The 13 Coolest Record Stores In America

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iStock.com/urbancow

What makes a record store cool? Is it an obscure collection of vinyl, a storied history, a coffee shop within the store that brews third-wave coffee, or the fact Prince shopped there? All of these can factor into the coolness, but also how indie record stores continue to prosper despite operating in an era when physical media sales are in decline. (Vinyl and cassette tapes have increased in sales, though.) Whether your favorite record store made the list or not, be sure to support your local store during the annual Record Store Day, a sort of Christmas for music fans, which will occur on April 13, 2019.

1. Amoeba Records // San Francisco, Berkeley, and Hollywood, California

In 1990, Amoeba Records opened its first of three locations, in Berkeley. In 1997 it expanded to San Francisco, and in 2001 it opened its largest location—at 24,000 square feet, it takes up an entire city block—on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. As the largest independent record store in the world, Amoeba’s two floors house millions of used and new vinyl, CDs, DVDs, video games, and a jazz room. Every week, bands and artists—including well-known acts—play free shows here. Currently, the neon-inflected Amoeba remains Sunset Strip’s only record store (Tower Records shuttered in 2006), so it’s helping to keep the city’s music spirit alive.

2. Reckless Records // Chicago

For more than 30 years, Chicago via London’s Reckless Records has maintained high standards, operating three stores in the city: Loop, Lakeview, and its most iconic location, Wicker Park. Supposedly, Reckless inspired High Fidelity’s Championship Vinyl (though the exteriors were shot at a storefront down the street from Reckless). Gentrification and rising rents in Wicker Park haven’t deterred Reckless; in 2015, the business moved a few doors down to a more spacious storefront. As head music buyer Matt Jencik said, “We take pride in stocking everything from, say, the new Beyoncé CD to a cassette by an up-and-coming local artist to a reissue of a mostly unknown African psychedelic rock band or an obscure techno 12-inch.” And even selling a rare Spice Girls 12-inch. (Though it was just announced that its Lakeview location will be moving after 30 years in the same spot.)

3. Herzog Music // Cincinnati

From 1945 to 1955, in downtown Cincy, the E.T. Herzog Recording Co. recorded now-classics like Hank Williams's “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Herzog, along with King Records, established Cincinnati as a recording destination, not just a radio town. In 2015, the historical spot opened as Herzog Music, selling a small selection of used vinyl, instruments, books, and hosting in-store performances. People can tour the upstairs, where all the magic happened in the 1940s and '50s. Today, the space acts as a music school, with paraphernalia from famed musicians on display.

4. Rough Trade Records // New York City

 People stand on the floor of the newly opened Rough Trade NYC store on November 25, 2013 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City
Spencer Platt, Getty Images

In 1976, the UK-based record label Rough Trade opened its first record store; in 2013, the first Rough Trade in the U.S. opened, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Topping out at 15,000 square feet, it not only became the biggest record store in New York—but also Rough Trade’s biggest store. They sell new music with an emphasis on UK imports, and the mezzanine sells a wide variety of books. Besides selling records, they also house a small coffee shop and a ticketed music venue, which books local and international acts.

5. Sweat Records // Miami

To find the store, just look for its exterior “Wall of Idolatry” mural, which showcases a panoply of musicians, from MF Doom to the Gorillaz’ Noodle and Murdoc to Billie Holiday to Notorious B.I.G. Inside, Sweat Records sells records in one section and runs a small café by the entrance. The menu consists of vegan pastries and fun specialty drinks like the Unicorn Love Bomb (a double shot of espresso topped with vegan marshmallows) and the Devastator (four shots of espresso from local roaster Panther Coffee). Somehow getting jacked up on caffeine enhances the record-shopping experience.

6. Purple Llama // Chicago

The name Purple Llama should be enough to get you to go. The Wicker Park shop fuses craft coffee and vinyl, but in an atypical way. They feature roasters from all over the world—including Norway, London, Colorado, and New York City—and serve specially lattes or pour overs alongside selling new and old vinyl in the store. They also offer an exclusive coffee and vinyl subscription: Each month, a vinyl record and a bag of coffee are sent to you (or held to be picked up in-store). Just like Forrest Gump with his box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.

7. Vinyl Tap // Nashville

In this day and age, it’s hard for a business to be one thing, which is why it’s nice when a business combines two or more things. Case in point: Vinyl Tap in Nashville is part beer bar (the tap part) and part record store. They sell new and used vinyl and have local and regional craft beers on draft (“wax and drafts”). Peruse their small vinyl selection while drinking a beer, or take a seat at the bar and order one of their musical-themed sandwiches, such as The Morrissey (vegan, of course), New Bomb Turkey (named after Columbus, Ohio punk band New Bomb Turks), or The Cure.

8. Electric Fetus // Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota

A woman with her hand on the record player
iStock.com/LFO62

The oddly named record store (National Lampoon once named it the worst name for a business) opened in 1968 and has been going strong ever since. Some weird history includes its Streakers’ Sale, in which customers could take whatever they wanted for free just as long as they shopped naked. Today, they sell new and used records from mainstream acts, classic acts, and “the newest blog hype.” Hometown hero Prince shopped here all the time, including less than a week before his death, on what happened to be Record Store Day. (The shop sells Prince varsity jackets.) Electric Fetus isn’t just records, though. They also sell clothing, housewares, and novelty gifts, and they’ll purchase your old records, CDs, and DVDs, too.

9. Hail Dark Aesthetics // Nashville, Tennessee and Covington, Kentucky

Located in MainStrasse Village, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Hail Dark Aesthetics is tucked away in an unassuming strip that’s riddled with fairly normal restaurants and bars. Once inside, you’ll soon discover nothing is normal anymore. As their website states, Hail Dark Aesthetics exists “to satisfy all your weirdo needs.” They have that in spades, from offering records from bands named Spider Vomit to “normal” records from artists like Hank Williams Jr. They also sell occult items, books on witchcraft, horror films on VHS, medical equipment, and animal bones. If taxidermy—or things that were once alive but now are preserved in jars—make you squeamish, don’t go here. But if you’re into that kind of stuff, you’ll feel right at home. Also visit their first location, in Nashville.

10. A Separate Reality Records // Cleveland, Ohio

In 2013, right before the vinyl boom, Augustus Payne opened A Separate Reality after selling records on the road and at conventions for four years. Having a brick-and-mortar shop gives him an outlet to sell his more than 150,000 vintage records, which includes every genre imaginable, but with an emphasis on rare psychedelic, progressive, soul, jazz, and blues. It’s a crate diggers' dream come true. The store also buys used collections, because you never can have too many records.

11. Graveface Records and Curiosities // Savannah, Georgia

Ryan Graceface, who plays guitar in the band Black Moth Super Rainbow, founded Graveface the label in 2000 and opened the record store in 2012. They specialize in new and used vinyl (including selling records from their artists), cocktail supplies, horror soundtrack reissues, and taxidermy (apparently, stuffed dead animals and vinyl go together). They have a knack for purchasing original or first pressings from record collectors, so they always have something exciting to sell. A Charleston, South Carolina store is the works, but for now you can visit the pop-ups they do around town.

12. Easy Street Records // Seattle

A collection of records
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Since 1988, Easy Street’s been the fabric of Seattle’s music scene. They sell vinyl reissues, new and used records, host live shows, and even sell MP3s. Known as “the best little record store, coffee bar, and diner in West Seattle,” Easy Street’s more than just a record store. Dishes at their daytime café are named after musicians and songs. Offerings include a vegetarian Beck Omelet, James Brown hash browns, Frances Farmer French toast, Dolly Parton stack (of pancakes, that is), Green Day salad, and a Mama Cass ham sandwich (rumor has it she died choking on a ham sandwich).

13. Used Kids Records // Columbus, Ohio

Columbus is filled with great record stores—Magnolia Thunderpussy, Lost Weekend, Spoonful—but Used Kids has survived a fire, rapid changes in the music industry, changes in ownership, and a relocation. And it’s still going full throttle. Dan Dow and Ron House (founder of local band Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments) opened Used Kids in 1986, near the Ohio State campus. It became the nexus for the music community, so much so that employees Jerry Wick and Bela Koe-Krompecher founded Anyway Records in the store’s basement. Used Kids sells “rare and unusual records,” but they also want to appeal to everyone. “I’ve always said, ‘I want to be the best record store between New York City and Chicago.’ That’s always been the goal,” current owner Greg Hall told Ohio Magazine. How about the best and the coolest?

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

The 10 Most Annoying Holiday Songs Ever

Alvin, Simon, and Theodore in Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007).
Alvin, Simon, and Theodore in Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007).
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Christmas is a time for joy, thankfulness, love … and, when it comes to Christmas carols, the occasional bout of cringe. There are songs that are perfect, classic, and timeless—like Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" or Mariah Carey's “All I Want for Christmas Is You”—and then there are these 10 holiday horrors.

1. "Dominick the Donkey" // Lou Monte

Reindeer aren't the only animals on Santa's payroll. "When Santa visits his paisans," Italian-American songster Lou Monte tells us, he takes his donkey Dominick along, "because the reindeer cannot climb the hills of Italy." The song was considered a novelty track when it was released in 1960, but the Italian communities of New Jersey (where Monte grew up) loved it. The constant braying throughout the song is grating, though we're sure children find it hilarious.

2. "The Christmas Shoes" // NewSong

"The Christmas Shoes" is more depressing than annoying, which is in itself obnoxious when you're trying to get into the joyfulness and cheer of the holiday season. A mawkish Christmas song about a poor boy who wants to buy a pair of shoes for his sick mother so she'll "look beautiful if [she] meets Jesus tonight"? No thanks. And then there was a made-for-TV movie based on said song? We'd prefer coal in our stockings.

3. "All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)" // Spike Jones & His City Slickers

Its insta-earworm hook is enough to make this 1940s song a base level of annoying, but its cloying, cutesy lyrics and the lisp that's often incorporated into recordings take "All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)" to the next level. Your baby teeth will be replaced! That's what teeth do! Ask Santa for a PlayStation!

4. "The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)" // The Chipmunks

"Christmas Don't Be Late" needs no additional explanation as to why it's annoying other than "the Chipmunks sang it." Ross Bagdasarian Sr. wrote the song, which was released in 1958, and it was enormously successful—reaching the top of the Billboard Hot 100 Pop Singles chart and netting three wins at the first annual Grammy Awards. For those keeping score, that's three more Grammys than Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" received.

5. "Wiggly Wiggly Christmas" // The Wiggles

It feels weird to pick on The Wiggles, an Aussie children's group who are supposed to be high-energy and wacky. But if the repeated refrain of "wiggly wiggly Christmas" doesn't make you want to tell your kids that Santa has the flu and cancel the holiday altogether, we're not sure what will.

6. "Do They Know It's Christmas" // Band-Aid

"Do They Know It's Christmas" was written as a response to the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s. Singer Bob Geldof, determined to funnel money to a higher cause by way of a charity song, enlisted Bono, Boy George, George Michael, Phil Collins, Sting, and many others to form a supergroup known as Band Aid that would record the vocal track for the song in one marathon 24-hour session. The song was out days later, and—heavily publicized—proceeded to raise tens of millions of dollars for Ethiopian famine relief. Which is all very noble and great. But the song itself is condescending, patronizing, and imperialistic, on top just plain being awful. Geldof himself admitted that he was "responsible for two of the worst songs in history. One is 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' and the other one is 'We Are the World.'"

7. "Gott nytt jul" // Sean Banan

Even if you don't speak Swedish, the obnoxiousness of 2013 Eurovision contestant Sean Banan's "Gott nytt jul" comes through at the seven-second mark with its fart sound effect. If you do speak Swedish, you get the added benefit of Sean telling Santa to "come and bring your ho ho hoes." As for the music video … well, a man in a Santa fat suit twerking is the universal language.

8. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" // William Hung

Failed American Idol wannabe William Hung, who quickly became famous for his tone-deaf rendition of Ricky Martin's "She Bangs," managed to put out a holiday album. It was called Hung for the Holidays. Even in 2004, the world was a cruel and unusual place.

9. "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" // Gayla Peevey

Long before the Cincinnati Zoo's Fiona the hippo became an internet celebrity, 10-year-old Gayla Peevey sang a novelty song about wanting a hippopotamus for Christmas. It was an instant hit in 1953, and Peevey even performed it on The Ed Sullivan Show. A promoter decided to do a fundraiser to buy Peevey a hippo (which was promptly donated to her hometown's Oklahoma City Zoo), and Matilda the hippo became a popular OKC resident until she died in 1998. But the song? It's not even accurate. To dissuade her delusional daughter, Peevey sings that her mom said a hippo would eat her up, but then "teacher says the hippo is a vegetarian." Hippos are generally omnivorous, but they do have carnivorous tendencies. We can abide the fantasy of a pet hippo, but not disinformation! 

10. "Shake Up Christmas" // Train

The "Drops of Jupiter" rockers tried to get into the holiday spirit in 2010, but with lyrics that rhyme "smile" with, er, "smile," and "Before I get too old and don't remember it, so let's December it and reassemble it," we want to hide behind the Christmas tree, not rock around it.

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