Digging the Back Bins: How to Get the Most from a Record Store Visit
Deep Cut started out of our love for records (read more on that here), but when it comes to acquiring records, everybody shops differently. Some of us just love digging crates. They can flip through LPs for hours making sure that they didn't miss a stray Zappa hiding in the Bananarama section. If that's you, more power to you. You are going to find some great stuff.
If you are like me, though, you'd be lucky to get through ABBA before your mind went numb. You need a way to break the store down into manageable chunks. Here is what I do.
Make a beeline for 'New Arrivals': Most stores have a 'new arrivals' section. Some will split it between new and used. Some just have used. This is where record store staffs hope to sell through some inventory without actually having to file it in the stacks.
Why new arrivals?
1: It's manageable. Most stores have between two and six crates, which you can easily examine in 10 to 15 minutes.
2: It's a grab bag. You can find A Tribe Called Quest next to Bruce Springsteen next to Johnny Cash (well, more likely MC Hammer next to Loverboy next to Kenny Rodgers, but you get the picture).
3: It's a renewable resource: the new arrivals section will usually turn over in a week or two, so you'll never tap out your local record store.
Lean on Allmusic: There is a lot of bad music out there. I want to hear new stuff as much as the next guy, but I don't have the time, money, or shelf space to bring home a bunch of junk every week. So I make heavy use of Allmusic.com when I'm going through crates. If you aren't familiar, they used to put out phone-book-size compendiums of biographies and reviews of just about every artist and album that was ever put out. Now they have all of those listings online. So when I come across an album that looks interesting, I check it out on Allmusic. I skim the artist bio. If the band formed after in the parking lot of a Phish concert, I move on. If I see a four star rating or better for the album, I pick it up. (Allmusic is pretty generous in their ratings. Three star records can be pretty mediocre).
I have found a lot of my favorite records this way. I didn't know who Stanley Turrentine was until I found a copy of Blue Hour in the new arrivals bin. Ditto Electric Flag. I had heard of Sade, but didn't know how great an album Promise was. Same with DC's Go-Go king Chuck Brown.
It isn't just unfamiliar acts you will find in the new arrivals bin either. My copy of Sticky Fingers came from new arrivals. I got The Weeknd's Starboy $10 instead of $35. Guadalcanal Diary. The Jackson 5. There are all kinds of treasures in New Arrivals. And if you need a quick price reference, Discogs is good for a general reference. Just don’t go showing your findings to the person behind the counter. They don’t love that.
So when you are looking for a plan of attack, look no further than those bins in the front of the store. Lean on tools like Allmusic and Discogs for basic is this any good? and am I getting ripped off? intelligence. And be open to new stuff and having your mind blown - that’s half the fun.
How do you attack the record store? What tools do you lean on? Leave it in the comments.
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