The Great Record Stores: Amoeba Berkeley

Amoeba Berkeley by night…

Amoeba Berkeley by night…

I was not actually planning to visit Amoeba Berkeley, really! I was taking this vacation to be as well-balanced as possible between visiting with friends, nature, art, dining, quality time with my wonderful wife, and yes, some music shopping. Having spent a couple of hours in the Haight store, I was willing to pass up Berkeley, but when the restaurant we wanted to eat at was right in the neighborhood… well …my wife didn’t have to bother convincing me. Better yet, this was the original, smaller origin point of the chain. The store was large, but not mind-cripplingly so. Ron had moved on, back to Long Beach by this time, so Elisa, Tom, my wife and I shopped together this go-round.

Amoeba BK neon signThe store managed to have the funky neighborhood feel of Wuxtry Athens, while being probably at least two to three times larger at least. As usual, I looked for my hot button items and then asked the clerk if they were in the stock, but not this time, either. My friends wandered off searching and my wife and I split up to cover the ground twice as fast, as we are wont to do in these situations. My wife is a real help in that she has over the last 20 years, become quite intimate with the contents of the Record Cell. She will always bring anything that she recognizes by name to my attention for review. Who could ask for anything more? I must always remember to communicate what music I’m thinking about that’s not necessarily “in-house” so that shell be able to spot groups that are on my mental “to buy” list that may not necessarily be evident already in the collection. But when would we find time to sleep?

There was an immediate find of a high-value item that was so obscure, it was not even on my want list right up front. The Nails first EP [which I have in its Jimboco 12″ pressing] of “Hotel For Women” was another 2009 self-released DLX RM that took the three track 12″ to a full 14 track album status!  If finding “Mood Swing” was rare, this was doubly so! My wife found another Hoodoo Gurus CD in the clearance bins. Good enough for me. After buying [finally, after 30 years!] “Stoneage Romeos” at the Haight location, my early Hoodoo Gurus collection was getting another boost.

robert palmer -addictionsvol1USCDA I found another Robert Palmer collection, his “greatest hits” CD “Addictions vol. 1” and while most would give this a pass, I was informed about the many remixes and re-cut versions that populated this disc, so even if I had many of these tracks elsewhere, what surfaced here was about half unique, Truthfully, it was worth buying just for the caliber of Palmer’s curation and liner notes. It was also great finally getting the debut Ian Hunter solo album on CD after owning the vinyl for 34 years.  We have all of the Laurie Anderson studio albums, but it was now time to dive into the live releases. I haven’t seen “United States” on CD in a loooooong time, but now we have “Live @ Town Hall NYC 9-19/20-01”

Big, but not ridiculously so

Big, but not ridiculously so

Tom had held a torch for The Church ever since seeing the video for “Constant In Opal” 30 years earlier and when he held up a copy of “Starfish,” which I had reviewed for my old college newspaper, I could hardly say “no.” Especially at these prices. What got my pulse really racing was [as usual] the “S” section. I don’t know why, but most of my collection is alphabetized under this letter of the alphabet, so I always make sure to look there in every store I visit. To what to my won’dring eyes should appear but a bona-fide major want-list item.

shriekback - cormorantUXDLXRMCDA

The half year before this vacation was a draught of music purchasing… with less than a handful of exceptions. I did buy the Shriekback DLX RMs that they pressed up and sold through their web store for “Jam Science” and “Care.” I was not taking a chance of passing those up! Here in the store was a new copy of the “Cormorant” DLX RM, with the four bonus tracks from the “Cormorant’s Egg” flash drive edition of a few years earlier; as pretty as a picture. In my zeal I held it up triumphantly and yelled “score!”

This was the sort of stock that really got the blood flowing to the extremities! And then, just a bit further down came a pair of the sort of discs that have been on my Amazon want list for about a decade. Not one, but two Suburbs discs that I needed! “Viva! Suburbs” and their Twin Tone classic “Credit In Heaven!” I now owned four of the five Suburbs CDs of discrete albums. I now just need their new “Si Savauge” album of 2013 and I’m good to go. Rounding out the “S” section was a copy of “Copper Blue” by Sugar… for a buck! Just what I was looking for after flipping my limited edition band-shot Polaroid, metal clad folio edition of this supafine album [my favorite of its year] in order to fund this very shopping expedition!

zambonis---more-songs-about-hockey-AMy wife found a couple of items in the normally neglected “Z” section that were of interest. She thought The Zambonis “More Songs About Hockey… and Buildings And Food” was hilarious on the face of it, but I remembered hearing them played on WPRK-FM in Florida before we bailed out of that state, and the memory was good, so naturally I bit. Then she found the first album by ZuZu’s Petals, another fine Twin Tone band out of Minneapolis. I had seen them open up for Velocity Girl in the early-mid 90s and thought enough of them to buy their 7” and T-shirt instead of headliner merch, not that Velocity Girl were anything but fine. Over the years, my wife had found one of their two CDs in the bins to no purchase, but today was the time to strike. At these prices, I could not justify otherwise. Here’s the list:

Amoeba Berkeley

  1. Laurie Anderson: Live At Town Hall New York City September 19-20 2001 – Nonesuch – 79681-2 – US – 2xCD
  2. Lloyd Cole: Bad Vibes – Rykodisc – RCD 10306 – US – CD
  3. Lloyd Cole: Love Story – Rykodisc – RCD 10372 – US – CD
  4. The Church: Starfish – Arista Records – ARCD-8521 – US – CD
  5. Marianne Faithfull: Dangerous Acquaintances – Island – IMCD 205 – EURO – CD
  6. Hoodoo Gurus: Stoneage Romeos – A+M – CD 5012 – US – CD
  7. Ian Hunter: Ian Hunter – Columbia – CK 33480 – US – CD
  8. The Nails: Hotel For Women DLX RM – City Beat Records – CBCD6000 – US – CD
  9. Robert Palmer: “Addictions” Volume 1 – EMI – A2 91318 – US – CD
  10. Shriekback: Cormorant DLX RM – Malicious Damage – MD605 – UK – CD
  11. The Suburbs: Credit In Heaven – Universal – US – 2xCD
  12. The Suburbs: Viva! Suburbs! – Twin Tone Records – TTR 89228-2 – US – CD
  13. Sugar: Copper Blue – Rykodisc – RCD 10239 – US – CD
  14. The Zambonis: More Songs About Hockey…and buildings and food… – Tarquin Records – TQ-023 – US – CD
  15. Zuzu’s Petals: When No One’s Looking – Twin Tone Records – TTR 89229-2 – US – CD
Remember… this is the -small- location

Remember… this is the -small- location

I rounded out the basket with both Lloyd Cole releases on Ryko and the long-awaited [on CD] followup to the seminal “Broken English” album, “Dangerous Acquaintances,” by Marianne Faithfull. I then checked out and thinned only a few titles from my basket. If I can’t remember what they were now, then so much the better; they were good choices.  This had been a smaller store, and we went over all of the stock in about an hour with the tag-team help of my wife, but the proportion of high-value goods to the mix with an actual gold-star, number-one-with-a-bullet want list item of high value in the Shriekback release marked it as a slightly more valuable trip than the larger Haight store had been. It’s a value versus cost [in both time and money] thing with me. With just enough bin browsing [about an hour] and a lot of great music for about $50, I could see that if I lived near the Berkeley location, it would be the place to visit on a regular basis. We headed out to our meal with bagsful of good music without being sapped by the phenomenon of record store burnout; an all too real possibility at the earlier Amoeba.

Next: …Still In Hollywood

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | media design • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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4 Responses to The Great Record Stores: Amoeba Berkeley

  1. Steve says:

    Do try to pick up The Suburbs’ “Si Sauvage”–it’s excellent!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Steve – I’m fully confident that it is! By year’s end I managed to re-buy the “Dream Hog” EP [a victim of the Great Vinyl Purge of 1985] as well as the A+M LP not on CD for the first time. The Suburbs rock. I liked them then and I love them now. I just need a handful of singles and it’s time for a REVO edition putting a tidy bow on the subject of The Suburbs past. Now I need to get up to date on their present!

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  2. johnnydark says:

    Nice review. You’re in my backyard now. I do visit Amoeba on a regular basis, but have of late been frequenting the Rasputin on Telegraph just as much. Rasputin used to be the poorer brother to Amoeba, but of late that particular location has a great jazz vinyl selection (where I’m now doing most of my buying) and has had a better 80’s vinyl selection to my tastes. Also in the area and worth visiting are 1-2-3-4-GO! which I love particularly for their RSD events. The store has more punk (which is not much my thing) and a good selection of post-punk and a small but always interesting used section.

    The other store that’s a must-visit IF you’re a jazz fan is the fantastic Groove Yard in Oakland – just a mile or two away. Almost all jazz (though I finally picked up Mick Karn’s Dreams of Reason on vinyl here). Mainly vinyl. Super-knowledgable owner and reasonable prices. What’s not to like?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      johnnydark – Yeah, my pal Ron would have had me going to Rasputin as well, but I wanted to have just enough [not too much] record store trawling on this trip, so I stuck with the big guns.

      So you go to Berkeley regularly. They probably have a lot of “churn” there. Sometimes you happen upon a store that is packed to the gills with amazing records, so you buy them all and can’t wait to return, only to find that you already bought what took 10 years to accumulate until you arrived. I daresay that cannot be said about any Amoeba.

      So you finally got Karn’s “Dreams Of Reason?” What a great album that one is! I still need “Titles,” if you can believe it!

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