Friday, January 04, 2008

The Neighborhood Record Stores

"I see you sent my letters back, and my LP records, and they're all scratched..."
From the song "I Can't Stand Losing You" from The Police

One of the things that has constantly evolved is the way we buy our music. If you're as old as I am, you remember buying 45 RPM records as a young kid and then LPs as you became a teen and got older. Hey, you may even remember the first album that you bought - for me it was Stevie Wonder's "Innervisons" album, the one with "Superstition" and "Living for the City" on it (there's a challenge for you, do you remember your first LP? - for those 35 and older, if you're younger than that and can't remember, you're beyond help). 

Maybe you were one of those who bought your sounds on 8-track tapes or later on cassette. If you're under 20 years of age, all you'll probably remember are CDs and downloading. You've never had the pleasure of hearing a pop or click or the misfortune of buying and album and having to return it because of a long scratch that made the needle skip as the vinyl record turned to that same spot.

If you're one of those from the CD/download era, that means you probably have no knowledge of neighborhood record stores either. Places where the guys who sold the records knew about the music they sold. And that's what you got there - records. No movies and other stuff, just music. Today you will be hard pressed to find such a store. Now all you have are the places in the mall which have clerks who know nothing about music, big-box stores that sell everything from CDs to washing machines, or bookstores that sell music (although those are probably your best bet, the people working there may know more about music than someone at Best Buys. I defy you to get a worthwhile opinion at the big-box or mall stores when asking someone which album they feel is the best of any given artist.


...The local record stores here in South Philly. One actually seems to still exist. Every once in a while driving up East Passyunk Avenue, I see that the Record Bar still stands. I don't know if they're still busy or what they sell, but it looks like they've survived.

Remember Nick Petrella's on Snyder Avenue? My aunt used to tell me he was a talent scout, but I don't know if that was true. The Mario Lanza Museum was housed in the back of the store, and Mr. Petrella could often be seen sitting outside the store during the warmer months. Talent scout or no, from what I'm told he did know music.

There was another store up on Passyunk that I used to go to ever few weeks, but I can't remember the name of it to save my life. If you remember, tell me by dropping me a note in the comments to this post. I remember that's where I bought my first Bob Seger album back in 1978, "Stranger in Town" and became a long-time Seger fan.

You may remember the chains and independents that are long-gone too. Remember Platters Ltd. on Chestnut St. near 10th? There were always punk rockers sitting outside that place, maybe employees, but probably just music fans. Wall to Wall Sound and Listening Booth were to of the major chains back in the 70s, names now committed to record store history. I think even Sam Goody is now gone, at least most of their stores. Then again, they're one of the mall stores where you usually wound up paying a few bucks more for an album than at the neighborhood joints.

There was a big record store called Jerry's Records on Market St that went bust in the late 70's. I remember they had this blowout sale which was more of a teaser to get you in the door. They had a weekend where they sold albums for I think it was a buck, but when you got there it looked like they broke out the stock of albums from artists that no one heard of or wouldn't care to listen to. Shortly afterward, they were gone.

But the granddaddy of them was not a neighborhood store, but close enough to hop a bus or train to get to. Third Street Jazz & Rock stood on - you guessed it - 3rd Street just north of Market Street. You had to go to the basement if you were into rock music, and it was by no means like your mall or big box store with promotional displays and whatever. You found your artists records by thumbing through racks with signs written in magic marker (kids, those are what you call Sharpies today) on corrugated cardboard box . If you wanted to know something about music, you asked and got an opinion. When I was 18, I worked loading trucks and packing cartons at the slipper factory above the old Stanley Hardware store on Market at Bank Street. Every Friday, almost without fail, my friend "Professor" and I would head to the bank at lunch time to cash our measly pay checks. That meant that when quitting time came, we headed right over to Third Street Jazz and bought a few albums. Imports, bootlegs, hard to find artists, they had it all.

Speaking of Professor, there's someone whose antics deserve a post here at PhillyMemories. His "Burn the Pope's Picture" or "Beat the Skunk" parties were legendary, at least for those who called in sick from work to hang out at his house for those events. I could only imagine what went through his dad's mind when the house filled with young guys and girls with their minds bent on senseless things. Stay tuned.