Today is Record Store Day — as you probably already know if you’re someone who has bought a new or used vinyl LP anytime within the past few years. If the term “vinyl LP” doesn’t stir any romantic or fetishistic associations for you, then you’ve probably never heard of Record Store Day and couldn’t care less.
Record Store Day started seven years ago and has now spread to Canada, Mexico, the U.K., France, Italy, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. It seems to be becoming a bigger deal every year: on the third Saturday of April, record labels both large and small release a host of groovy 7-inch vinyl singles and LPs solely to independent physical retailers. Many of the releases are limited edition, which encourages collectors to line up early outside their favorite record shop. (And to get their elbows out, which is why Record Store Day is the one day of the year I stay out of Amoeba Music in Hollywood.)
Bands, musicians and DJs do in-store appearances to make the day even more festive. Store owners benefit from a burst of publicity and, one hopes, at least a trickle of curious new customers who begin to see the merits of shopping in an actual store, where knowledgeable clerks can steer people to cool stuff. The official Record Store Day site explains it all in more detail.
To usher in the occasion this year, I watched the 2008 documentary I Need That Record! The Death (and Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store. I highly recommend the movie for music fans; click here for my review.
A highlight of the I Need That Record! DVD is the extras, which consist of unedited interviews with Thurston Moore, Glenn Branca, Fugazi’s Ian Mackaye, and even a surprisingly good-natured Noam Chomsky, who appears bemused to be interviewed on this subject. The must-see interview is with Lenny Kaye, a.k.a. Patti Smith’s guitarist for 40 years now, a.k.a. the guy who curated the first Nuggets compilation in 1972, thereby shaping the definiton of garage-rock as we know it today. (Watching Kaye, I couldn’t help thinking he was ready for a cameo in Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Heck, the movie could even be about him and Patti Smith.)
Listening to Kaye describe his time working at Village Oldies in New York circa the early ’70s, (where, he says, he could treat the store inventory as his own personal mixtape), and his early meetings with Smith there, reminded me of my own favorite recent vinyl discovery, at Vacation Vinyl in L.A.’s Silver Lake neighborhood: a 1977 45 by Patti Smith, featuring Kaye and Tom Verlaine on guitar, that’s actually a reissue of one of her earliest recording sessions from June 1974. The A side is an inimitable cover of “Hey Joe,” with the lyrics reworked to be about Patti Hearst, along with Smith’s defiant early classic “Piss Factory” on the flip side. Smith and Kaye are still a year away from making their first album.
As an added historical bonus, the back of the sleeve has a line reading, “Free Keith” — a reflection of the 1977 moment when Keith Richards was in danger of being locked up for good on drug charges in Canada. This bears out, quite literally, Kaye’s comment in I Need That Record! about how a physical record is a document of its time. The line about Keith got me thinking about the currency 45s used to have as the news bulletins or status updates of their day. A small, cheap piece of plastic, but anything but disposable in the potency of the music and all the associations swirling around it.
Head out to Vacation Vinyl or your own local indie record store, and who knows what you might discover…
For this site’s past tributes to Record Store Day, click here.