BACK TO LA; THE REBIRTH OF VINYL
Think of a Cole Porter classic and add Terry Hall’s slightly off-key vocals and delicate African pop rhythms. “Summertime, summertime…and the living is easy” sung with an English eccentricity. The Fun Boy Three’s version of the erstwhile classic is the soundtrack to my late 2015 visit to Los Angeles.”
I was now in La-La land and I was thinking about the ‘what next’ for The Secret List series. One thing was obvious: I needed to do an update for the Los Angeles edition
My journey started at the Standard Hotel, West Hollywood. Cole Porter used to live nearby. It’s a bright sunny day, though what day isn’t bright and sunny in Los Angeles? I started singing, “summertime, summertime….
I walked down to Melrose Avenue in Fairfax, both of which feature heavily in the original Secret List – LA edition. A lot has changed; the grungey edgy feel has gone, as is the trend in so many cities. And sadly a number of record shops, including Fat Beats and Turntable Lab, featured in the book from in and around the Fairfax area are now closed. Thankfully though some remain, and my first stop was the infamous Record Collector. The experience was awful. After ten minutes I am marched out of the shop with expletives thrown my way. The cause of offence? I asked the price of a record and because a price tag “spoils the cover and I – the owner – know the price anyway..” Secondly, I was “a time waster” after I asked to listen to a record. Yes I could listen to the record but only if I agreed to buy it. Suffice to say despite years of negative feedback, the owner of The Record Collector has not changed his ways.
My next stop, the pleasant environs of Headline Records, was an altogether different experience. Headline is the punk-rock shop in Los Angeles. There was an abundance of old and new punk 45s and LPs, tapes, DVDs, posters, t-shirts and pins. The owner, Jean-Luc, opened the shop in 1995 and it is still the go-to place in California for punk. I had an enjoyable chat with Jean-Luc as he busily organised his shop’s 20th anniversary party. Originally from Paris, he eagerly thumbed through The Secret List – Paris….”I know the owner…I was in that shop last year….that shop has good stock.” He laughed at my Record Collector story: “You went to The Record Collector? Why?!”
Headline is decked in black and crimson, an alternative to the ‘sunny’ LA I describe above. Resembling a seventies punk club with its stickered walls and hard flooring, it eschews any punk menace though through the amenable Jean-Luc.
ECHOES IN THE PARK
The next day I took a pleasant 45 minute trip on the no.2 bus from West Hollywood to Silverlake and Echo Park. It is a nice trip, especially outside of the rush hour, presenting a different side of LA and Angelinos. You pass through the hustle ’n’ bustle of West Hollywood into the quieter, funkier Los Feliz and Silverlake areas.
Since my first visit to Los Angeles in 2009, the number of shops on the small strip on the Sunset Boulevard part of Silverlake has gradually increased, changing from a working class area to one with a pocketful of cool indie stores, restaurants and cafes. I really like it, though reading online comments local sentiment on this change is mixed.
My first stop was at UNDFTD, the trainer shop, where I picked up some limited edition trainers. My second stop was to see if I could find something for my wife at Matruksha, an independent boutique where the owner makes all the clothes. Now suitably well-heeled and with husband duties covered, I went to my third stop, Vacation Records.
Vacation Records sits at the top end of this part of Sunset strip. The store has been here for over 10 years, and with new owners taking over three years ago, in my opinion the shop is now much better. The first difference at Vacation between now and before, is the friendliness of the staff. The staff assistant was warm and friendly and gave me some excellent tips on some local bands to check out – The Pharoahs, Atmosphere etc. He also mentioned that the new owners have brought in a wider range of music than was previously stocked. Fifty percent of the music is what I term ‘hardcore’: punk rock, death metal and ‘unholy’ rock, genres which Vacation made its name on. The other half is made up of funk, soul, hip hop, jazz, rock and new arrivals; eclectic in anyone’s book. I like the layout of the shop, the atmosphere, the records, keen prices and above all the staff – who incidentally also gave me tips on other record shops in the area.
From Vacation I took a leisurely walk to the Echo Park part of Silverlake. My first stop enroute was Sick City Records. An anonymous black facade masked a long, narrow interior resembling a biker bar! The two owners – tattooed, bearded and leather clad – warmly welcomed me. The shop covers heavy rock, punk, metal, alternative and surprisingly, some very good eighties pop and nineties club sounds. Adjacent to the main shop, which also stocks rock posters and t-shirts, is a small barber space. The back wall has a photo mural of The Clash’s Joe Strummer playing the barber, brandishing hair clippers. I also really liked the owners of the shop. One, wearing an Echo and the Bunnymen t-shirt, readily flipped through the LA edition of the book, and recommended I listen to The Savages, his current favourite band.
My last two stops were Blue Bag Records and Origami records, both of which were excellent. Blue Bag Records is a large shop with masses of records covering several genres. Jazz and rock are particularly good here, keenly priced between $5-10 for second-hand albums and there is an abundance of ‘dollar bins’.
Origami has ridden the crest of a wave over the last few years, though it has now been taken over and trades under the name, Permanent Records. Origami had a healthy rota of live performances and was often featured in record shop articles. The shop had a good stock of new material, and was especially good for left-of-centre electronic and indie records. The shop was brilliantly designed. It was long and narrow, and the murals, exposed brickwork and hanging art pieces give it lots of atmosphere. Hopefully Permanent Records will carry on Origami’s excellent legacy.
The next day was a rest day from researching record shops. But as is ever the way of a record digger you can never quite switch off, so after a lazy morning I headed for a late lunch at the famed In ’n’ Out Burger joint which has influenced many a UK burger chain. After a good if not brilliant burger, I went to As The Record Turns, in record circles almost as well known as In ’n’ Out Burger. As The Record Turns’ fame and popularity is for two reasons: the huge amount of vinyl, around a million and half records, both in the shop and in a separate warehouse; and for the owner Kevin Donan, who tells many great stories about his time feeding the entertainment industry with vinyl.
First the records, covering mainly soul, jazz and soundtracks are amazing. The shop’s collection goes deep into an artist’s catalogue and conjures up long forgotten foreign and independent pressings. Second, Kevin is a wonderful host and tells a good yarn on his many dealings with the entertainment industry. He literally sat on a rocking chair at the back of the shop, appropriately resembling a living room, and recounted stories of sourcing music for film producers, finding samples for hip hop artists and searching for original copies of albums for artists who had lost their original copies. This is a brilliant store for the serious, or potentially, not so serious collector. And Kevin is a lovely guy who tells a wonderful tale.
And my final port of call on my ‘rest day’ was Amoeba. Amoeba is well-documented and rightly so. It’s a huge but manageable shop with a healthy amount of vinyl and an incredible new and back catalogue. CDs can be heavily discounted, sometimes costing $4 for a new CD. Amoeba’s outside sign is a neon hue of Americana splendour and one of a record digger’s ‘must see’ sights.
TOUCHING VINYL: SUNDAY MORNING BLISS IN SANTA MONICA
The highlight of my visit to Los Angeles was visiting Touch Vinyl, about five kilometres from the main beach drag in Santa Monica. It was a Sunday morning, perfect for a trip to the beach. For once though in LA, it wasn’t a sunny day. It was overcast with an outbreak of rain, causing much consternation for Angelinos. But for me the weather mattered little. I found a piece of record shop heaven in Santa Monica as good as some of the best shops covered in The Secret List. And as with all record shops which blow me way, very often their exterior gives little away of what lies inside. Touch Vinyl has an abundance of delights to offer. An acoustically treated in-store system; a listening post with super-clear sound; an abundance of records both in racks and the ‘must-haves’ on the wall; and a spacious room complete with sofa and coffee to complete the home-listening vibe.
But above all it was the assistant who made this trip. He was warm, friendly and chatty which typifies Angelinos. And his music knowledge was excellent; recommending records both old and new and across different genres including some local artists I hadn’t come across. And all this excellent service, was before I told the assistant I wrote The Secret List. Exemplary.
All records are US pressings unless otherwise stated.
Headline Records: 7706 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036. Mon-Sun:12pm-8pm. Tel.:+1 323-655-2125; headlinerecords.com
Vacation: 3815 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90026. Mon-Sat:11am-9pm; Sun: 12pm-7pm. Tel.:+1 323-666-2111; vactionvinyl.com
Kickin’ It Samba Style LP – compiled by DJ Toshio, various artists $14 (excellent, Ubiquity)
Take That Train 12”- Interference $4 (very good, Ubiquity)
Rinse Dream 12”- Pharaohs $12 (near mint, VW Records)
Permanent Records previously Origami: 1816 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90026. Mon-Sun: 12pm-8pm. Tel.: +1 213-413-3030; permanentrecordsla.com
Premiers Symptomes LP – Air $25 (sealed, re-issue, Parlophone France)
Optimo LP- Liquid Liquid $16 (sealed re-issue, Superior Viaduct)
Double Exposure LP – Matt Kivel free with purchase of any record
As The Record Turns: 6727 Hollywood Boulevard, CA 90028. Mon-Sun:12pm-6pm; Tel.:+1 323-251-4895; astherecordturns.com
Star Wars/Close Encounters LP – Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes priced at $15 but given free as a gift (excellent, Versatile)
Reality LP – Monk Montgomery $25 (excellent, Philadelphia International)
Candido In Indigo LP – Candido $25 (very good-excellent, ABC/Paramount)
The Gigolo LP – Lee Morgan $20 (very good, Blue Note)
Blue Bag Records: 2149 Sunset Boulevard, CA 90026. Mon-Sun:12pm-8pm; Tel.: +1 213-413-0690;bluebagrecords.com
Moses – Jerry Hahn $6 (very good, Fantasy)
The In Sound From Way Out – The Beastie Boys $40 (mint, Grand Royal, French pressing)
Sick City Records: 3323 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90026. Opening hours not listed; Tel.:+1 323-668-2088; sickcityrecords.com
Love & Pride 12”- King $12 (mint-excellent, Epic US)
City Song 12” – Luscious Jackson $10 (mint-excellent, Grand Royal)
Duran Duran 12″ unreleased mixes $1 (very good, EMI Germany)
Touch Vinyl: 1646 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025; Sun-Wed:12pm-9pm;Thu-Sat:12pm-12am;Tel.:+1 310-933-5540; touchvinyl.com
Slippery People 12” – The Staple Singers $7 (very good, CBS)
One Good Point LP – Mark Colby $6 (very good, Tappan Zee Records)
Xlo LP – Dzang $15 (sealed, Dzang Records)
Amoeba: 6400 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028. Mon-Sat:11.30am-11pm Sun:11am-10pm;Tel.:+1 323-245-6400; amoeba.com
As The Record Turns
Blue Bag Records