Sunday, August 10, 2008

Guide to Chicago Record Shops

Every time I visit a city I make sure to check out as many record stores as my time and wallet allows. You can always judge the "cool factor" of a city on it's record stores, and Chicago has an abundance of unique record stores. The sheer size of the city and the deep history of the local music scene should help to keep the independent record store alive and well for some time to come. Now, with than in mind, there have also been a many shops closed over the last few years, and, of the long list of shops I had discovered online, I was informed/discovered that many of them no longer existed and very few new ones had sprung up in their place. The same problem has occurred in Vancouver (not to mention across the globe), where over the last decade there have been many closures of independent record stores (anyone remember record row downtown?) and even a lot of the big boys have shut their doors (Sam's, Virgin, half the A&B Sounds). Vancouver is not doing too bad but it certainly isn't the record haven it once was. But I digress.

***Update*** Funnily enough, I have just learned that the A&B Sound on Seymour St. and the location on Marine Drive have both closed their doors. Working at the "flagship" Seymour location of over 5 years, I definitely saw this one coming. More on that in a later post.***

One of the best things about record shopping in the US is the cost of new vinyl. I thought it would be heaven for finding rare used collectors records, which in certain aspects it was, but the best part was stocking up on reissues and current releases, most of which were $10 or less. Working in a record store, I know the average cost of a record. The prices on new vinyl was well below the Canadian cost on most of the vinyl I picked up. It's no wonder that vinyl sales have gone through the roof over the last few years. Even shops like Wal-Mart are picking up on the trend.

Without further delay here is my guide to Chicago record stores.

Dave's Records
Dave's was the first that I got the chance to visit but only because it was three blocks from my hostel. Dave's is owned and operated by, you guessed it, a man named Dave. I always like going into a record store that has one owner and operator because they always know what they have in stock and just generally know their shit. Dave's stocked exclusively records, new and used, natch. The store was well organized and there were stacks of records from the floor to the ceiling, ranging from modern indie rock to jazz and classical. He even kept an audiophile section for heavyweight vinyl and had a large celebrity records section (who thought Leonard Nimoy had that many records?). Overall, the prices were great, Dave was very talkative and funny, and the shop was impeccably organized. If you make it out to the Lincoln Park area of Chicago, drop by Dave's.

Nice Strong Arm "Mind Furnace" ($1.99) Underrated Texas post-punk.
Eleh "Floating Frequencies/Intuitive Synthesis 1" ($11.99) this record has been out of print for a year and now demands a small fortune on ebay.

Rock Records
Rock Records is in the heart of downtown Chicago, which is an unfortunate waste of prime record store real estate because this is the worst record, errr CD shop in all of Chicago. The place was top 40 to the max but at inflated prices. The place is most likely going under, as everything in the shop was %50 off. I figured that I might find something worth buying, but, even with the great discount, there was nothing. Flipping through some of the bins I found that I hardly even recognized any of the bands, which all looked like pop drivel. I went to the Nirvana section jsut in case there were some rarities and to my surprise found a small selection of bootlegs. On closer inspection they were bootlegs of bootlegs. The covers had clearly been photocopied...badly. And they wanted $50 for them! Funny thing was they didn't even carry any of the legitimate Nirvana releases. I vacated the joint immediately.

Finds: NONE

Reckless (Downtown)
The Reckless downtown was a bit of a waste of time, as they didn't stock 1/3 the amount as their sister shops. Downtown was a big letdown for record shopping, so I advise all record hounds heading to Chicago to avoid downtown, unless you need to do some sightseeing.

This one was a bit of a surprise that I found on my way to another record shop. Funny thing was, despite the sunny weather, the blinds of the shop were shut, causing me to question if the place was even open. Nope, it seems that metal heads running the shop were not big fans of bright, cheery weather. Inside was a great selection of metal all broken down into sub-genres (grind, black, power etc), and included CDs and Records. The prices were a little out of hand, but any metal fan visiting Chicago ought to check this place out.

Laurie's Planet Of Sound
Laurie's was pretty far from where I was staying and wasn't exactly in a happening area, though I suppose that Laurie's does the trick for anyone living in the area looking for an alternative to Reckless. Laurie's carried a large selection of new and used records which didn't stray too far from rock and it's permutations. There was some jazz, country and hip-hop but the selections were pretty small. That being said, Laurie's may have been the cheapest record shop in the city, most likely due to their distance from the more expensive, hipper neighborhoods.

Del Jones "Positive Vibes" LP ($8.99) Great reissue of this obscure afro-jazz, proto-rap classic.
Eugene McDaniels "Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse" and "Outlaw" Reissues ($8.99 each)


You know you've stepped into a bad record store when you smell incense. Deadwax dealt strictly with used records and CDs...from your grandmothers' collection. If you're into mediocre exotica/lounge, bad country or classical then make sure you stop by this place. I did have one decent find...

Fripp/Eno "Evening Star" ($5.00)

Dusty Groove

If you're looking to get away from many of the rock-centric record shops in Chicago, Dusty Groove is calling your name. Specializing in global, hip-hop, soul and jazz, Dusty Groove is a beat-head haven. New and used records and CDs were stocked and priced to move. Most re-issues of classic records from any of the above genres ran at about $10 or less. Aside from being inexpensive, Dusty Groove stocked tons of hard-to-find re-issues (most seemed illegitimate) that I haven't been able to get through work or online. Long out of print Just-Ice CDs and impossible to find Sun Ra LPs are the order of the day here. All crate diggers who don't mind buying re-issues for 1/10th the price of an original need to make a stop here. A class A joint with amazing stock, prices, and organized immaculately. A perfect record store.

Showbiz & AG "Runaway Slave" 2LP ($10.99) Hard to find re-issue of one of the all time greatest.
Just-Ice "Back To The Old School" CD ($9.99)
Doug Carn "Revelation" and "Adams Apple" LP reissues ($8.99 each)
Ed OG & The Bulldogs "Life Of A Kid In The Ghetto: Demos and Rarities" 2CD reissue ($11.99)

Reckless Records (Ukranian Village)
Reckless Records is a Chicago institution and haven for music nerds across the city. Three locations across the city means that you never have to travel far to cop whatever new release yr after. They also stock used LPs and CDs so it's always worth the trip to flip through their daily new arrivals. The prices are fair, not too high but not the cheapest either, but the selection at this location (and the Lincoln Park too) make it worth spending the extra dollar or two.

The Coup "Kill My Landlord" CD ($7.99) Impossibly rare debut album
Eleh "Homage to the Squarewave" LP ($19.99) Small pressing (500) of this drone masterwork that was hardly offered outside of the Important website.

Permanent Records
Made it out to the highly recommended Permanent Records on my last day in Chicago and it was well worth the wait. Permanent, while carrying yr regular indie releases, had a wide selection of experimental LPs, CDs and handmade tapes. In fact, Permanent was the only store I found that sold DIY tapes. They also had a wide selection of local artists releases that you simply could not get anywhere else in the city. The best part was the clerk who knew a little bit about each of the local tape releases and was even able to recommend some local drone artists. They stocked new and used and even had helpful handwritten descriptions on the more obscure releases, of which they had a lot of. The shop is a little out of the way but well worth the trek.

GZA "Liquid Swords" LP ($28.99) Original UK pressing, NM. Without a doubt this is the best find of the whole trip. The record goes for about $60 on ebay, that is, when it actually appears on the site, which is rare.
Robedoor "Shrine to the Possessor" LP ($19.99) Now OOP LP from these drone-masters.
John Maus "Songs" LP ($16.99) Long OOP record from this one time Ariel Pink and Panda Bar associate. Bizarro love songs from this overlooked troubadour of space-pop.

Reckless Records (Lincoln Park)
The largest and best of the three Reckless Records in Chicago. Same idea as the other two but almost twice the size. My only complaint with Reckless is how they stock their used CDs, which is by taking the booklet out of the case and putting it in a plastic sleeve with a paper card backing. While I'm sure this saves them floorspace, it also makes them impossible to flip through. You basically have to grab a stack and shuffle through them, making it an incredibly tedious exercise. Also, you can't look at the back of the CD to see the tracklisting to make sure you have the right album. Nonetheless, there were still a few great finds on CD and LP at this location.

Nirvana "Roma" CD bootleg ($16.99) Best recording of their last ever concert
Main Source "Fuck What You Think" CD ($7.99) Rare second album from this underrated hip-hop crew.
Diamond D "Stunts, Blunts and Hip-Hop" 2LP ($10.99) Another classic at a jaw-dropping price.

Hard Boiled
Tiny little shop in the Roscoe Village area that is run by one guy. The store was haphazardly kept and the records mingled with used comics, books and a bunch of other junk that seemed pulled from the owners' bedroom. He was incredibly helpful in pointing out a few other record shops that I didn't know about. Outside of that, the shop was not worth the trip.

Autechre "Draft 7.30" LP ($12.99)

Pitchfork Fest Record Fair
Ok, not exactly a record shop, but the 20-odd tables made this one of the best record shopping stops of the whole trip. Several local major-indie labels had tables (Thrill Jockey, Touch and Go) as well as other labels like KRS and Merge also had tables, along with plenty of local merchants and record shops. The best part about the labels' booths were how inexpensive new LPs were. I managed to cop 3 LPs for $25 at most of those tables, and was able to fill a few gaps in my collection for cheap. Most of the other merchants had some great collections and were all willing to bend in the price with the right sweet talking.

Sand "Dynamic Curve" LP ($12)
Royal Trux "Radio Video EP" 12" ($7) One of their best releases. OOP for too long.

*As usual, all photos courtesy of me. The list of finds is only a partial list and only used to set an example of the records/cds you are likely to come across.


Unknown said...

I looove the US for this reason too... Seeing as yr employed in a record store, Im guessing you know that tariffs/brokeraging and the superhigher cost of shipping to canada keeps vinyl high within Canada... this goes for domestic labels as well as getting in that awesome finished Chicago/elsewhere product. those 4 degrees of separation between label and listener adds a lot. which needless to say sux0rs.

This blog is adored!

Mark E. Rich said...

It's kinda funny that the tables have completely turned in the last ten years. In the late 90s, Vancouver was actually the cheapest place on the planet for new music. This is not the case anymore, all thanks to a weak US dollar, strong CDN dollar, and higher petroleum/shipping prices. It's almost getting to the point where we should be ordering directly from labels to cut out the middle man but that would obviously complicate things on our end...and put Scratch out of business, which would be awful. Canada really needs to step up and create a some more record pressing plants. I think that would solve a few problems.

By the way, do I know you? Are you from Vancouver?

Anonymous said...

Nice Strong Arm eh? so does this mean you won't snicker the next time i defend these obscuro-greats from bragg's hate parade (like you did last time)? BAM!

Mark E. Rich said...

Eat shit. I have no idea what "obscuro-great" record you speak of. Usually, if Bragg hates it, then it must be worth checking out. uhhh. Bam!

Anonymous said...

that eleh lp was a nice score, I bought my copy from zulu just under a year ago. I had to special order vol. 2 from important though. Its funny how there is no info on eleh anywhere. I did read an online rumor that claimed that its one of stephen o'malley's projects, but who knows if there is any truth to that.

Mark E. Rich said...

Seems unlikely that its's O'Malley. I haven't been able to find out much info either. I remember when the vol 1 came in and I was hipped to it by Kris (Grouper/Barn Owl promoter). he bought our only copies and, of course, they never came back in. Now, other than vol 2, the Eleh collection is almost complete. thx chi-town

Anonymous said...

I see these are mostly rock stores. What about Gramaphone Records on Clark Street. It's been open since 1969.

Anonymous said...

Yo,nice list of stores, don't forget us! Out of the Past Records @ 4407 W. Madison St, one of those spots with massive stacks of vinyl, cassettes and 8 tracks! Cheers!! ;)