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10 Best Record Stores in Metro Phoenix

Phoenix is flush with record stores. Here are 10 you should know.
Phoenix is flush with record stores. Here are 10 you should know.
© 2004 by Tomasz Sienicki, via Wikimedia Commons

There is no shortage of vinyl -- and places to get it -- in the Valley. Jazz, blues, rock, psych, soul, oldies, Latin, children's, soundtracks, surf, drag, indie, metal, punk . . . it's all here somewhere. The key is finding who has what you want. More often than not, each record store has at least a little of everything. Yet, not all record stores are created equal. Some focus on vinyl and only vinyl, and most stock some CDs (they're not dead yet), while others are more "full-service," offering everything music-related under the sun from DVDs to movies to T-shirts to musical instruments.

See also: Record Store of Your Dreams: How Do You Find It?

On a recent sunny Wednesday, I sped about the Valley to see which music outlets offered up the best vinyl. I also was interested to discover which stores offered a comfortable shopping experience, with reasonable prices and knowledgeable employees. 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. Therefore, as a former record store owner, someone who has been involved in record collecting since age 10, and 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, Bookmans, despite the quantity at each location, seems 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 they 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 Greatest Hits as shelf fillers. If you're patient, diligent, and determined, you can find the occasional rarity or oddity. Prices seem to vary wildly -- depends on who's behind the counter some days, I suppose -- but overall, the discount seller seems 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 -- the place isn't named Recordmans, so save this record shopping experience for last.

Asylum Records
Asylum Records
Lauren Wise

9.) 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 DVD offerings, too, the Valley's best. The proximity to Club Red probably helps drive that side of the business. There's plenty of rock, too, particularly hard rock albums, but also too many marginal titles. 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. A pain. On repeated visits the new arrivals section became the only place worth visiting unless I had something specific in mind. Cool notes: The giant Kiss stand-up in the back and the wall of picture discs at the front. Plus, the Siamese cat too. I think he runs the show.

 

Tracks in Wax
Tracks in Wax
Jason Woodbury

8.) Tracks in Wax
If you dig hard enough at Tracks in Wax, 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, way too many children's albums and soundtracks, mainstream rock and, heaven forbid, Kenny G. Do take a gander at the aptly named "unexplainable" boxes. 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 -- but there's just too much common fodder to dig thorough for most collectors. Oh, and the radio was playing -- despite all that wax.

Record Revival
Record Revival
Benjamin Leatherman

7.) Record Revival
A newer addition to the Phoenix music scene, Record Revival is jam-packed with albums. So many in fact, that new un-priced arrivals litter the floor and are piled high behind the counter. Just don't ask to look at them. In most shops, the clerks will gladly let you "be first" on the newest arrivals (what collectors always hope for), but when I visited, the guys at Record Revival were sadly adamant about not letting anyone look until they were "priced properly." A disappointing policy. Really, if a customer found something exciting, how long does it take to price? And wouldn't that customer always shop there first? That's part of the shopping fun, but not here. Constant sticker shock also detracts from the experience. This easily has to be Phoenix's most expensive shop. Yes, there are lots of cool bootlegs from the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who, Mötley Crüe, Led Zeppelin and others (and those are priced just slightly high), as well as some hard-to-find prog, psych, and garage albums. But come on -- The Standells' Dirty Water is not worth $99.99 in VG+ (very good plus) shape, and a less than VG+ Amboy Dukes' Journey to the Center of the Mind is not a $40 LP. You get the picture. The marginal jazz section, the soundtracks, country, and the over-stocked comedy section (people still buy comedy?) are better values. If you have money to burn, and just gotta have it at any price, well, you get the picture.

Double Nickels
Double Nickels
Benjamin Leatherman

6.) Double Nickels Collective
Double Nickels is like 13 mini-record stores in one. Half the space is devoted to Mike Pawlicki's Ghost of Eastside Records, which is worthy enough to get its own listing (and it will). The rest of the store features pocket sellers with anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand albums for sale. Some of the sellers include Record High, Stereophonic, Stinkweeds (just new reissues and current releases), Cactus Man Records, Redfield Records, and a couple of unnamed vendors. Each vendor offers something different (including wildly varying prices), so the diversity of titles/themes/genres is strong -- good soul, R&B, reggae, blues, and classic to hard-to-find rock. It's a bit of a pain to sift through so many different vendors, especially when looking for something specific, but it's also nice to have so many options in one place.

Zia Records
Zia Records
Courtesy of Zia Records

5.) Zia Records
Bigger is not always better. Though Zia has a handful of stores around the Valley and certainly boasts the largest overall inventory, (each shop has its own variations, though all have a similar "feel"), including books, stickers, clothing, CDs and DVDs, a lot of that inventory is a bit stale. Just because it comes into the store doesn't mean you have to buy it. Yet, if you're looking for vintage classic rock or '80s new wave and pop at reasonable prices, this is the place -- even if the vinyl is toward the back of the store (not the biggest priority here). In-house buyers make up for the basic 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. Hand-picked crazy psychedelic oddities from places as diverse as Iran, India, Turkey, Asia, Brazil and any number of African locales fill the bins. My scores include out of this world Afro-psych classics from Psychedelic Aliens and Rikki Ililonga (look them up!) There is also a decent selection of jazz (again, good reissues), funk, DJ offerings, and some box sets, but with such a large inventory you have to look hard to find the more unusual albums.

Stinkweeds
Stinkweeds
Evie Carpenter

4.) Stinkweeds
Stinkweeds definitely has the best indie rock, indie folk, indie indie selection in the state -- maybe the West. The tiny shop is packed 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 a strong, carefully thought-out selection of classic and alternative rock, punk (good seven-inchers), jazz, and blues (excellent reissues) balance out the experience. Again, it's a small store, but it has a great atmosphere that's very welcoming, relaxed, and easy to spend a lot of time in.

 

The Record Room
The Record Room
Courtesy of The Record Room

 3.) Record Room
The new arrivals bin is the first thing you see when you walk into this homey, bedroom-size space. That's the place to start digging, as the Record Room always seems to have a fresh turnover of albums. Why? Great pricing throughout, even on harder-to-find items -- like a white label promo of Jim Morrison's American Prayer for $7.99 (sorry, bought it). It's not the biggest space, but it's consistently loaded with quality titles, with a nice emphasis on punk (especially 45s), reggae/ska, and rockabilly. It's also probably the best place to find those unusual compilations full of soul, R&B, and rockabilly classics you never knew existed, along with rock classics. There are also some CDs as well, and a nice offering of 45s, but vinyl rules here. The two guys working there are laid back, as well, offering to help with anything but never applying any pressure. Plus, just looking at the albums filling the wall is like a trip through music history.

Ghost of Eastside Records
Ghost of Eastside Records
Benjamin Leatherman

2.) Ghost of Eastside Records
Owner Mike Pawlicki has been a Valley staple for some time. Vinyl-wise, Eastside probably has what you need -- especially if it's a little out of the ordinary: from vintage punk 45s to avant classical, obscure '60s psych, and the occasional deep blues album. Arizona artists are well represented here, too. Death's debut, For the Whole World to See, was on the new arrivals rack when I walked in the door -- cool. Eastside's jazz selection, while not the biggest, certainly has many unexpected choice offerings. Similarly, if you want to discover reggae beyond Bob Marley -- and there's a lot of reggae better than Marley -- Eastside's selection is crucial. There's a great world section and plenty of rock from the '50s to yesterday -- all nicely labeled with divider cards, so it's easy to pinpoint that search. You want to talk about music? Pawlicki's practically an encyclopedia of musical knowledge. Bonus: There's always something interesting playing at Eastside as well that will make you pause and listen (maybe buy), which always adds to the shopping experience.

Revolver Records, Tempe location
Revolver Records, Tempe location
Benjamin Leatherman

1.) Revolver Records
Revolver Records downtown is dirty, dusty, and dingy and feels more like an old shed than a record shop. But that works here as the emphasis is clearly on vinyl -- and there is plenty! (There are CDs and DVDs too, but this is a vinyl-first outfit.) Revolver may have the best jazz selection in Phoenix. While not the biggest, there were plenty of hot '60s offerings from guys like Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins, Art Blakey, and others of similar ilk. A number of crucial reissue titles (in all genres) are found at reasonable prices, along with some appropriately priced rarities behind the counter. The rock section was sort of, well, overwhelming, but it was well-organized so it was easy to aim for specific items. Beatles records are reasonably priced, which is always a good sign. Revolver also sports big funk and soul/R&B sections, a nice DJ/electronic zone, a carefully sourced classical section, though maybe a bit too much easy listening and country. Bargain hunters should start and finish here. With thousands of marked down items beginning at $1 it's hard to go wrong. The Tempe store, being newer, feels more organized, and the proximity to ASU brings in more alternative offerings. Revolver's nice mix of genres, with good prices and helpful clerks, makes this my first stop on future vinyl safaris.


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