Record Store Day

Tony Ballz

At last year’s Record Store Day I couldn’t get my lazy carcass out of bed at 10AM, so I missed most of the goodies. This year I set my alarm. While perusing the list of releases, I stumbled upon the news that Motown was putting out a limited edition (5000 copies worldwide) of “It’s My Time”/”Go on and Cry”, the unreleased 1966 single by The Mynah Birds, the legendary group containing unlikely bandmates Neil Young and Rick James Bitch. The record geek/Neil freak in me salivated. Must … have … aargh (drool runs down chin).

Record Store Day was launched in 2008 as a way to drum up business for mom-and-pop retail music outlets. Many record labels, indie and non, release limited edition discs that are snapped up quickly.

It’s kind of like Black Friday in reverse. Instead of the vast majority of shoppers out braving riot-like scenes at the mall, Record Store Day’s clientele is a slim minority who would blanch if you called them “shoppers”. Instead of fighting for the best bargains, they will swallow any price slapped on the product with minimal grumbling (don’t want to appear uncool now). And while Black Friday signals the official start of the Christmas season, Record Store Day is near to no holiday, so it’s unlikely most items purchased are given as presents. It’s the difference between buying stuff for your friends and family versus buying stuff for yourself.

We would be SOL here in Flag if not for the existence of the Rock-It Man, seeing as how it’s THE ONLY PLACE IN TOWN to buy new records. Unless you count Hastings, which I don’t (does Hot Topic still sell vinyl?).

Saturday morning, I hopped out of the sack and rode downtown. I hit the Rock-It Man at 10:00 on the nose and was dismayed to find a line around 30 deep. Patience, patience. I thumbed through the dollar albums on the sidewalk and struck paydirt: Tim Buckley’s Lorca (in near-perfect shape), Mose Allison, Eddie Harris, Nilsson, the insanely rare There Are but Four Small Faces LP on Immediate, and a couple for my broke-ass roommate (Dylan’s Desire and Dave Mason’s Alone Together on the marbled vinyl). Score!

Dirty Steve was about the 12th person in line, waiting for the Morrissey/Poison Idea split 7″ (he left the store empty-handed and pissed). I told him I hoped the scene outside didn’t end up like that Who concert, with people shoving and breaking glass and getting trampled and setting stuff on fire and screaming: “No, no, outta my way, I MUST have the pink vinyl 78rpm Norah Jones/Danzig split! They only printed up 20! Put it down, you bastard, it’s mine! (sound of shotgun being cocked) I SAID PUT IT DOWN!”

I needn’t have worried. The collector scum, excuse me, record nerds waiting outside were quite docile, blinking in the AM sunlight like rats finally let out of the basement, their skin all pasty and near-translucent from constant exposure to the computer monitor glow. These were my people.

Eventually, I stepped into the inner sanctum. Ben was happily ringing up customers, of which there were at least 20 lined up. Of course, the 7-inches were on the far wall, blocked by all the bodies. I skimmed past the first few LP offerings: the Empire Records soundtrack, Phish’s Junta, the Breakfast Club soundtrack … thank you, no. Kind of wish I was still into The Flaming Lips, every Record Store Day would be twice as fun.

I scanned the wall and then I spied it: The Mynah Birds single! Oh my God, THERE WAS ONLY ONE LEFT! I broke into a sweat, my heart pounding. Easy, easy now … breathe … it took every ounce of restraint to not dive over the CD racks and start clawing at the seven or eight people between me and the object of my desire. I waited patiently, eyes locked on the prize.

I spotted a friend halfway up the line and I calmly asked her to grab the record when she was near enough. Situation in hand, I reeled in some booty: an unreleased Gene Clark single from 1970, a double pocket “Diddy Wah Diddy”/”Moonchild” set by Captain Beefheart, a 40-minute “Dark Star” 12-inch from The Grateful Dead’s Europe ’72 tour … and jumpin’ Jehosaphat, an import 7-inch of “Tin Soldier” by The Small Faces, one of the greatest rock and roll songs ever pressed up on wax. Seriously, it’s flawless. The way the arrangement stops in the middle so Ian MacLagan can pound out those electric piano chords and then Kenney Jones cracks his snare while Ronnie Lane’s bass goes ZOOP! into the bridge … Goddamn, it makes you glad you’re alive.

The guy in front of me started chatting. He was picking up a copy of the Phish LP, and he informed me that the original had a long psychedelic jam on side six that didn’t make the CD or the current issue. I said maybe there’s one of those cool etchings on that side instead and we both silently marveled at the possibilities.

The super ultra Phish reissue (limited edition of 6) had deluxe artwork, with the cover drawing inked in gold flecks mixed with the blood of a newborn bald eagle onto one of those sepia-toned daguerrotypes they used before film was invented. Each disc was as thick as a mountain bike tire, and the whole package weighed 175 pounds. It cost about two years’ rent and he had to bring in a co-signer and put up his house as collateral.

Amidst a cloud of incense smoke, the Rock-It Man staff brought the record out from a climate controlled vault on a velvet pillow, followed by a troupe of fire eaters, belly dancers playing finger cymbals, acrobats doing somersaults, and a nine-year-old Nubian boy who struck a small gong every 30 seconds. The procession followed the guy outside and chanted as he safety-belted the record firmly in the passenger seat of his VW van. He opened the side door and the fire eaters, belly dancers, acrobats, and the nine-year-old boy all crammed into the back of the van and it drove off. Man, Phish sure has some dedicated fans.

I looked at the wall. The Mynah Birds single was gone! My heart sank. I resigned myself to the knowledge that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and prepared my plan to wait around the corner and beat the living crap out of whoever the culprit was, grab the record out of his hands and run like hell. Luckily, my friend turned around, said “here you go”, and put the artifact in my sweaty palms. Whew! I had it! Number 3197! Sure hope I remembered to bring my wallet.

Back at the house, I cranked the Mynah Birds and it sounded fantastic. I daydreamed: what if Rick James hadn’t been arrested for draft evasion in 1966 and the record had come out and it was a smash hit? Would the world of music have been any different? “I’m Neil Young, bitch!” Hmm, doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Only after arriving home did I realize I had purchased “Tin Soldier” twice: on an LP that cost a dollar and on a single that cost $15.99. Welcome to Bizarro World.

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