A Day of Boston Music Store Hopping

by Erica Moser (Journalism), published December 5th 2011

When my dad was 12 years old, he eyed his grandmother’s victrola and asked, “Can I have this when you die?” When the day came, he did not remember saying that, but someone else did; now there’s a victrola standing in my family’s dining room. Yet, between victrolas and Apple products are records, cassettes and CDs, which form a surprisingly prolific market. On December 3rd, I set out to explore the non-digital music scene in Boston.

My first stop was Looney Tunes, at 1106 Boylston Street, between Hemenway St. and Massachusetts Ave. The speaker outside the store played “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch,” bringing back fond memories of sitting in the dining hall an hour prior and hearing the same song. The sign on the door announced the store’s 33-1/3 year anniversary and a sale of the corresponding percent off any purchase.

In the door and to the right was the section of “bargain rock.” CDs ranging from the obscure to Steve Winwood, Pretenders, Yellowcard, Kaiser Chiefs and Blind Melon were priced at 99 cents and $1.99. One of my original goals for the outing was to purchase some cheap music from bands I had never heard of and I succeeded with Seven Fathoms Down and Falling by The Green Pajamas, Smoke by Drivin N Cryin and Funny Day by Bird Mancini, a local group.

Then there were the 99 cent 45s, the 12” singles, and, of course, boxes and boxes of records emanating that wonderful, musty smell of old cardboard. Publications ranged from Panorama of American Popular Music to Legends of Punk to The Opera Quarterly. Tucked away in the back corner were classical cassette tapes and world music, including Gypsy-Flamenco, Scandinavia and “Rest of the World.” There was also a “sleazy listening” section; hopefully Xavier Cugat and Martin Denny don’t mind calling that section home. There were also cheap DVDs and videotapes; if you’re a college student, there’s nothing quite like a Harry Potter movie on VHS to make you feel old and a Frank Sinatra record to make you feel young.

Having spent less than $5 on three CDs and a DVD — Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream — I exited the store and turned left on Mass Ave. onto Commonwealth Ave. to arrive at Nuggets. The premise is the same as Looney Tunes: buying, selling, and trading albums. Music aficionados, typically older in age, might come in hoping to find a copy of something on vinyl they have been wanting, perhaps even something they used to have and regretted getting rid of. Others go to stores similar to Looney Tunes and Nuggets in Boston and Cambridge, hoping one of them will buy their record.

Nuggets has similar offerings to Looney Tunes but more variety in certain categories, such as their impressive collection of shows and soundtracks on vinyl. There were also a lot of comedy albums, featuring Cheech and Chong, Steve Martin, National Lampoon, Saturday Night Live and Joan Rivers. Other interesting facets of the store included Jazz Time and Off Beat magazines, Dr. Who magazines and a $2 bargain CDs section, which, falsely so, felt like a rip-off compared to Looney Tunes’ bargain section. Nuggets also has an online catalogue at http://nuggetsrecords.com/catmain.html.

Next, I made my way back to Mass Ave. and turned onto Newbury Street. I was hoping to visit CD Spins, which should probably update their website to reflect the “Retail Space for Lease” sign on the door of 324B Newbury Street. I instead moved to Newbury Comics, which is better known, far more modern, and catered to a younger demographic. The store is a testament to some continued interest in records in young people, considering the sale of Kings of Leon, Lady Gaga and Florence and the Machine albums on vinyl.

The record selection is only a small fraction of the store. Rows of CDs with neon orange “USED” stickers dominate the space.  I laughed when I saw a used copy of Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto, because if I had bought that CD, I probably would have also gotten rid of it within a month-and-a-half of its release. Suffice to say, Newbury had more in the way of dubstep and movie soundtracks than the other two stores. There are also a lot of non-musical items worth mentioning: spam lip glaze, the zombie magnetic poetry kit, garden gnomes flashing passers-by, medieval weapon pushpins and a shark bite oven mitt.

The highlight of my day out was probably overhearing a father sarcastically saying to his son in Newbury Comics, “isn’t that the book you’re looking for? The Justin Bieber story?” and the son responding with a barfing noise. I came away from the outing seeing the unique features of each store. If you want the cheapest prices for good music or VHS tapes and don’t mind doing a little digging, go to Looney Tunes. If you want the best chance of selling something or are looking to buy jazz music, go to Nuggets. If you’re looking for the newest releases, tacky decorations for your belongings or a kick-ass gag gift, go to Newbury Comics.

When I sat in my dorm room afterward listening to The Green Pajamas, a lovely psychedelic group from Seattle, I couldn’t help but think that someday, I will have a grandchild who will ask of my CD player, “can I have that when you die?”

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