With all this prep for the Fifth Element Parking Lot Sale tomorrow (8.25.12) and all the great feedback I've been seeing, it reminded me why I love my job and how I feel in love with shopping for music. This is that story....
I have been excited about going somewhere to buy music for a long as I remember, at least as early as the 3rd grade according to my attached crude but cute drawing*. Receiving music for gifts was one of my favorite things as a Kid. However, there was something additionally fantastic when I was granted access to venture out on music quests of my own. I have so many vivid memories of being in a record store, excitement increasingly mounting as I dug through the many releases and intermittently have bursts of frustration while trying to limit my growing stacks to the few things that I could actually afford.
Growing up living on Army Bases my earliest music buying experiences were at the PX (a.k.a Post Exchange). It was basically the Military’s version of a one-stop shop, a la Target. I remember my family or me buying various tapes and LPs there such as Rose Royce, Johnny Guitar Watson, Rick James, Parliament, War, Peaches & Herb, Atlantic Starr, and the list goes on and on.
My record buying intrigue grew exponentially once I discovered Rap Music in ‘79/’80. Most of my related early experiences involved around dubbing tapes on my Sharp GF-575 Double Cassette Box. The Post Exchange mainly sold LPs and not singles and at the time Hip Hop was primarily a 12” single market. One day while shopping at the German Mall that we frequented I stumbled across a bit of a musical fairytale-land that was sort of hiding on the underground of this shopping center…it was a record store with a full-blown Hip Hop section!! This was an incredible discovery!!
I finally had a place to buy my new music of choice. This is why many of my Hip Hop records circa 1980-193 are German pressings (which means the 12” singles play at 45 RPM). I brought my Spoonie Gee “Love Rap” b/w Treacherous Three “The New Rap Language” there. Probably the most distinct thing I remember buying there was my double copies of the Wild Style Soundtrack on Animal Records It was the first time I ever brought two copies. I wasn’t DJing yet. I think I just got two because I was so ecstatic to be holding it in my hand**.
When I moved to the US, I was living on the Fort Riley Army Base near Junction City, KS. Eventually, I discovered they had Middle Earth Records. It was a typical record store for the time. It focused heavily on Rock records, but carried a little bit of most everything. My most clear memory shopping there was the day my partner in rhyme, Eddy (a.k.a Burning Hot T.N.T of the 3D Crew) and myself were looking at the 12” section and lo and behold, there was a new Treacherous Three single. My immediate reaction was delight, but then I had a moment of doubt. I was a huge Treacherous Three fan and love every record they put out…except the last one. I was really not feeling “Turn You On” (although the Vocoder joint on the flipside, “U.F.O” was solid). The song titles on this new one seemed promising, “Gotta Rock” b/w “Turn It Up”, but I wanted some sort of reassurance. I had never done it before, but I knew they would play records for you in the store, so I went to the counter to ask. He looked at the record and the vibrant recognizable Sugarhill Records jacket revealed it was the dreaded Rap music. He had his own moment of reluctance, but as he glanced around and saw there weren’t two many customers to scare off, he agreed to play it. I walked away and immediately as the needle dropped Eddy and I stared at each other with shocking happiness as we heard the acapella harmony of the intro, “Party on the dance floor, party people want more/Time to hear something from the Treacherous Three!” There was no way I was leaving that store without that record.
When I moved to North Chicago/Waukegan is when I really started to explore my record store options. Previously, I was just a fan of the music and was eager to get my hands on it any way I could; dubbed tapes, records, or off the radio, I didn’t care, but now I was officially a fiend for the vinyl.
On the weekends our family would often ride out to Chicago and drive around Downtown. There was a big chain store on Rush Street where we would go look at music. I brought my LL Cool J “Radio” album there. It was one of those moments that when I found that I was just ready to go. I didn’t need to see any more. I wanted to get home and listen…
My magic spot during High School was T&S Records on Sheridan Road in North Chicago. I remember the two main workers as very distinct characters. One of the guys, the owner’s right-hand man I presume, talked really fast with a bit of a mumble. He was like Papa Bear from the Hillbilly Bears on High-Speed Dubbing. Sometimes I could only really make out his last word clearly with a few scattered words along the way and had to reconstruct the sentence in my head, which lead to a delayed reaction in my responses. The owner talked very slow and deliberately and I seem to recall he had a bit of a Southern touch to his accent. Sometimes I would be wishing for the sentence to be over so I could go continue shopping…ha. I’m being a bit dramatic, but those guys, although slightly eccentric, were great and it was an excellent place to get the latest Hip Hop singles. I remember seeing the Kool G Rap “I’m Fly” B/W “It’s A Demo” there and buying it. I held it in my hands and read every detail of the credits. I recognized the name Marley Marl. I wondered what the “No End” reference meant on the Dub Version of “It’s A Demo”. In fact, the use of the word “Demo” was a key point of interest. That made it sound raw and invoked images of deadly battle rhymes. I also remember the day I saw the Harmony “Dance To The Drums” b/w “No Joke” single. I tried to decipher if I should buy it. Most all the available info had me teetering. The music was produced by Arthur Baker, which was interesting, but I mainly knew him for his Electro work. “Dance To The Drums” was questionable from the title. “No Joke” could have gone either way. Were they saying “No Joke”, as in their skills were nothing to play with or was this going to be a fun story record like the Fresh Prince. I was unsure and decided to wait. Then that weekend WNUR 89.3 played “No Joke” and it was excellent. I went back Monday and the record was gone and I never saw it again for about 20 years…
Waukegan also had Strawberry Fields Records that I went to several times. Waukegan had Gardner’s Records down on Genesee Street, but I don’t think I made it out there until the 90s. I remember circa ‘93 the owner arranged a meeting with many of the key DJs and other people making moves in the Hip Hop community. He wanted us to form an alliance or something of that nature. I don’t remember much from the meeting or why it didn’t go anywhere, but I do remember standing there while someone was rattling on about something or another and I said to myself, “Wow, is that a copy of Ultramagnetic MC’s “Funk Your Head UP” on vinyl??!!” I had never saw it on LP. It’s still in my collection today. There was also a great shop that focused on Reggae Music that was down on Grand Ave, but was only there for a very brief time. I can never remember the name, but I purchased my Sir Ibu “Peacemaker” and Hijack “BadMan Is Robbin” singles there.
Post-High School is when my record shopping experiences took on a huge enhancement as I travelled around searching for vinyl everywhere. I explored all over Chicago at places like; Pepmo’s, Import’s, Raphouse, Track One, Gramaphone, George’s Music Room, Out Of The Past, Jimmy’s, Beat Palor, Hip House, DR Wax, The Rap Up (Evanston), Fletchers, Partee’s, Bomb Records, The Yard, etc….
Up to this point, my vinyl excavations had mostly taken place in or near the city I lived. The one exception I recall was one on vacation in Detroit in 1985 my Dad and I were driving around downtown, which even back then was essentially a Ghost Town. I just saw this place that said record store and yelled it out and pointed and asked me Dad to go. We went in and i remember it being abnormally dark in there. We weren't even sure if the place was in business until we actually walked thru the door. We didn't have much time, but at a glance I knew this place was crazy. It looked virtually untouched. I had a few quick minutes to randomly flip thru some bins and I grabbed out a sealed copy of Lovebug Starski "Positive Life" (1981) and Younger Generation (a.k.a Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five) "We Rap More Mellow" (1979). Finally in my early twenties I officially expanded my adventures nationwide and had some pretty stellar finds and memories in Wisconsin (Milwaukee & Madison), Detroit, Nashville, Atlanta, Boston, LA, San Francisco, all over Virginia, DC, New York, Toronto, and even Minneapolis (before living here as well as during…). I’m sure there are other places too. I’ve been to a lot of record stores in my life and when I discover a new one I still get that anxiousness to search through it from top to bottom and see what I will unearth.
Truthfully, there were many times growing up that I thought working at a Record Store would be a perfect job…besides the fact that I couldn’t make much money doing it. When I moved to Minneapolis to work for Rhymesayers I used to spend a lot of time in the Fifth Element. We discussed for years that I would be great fit to work in the store, but weren’t exactly sure how to make it work and Rhymesayers wasn’t quite ready to replace my position on their end. Eventually, with Fifth Element adding the blog and the growing use of social media, time + technology had finally created a job for me and I was able to fulfill yet another little dream and work at a record store.
I know that many stores are closing and most of the places I mentioned above don’t’ even exist anymore, but I still strive to go out of my way to support record stores as much as I can. On the flipside, things like the Fifth Element Parking Lot Sale were created to help people who have similar memories to remember those special moments they had in a Record Store, as well as make sure the younger generation has an opportunity to experience a taste of that history… Hope to see you Saturday!!
Written By Kevin Beacham, a guy with a lot of records, tapes, Rap Magazines, CDs, school papers, and other misc knick-knacks...
*The Drawing: As for the attached photo, I drew this in the 3rd Grade. The subject was “New Year’s Resolution” and mine was to save money to buy new tapes. Note the oddly shaped, pickle-looking, green dollar bills protruding awkwardly from my pocket. Also, I was never bald-headed. I think I was having doubts about my ability to draw the curly hair effectively…because I was so in tuned to drawing perfection (IE Sarcasm). Also, I’m not sure why my feet look like potatoes. Perhaps I’m wearing some classic German wooden shoes… I also was not a 3rd Grade giant, so not sure why I’m taller than the entrance door to the PX, proportions were clearly not my strong point…neither was drawing, nor writing for that matter apparently.
**The Fate Of My Wild Style Soundtracks: Unfortunately, when I moved from Germany one box of my records did not make it. I lost many of my original vinyl collection. I still shed a tear for that on inside from time to time…