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New York City Record Store Memories

Updated on July 26, 2017
FatFreddysCat profile image

From my "Random Slice of Life" file...experiences, advice, happenings, and glorious results of a misspent youth.

Bleecker Bob's in the Village, R.I.P.
Bleecker Bob's in the Village, R.I.P. | Source

Punk! Rock! Heavy! Metal!

The year was 1985, and my brother and I were hooked on a radio show called HELLHOLE. Broadcast every Thursday night from 9 PM to midnight on WNYU, the student radio station of New York University, the show specialized in the newest, hardest, heaviest hardcore, thrash metal and punk rock . Hosted by two genial fellows who were known only as "Deathrider" and "Corpsegrinder" (yes, really!) this blast of obnoxious radio mayhem was essential listening for hordes of shaggy haired high schoolers such as myself, who were trapped in the boonies of the Jersey suburbs but still wanted to feel like they were part of "the scene" going on just across the river.

Hellhole had an eclectic playlist, to say the least. In 1985, the heavy metal and hardcore scenes hadn't been fully "integrated" yet; fans of both genres were still casting suspicious glances at one another (and occasionally, beating the crap out of each other) across crowded concert halls, and maintaining your underground "cred" was everything. Relatively big name bands like Metallica - who were well known in the metal scene at the time, but hadn't broken through to the mainstream yet - were considered "sell outs" or "rock stars" on Hellhole since they were signed to a major label (the ultimate underground "sin!") and therefore they didn't get much play on the show. You were more likely to hear cuts by metal newcomers like Agent Steel or Kreator, mixed in with tracks by D.R.I., the Dead Kennedys, Suicidal Tendencies, the Mentors, and hometown boys Anthrax, who were regular in-studio guests. One fateful evening the Anthrax boys even chose Hellhole as the venue to "world premiere" tracks from Speak English or Die, the now-classic debut by Scott and Charlie's hardcore-influenced side project, Stormtroopers of Death (S.O.D.). Little did we know how that release would radically change both the hardcore and metal scenes, not just in New York but around the world, in the years to come.

Spinal Tap - "Hell Hole"

Every week, Deathrider's voice would kick off the show with the following announcement: "Some of the music heard on 'Hellhole' was supplied to us by Bleecker Bob's Records - 118 West 3rd Street, in the Village," and I would think to myself, "Wow, if they're supplying this show with THAT music, then it must be the coolest record store in the WORLD!" From that point on, visiting Bleecker Bob's Records went straight to the top of my teenage "bucket list," right next to "become Lita Ford's love slave." In my mind's eye, I imagined a punk and metal Graceland, with stacks of imported vinyl, picture discs and rare 7-inch singles piled to the ceiling. I wasn't far off.

Bleecker Bob's on "Seinfeld!"

Metal Geeks On Safari

My first chance to visit Bleecker Bob's came on a hot August afternoon in 1988. I was only a few weeks away from starting my freshman year at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York (go Seahawks!) and naturally I wanted to know where all the cool New York City hot spots (record stores, comic book shops, concert venues, etc.) were ahead of my arrival. A high school buddy who knew Manhattan was more than happy to be my tour guide, and since we were both music geeks, Bleecker Bob's was our first stop. The store was just as delightfully scuzzy as I'd imagined it, with bins and crates of obscure rock n roll records and tapes squeezed into every corner of the narrow space and plastic-wrapped collectible 45s from days gone by hanging on the walls. Punk and metal t-shirts hung on racks in the back and glass display cases held buttons, patches, spiked leather wristbands and other "gear" intended to make teenage metal dorks swoon. This is my kinda place, I thought. I'm home. My heart skipped a beat when I saw an imported 12-inch single of Metallica's "Harvester Of Sorrow" in the front window, from the not-yet-released ...And Justice For All album. It even had two non-LP cover songs (Budgie's "Breadfan" and Diamond Head's "The Prince") on the B-Side, so naturally I had to have it. When I arrived at college a few weeks later, I was The First Guy On Campus With New Metallica ... for whatever that was worth. Nobody else was impressed (or even cared), but as far as I was concerned, I was the man, dammit.

Record Store Kitteh sez "Zzzzzz....Buy More Vinyl!"
Record Store Kitteh sez "Zzzzzz....Buy More Vinyl!"
Come on -- you KNOW you wanted one of these babies!!
Come on -- you KNOW you wanted one of these babies!! | Source

The Record Store Tour...

Once I got settled in at school I befriended a fellow metal geek and rabid music collector named Sean, and soon we began a semi-monthly tradition that came to be known as the "Rock N Roll Record Store Tour." We'd hop the Staten Island Ferry into Manhattan on a Saturday or Sunday morning and head for Greenwich Village on a mission to hit as many record stores as we could before our money ran out. Bleecker Bob's was usually our first stop, but it was only the beginning, because in those days, Manhattan was an absolute paradise for record-collecting geeks, with dozens of hole-in-the-wall shops to pick through as you traveled from one end of the Village to the other. Moving on from Bleecker Bob's on West 3rd, we'd head to Venus Records and Revolver Records (both on West 8th Street) and then Second Coming Records on Sullivan Street, a favorite haunt which was a haven for vinyl bootlegs; I bought my first-ever Metallica boot there of an '87 European festival gig. Second Coming was also our first encounter with that peculiar creature known as the Record Store Cat, a resident feline who had an uncanny ability to be sleeping atop the section for whatever band I was looking for every time I visited. Fortunately, Second Coming Kitty was good natured and never seemed to mind being picked up and moved out of the way.

Another "hot spot" we always made sure to hit was It's Only Rock N Roll, a record store/museum that sold not only records and tapes, but high end collectibles and memorabilia. Every inch of the cramped second-floor walk-up was packed with framed platinum albums, autographed photos and posters, tour books and instruments (I remember gazing longingly at a guitar signed by Ace Frehley of KISS on numerous occasions). Even cooler, they had a small room in the back that served as a mini Rock N Roll Arcade, with working KISS, Ted Nugent, and Rolling Stones pinball machines and even a Journey "Escape" arcade game (remember that?). We always made sure to have a pocket full of quarters when we visited!

My first bootleg - Metallica's AM I EVIL, purchased at Second Coming Records in NYC circa 1988
My first bootleg - Metallica's AM I EVIL, purchased at Second Coming Records in NYC circa 1988 | Source

We'd usually finish our tour (assuming we still had money left) by hitting the big Tower Records store at 66th and Broadway. Tower also had a store on 4th Street but the Uptown store was absolutely massive, with 2 sprawling floors of music, books, and videos to peruse. To this day, Tower is the only record store I've ever been in that was big enough to need an elevator!

I can still remember the first time Sean and I went to Tower Records. We literally spent hours browsing through the stacks and finally Sean walked out of there with a Poison CD or something similarly mainstream. Naturally, I picked on his choice all the way back to campus, saying, "I don't get you. We just went to the most famous record store in the universe, they've got all kinds of obscure and hard to find stuff, and you bought a CD that you could've picked up in any K-Mart!"

GOD, I miss Tower Records!!!
GOD, I miss Tower Records!!! | Source

Heavy Metal Daze

All good things must come to an end, of course, and unfortunately that included the Rock N Roll Record Store Tours. I graduated from college in 1992 and moved far enough away from New York City that such trips became more hassle than they were truly worth. (Besides, I had plenty of record stores in my own area to scrounge around in.) Sean got married and moved to Oregon, but we still joked via e-mail about getting back together someday to "do the record stores" one more time. As the years went by, I began hearing about our old record shopping haunts closing their doors, one by one -- victims of Manhattan's gentrification (and the rent hikes that came with it), or of the declines in sales that affected the entire music industry due to Internet piracy. It's Only Rock N Roll was gone by the early 90s, eventually resurfacing as an online auction service for music collectibles. I heard that Second Coming Records went out of business in the mid-90s after being busted by the RIAA for selling bootlegs -- which had been their claim to fame. When the Tower Records chain went belly up in 2006, the writing was on the wall - the record store was fast becoming an endangered species.

"The Last Days of Bleecker Bob's"

Bleecker Bob's Records was one of the last stores standing but even they could no longer stand against the winds of change. After 45 years in business, the venerable Village institution's final day of business came on April 13, 2013. Ironically, the closing date came exactly a week before the annual Record Store Day events that celebrate indie record shops like Bob's. Last I heard, their space on West 3rd Street was filled by a frozen yogurt shop. Seriously? At the time of its closing, the store's Facebook page stated that they were hoping to re-open in another location in Manhattan (possibly in the East Village) but to the best of my knowledge it never happened. (SIGH)

As record stores disappear from the landscape at a frightening rate, I feel bad for future generations who will never be able to make Rock N Roll Record Store Tour memories of their own. Screw online shopping, kids. Get your asses into a REAL record store!!

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    • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

      Keith Abt 

      3 years ago from The Garden State

      Bumping in honor of Record Store Day!

    • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

      Keith Abt 

      3 years ago from The Garden State

      Updated

    • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

      Keith Abt 

      5 years ago from The Garden State

      Awesome, Alex! Yeah, I'm a child of the 1980s so I'm just entering my midlife crisis phase now, haha. At least I got to enjoy the tail end of the record store era before they all disappeared. Thanks for the comment.

    • AlexDrinkH2O profile image

      AlexDrinkH2O 

      5 years ago from Southern New England, USA

      I suspect I'm a bit older than you but I too miss the old record stores. We had a couple of good ones in Rhode Island where my friends and I would go and buy doo-wop records. By the way, even though I'm in my 60s, I love heavy metal - favorite group: Blue Oyster Cult. Keep rockin'!

    • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

      Keith Abt 

      5 years ago from The Garden State

      Hi Witchfinder - Sad to hear that you didn't find anything at Bob's in '03. It had been many years since I'd visited there but in the 80s and 90s there was always something interesting there if you did a little digging, be it a demo tape by a local thrash band or a rare punk 7-inch.

      I've never been to Cincy but I'm told it used too have a pretty decent metal scene, sounds like Phil's Records was a pretty sweet place.

      Thanks for stopping by, as always.

    • profile image

      Witchfinder 

      5 years ago

      I made it up to Bleecker Bob's in March of 2003. They didn't really have much interesting unfortunately, but at least I can say I went there. I also hit up the enormous Virgin Records megastore in Times Square. That place was amazing. I picked up several Japanese imports, one of which was Kiss - Killers, which has a couple of extra tracks on it.

      Believe it or not, but the town I grew up in - Cincinnati - had an amazing record chain called Phil's records that had more Metal discs in it that any place I have ever seen - Imports, new releases, used, vinyl, cd, picture discs, etc... Over the years their chain has been whittled down to one forlorn store with a tiny selection. It's a bummer.

    • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

      Keith Abt 

      5 years ago from The Garden State

      Right on! Down with hipster garbage!!!

    • mercuryservices profile image

      Alex Munkachy 

      5 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Great hub. I for one am waiting for heavy music to be reimagined and make a comeback. Tired of the hipster garbage.

    • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

      Keith Abt 

      5 years ago from The Garden State

      Some great memories there, Freedom! Thanks for stopping by!!

    • FreedomMetal profile image

      FreedomMetal 

      5 years ago from Somewhere In Time

      I miss the old record stores! I used to buy a TON of music from a very small, local (to DC/NOVA anyway) chain called Penguin Feather Records & Tapes. They always had a ton of metal, including rare/imports (picked up the first WASP EP Animal there) Before I could drive, I would ride my bike up there to buy music (and Kerrang! back when it was good.)

      I also shopped at another local chain called Kemp Mill Records - they had a good selection and an employee that was heavily into metal. He often gave me good advice on music, like buy "Queensryche's Rage For Order, Gonna Get Close To You is the worst song on the album. The rest of it is awesome" The one time I didn't take his advice, I ended up buying Savatage's Fight For The Rock (I should have listened and not wasted my money!!!!!)

      Both Penguin Feather and Kemp Mill got a good bit of business from me....... As far as my parents were concerned, I bought all my music from Kemp Mill...... I was banned by my parents from shopping at Penguin Feather once they found out that PF also housed a "back room" head shop......

    • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

      Keith Abt 

      5 years ago from The Garden State

      Hi Manny and Rock_nj -- glad I could spark some memories for ya. Back in those days, the thrill of hunting down that rare record or piece of music was almost as much fun as listening to it!!

    • Rock_nj profile image

      John Coviello 

      5 years ago from New Jersey

      I spent some time in those record stores in Greenwich Village during the 1980s and early 1990s. As I recall, 8th Street had a few good ones. You never knew what you'd come across in those places. It made finding new music fun.

    • profile image

      Manny 

      5 years ago

      Here in Tampa we had tons of stores, Vinyl Fever, Devinyl Museum, Ace's Record, and I could go on and on. Even the mainstream music stores in our area are closed, FYE, Camelot, and even Walmart has cut back on their music selection. In Tampa not a small city only one store stands, which is Sound Exchange which is a kick ass store but I do miss spending Saturday afternoon looking to score that long lost disc or treasure.

    • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

      Keith Abt 

      5 years ago from The Garden State

      Thanx Spartucus...I see I'm not the only one who misses the days when you could spend an entire Saturday going from record store to record store, scrounging for long-lost goodies.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 

      5 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Awesome hub! Growing up I would spend hours in different record stores. Now most of them have closed down. It is definitely sad to see a part of your youth disappear like that.

    • FatFreddysCat profile imageAUTHOR

      Keith Abt 

      5 years ago from The Garden State

      Sure!! You know the kind of place I mean... a real gritty, dirty rock & roll kind of joint. A store that sells more copies of the new Deicide album than the new Mariah Carey, because Mariah Carey fans won't set foot in the place for fear of catching something from the clientele. Haha

    • profile image

      Andralimatz the Barbantuan 

      5 years ago

      "Delightfully scuzzy"?

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