Our Favorite Record Stores: Artists' Picks, Part 2

PopMatters checks in with artists across borders and genres to find out what their favorite record stores are, from New York to London to Stockholm.

To mark Record Store Day, PopMatters is celebrating great independent record stores anywhere and everywhere by having artists and staff writers write up their choices for their favorite shops. Today, we begin a two-part list with picks by artists who cross genres and borders. They give us a nice sampling of great shops that span the globe, from the music capitals of New York, Los Angeles, and London to hip hotspots like Stockholm and Portland to Timbuktu -- or at least Bamako, Mali. What you’ll find below are not only some recommendations for what stores to check out the next time you’re in Toronto or Roanoke, Virginia, but also the up-close-and-personal experiences that make these places remarkable, whether they’ve persevered the economy and the Internet or only live on fondly in memory. Reversing the roles here, it’s the artists who are the fans.

[ PopMatters Picks | Artist Picks Part One]

Kool Keith

My favorite record store is Amoeba. I like all the locations, but I’ve been to the L.A. store the most. They have everything I need; it’s like being in a toy store. You can walk into Amoeba and find anything, like Curtis Mayfield, it’s the old version, but it’s basically brand new. It’s like a museum. I try to go whenever I get a chance.

I’ve found DVDs there, too -- Thunderbirds, Speed Racer -- all the TV shows that I used to watch, like the original Batman & Robin, the one I used to watch back in the day on Channel 11.

It’s like the underground Tower Records -- it’s so organized. They keep the catalog for every artist. You could pick an artist, and they’ll have every album from that artist from the time they started all the way until now. Other stores might not have a full history on the artist, but Amoeba does, and the employees know their stuff.

It’s just fun; it’s a place for an open-minded person to go, they don’t cater to just who’s hot for now. Every artist has their own space in the store, no matter what. No artist gets marginalized.

Kool Keith’s new album Love 7 Danger (Junkadelic Music) will be out on June 5.


Soulive (Photo by Arthur Shim)

Eric Krasno of Lettuce and Soulive

My favorite record store is actually a random second-hand store called "The Thing" in my neighborhood (Greenpoint, Brooklyn). They have thousands upon thousands of records with no order or organization whatsoever, but there’s real satisfaction when you find a gem in there. You have to make sure they’re playable as well. It’s a challenge for sure, but well worth it. The store has really helped my collection as I have bought 100 or so records in there (super cheap). I have to set aside at least few hours when I go into their treasure trove. If I want a little less of a workout I go to Permanent Records, also a great vinyl stop in my hood.

Lettuce will be releasing a new album Fly on June 5 and Soulive has a new EP Spark due on June 19. Both bands will be playing a double bill at the Fillmore in San Francisco on May 18 and 19.

Lemonade’s Ben Steidel

Picking a favorite record store is impossible for me. I’ve had the pleasure of working at great record stores for the better part of my adult life, and this year some friends and I opened our own store, Co-op 87 in Greenpoint Brooklyn. What makes a great shop can vary wildly from store to store. I love the sheer library-like quantity of selection at Amoeba and the enthusiastic reviews and recommendations of obscure and new titles offered at Aquarius in SF and Other Music in NY. I guess, at the heart of it, a great store will leave me walking out with something I didn’t know I wanted when I walked in. It’s a hidden gem, an intriguing recommendation, or something I’d forgotten about, staring me in the face. The Internet is great too, but I will always love record stores for the surprises they offer.

Lemonade has a forthcoming album Diver (True Panther) due on May 29.

LoCura’s Bob Sanders

Amoeba: Amoeba is a hallmark of Berkeley culture and an extension of Telegraph Avenue and its long history. I’m not an online shopper and I can almost always find what I’m looking for there. Something special about them are their in-store performances. It’s a great place to see up-and-coming and already famous artists in an intimate setting. Amoeba is generous to local artists. They feature their music where it’s easy for customers to see so it doesn’t get lost in their massive collection.

1,2,3,4 Go! Records!: Even though it’s technically a punk record store, 1,2,3,4 Go! stocks a nice variety of music and is worth checking out by all kinds of music lovers. The owner really cares about the store and sharing music and it shows. The space feels great to be in and if you’re interested in checking out some music, the owner will play it for you. They also feature great art shows by local artists and are an awesome place to hear local bands play.

Ear Peace Records: Ear Peace Records is run by young music producers and started out as a record label. The store is a reflection of Oakland’s vibrant hip-hop and street art community. They pride themselves on offering an even wider selection of music from local hip-hop artists than Amoeba. Not only do they sell music, but apparel, graffiti art supplies, and local art. They also have in-store performances and an outdoor café with wifi. You could call it a hip-hop-one-stop-shop!

LoCura just released Semilla Caminante (Face Pelt) earlier this month.

Amanda Mair

Bengans Skivbutik (Östgötagatan 53, Stockholm): This is very close to the studio where I record piano demos of new songs. Very convenient indeed, but it’s far from the only reason why it’s my favorite record store. It’s not a huge store by any means, but they have a really nice selection. And I really like the wall of 12-inch vinyls they have there. It shows great taste in music. Right now, they have Bon Iver, the Mary Onettes, Ane Brun, Ben Howard, and my album there. Pretty good if you ask me. :)

Amanda Mair’s self-titled debut album on Labrador is slated for a June 5 release.


Photo by Amir Image

MC Yogi

I grew up painting graffiti and listening to classic hip-hop. When I was around ten, I would take my dad’s old Tower of Power records, Issac Hayes, Cheech and Chong, and bunch of others, and try to scratch ‘em like Grandmaster Flash. It wasn’t until my little brother Adam, aka DJ Amen (KMEL), got hold of the turntable that we really started to make it happen. I bought him his first 1200s and together we began to put on parties and perform around the way.

Growing up, going to the record store was like going on a pilgrimage. Our favorite destination was Amoeba on Haight Street in San Francisco, but we’d also hit up Groove Merchant, Rasputin’s in Berkeley and a bunch of other mom-and-pop record shops along the way.

Digging through the old vinyl was like looking for buried treasure. My brother would spend most of the time in the hip-hop section, while I’d be looking for old Bollywood and sitar albums in the world music section. We’d always walk out of there with a huge stack of records, looking forward to seeing those spinning plates, dropping the needle and vibing on whatever treasures we found that day.

MC Yogi is set to release a new album Pilgrimage on June 19.

James McMurtry

Best Indie Record Store: Waterloo Records, Austin TX.

James McMurtry will be recording an album later in 2012.

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In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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