Missing Persons: Spring Session M (1982)
I'll admit that I am among those responsible for the demise of record stores. Hell, I don't think I've bought an album at a bricks & mortar store in well over a decade. Maybe 15 years or more. So, yeah, guilty.
And it's a shame, because record stores were such a huge part of my life for so many years. As a pre-teen just discovering pop music on the Top 40 AM station, it quickly became a weekly ritual to bike over to the local Laury's, a small Chicago-area record chain, and pick up the weekly WLS survey, brightly-colored print-outs tracking the Top 45 45s and Top 33 33s.
Occasionally I'd have enough allowance saved up to buy a record or a cassette, either there or at the Musicland in the nearby mall. But the selection at the chains wasn't great, and the cost of new records was prohibitive.
Things changed around my 16th birthday. Once I had my driver's license, I could borrow my mom's car on weekends and check out the used record stores in Evanston, near Northwestern University. The used stores were a revelation -- the variety went well beyond the current hits and obvious classics you'd find at the retail chains, with all sorts of obscurities you'd never find at the mall. Plus, you could pick up a slightly scuffed record for just a few bucks, well below the price of a new release. The timing was perfect as well -- by this time, I was pretty obsessive about music, digging deep into classic rock history, trying to get my hands on as much music as I could afford, discovering all the bands that had predated my discovery of rock's roots.
I was also starting to get into more non-mainstream music, the punk and new wave bands that maybe you'd hear on the FM dial or whose videos they might show on late-night cable, or the bands a few of my hipper friends might turn me on to. The Clash and Ramones and Talking Heads and Jam and Buzzcocks, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello, the Velvet Underground. And it was a whole lot easier to track down that stuff down at the independent shops in Evanston than at the mall, which mainly stuck with sure-sellers like the Cars and Tom Petty.
Record-shopping was something I mainly did on my own (few of my friends were quite as obsessive about music), solitary hours on the weekend, haunting those dusty rows of vinyl. Later, when I got to college and joined the radio station, I realized I wasn't the only one who could disappear into a record store for hours at a time. And much later, the awe I felt upon first discovering these places was perfectly captured by cartoonist/writer Peter Bagge:
This fixation on hunting down obscurities, poring over row upon row of records (and, later, CDs) persevered for years. Haunting the used shops lining the East and West Village during a summer in New York during law school; hanging at the shops in the Haight and Noe Valley once I moved to San Francisco.
Alas, the ease of the internet suckered me in like so many others. Coming particularly at the point in my life when it did -- working full-time, young kids at home, living in the suburbs -- I just didn't have the time to spend driving into the city and kicking around the shops. And as much as I long treasured the thrill of the hunt, I succumbed to the instant gratification of online shopping. You'd read about some new album, or some obscurity you'd overlooked, and within seconds you could find it somewhere. Plus, like catnip or cocaine, the online shops brilliantly lured you in by recommending a half-dozen other albums you might like, and before you knew it you had an online cart full of records, ready to be shipped to your front door.
And I'd like to say I miss record stores, but, for all the nostalgia I feel for the years I used to spend there, I just have no interest these days. Indeed, I had some time to kill in Berkeley, CA a few weeks back while waiting for a concert, so I stopped by Amoeba, one of the Bay Area's great record stores, whose Haight location was a big part of my life for many years. And I just couldn't get into it. I flipped through the CDs a bit, but didn't see anything I wanted that I didn't already have. I ended up buying a Ziggy Stardust coffee mug.
Anyway, today's album pick is one of the first records I remember buying after I'd turned 16 and started spending way too much time in Evanston's used shops. Missing Persons had a couple singles you'd occasionally see on MTV, totally fun if disposable stuff, distinguished mainly by Terry Bozzio's playful, high-pitched chirp. Those singles remain absolutely perfect documents of the new wave pop era -- "Words," "Destination Unknown," and "Walking in L.A." are just great, terribly dated yet ageless. I mostly just put those songs on mix tapes and didn't play the rest of the record very often, but it's not bad. There's an eccentric quirkiness reminiscent of Devo or the B-52s, but tethered to a Go-Go's-like pop catchiness. Not much to say beyond that, but for some reason this is the record that immediately came to mind when my Twitter feed started lighting up with Record Store Day references this morning.