Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Great L.A. Record Stores - Part 1

Having a family in the industry, music has been a part of my life since I can remember. My mother was a back-up singer, my father painted those famous rock billboards that lined the Sunset Strip. Obviously, it rubbed off; and today, as you may have surmised, I am the author of two (soon to be three) novels about L.A. with rock music as a character in each.

Records became an obsession for me in the early 1970s. I bought my first LP, Sgt. Pepper, at the Licorice Pizza on Van Nuys Blvd. in Panorama City (1967). And my brother would take me down to Wallichs Music City in the middle of the night. We’d pick out records and take over one of the listening booths. I've recently posted about Sight and Sound in Van Nuys where I bought Richard Harris's (Dumbledore's) A Tramp Shining, with "MacArthur Park."

Across Victory Blvd., though, in the early 70s, opened Moby Disc. The store would become a small chain and my new wave years were spent at the location in Sherman Oaks across from Casa de Cadillac, but for this short series on L.A.'s record stores, it was the Moby on Victory that I remember most fondly. (Don't get me wrong, though, it was in Sherman Oaks that I first heard Elvis Costello!, Human League, and the B52s.)

The tiny 900 square foot space was the premiere store for progressive rock. It was there that I bought the progressive staples, Close to the Edge, the Yes solos, PFM, Camel, Renaissance, Aphrodite's Child, on and on.

At Wallichs at Sunset and Vine and across Victory Blvd. at The House of Sight and Sound, there were listening booths. You’d grab a handful of records and spend hours under the headphones, but there was no such thing at Moby. Immediately upon entering on the right were the new releases. Across from that, with an aisle through which two people couldn’t fit, was the cash register and it was there, crowding the front of the store, that we'd gather and crank up whatever was new. There were times that ring so clearly in my head: the first time I heard Relayer and Gentle Giant’s Octopus, or "Hocus Pocus" by Focus. That era lasted for me from 1972 or so until I no longer had to take a bus anywhere (circa 1979). Before that, it was the 93 RTD bus that stopped right there in front of Moby.

As the millennium kicked in, vinyl began its collapse. While it had struggled amidst the promises of digital music with the CD, the vapid world of downloading began. Digital downloads are a lonely and sterile beast, unsatisfying to the soul. Worse, because of them, the album format died an untimely death.

Because of them, stores like Aron's and Rhino shuttered their doors. And the new giants, like Amoeba in Hollywood, failed to fill the gap. Amoeba was like the Walmart of vinyl (I'll amend that to say that Amoeba today is a far more satisfying experience, but it's no Vinyl Fetish, that’s for sure).

For me, in the late 70s and early 80s, Aron's was a rite of passage. I was living in Hollywood, having shrugged off the Valley (sorry Moby Disc), and I'd wander over to Melrose. Aron's was there before Melrose was trendy, before Poseur and Cowboys and Poodles, maybe even before Aardvark and Flip. Then came Rene's All Ears, which was smaller and more intimate. I'd be lurking among the bins in my painter's pants and my cons flipping through the racks, the stack of $3.00 LPs getting bigger and bigger. I invested a lot of money and a lot of time.

Just a Cool Pic of Capitol Records Pre-Tower. It Would Become Dot Records.
Wallichs Was to the Left.
By '81 or so, when the new wave kicked in, it was all about Vinyl Fetish, a more European-like venue with 12-inch import singles lining the walls in plastic sleeves. If you wanted something you’d point. At Aron's, I was more eclectic, everything from Lena Lovich to The Wall, but at Vinyl Fetish, it was all about The Cure, Blancmange, Haircut 100, and especially about New Order. It was there that I heard "Blue Monday" for the first time, the biggest selling 12-inch of all time. It was there that I first saw the video for "Girls on Film." 

My collection of imports was, by 1983, over a thousand units. Honestly, if I had them today, I could buy a house. Indirectly, maybe I did. I was accepted at UCLA and then transferred to Rutgers College and unable to afford my education, I sold all my records back to Aron's. They bought the whole collection for $4300, enough for my first year as a Bruin.

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