When entering a store this large, there are decisions to be made as to how the assault will get underway. It is like climbing a particularly challenging mountain. Success is beholden to the level of planning. The vinyl seemed to be around, but I could not tell how “vintage” it seemed to be. I really don’t want anything that’s a new pressing, and these predominate now. I thought I’d hit the CD bins first and would worry about the vinyl later. Books and DVDs were not even on the radar. Comic books? Please!
Amoeba’s modus operandi has all base line CDs [new and used] stocked together, with their budget stock segregated. Their new CDs sell for fairly typical pricing, and their used CDs are priced modestly – usually $5-10 depending on the title. Their budget stock was crazy cheap! This was where the music spree dollars got stretched very far with $1-$3 CDs that were too numerous to count. The first thing I do when I enter a record store with any level of expectation, after sizing it up, is right up front in the “A” bins. Are there any Associates CDs? What? There’s an Associates section? Most impressive. And the discs had helpful “Out Of Print” stickers on them. Good form. Of course I have multiple copies of this title already in my Record Cell, but seeing it still warms the cockles of my heart. Especially 23 years later! After, all, it was my gateway drug to a lifetime of Billy MacKenzie obsession.
I had my want list on my personal device and that would be the overriding governor on how this would play out. I’m all too cognizant of the lure of music that I would not mind buying [plenty] versus music I really want to buy. Most of the latter, never makes it into stores that I frequent. My tastes are too esoteric for the mainstream. Once upon a time, up through my 20s, I’d say that what I wanted could be found in hip, well stocked record stores. After that, the window of hipness moved forward to the next generation of music shoppers [typically 15-30 demographic] and I was looking at diminishing returns for the rest of my record shopping life.
This store was different. It was in a major population center of the West Coast, closer to the heart of the entertainment industry, and this really made a difference. I was getting a lot of love from these bins. I pulled titles that looked promising without too much hesitation and put them in the basket I eventually grabbed. I’d thin them out when queueing to pay. I tried to hit the letters of the alphabet that had titles I was particularly looking for. At this point in time, I really wanted anything by New York City’s Escort, and the debut album by Wrangler, the new group that paired Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire with Benge from John Foxx + The Maths.
One complexity with the former was how the stock was split into genres. Were Escort R+B or Electronic? They didn’t have a disco section, per se. I’d been hot to buy their CD since Moogfest in April, but it’s a rare bird. Only available as a British import in physical format. Wrangler were cut and dried in comparison. They would obviously live in the Electronic ghetto. Eventually, I learned to just ask a clerk if anything in particular was in stock, and these two were a bust at this store.
One thing I quickly picked up by scanning the clearance bins, was that there could be significant overlap with stock at higher prices elsewhere. I quickly learned to look there first. If getting a title at less than mint- was acceptable [and it was for 98% of what I buy] then I could stretch those dollars further. There were certain artists that I went into this scenario knowing that I could probably stock up my collection with for a song. Robert Palmer, for example. I wouldn’t mind owning all of his albums, but most I probably wouldn’t pay premium for. Below the $5.00 price point, resistance melts. At $1.99, it’s non existent. I easily picked up three late period Palmer albums here for that price. The last one I bought on release, 1990’s “Don’t Explain” was pretty good [at least the second half] and I was looking forward to hearing where Palmer had gone afterward.
One bounty that I came across was the über scarce debut album by The Nails, the incredible “Mood Swing.” Long had the torch burned for this album, but I’d absolutely never seen the hyper scarce 2007 self-released CD [with bonus tracks!] of this title. I snapped this puppy up gleefully, secure in the knowledge that I’d soon be able to listen to the magnificent “Home Of The Brave” whenever I wanted to. That song was not just a song… it was a novel! It’s like what Warren Zevon was shooting for his whole life!
Another highlight was the debut album by Joe “King” Carrasco and El Molino. Sure, sure. I had managed to find the LP version [with an intact gold crown inside the sleeve!] back at Wax ‘N’ Facts back in 2011 during the OMD Weekender®, but now I didn’t have to remaster the LP myself! While I had “Daft!” by The Art Of Noise, how could I pass up “Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise?” even with the weaker, US reissue cover from the 90s?
I managed to grab a small army of Ryuichi Sakamoto releases [he’s so prolific] and from there it was but a hop, skip, and a jump to load up on some David Sylvian titles I’d long since needed: The Nine Horses album, The Sylvian/Sakamoto “Heartbeat” CD5, and [finally!] “Rain Tree Crow!” My company of friends had all spilt up on their own threads and occasionally we’d bump heads and point put releases that the other might need badly that we just saw in the “S” clearance section. Tom had found the Blow Monkeys section and snagged a copy of “Staring At The Sea” while I had found the initial, insanely difficult to buy [at >$100 for many years] CD of Bill Nelson’s “Getting The Holy Ghost Across.” Both were singular in the bins, so we each felt a touch of anguish, but there was too much stock to dote on near misses. Back to the bins! I immediately found an Edwyn Collins album I needed to soothe my fevered brow.
I found the UK pressing of the Bow Wow Wow debut album, and while it had substitutions of 12″ mixes for three album cuts, and therefore was less canonical that I would have preferred, the US CD of that title was even more scarce. I had grown tired of not having this amazing album in my Record Cell following the Great Vinyl Purge of 1985, so I bought it after a spilt second of thought. If I ever run into the US version [on One-Way Records] or even the 2010 Cherry Red DLX RM, I’ll try to spring for them, but that could take years.
I was happy to find a repackaging of the live CD that Tom Tom Club released around the two times I saw them in 2001-2 on tour. This was not the 2xCD edition the band themselves put out but a reissue on an obscure label, with all but five tracks put on a single disc, with the second disc full of remixes of “Genius Of Love.” Hmm. Not optimal, but that tour was fantastic, and when will I ever see the original pressing? So I bit.
One major league full price title I didn’t hesitate a second on was Heaven 17’s live CD/DVD combo “Live At Metropolis,” which I thought I had blogged about but it looks like I was only thinking of doing that. In early 2012, the band played an intimate gig [complete with a handful of £195 tickets available] that was “filmed” and recorded for a live release that hit the stores in late 2013. I hadn’t pre-ordered it at the time due to the plethora of live shows with full travel that was being crammed into the end of that year, but here it was, and I snapped up that $22.98 title like it was $20 cheaper. I was looking forward to this!
But wait… I also finally finished my collection of Ryko Undertones DLX RM CDs! Having hit the end of the alphabet, it was time to give a quick sweep to the vinyl. My friends were queueing up to pay. Right before the trip I had discovered that I didn’t have the 12″ of the mandatory “My Spine Is The Bassline” by Shriekback. When I did a last minute sweep of the used vinyl bins, this was the only title that called out to me. So there were a lot of CDs in my shopping basket and just one 12″ so the time finally came to get in line and to thin out the basket, down to reasonable levels. After all, there were two more Amoeba stores to visit! Here’s the list:
- The Art Of Noise: Who’s Afraid Of The Art Of Noise? – ZTT/Universal – US – CD
- The Boomtown Rats: Mondo Bongo DLX RM – Mercury – 982 677-6 – UK – CD
- Bow Wow Wow: See Jungle! See Jungle! Go Join Your Gang, Yeah! City All Over Go Ape Crazy! DLX RM – Great Expectations – PIPCD 013 – UK – CD
- Joe “King” Carrasco + El Molino – Tornado Records – ttx114 – US – CD
- Client: Price Of Love – Toast Hawaii – cdth001 – UK – CD5
- Edwyn Collins: Losing Sleep – Heavenly – HVNLP81CD – UK – CD
- Eurythmics: I Saved The World Today #1 – BMG – 74321 695632 – UK – CD5
- Heaven 17: Live From Metropolis Studios – Edsel – EDMTDV003 – UK – CD + DVD + BOOK
- Hoodoo Gurus: Stoneage Romeos – A+M – CD 5012 – US – CD
- The Lilac Time: Lilac6 – Cooking Vinyl – cook cd 220 – UK – CD
- The Nails: Mood Swing DLX RM – City Beat Records – CBCD-5520 – US – CD
- Bill Nelson: Getting The Holy Ghost Across (On A Blue Wing) DLX RM – Sonoluxe – CD 006 – UK – CD
- Nine Horses: Snow Borne Sorrow – Samadhisound – ss006 – UK – CD
- Robert Palmer: Ridin’ High – EMI – 0777 7 98923 2 7 – US – CD
- Robert Palmer: Honey – EMI – 7243 8 30301 2 5 – US – CD
- Robert Palmer: Drive – Compendia – 0-15095-4886-2 – US – CD
- Pee Shy: Who Let All The Monkeys Out? – Mercury – 314 532 122-2 – US – CD
- The Primitives: Buzz Buzz Buzz – The Complete Lazy Recordings – Castle Music – CAS 35253 – UK 2xCD
- Rain Tree Crow: Rain Tree Crow – Virgin Records -CDV 2659 – UK – CD
- Stan Ridgeway: Anatomy – New West – NW6010 – US – CD
- Ryuichi Sakamoto: Chaos – KA’+B – KAB 0000-2 – US – CD
- Ryuichi Sakamoto: Love Is The Devil OST – KAB – Asph 0897 – US – CD
- Ryuichi Sakamoto: You Do Me – Virgin – VJCP-14904 – JPN – CD5
- Ryuichi Sakamoto: Discord – Sony Classical – SK 60121 – US – CD
- Ryuichi Sakamoto: Heartbeat – Virgin – VJCP 30093 – JON – CD
- Shriekback: My Spine Is The Bass Line – Y Records – Y 1227 – UK – 12″
- Sylvian/Sakamoto: Heartbeat – Virgin Records – VUSCD 57 – UK – CD5
- Tom Tom Club: Genius Of Live – Nacional Records – BEC 5772748 – FR – 2xCD
- The Undertones: The Undertones – Rykodisc – RCD 10293 – US – CD
- The Undertones: Positive Touch – Rykodisc – RCD 10295 – US – CD
I spent about $250 that day. I didn’t have full records of exactly what I bought on which days/locations, so this list has been reconstructed from memory. Caveat emptor. It was a good run and the store certainly had some excellent stock as well as a few items I would have paid a lot more for, if it had come to that. Was it the Alpha + Omega of record stores? Perhaps in this fallen world. I have memories of visiting better emporiums. For the record, it reminded me of visiting a Tower Records outlet, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Furthermore, Amoeba had it over Tower in that they were strong on used/budget titles, and the vinyl didn’t hurt either. But in terms of the breadth of stock available, yeah. It was reminding me of Tower. A chain I really miss, by the way.
Next: …Berkeley Location