The 13 Coolest Record Stores In America

iStock.com/urbancow
iStock.com/urbancow

What makes a record store cool? Is it an obscure collection of vinyl, a storied history, a coffee shop within the store that brews third-wave coffee, or the fact Prince shopped there? All of these can factor into the coolness, but also how indie record stores continue to prosper despite operating in an era when physical media sales are in decline. (Vinyl and cassette tapes have increased in sales, though.) Whether your favorite record store made the list or not, be sure to support your local store during the annual Record Store Day, a sort of Christmas for music fans, which will occur on April 13, 2019.

1. Amoeba Records // San Francisco, Berkeley, and Hollywood, California

In 1990, Amoeba Records opened its first of three locations, in Berkeley. In 1997 it expanded to San Francisco, and in 2001 it opened its largest location—at 24,000 square feet, it takes up an entire city block—on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. As the largest independent record store in the world, Amoeba’s two floors house millions of used and new vinyl, CDs, DVDs, video games, and a jazz room. Every week, bands and artists—including well-known acts—play free shows here. Currently, the neon-inflected Amoeba remains Sunset Strip’s only record store (Tower Records shuttered in 2006), so it’s helping to keep the city’s music spirit alive.

2. Reckless Records // Chicago

For more than 30 years, Chicago via London’s Reckless Records has maintained high standards, operating three stores in the city: Loop, Lakeview, and its most iconic location, Wicker Park. Supposedly, Reckless inspired High Fidelity’s Championship Vinyl (though the exteriors were shot at a storefront down the street from Reckless). Gentrification and rising rents in Wicker Park haven’t deterred Reckless; in 2015, the business moved a few doors down to a more spacious storefront. As head music buyer Matt Jencik said, “We take pride in stocking everything from, say, the new Beyoncé CD to a cassette by an up-and-coming local artist to a reissue of a mostly unknown African psychedelic rock band or an obscure techno 12-inch.” And even selling a rare Spice Girls 12-inch. (Though it was just announced that its Lakeview location will be moving after 30 years in the same spot.)

3. Herzog Music // Cincinnati

From 1945 to 1955, in downtown Cincy, the E.T. Herzog Recording Co. recorded now-classics like Hank Williams's “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Herzog, along with King Records, established Cincinnati as a recording destination, not just a radio town. In 2015, the historical spot opened as Herzog Music, selling a small selection of used vinyl, instruments, books, and hosting in-store performances. People can tour the upstairs, where all the magic happened in the 1940s and '50s. Today, the space acts as a music school, with paraphernalia from famed musicians on display.

4. Rough Trade Records // New York City

 People stand on the floor of the newly opened Rough Trade NYC store on November 25, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

In 1976, the UK-based record label Rough Trade opened its first record store; in 2013, the first Rough Trade in the U.S. opened, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Topping out at 15,000 square feet, it not only became the biggest record store in New York—but also Rough Trade’s biggest store. They sell new music with an emphasis on UK imports, and the mezzanine sells a wide variety of books. Besides selling records, they also house a small coffee shop and a ticketed music venue, which books local and international acts.

5. Sweat Records // Miami

To find the store, just look for its exterior “Wall of Idolatry” mural, which showcases a panoply of musicians, from MF Doom to the Gorillaz’ Noodle and Murdoc to Billie Holiday to Notorious B.I.G. Inside, Sweat Records sells records in one section and runs a small café by the entrance. The menu consists of vegan pastries and fun specialty drinks like the Unicorn Love Bomb (a double shot of espresso topped with vegan marshmallows) and the Devastator (four shots of espresso from local roaster Panther Coffee). Somehow getting jacked up on caffeine enhances the record-shopping experience.

6. Purple Llama // Chicago

The name Purple Llama should be enough to get you to go. The Wicker Park shop fuses craft coffee and vinyl, but in an atypical way. They feature roasters from all over the world—including Norway, London, Colorado, and New York City—and serve specially lattes or pour overs alongside selling new and old vinyl in the store. They also offer an exclusive coffee and vinyl subscription: Each month, a vinyl record and a bag of coffee are sent to you (or held to be picked up in-store). Just like Forrest Gump with his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

7. Vinyl Tap // Nashville

In this day and age, it’s hard for a business to be one thing, which is why it’s nice when a business combines two or more things. Case in point: Vinyl Tap in Nashville is part beer bar (the tap part) and part record store. They sell new and used vinyl and have local and regional craft beers on draft (“wax and drafts”). Peruse their small vinyl selection while drinking a beer, or take a seat at the bar and order one of their musical-themed sandwiches, such as The Morrissey (vegan, of course), New Bomb Turkey (named after Columbus, Ohio punk band New Bomb Turks), or The Cure.

8. Electric Fetus // Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota

A woman with her hand on the record player
iStock.com/LFO62

The oddly named record store (National Lampoon once named it the worst name for a business) opened in 1968 and has been going strong ever since. Some weird history includes its Streakers’ Sale, in which customers could take whatever they wanted for free just as long as they shopped naked. Today, they sell new and used records from mainstream acts, classic acts, and “the newest blog hype.” Hometown hero Prince shopped here all the time, including less than a week before his death, on what happened to be Record Store Day. (The shop sells Prince varsity jackets.) Electric Fetus isn’t just records, though. They also sell clothing, housewares, and novelty gifts, and they’ll purchase your old records, CDs, and DVDs, too.

9. Hail Dark Aesthetics // Nashville, Tennessee and Covington, Kentucky

Located in MainStrasse Village, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Hail Dark Aesthetics is tucked away in an unassuming strip that’s riddled with fairly normal restaurants and bars. Once inside, you’ll soon discover nothing is normal anymore. As their website states, Hail Dark Aesthetics exists “to satisfy all your weirdo needs.” They have that in spades, from offering records from bands named Spider Vomit to “normal” records from artists like Hank Williams Jr. They also sell occult items, books on witchcraft, horror films on VHS, medical equipment, and animal bones. If taxidermy—or things that were once alive but now are preserved in jars—make you squeamish, don’t go here. But if you’re into that kind of stuff, you’ll feel right at home. Also visit their first location, in Nashville.

10. A Separate Reality Records // Cleveland, Ohio

In 2013, right before the vinyl boom, Augustus Payne opened A Separate Reality after selling records on the road and at conventions for four years. Having a brick-and-mortar shop gives him an outlet to sell his more than 150,000 vintage records, which includes every genre imaginable, but with an emphasis on rare psychedelic, progressive, soul, jazz, and blues. It’s a crate diggers' dream come true. The store also buys used collections, because you never can have too many records.

11. Graveface Records and Curiosities // Savannah, Georgia

Ryan Graceface, who plays guitar in the band Black Moth Super Rainbow, founded Graveface the label in 2000 and opened the record store in 2012. They specialize in new and used vinyl (including selling records from their artists), cocktail supplies, horror soundtrack reissues, and taxidermy (apparently, stuffed dead animals and vinyl go together). They have a knack for purchasing original or first pressings from record collectors, so they always have something exciting to sell. A Charleston, South Carolina store is the works, but for now you can visit the pop-ups they do around town.

12. Easy Street Records // Seattle

A collection of records
iStock.com/photopsist

Since 1988, Easy Street’s been the fabric of Seattle’s music scene. They sell vinyl reissues, new and used records, host live shows, and even sell MP3s. Known as “the best little record store, coffee bar, and diner in West Seattle,” Easy Street’s more than just a record store. Dishes at their daytime café are named after musicians and songs. Offerings include a vegetarian Beck Omelet, James Brown hash browns, Frances Farmer French toast, Dolly Parton stack (of pancakes, that is), Green Day salad, and a Mama Cass ham sandwich (rumor has it she died choking on a ham sandwich).

13. Used Kids Records // Columbus, Ohio

Columbus is filled with great record stores—Magnolia Thunderpussy, Lost Weekend, Spoonful—but Used Kids has survived a fire, rapid changes in the music industry, changes in ownership, and a relocation. And it’s still going full throttle. Dan Dow and Ron House (founder of local band Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments) opened Used Kids in 1986, near the Ohio State campus. It became the nexus for the music community, so much so that employees Jerry Wick and Bela Koe-Krompecher founded Anyway Records in the store’s basement. Used Kids sells “rare and unusual records,” but they also want to appeal to everyone. “I’ve always said, ‘I want to be the best record store between New York City and Chicago.’ That’s always been the goal,” current owner Greg Hall told Ohio Magazine. How about the best and the coolest?

10 Facts About the Beastie Boys's 'Sabotage' Video

Beastie Boys via YouTube
Beastie Boys via YouTube

With their raucous mix of rock and hip-hop, the Beastie Boys were a band everyone could love. They also made killer music videos, and their 1994 video for “Sabotage” is arguably one of the greatest in the history of the medium. Directed by Spike Jonze and inspired by ‘70s cop shows, “Sabotage” finds the Beasties in cheesy suits, wigs, and mustaches, cavorting around L.A. like a bunch of bootleg Starskys and Hutches. If you were alive in the ‘90s, you’ve seen “Sabotage” a million times, but there’s a lot you might not know about this iconic video.

1. It all began with a photo shoot.

Spike Jonze met the Beastie Boys when he photographed them for Dirt magazine in the early 1990s. The band showed up with its own concept. “For years, Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz had been talking about doing a photo session as undercover cops—wearing ties and fake mustaches and sitting in a car like we were on a stakeout,” Adam “MCA” Yauch told New York Magazine. Jonze loved the idea so much he tagged along when the Beasties went wig shopping. “Then, while he was taking the pictures, he was wearing this blond wig and mustache the whole time,” Yauch said. “For no apparent reason.” So was born a friendship that begat “Sabotage.”

2. Spike Jonze filmed “Sabotage” without permits.

The Beasties weren’t big fans of high-budget music videos with tons of people on the set. So they asked Jonze to hire a couple of assistants and run the whole production out of a van. “Then we just ran around L.A. without any permits and made everything up as we went along,” MCA told New York. They’re lucky the real cops never showed up.

3. The Beastie Boys did all their own stunt driving.

After binge-watching VHS tapes of The Streets of San Francisco and other ‘70s cop shows, the Beasties knew they needed some sweet chase scenes. “We bought a car that was about to die,” Mike D told Vanity Fair. “We just drove the car ourselves. We almost killed the car a couple of times, but we definitely didn’t come close to killing ourselves.”

4. “Sabotage” inspired the opening sequence of Trainspotting.

Danny Boyle's 1996 film Trainspotting famously opens with Ewan McGregor and his buddies running through the streets of Edinburgh to the tune of Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life.” In the DVD commentary, Boyle revealed that the scene was inspired by “Sabotage.”

5. Two cameras were harmed in the making of “Sabotage.”

“Sabotage” was supposed to be a low-budget affair—and it would’ve been, had Jonze been a little more careful with his rented cameras. He destroyed a Canon Scoopic when the Ziploc bag he used to protect the camera during an underwater shot proved less than airtight. He apparently told the rental agency the camera stopped working on its own, but he wasn’t as lucky when an Arriflex SR3 fell out of a van window. That cost $84,000, effectively tripling the cost of the video.

6. MCA crashed the stage of the MTV Video Music Awards to protest “Sabotage” being shut out.

At the 1994 MTV VMAs, “Sabotage” was nominated for five awards, including Video of the Year. In one of the great injustices of all time, it lost in all five categories. When R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts” won Best Direction, MCA invaded the stage dressed as Nathanial Hörnblowér, his Swiss uncle/filmmaker alter-ego. “Since I was a small boy, I had dreamed that Spike would win this,” MCA said as a confused Michael Stipe looked on. “Now this has happened, and I want to tell everyone this is a farce, and I had the ideas for Star Wars and everything.”

7. There’s a “Sabotage” comic book you can download for free.

After MCA’s death in 2012, artist Derek Langille created a seven-page “Sabotage” comic book in tribute to the fallen musician and filmmaker. You can download it for free here.

8. There’s also a “Sabotage” novel.

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of “Sabotage,” Oakland-based author and Beasties super-fan Jeff Gomez wrote a five-act novel inspired by the video. He spent months researching cop movies and real-life police lingo, and he watched “Sabotage” about 100 times, keeping a detailed spreadsheet of all the action unfolding onscreen. “They created a really great universe, and I just wanted to play around in it for a little bit,” Gomez told PBS.

9. There’s a “Sabotage”/Sesame Street mashup on YouTube.

In 2017, YouTuber Is This How You Go Viral, a.k.a. Adam Schleichkorn, created the video “Sesametage,” a reimagining of “Sabotage” made with edited bits of Sesame Street. It stars Big Bird as himself, The Count as Cochese, and Oscar the Grouch as Bobby, “The Rookie.” Super Grover, Telly, Cookie Monster, and Bert and Ernie also turn up in this hilarious spoof of a spoof.

10. “Sabotage” nearly became a movie—kind of.

Jonze and the Beasties had such a blast making “Sabotage” that they wrote a script for a feature film called We Can Do This. The movie, which they later abandoned, was set to feature MCA in two roles: Sir Stuart Wallace, one of his “Sabotage” characters, and Nathaniel Hörnblowér (whom he portrayed during that 1994 VMAs protest). Jonze told IndieWire the film would’ve been “ridiculous and fun,” which sounds like the understatement of the century. “There were no 1970s cops in it, but it was definitely in the same spirit,” he said.

15 Slick Facts About Grease

Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in Grease (1978).
Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in Grease (1978).
Paramount Home Entertainment

The movie Grease (1978), based on the musical of the same name, is about to be reimagined for a new generation. HBO Max just announced that it will be premiering Grease: Rydell High, a musical series inspired by the film. In the 1978 big-screen adaptation, John Travolta played tough guy Danny Zuko and Olivia Newton-John starred as sweet Sandy Olsson, two teenagers whose summer romance suddenly blossoms into a full-fledged high school love affair.

Shot on a budget of $6 million budget, Grease made nearly $400 million at the box office—making it one of the highest-grossing musical movies of all time.

1. Henry Winkler turned down the role of Danny Zuko.

As far as Henry Winkler was concerned, Danny Zuko was too similar to Fonzie, the tough guy with a heart of gold he was already playing on Happy Days.

2. Marie Osmond and Susan Dey said no to playing Sandy.

Marie Osmond told Larry King that she turned the part down because she “didn’t want my teenagers some day to say, you know, ‘You have to go bad to get the boy.’ It was just a personal choice as a some day mother.” Dey (Laurie on The Partridge Family) didn’t want to play another teenager. Director Randal Kleiser went to the Star Wars mixing stage to visit his college roommate, George Lucas, and to see Carrie Fisher in one of the battle scenes. But Kleiser couldn’t tell from the scene whether Fisher was right for the part, so he kept looking. In 1998, Travolta revealed he heard singer Linda Ronstadt was also in consideration.

3. Olivia Newton-John insisted on having a screen test with john travolta.

Producer/co-writer Allan Carr met Olivia Newton-John at a party thrown by fellow Australian singer Helen Reddy and was “completely smitten” and begged her to sign on for the part. Travolta told The Morning Call that he rallied for Newton-John to get the part, too. Not trusting her good fortune or her acting (her previous film, Toomorrow, had been released back in 1970), Newton-John requested a screen test with Travolta to make sure they had chemistry.

4. Andy Warhol and an adult film star would have been cast if Paramount hadn’t stepped in.

Carr wanted Warhol to play the art teacher. One unnamed studio executive said he would not have “that man” in the movie, which Carr interpreted as the executive having a personal vendetta against the legendary artist. Carr also wanted porn star Harry Reems to play Coach Calhoun and offered him the part after a screening of Casablanca at Hugh Hefner’s mansion. The studio wouldn’t have it. “They bounced me out of the cast,” Reems said. “They thought they might lose some play dates in the South.” Carr felt so badly about it that he wrote Reems a personal check for $5000.

5. Lorenzo Lamas landed a role when a president’s son backed out.

Gerald Ford’s son, Steven, was too nervous to play Tom Chisum, Sandy’s jock boyfriend, who had a grand total of zero lines. Lamas (later Lance Cumson on Falcon Crest and Hector Ramírez on The Bold and the Beautiful) jumped at the chance, agreeing to lighten his dark hair because he looked too much like a T-Bird. "I would have dyed it green, fuchsia, anything," Lamas told People.

6. Most of the main actors were far too old to be in high school.

Stockard Channing (Rizzo) was 34 when the film was released. Newton-John was 29. Jeff Conaway (Kenickie) was 27. Travolta was 24. Jamie Donnelly (Jan) was 30 during filming, and had to dye her hair from her premature grey to black. Her hair grew back so quickly that her roots had to be colored in with a black crayon every day.

7. The title song was written by Barry Gibb, and Peter Frampton played guitar.

Kleiser didn’t like this song because he thought the lyrics were too dark and not fitting of the 1950s. Kleiser asked Gibb to make the lyrics more upbeat; Gibb told Kleiser he should shoot a serious scene to match the song. It became a number one single in the United States.

8. Rizzo’s hickeys were real.

Conaway gave Channing a real hickey because he wanted it to be authentic. Conaway was also so infatuated with Newton-John that he was tongue-tied whenever she was around. He later married Olivia’s sister, Rona.

9. "Greased Lightnin'" was supposed to be sung by Jeff Conaway, not John Travolta.

Travolta’s two conditions for agreeing to play Danny were that he could sing “Greased Lightnin',” even though Kenickie sang it in the stage production; and that he had to have “blue black hair like Elvis Presley and Rock Hudson in the movies” because “it’s surreal and it’s very 1950s.” The star also argued with Kleiser over the end of the song “Sandy”; he wanted a close-up of himself instead of the cartoon shot of a hot dog diving into a bun. Kleiser got his way.

10. Coca-Cola signs were (mostly) blacked out.

Carr made a promotional deal with Pepsi; the set decorator didn't know that. When the producer saw footage from the movie featuring Coke products he went “ballistic,” according to Kleiser. The Coca-Cola logos were blocked out with an optical printer. They couldn’t alter the Coke cooler, because it was impossible to cover with the technology available at the time. Pepsi never complained. They would have unblocked the Coke signs when the Pepsi deal expired before the 20th anniversary re-release if the original print hadn’t been lost.

11. Travolta kept flubbing a word so much it was kept in the movie.

Travolta kept lip-syncing "heap lap trials" instead of "heat lap trials," and Kleiser claims you could see this in the finished product. Kleiser believed Travolta was distracted after reading a magazine article that morning about his recently deceased girlfriend, Diana Hyland, who had passed away from cancer.

12. Travolta got more of the stage script into the movie.

Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, who wrote the original musical’s book, weren’t invited on set during production of the movie. Travolta had played Danny more than 100 times on the road doing the musical, and gradually got more lines from Jacobs and Casey’s version into the film, which was written by Carr and Bronté Woodard. When Travolta didn’t think a line of dialogue was working, he would quote a line from the original, and Kleiser would tend to agree and use that line instead.

13. That Elvis Presley lyric is creepy.

In “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” Rizzo sings “Elvis, Elvis, let me be, keep that pelvis far from me,” while looking at a picture of The King. That scene was shot on August 16, 1977—the day Presley died. “It was very eerie,” Kleiser told The New York Post. “It was all over the news, so everyone knew. We did this number, and everybody kind of looked at each other like, ‘Yeah, this is creepy.’” When Carr first bought the film rights to Grease, he envisioned Elvis as Danny and Ann-Margret as Sandy. According to Broadway.com, Presley was offered the role of Teen Angel but turned it down.

14. Olivia Newton-John was sewn into those spandex pants.

"They sewed me into those pants every morning for a week," Newton-John said. "Believe me, I had to be very careful about what I ate and drank. It was excruciating." It was 106 degrees on the set for the carnival finale.

15. George Lucas helped get the movie re-released.

In 1997, Kleiser called Sherry Lansing, then head of Paramount, and insisted that Grease had to come back again for its 20th anniversary. Lansing informed Kleiser that George Lucas had called her a few days earlier and said that out of all of the movies in the Paramount vault, Grease is the one that should come back. The Star Wars creator explained that every nine-year-old he knew watched a VHS copy of Grease every day.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER