  That particular joy has returned for some with the resurgence of interest in vinyl, but I’ll stick with the clear sounding, no maintenance CDs (which is itself old-fashioned for those who prefer their digital files absent a physical media).  In any case, during a recent visit to the L.A. area, I made time for Amoeba Music.  I won’t say it’s the last great record store, but.. they’re a dying breed (a smartly provisioned shoebox sized store named Decatur CD is the best Atlanta can muster).  This isn’t Amoeba’s first or only location, but it’s the largest.  Anyway, here’s their beacon in the Hollywood night:

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They have free parking underneath the store, which is helpful.  You enter a stairwell or elevator to go to the main floor, and you already get the gist of the place:

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This isn’t the entire store, there’s a third of that to the front of the store and another third beyond the wall, where the easy listening, jazz, and other genres are located.  And, there’s a balcony area, where Blu-rays, DVDs, etc. are located.

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This row includes used CDs from the mid-R’s through the S  artists, for a sense of scale. Note the additional CDs at floor level.  Another section has new CDs.

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As this was a visit to L.A., I did find a more than respectable offering of Frank Sinatra CDs, separated by recording label even, and crossed two recordings off my cell phone’s “CDs to buy” list.  Darn handy, that.  I tacked on a Procol Harum CD as well, something I don’t typically come across anywhere other than Amazon, and, buying from a remaining music bastion is a right thing to do, even if they’re a buck or two more expensive.  If you’re not familiar with Procol Harum, you don’t have to run out to buy the Record Guide on eBay.  You can go to allmusic.com.  I wonder if kids today can imagine life without the world at their fingertips.

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Music stores don’t stay in business selling music anymore, though.  So, the walls are covered with posters, most of which are for sale, such as these original concert flyers.  If you click on the picture to make it bigger, you’ll see they’re rather pricey.

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Elsewhere, posters are placed for effect, such as Johnny Cash saying hello above the register area (and lunch boxes from my era are now antiques, I suppose):

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Oh, movie posters, too, mostly reprints.

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Sadly, some albums are so bad or are in such poor condition that they might be thrown out.  Well, not in California.  It’s environmentally friendly, I suppose, to cut up the covers and sell them as postcards.  I mailed one to my wife.

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They sell about anything music related, like T-shirts, but also these pretty cool lamps:

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Upstairs, I couldn’t help but note and laugh at the bargains available for VHS tapes.

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Due to traffic, I made it a late night trek, arriving at the store at 9:30 (they closed at 11:00).  I wasn’t disappointed with the sights.

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Now, if I can just make it to the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis…

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