From the home of DJ Screw to in-store cat curation, we count down the greatest independents in the US – apart from Amoeba, of course
What makes a record store great, truly? Choice? Obscurity? Accessibility? Size? Or is it the sense that, once you discover your personal favourite vinyl-hunting spot, it feels like a secret that is all your own? Apologies in advance, then, for letting your secrets out. Spanning both coasts and charting musical boltholes great and small, here’s our pick of the top ten independent record stores in the U S of A. Disclaimer: guest editors Amoeba and their legendary Cali stores are conspicuously absent from said list, because duh.
THE THING – BROOKLYN, NY
On first appearances, The Thing could indeed connote any old thing: a down-and-out thrift store, a chronic hoarder's lair or someone’s messy, neglected basement. The reality is that this chaotic collection houses tens of thousands of cheap records in its underground room – a vinyl digger’s dream zone, and amongst the best of Brooklyn.
BLUE ARROW RECORDS – CLEVELAND, OHIO
Eyes down at this Cleveland, Ohio music establishment. No, really – the owner has hand-laid floor tiles out of more than 1000 titled album covers. Apart from the ingenious décor, the selection has it all – vintage funk and soul 45's to fan club only full length LP's you never knew existed. Also, there are 5 cats milling around at any one time, with plenty of recommendations on hand (paw?)
OTHER MUSIC – NEW YORK
New Yorkers have got more than their fair share of record stores to choose from, but this East 4th Street stalwart is a haven for musical soundbites that are slightly off the beaten track: expect underground, rare and experimental releases old and new, plus in-store gigs and signing sessions galore. Be sure to check out the institution's exclusive mix for Dazed, here.
JACKPOT RECORDS – PORTLAND, OREGON
Oregon’s finest since '97, you can really hit the, er, you know, $$$ at this local favourite. Whether its something old or something new you’re after, Jackpot’s smallish but perfectly formed collection is the ideal spot for a root-around.
SONIC BOOM – SEATTLE, WASHINGTON
The Pacific Northwest is where the American underground rock scene, situated on a locus between vinyl purity, the mixtape and the dawn of the CD (plus a few zines) was fostered. Keeping to the spirit of punk that defines the birth state of Nirvana, Sonic Boom has all this and more – “and more” including cracking in-store performances, of course.
FOREVER YOUNG RECORDS – GRAND PRAIRIE, TEXAS
Grand Prairie is located between Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth, TX; Forever Young Records, located in a series of strip malls off the highway in said sister city, resembles a massive permanent fair for lovers of all genres. It’s absolutely huge: if you find yourself cruising the highways of Texas, there are worse places to get lost.
END OF AN EAR – AUSTIN, TEXAS
Named after the debut solo album of The Soft Machine’s Robert Wyatt – as they seem to have to explain to the grammar police of Austin on a daily basis – End of an Ear has a properly awesome selection to match their good-looking signage. Specializing in new releases as well as used vinyl, a real draw is those “non-California” prices.
WUXTRY RECORDS – ATHENS, GEORGIA
The ideal venue for a Georgia-set episode of Before They Were Famous, this Athens-based record store (there’s also a store in Atlanta) is the old stomping ground of Danger Mouse and Peter Buck of R.E.M. Dedicated to rock’s heritage and current health, this Athens stalwart also features a bonus comics shop upstairs.
WAX TRAX – DENVER, COLORADO
Inconspicuous hole in the wall Wax Trax has been a haven for Denverite music lovers since '75. What’s changed? Nothing, really – a little rough around the edges with plenty of personality, its been crammed from floor to ceiling with vinyl dusty and not-so-dusty since those early days of Disco.
SCREWED UP RECORDS & TAPES – HOUSTON, TEXAS
The enduring legacy of DJ Screw – the legend of the 90s Houston hip hop scene – involves more than just his distinct, slowed down style and its influence on Houston rappers like Bun B and Slim Thug. “The Originator” also left behind a record store, opened in early 1998 and, despite eviction from its original spot, is still chopping and screwing in its new location.