As you startChristmas shopping for your music-loving loved ones, keep three things in mind. First, a beautiful vinyl LP looks a lot better wrapped in shiny paper and set under the tree than an mp3 or a zip file does as an IOU scribbled on a card. Second, buying used vinyl is greener, cheaper, and much cooler. Finally, although most Seattleites, when setting out to purchase music, immediately head to the vanguards of the Seattle record-store scene—one or another of the Sonic Booms or Easy Streets—keep your options open.
This being Seattle, there's also a smattering of smaller vinyl shops that might just have what you need for that Curtis Mayfield or T. Rex fan on your list. And unlike the CD megachains of old (Tower Records? Sam Goody? anyone?), these unique little shops are surviving and thriving in a changing economic landscape—Easy Street, Sonic Boom, and Jive Time were even recognized recently as three of Rolling Stone's 25 Best Record Stores in America. We're nostalgic, we like to collect things—whatever it is, against all odds, vinyl is a survivor. Here's how to get shopping:
BOP STREET RECORDS, 2220 N.W. Market St., 297-2232.
The Perfect Store If You're Shopping for Someone Who Wants a Record You've Never Heard of: The most impressive thing about Bop Street is its sheer quantity—library shelves of LPs line the walls, from floor to high ceilings, organized by genre and chronology. Owner Dave Voorhees recently acquired an estate of more than 8,000 records, ranging from opera to 1920s vocalists. "[They belonged to a man who] died at the age of 92," he says. "Which reminds me of a story: When I was about 4 years old, my parents were telling me about a person who had died—they were trying to explain death to me, and my response was 'Now he can't listen to his records.'"
What You Can Get for $10: Bop Street has bargain bins strategically placed around the store. You can't go wrong with a $10 copy of Springsteen's The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle, plucked from the "Classic Rock Quick Picks" bin by the cash register.
EVERYDAY MUSIC, 1523 10th Ave., 568-3321.
. . . If You're Shopping for Someone Just Getting Started on Their Vinyl Collection: Everyday, a regional chain on the order of Easy Street and Sonic Boom, focuses more on CDs and new vinyl than on used, making it not quite the place for rare or collectors' items. But the downstairs stock of bargain LPs is a customer favorite, and if you're willing to root through the unorganized bins, they contain a lot of basics for a new collector: Bowie's Station to Station ($4), Wings at the Speed of Sound ($1), etc. Careful, though—the bargain LPs are sold as-is, so check for scratches. A bargain's not a bargain if the record won't even play. But for a buck, you can take some chances.
What You Can Get for $10: Hidden gems on the cheap include a 7-inch of Diana Ross and Lionel Richie's "Endless Love" for 50¢, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing "The Star Spangled Banner" for a quarter, and Missy Elliott singles "One Minute Man" and "Pass That Dutch" for $3. All that totals a mere $6.75, leaving you extra cash to spend on Everyday's startlingly large stock of Gordon Lightfoot LPs.
GEORGETOWN RECORDS, 1201 S. Vale St., 762-5638.
. . . If You're Shopping for a Dedicated Collector: "We're a destination point," says Tina Forbes, who's managed the store for the past five years. "We try to carry stuff that other places don't carry. We try to carry more eclectic titles, like Kraftwerk. We're getting kraut rock, which is really cool . . . Obscure stuff like Nick Drake. [They've got Five Leaves Left for $40.] You never see that on vinyl." Not only will you find collector favorites like Ziggy Stardust ($15) and Joy Division's Closer ($20), but the albums are organized into cute categories like "Umm . . . It's the Village People" and, sweetest of all, "John Lennon [heart]."
What You Can Get for $10: Speaking of obscurities, you could pick up Twiggy's (not just a model!) 1976 self-titled debut for $9 and add a couple of steals from the 50¢ bins—Seal's self-titled debut, the Hungarian State Orchestra doing Beethoven's Third Symphony—and you've still only spent $10.
JIVE TIME RECORDS, 3506 Fremont Ave. N., 632-5483.
. . . If You're Shopping for Your Picky Friend Who Has Everything: In 2000, owner David Day was visiting Japan and was impressed by the record stores there. "They were small, they were well-designed, they were organized," he recalls. "I didn't really see anything like that in Seattle. So my goal was to create a version of that." Jive Time's stock is so sizeable it doesn't even fit in one store—once you're done there, cross the street and check out the Jive Time Clearance Annex in the Fremont Vintage Mall.
What You Can Get for $10: Clearance records are four for $10, which means you can pick up Fleetwood Mac's Tusk, Heart's Dreamboat Annie, Michael Jackson's Off the Wall, and Madonna's Like a Virgin without making it hurt.
M&L RECORDS, 6504 Ravenna Ave. N.E., 522-8189.
. . . If You're Shopping for Your Weird Friend: Twenty years ago, Lelan Kuhlmann opened M&L, tucked in at the intersection of Ravenna and 65th, with his father, Morrie, stocking the store with records they'd gathered from auctions and garage sales (as well as old toys, like dolls of Christina Aguilera, Jerry Garcia, Vanilla Ice, and more). These days, the store is a sprawling mess, looking rather like a garage sale itself.
A browser's time might best be spent in the Rare & Weird section. Most of the store's records don't have price tags—Kuhlmann makes up a price on the spot. There's the disc of Nuclear Aircraft Carrier Sound Effects—"I believe this has the sound of a nuclear blast on it," says Kuhlmann. "$15." Or there's The Physicians' Series The Threshold of Womanhood. "What could be better?" asks Kuhlman. "Oh, your daughter's gonna get her menses? Put this record on, leave the room! $20."
What You Can Get for $10: Strange spoken-word records aside, Kuhlmann says his specialty is jazz. Accordingly, there's a good selection of favorites like Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard for $10.
LEARY RECORDS, 5459 Leary Ave. N.W., 669-8107.
. . . If You're Shopping for Anyone From Your Hip Best Friend to Your Grandma: Perched on the second floor of Ballard's Resolution Audio Video, Bob Husak and Garrison Grant's Leary Records is like the attic of a house with lots of roommates. Most of the stock is unmarked—"We kind of see this as a place to dig," says Grant—and instead just represents each seller's personal collection.
What You Can Get for $10: A soulful collector's set containing the Crystals, Ike & Tina, and Billie Holiday in that price range; another similarly priced collection skewed toward punk, with albums like Minor Threat's Out of Step ($10).
SINGLES GOING STEADY, 2219 Second Ave., #C, 441-7396.
. . . If You're Shopping for a Punk: Singles is a legendary punk-rock paradise. "I think we have the only crust section in the world," says owner Chris Hame. (Crust, by Hame's definition, is "a newer mixture of thrash, hardcore, [and] political punk, from around 2000 and up.") The store also boasts a sizable reggae section and a healthy selection of Sub Pop releases from over the years, sourced from an ex–Sub Pop employee.
What You Can Get for $10: This being Singles, stick to their specialty—you can find clean copies of punk touchstones like the Descendents' 1982 debut Milo Goes to College for a mere $8.50.
WALL OF SOUND, 315 E. Pine St., 441-9880.
. . . If You're Shopping for a Snob: Wall of Sound is a quiet, elegant space with a carefully curated collection, which means you'll find used items that you might've never seen before or even thought about—like Sub Pop's 1988 Sonic Youth/Mudhoney single "Touch Me I'm Sick"/"Halloween" ($10). There's a surprising amount of used contemporary, like Bonnie 'Prince' Billy's Lie Down in the Light ($10); if rock isn't your thing, Wall of Sound will still take care of you.
What You Can Get for $10: In the ubiquitous bargain bins, you can pick up an eclectic selection of records none of your friends will have—like Everything You Always Wanted to Hear on the Moog (But Were Afraid to Ask For) ($3) and the Fiery Furnaces' "Single Again" single ($3)—total, only $6.
ZION'S GATE, 1100 E. Pike St., 568-5446.
. . . If You're Shopping for a Hip-Hop Fiend: Yes, this Capitol Hill shop—which feels like a warehouse with rows and rows of records packed into a relatively small space—is best known as a metalhead's destination, and it definitely is the first place to hit if you're looking for Black Sabbath or Nekromantix on wax. But did you know that Zion's Gate also boasts an impressively extensive selection of used hip-hop LPs? It's a little pricier than other locations, but it's one of the only places in the city you'll easily locate secondhand copies of Jay-Z's The Blueprint2 ($20) and Snoop Dogg's Tha Doggfather ($20).
What You Can Get for $10: Some cheaper hip-hop or R&B options are also available, including Destiny's Child's The Writing's on the Wall for $9. What record collection is complete without some Beyoncé?