From its inception, Record Store Day has been a stereophonic affair. Conceived five years ago in Scarborough, Maine, by Bull Moose Records co-founder Chris Brown, it launched with a free Metallica concert in the Mountain View, Calif., parking lot of Rasputin Music — two channels, coast to coast.
In 2010, the spring event grew worldwide and added the day after Thanksgiving. Taking a page from the big boxes, participating stores open before dawn, but unlike Best Buy and Walmart, the big attractions aren’t deep discounts but exclusive, limited editions.
Most of the specials are on vinyl, the fastest-growing segment of recorded music. According to Nielsen Soundscan, vinyl sales took off in 2008, broke records last year and are growing by 16 percent in 2012. It’s a local phenomenon too, from area musicians like Tristan Omand releasing a 12-inch version of Wandering Time — offering colored vinyl to certain Kickstarter donors — to healthy queues on Black Friday.
Last year, Salem Bull Moose Records Manager Chris Wood said, “We had 15 to 20 people lined, which is awesome considering they’re all here to buy vinyl.” The crowds and general chaos of the nation’s biggest shopping day mean most places won’t offer the live shows common in the spring.
“It’s a bit too hectic for in-store performances, but since we’re opening at 6 a.m. we do things like trivia games,” Wood said. “We try to make it fun for people.”
To satisfy demand, labels release reproductions by classic rockers, albums often long out of print or simply never released. From contemporary bands, there are clever items like Golden Gear, a sprocket-shaped colored disc by the band fun. This was Brown’s favorite release for last spring’s Record Store Day.
Hand-numbered and limited to 1,800 copies, Joe Strummer Live at Action Town Hall is sure to be a hot item. Formerly only sold digitally, the 2002 show reunited Strummer and Clash bandmate Mick Jones for the first time in 20 years, shortly before Strummer’s untimely death.
The Strummer album is among several “Record Store Day only” items, like the two-sided 7-inch disc of Leonard Cohen and Jeff Buckley each performing “Hallelujah.” Cohen’s version was essentially ignored upon release in 1984. Since then, more than 300 artists have covered it, with Buckley’s version perhaps the most revered. “Hallelujah” is the subject of an Alan Light book due in December.
Other items include an EP of Buck Owens covering the Eagles (a mid-’70s session thought lost to history), a 20th anniversary 45-RPM edition of Nirvana’s Insecticide, along with picture discs of David Bowie’s “Jean Genie” single and Pizza Box by the Fat Boys, with vinyl resembling a pizza, packed into a cardboard box.
Want an off-the-wall choice? Check out the Obscure Giants of Acoustic Guitar trading card set, offered by San Francisco’s Tompkins Square record label. The 37-card collection features portraits by artist Shana Cleveland, and biographies detailing the work and lives of these overlooked performers.
With supplies ranging from just 500 to 5,000 copies, not everything is available at all stores. Some places, like Concord’s Pitchfork Records, reserve the rare stuff for regular customers. But bigger stores like Bull Moose (with 11 locations, two in New Hampshire) and Newbury Comics (28 New England locations, four in New Hampshire) do their best to meet demand.
But if the quest for Joey Ramone’s Ya Know (complete with Christmas ornament) should fail, take heart — and buy something else. There’s much to choose from and it helps small business. Plus, it definitely beats a Toys ’R Us tug-of-war over a Monster High doll. www.metrocityrecords.com