Record Store Day

10 Best Record Stores in Metro Phoenix

The word on the street is that vinyl is back. Given that big retailers such as Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, Urban Outfitters, Target, plus numerous thrift stores and even the random grocery store now include vinyl sections, such a statement, on the surface anyway, appears to be a reasonable assessment. Record Store Day, which used to be a novel way for artists to release special items (as well as promote the vinyl versus CD concept), is now something over an overblown spectacle, yet adds to the feeling that records are a good thing. And, they are — always have been — which is why true vinyl junkies scoff at the notion that vinyl is back, only to counter, “it never went away.” And yes, it sounds better than CDs too, but that’s an argument for another time.

Whatever one’s logical (or illogical, given the crazed nature of many LP fanatics) conclusion, vinyl is again becoming a very popular musical form. And Phoenix has a plethora of vinyl-buying options, new and used, from antique shops, book sellers (new and used), and a couple of true record stores. Of course, every record shop has its own vibe and atmosphere — that’s what makes each so fun to explore — and there are plenty of variables. Do you want to dig in dollar bins, or gawk at walls filled with too-expensive-to-afford rarities? Are you searching for metal, jazz, punk, world, jazz, or blues? You can have it all among the Phoenix record shops. Therefore, as a former record store owner, someone who has been involved in record collecting since age 10 (with more than 8,000 LPs), and who has been in more record shops across the globe than I care to remember, I know something about what makes a good record store.

Here's what I've come up with, ranked from worst to first.

10. Bookmans Entertainment Exchange
With stores all over the Valley, these two book mongers, despite the quantity each stock, seem to sell vinyl only as happenstance. It feels as if people just bring in the vinyl to unload since they’re selling their books, and don’t really care what they get for it. That’s why Perry Como and Lawrence Welk albums rival REO Speedwagon’s Hi-Infidelity and the Eagles' Their Greatest Hits as shelf fillers. If you're patient, diligent, and determined, you can find the occasional rarity or oddity. (My last score was Chelsea’s self-titled 1970 debut featuring Peter Criss before KISS for one-fifth its actual value.) There are some new releases and reissues too, but the titles seem chosen at random. Prices vary wildly — depends on who’s behind the counter some days, I suppose — but overall these discount sellers seem intent on moving product, so most items are a decent value. Bookmans also sells DVDs, CDs, musical instruments, and video games. Thankfully, it’s well organized, which is nice, but let’s face it — records aren’t a priority.

9. Tracks in Wax
If you dig hard enough, some gems will appear at nice prices, particularly in the jazz, oldies, and Latin sections. But you have to sift through the plethora of commons no one wants: George Benson, Herbie Mann, Sergio Mendes, far too many children’s albums and soundtracks, mainstream rock, and, heaven forbid, Kenny G. Do take a gander at the aptly named “unexplainable” boxes. There's some quirky stuff in there. It’s also worth a slow walk through to check out the posters on the ceiling and albums lining the walls. There’s plenty of atmosphere to go around — old shops have that.

8. Asylum Records
It’s loud in Asylum. If you’re looking for metal, hardcore, or something heavier, this is the place to shop. It’s well-stocked with similar cassette and DVD offerings too — the Valley’s best selection. There’s plenty of rock too, and particularly hard rock albums, but also some marginal titles filling the newer Mesa location. A little thinning of the herd is needed. The condition of the vinyl here, well, let’s just say there were many rougher pieces. Sadly, even beat-to-hell Beatles albums are marked way up, and even common rockers — $2 LPs at best in so-so shape — were pushing $6 and up. Admittedly, I didn’t look at everything — it was too loosely organized. A few divider cards for specific artists, then a bulk card for the rest of that letter. This makes it too frustrating to dig hard. Avoid the world section too, as it’s packed with non-world easy listening and whatever doesn’t fit easily somewhere else. Give the store a once-over, and on repeat visits, stick to the new arrivals section. Asylum is filled with lots of cool memorabilia, like a museum to metal, with a giant KISS stand-up, signed drum heads, guitars, picks, posters, and other eye candy. Let’s not forget the cat, too. I think he runs the show.

7. Zia Records
With five stores spread across the Valley, Zia has perhaps the greatest trove of vinyl when all combined —everything from classic rock to hair metal to punk and indie-rock, modern soul to disco to outlaw country. Given the volume, if you're willing to dig enough, there are treasures — used and new — to be found here. In-house buyers make up for the basic used wax, with tasty reissues ranging from obscure ’60s acts to modern pop-punks and alt-country stalwarts. Best of all is the world section — one of the coolest in Phoenix. Handpicked crazy psychedelic oddities from places as diverse as Iran, India, Turkey, Asia, Brazil, and any number of African locales fill the bins. There is also a decent selection of jazz (again, good reissues), funk, DJ offerings, and some box sets (check out the clearance bins for steals), but with such a large inventory, you have to look hard to find the more unusual albums. Is it worth hitting each shop? Just because it comes into the store, doesn't mean you have to buy it.

6. Stinkweeds
Stinkweeds definitely has the best indie rock, indie folk, and indie indie selection in the state — maybe the West. The tiny shop is packed floor to ceiling with great music (CDs and vinyl) that might need an insider’s perspective, but is worth asking about. The knowledgeable — and unpretentious — staff will fill you in, and you can listen to most anything, too, which helps. It’s not all indie, of course, and strung carefully throughout is a selection of classic and alternative rock, punk (good 7-inchers), jazz, and blues (excellent reissues) to balance out the experience. Again, it's a small store, but has a great atmosphere that’s very welcoming, relaxed, and easy to spend a lot of time in.

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Glenn BurnSilver
Contact: Glenn BurnSilver