PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Record Store Day is the best day on the calendar for music on vinyl, but one of the worst days for actually buying any of it.
On just about any other day on the calendar, an independent record store is a playground of new releases and vintage gems overseen by some of the most knowledgeable music scholars in the retail industry. On April 19, the seventh-annual Record Store Day will send collectors and novices streaming into the more than 700 participating shops in the U.S. and 1,600 around the world looking for exclusive Record Store Day releases and limited-run items. There will be in-store appearances, live performance and long lines.
All of this is wonderful for both the stores and for vinyl music sales in general. Nielsen Soundscan notes that album sales were down 8.4% in 2013 -- with physical music sales in stores and elsewhere down 13% -- but vinyl sales jumped 33% to 6.1 million last year. Going back to 1993, vinyl sales have increased 250% in the last 20 years as overall music sales slid 50%.
Those 6.1 million albums are an incredibly small fraction of the 289.4 million albums sold in the U.S. last year, but they're a big spot for record stores at a time when music fans don't necessarily have to own the music they're listening to. Streaming services like Pandora (P), Rdio, Beats Music and Spotify, saw streams jump 32% to 118 billion in 2013, while record stores have seen their revenue tumble by 76% since 2000 to $2 billion, according to market research firm IBISWorld. That group estimates that record stores will lose another 40% of sales by 2016.
Music ownership is becoming a niche market, and vinyl buyers will pay a premium of $17 and up to own their favorite albums in that format. That's going to play a big role in keeping record stores alive and fulfilling the mission that Chris Brown, vice president of New Hampshire- and Maine-based music and movie chain Bull Moose, established when he dreamed up the first Record Store Day in 2007. It's also why there are hundreds of releases slated for next week's big day.
While we'd never advise against shopping for vinyl on Record Store Day -- and know full well that we'll be in some of those same lines we complained about earlier -- we do think that there's no way you should head to your local record shop without a plan. We looked through this year's extensive list of releases and came up with a wish list of our own for the day. Tastes vary, but consider this a template:
Record Store Day Exclusive Releases
Only available on Record Store Day at participating stores
Circa Survive/Sunny Day Real Estate
"Emo" wasn't always a pejorative for that kid working the counter at Baja Fresh with dyed black hair swept in front of his eyes.
Before the late '90s and early 2000s, it was just an adjective describing rock music with lyric content that earnestly described the writer's emotions without being sappy or ham-fisted. It applied just as much to poppier bands like The Cure as it did to hardcore acts like Lifetime. One of its greatest arbiters was Seattle's Sunny Day Real Estate, which wisely stopped recording in 2000 before the genre they helped establish was hijacked by Hot Topic and the Warped Tour and had every dollar squeezed from its oh-so-affected (and, eventually, incredibly sexist) corner of the music world.
With the coast clear and emo, pop-punk and just about every other bastardization having run its course, Sunny Day Real Estate is releasing this album's Lipton Witch as its first new song in 14 years. Along for the ride are prog rockers Circa Survive and their previously unreleased track Bad Heart. It's an odd matchup, but this disc would have sold just as well with a blank flipside. Only 2,500 copies of this burgundy-vinyl beauty are available, so watch out for fans expressing their long-suppressed emotions with a few elbows.
When some jackass decides to announce that metal is dead, Clutch is one of the bands routinely proving them dead wrong. Routinely as concerned with songwriting and concept as they are with deep, fuzzy, growling-but-groovy delivery, Clutch has outgrown its stoner rock roots and established itself as one of the genre's most influential savants.
They drop their new track Run, John Barleycorn, Run on Record Store Day, but also give their Weathermaker Music label's newest band Lionize a chance to show off its chops with their flipside track Ether Madness.
Ain't That Good News
Fifty years ago, in an incident that was never thoroughly investigated and riddled with inconsistencies that were never explained, the world lost one of soul music's first voices when Sam Cooke was gunned down by a Los Angeles hotel manager.
Ain't That Good News was released that same year and saw its strongest tracks -- including the anthem A Change Is Gonna Come that became not only a civil rights anthem, but the most earnest work of Cooke's career -- surge to greatness only after Cooke's death. Though Another Saturday Night is the dance-party hit that went on to become the album's most popular song, A Change Is Gonna Come showed Sam Cooke in transition from the bubbly Tonight Show performer of the late '50s and early '60s to the burdened, fiery soul singer who took the Harlem Square Club stage in Miami with King Curtis in 1963 and tore the roof off the place. Jackie Wilson and James Brown would show that kind of fire later, but Cooke was at the height of his powers when he was taken away.
If you can't get your hands on the original, this is well worth the investment.
The Cure/Dinosaur Jr.
Side By Side Series
In one of the better gimmicks Record Store Day has come up with, Rhino records is releasing 7-inch singles of song as performed by their original artist and as famously covered by another great act. Devo and The Flaming Lips share space for their versions of Devo's Gates Of Steel while Pantera and Portland-based hardcore band Poison Idea are paired for their versions of the latter's The Badge.
The gem of this year's Side By Side offerings, however, is a white 45 RPM version of Just Like Heaven featuring its original 1998 performance by The Cure and Dinosaur Jr.'s fuzzed out 1989 cover with the death-metal breakdown. That J. Mascis and company's version still holds up as Cure frontman Robert Smith's favorite cover of the song for both its passion and heavier sound should be all the endorsement this single requires.
Live At Max's Kansas City -- November 15, 1977
Before the hits made their way to MTV and before Mark Mothersbaugh provided the score of every film Hollywood threw at him, there was this little art rock band from Akron, Ohio, sitting backstage in the primary incubator for still-burgeoning New Wave music waiting for David Bowie to introduce them.
It's a tremendous artifact that Jackpot Records is releasing for the first time on vinyl and is even more noteworthy now that Bowie's bit has been restored. Since Devo fans are absolutely rabid and approach this band with an obsessive fervor befitting the group's geeky aesthetic, we hold no illusions of being able to pick up one of the 2,000 copies available worldwide with any ease.
Live At The Bitter End 1971
Before he was known to much of the U.S. as the guy on their dentist's office easy-listening radio station singing with Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway was a soul music force. In 1971, he not only hadn't done his parts on The Closer I Get To You and Where Is The Love with Flack, but was just starting to gain notoriety for songs like The Ghetto and Everything Is Everything.
When he's performing this set in that small club on Bleecker Street known more for who it launches than who's playing there at any particular day of the week, he's putting everything he has into his own fledgling work and into a whole bunch of covers. This is one of soul's masters just before he hits stride and, sadly, just eight years before his untimely death.
Life After Death
We don't like to quibble, but why not release a limited-edition copy of 1994's Ready To Die instead? It's 20 years later, it's cemented as one of the most influential hip-hop records of all time and it would come just as hip-hop is having a decent debate about whether its Golden Age was two decades ago, or is happening now.
But if you're going to release a triple album on clear vinyl, this is the one to go with. A bit overstuffed even in its original double-album form, this reissue is just a reminder that there's enough greatness on this to warrant three records. Forget the shiny-suit dance track Mo Money, Mo Problems, the million-dollar video for Hypnotize or 112's poorly aged harmonies on Sky's The Limit. Kick In The Door, Going Back To Cali and an early Jay-Z appearance on I Love the Dough are Hip-Hop 101 and some of Biggie's finest work.
It's been said that all of the best tracks from Life After Death's two-disc set would have made one great album. Even at three discs, it still holds up better than many of Biggie's late '90s contemporaries -- or Bad Boy Records labelmates, for that matter.
The Velvet Undeground
By the time this record was released by Cotillion Records in 1970, Lou Reed had already left the group for a solo career and its most popular tracks -- Sweet Jane and Rock & Roll -- were stuck in limbo. That hasn't prevented it from taking its place as one of the greatest albums of all time or foreshadowing the more mainstream side of Reed's solo efforts.
With Reed passing away last year, we kind of expected to see some of his work featured at this year's Record Store Day. We're still somewhat relieved that this pink, black and white splatter vinyl release is the extent of that tribute.
Record Store Day Limited Run
Very few copies available, also limited by region
Eric B. & Rakim
Paid In Full
Rakim's master plan to put something beside sweat inside his hand was a vital part of hip-hop history, but it never quite reached the same audience in the U.S. as it did across the pond.
As one of the few founding fathers of rap who can still lay claim to the Best Rapper Alive title without raising too many eyebrows or chuckles, Rakim's deep, gravelly delivery and earnest, train-of-thought rhymes are hip-hop bedrock. As DJs in the U.K. discovered, however, they also make a great base for a remix. By picking up the tempo, tossing in a sample from Israeli singer Ofra Haza and extending the run time a bit, the folks behind Paid In Full's Mini Madness Coldcut remix took the song to No. 15 on the U.K. pop chart and turned British actor Geoffrey Sumner's This is a journey into sound into a staple hip-hop sample.
Both the original and the Coldcut remix are available on this 7-inch release, as is the original $100-bill cover art.
Food For Thought: The Get On Down Edition
The Godfather Of Soul couldn't have just any backing band: He needed the best musicians available to tear the house down on a nightly basis. That's how you get Bootsy Collins to play bass for you before he ever joined Parliament-Funkadelic and how you turn Bobby Byrd from your lead singer in The Fabulous Flames to the organist in your backup band. It's how you get legends like Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker in your horns section.
It's also how you singlehandedly give birth to funk.
This album was the first release on James Brown's People Records in 1972 and was the first of seven JB's albums released during the 1970s. The group's alumni would go on to join George Clinton in Parliament-Funkadelic, fracture off into The JB Horns and provide a large portion of the samples used during hip-hop's Golden Age in the late '80s and early '90s. This album is where that funk journey starts, and the fact that it's packaged with a purple 45 of their first single The Grunt should only motivate collectors more.
Peaches/Go Buddy Go
"Walking down the beaches, looking at the peaches."
England's Stranglers were never a punk band per se, but they were as antagonistic as Johnny Rotten and his Sex Pistols without any of the pose and artifice. Right around the time that the Pistols were getting ready for their close up, slandering the queen and making the U.K. chartmakers censor their album title, the Stranglers were spending the summer of '77 regaling Europe with a lecher's first-person account of a walk down the coastline.
U.K. radio hated it and only got it to No. 8 on the singles chart by airing a heavily edited version. The BBC's Top Of The Pops wouldn't let the band play it at all and instead forced them to play its flipside -- the lunkheaded pub anthem Go Buddy Go.
Stranglers gear doesn't appear at Hot Topic and Hugh Cornwell doesn't have a street named after him or a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but The Stranglers were a reminder that sometimes "punk" didn't have to be punk at all. Why sneer when a smirk will do?
Record Store Day First Releases
Albums that get their first release on Record Store Day before being released on a wider scale a month or so later
With His Hot and Blue Guitar
Cry! Cry! Cry!, Folsom Prison Blues and I Walk The Line weren't the work of a grizzled, world-weary Johnny Cash: They were singles off his first album from 1957.
This record was Sam Phillips' first LP release for Sun Records and was made possible largely by the work of Elvis Presley, whose early Sun recordings and proceeds from his contract's sale to RCA Victor helped bankroll artists including Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins.
This album was reissued once before in 2002, but has been out of print for a number of years. Only 3,000 blue vinyl versions are being released, which makes this yet another outside shot on our list.
The Long Goodbye (LCD Soundsystem Live At Madison Square Garden)
We couldn't come up with a more appropriate title for this album.
In 10 years and three studio albums, James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem inspired a generation of musicians and made a huge bit of music/New York/Brooklyn/cultural/hipster/Pitchfok folklore with their final concert on April 2, 2011 at Madison Square Garden. That show still hasn't ended.
It was streamed on Pitchfork when it happened, it's been available on video since in various formats for years, it got its own documentary called Shut Up And Play The Hits and now gets the box set treatment for Record Store Day. We can only imagine that James Murphy had to disband LCD Soundsystem just to have enough time to cobble this together, but he has a dedicated audience out there that's willing to shell out just to make sure that the band's last night always begins with New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down and never ends.
In 1994, there was no Dirty South beyond Luke and 2 Live Crew's Miami Bass. There was no Ludacris, T.I., Master P, Birdman, Lil' Wayne, Lil' Jon, Three 6 Mafia, Trick Daddy or Rick Ross -- no Oscars for Hustle and Flow or Terrance Howard as a pimp. There was East Coast, West Coast and a dude in Miami who had half naked women in videos that were only shown on The Box or late-night BET.
This album changed all of that. Laid back and laden with funk, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was nothing that hip-hop north of the Mason-Dixon or west of the Florida Panhandle had been ready for. It wasn't just a thematic and cultural difference, but a slow-and-low brand of hip-hop with something to say beyond Big Boi and Andre 3000's drawl. It's hard to believe now, but 20 years ago when this album was first released, it was somewhat lost in a flood of great hip-hop releases including Dr. Dre's The Chronic, Wu-Tang Clan's Enter The 36 Chambers, Nas' Illmatic, Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready To Die and A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders and Gang Starr's Hard To Earn.
In that environment, Outkast lived up to its name. Six years later, Outkast would not only be firmly in hip-hop's mainstream, but redefining it.
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back
"I got a letter from the government the other day/I opened it and read it and it said they were suckers."
Chuck D and the Bomb Squad didn't have a whole lot of time for semantics back in 1988. The crack epidemic was moving through their city, racial tension was repeatedly coming to a head with fatal consequences for the city's black citizens and hip-hop and the expression that came with it was still being treated as a second-class art form.
That's why they spent their second album getting down to business and straight-up dropping bombs. Bring The Noise asserted hip-hop's presence and let everyone know it was sticking around a while, but Don't Believe The Hype, Night Of The Living Baseheads, Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos and Rebel Without A Pause showed what it was capable of. It raged at the crack epidemic and the double standard of Wall Streeters bumping lines off their desks downtown. It shouted down the prison industrial complex and the criminalization of poverty.
It landed with a blast that everyone heard and opened a generational fissure between those that listened to what Chuck D was saying and those who didn't want to hear it. This reissue comes with a lenticular cover with an image that changes depending on the angle you're viewing it from, but 26 years haven't taken the edge off this record from any vantage point.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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