Record Store 101: Play These Albums, Sell Records
Record Store Day has come and gone. By all accounts, it went well and my indie record store geek brethren was elated. Beautiful.
See also: 10 Best Record Stores in Metro Phoenix
However, as I suggested in my last column, to really appreciate record stores, you can't just buzz by once a year and pick up a piece of collectible vinyl. You've got to get in there and hang out. You've got to pick the brains of geeks like me. People who have spent a great deal of their time (both professional and personal) filling their brains with great music.
When you get there, you've got to listen. To what those kids are playing. If they're good record store geeks, they are playing to sell. That means hook-you-quick, tasty music.
Until you get to your nearest indie store, I'm here to help. Scroll on for a few play-to-sell secrets and 14 Albums That Always Sell When Played.
Don't Forget Why We're Here, Kid
If you are going to work in a record store, you have to remember one key thing: You need to sell records.
There's that great scene in High Fidelity where John Cusack says, "I will now sell five copies of the three EPs by the Beta Band." That scene is dead-on accurate. That's really what the right record can do -- sell (although I don't remember anyone ever playing that Beta Band album).
That doesn't mean just throwing on whatever the fuck you feel like listening to at any given time, Metal Breath. It means you have to find the right kind of music to hit those browsing customers (or customer, as it may be), enough to get them to come up and ask what it is, and then pull out their hard-earned cash and buy it.
Easier said than done.
Unless you're me.
That's right, I can sell you music. Give me any budget and a halfway decent store, and I'll sell shit to you all day long. Stuff that will get into your soul and make you want to look me up and say thanks 10 years later.
Okay, so I'm cocky. It's from years of training and trial and error.
Here are a few of my general play list rules:
Nothing too heavy, but nothing too slow. Upbeat, not scary. It's easier to take bluegrass if you are a metalhead than vice versa.
People want the off-genres (jazz, blues, world) more than they know. This list is full of cool things from those genres.
Know the crowd. If you have a rap crowd, play hip-hop. If you've got one customer in jazz, don't play hard rock.
If you are smart, you can play stuff you dig, stuff you want to hear, and still sell.
Now, let's see a few of the all-time greats.
Fourteen Albums That Always Sell When Played
If you've ever read my ramblings, you know I like to have "list qualifiers." Just one this time: I'm going to listen to the key song, the one that completes the sale, while I write a brief description of said album.
1. Bebel Gilberto. Tanto Tempo. Closing the sale: "Sem Contenção"
Best record of 2000. Success rate: 90 percent. This whole album is glorious, and if you listen through song four, it's yours. "Sem Contenção" means "without contention" in Portuguese, and it couldn't be more appropriate, because the song is absolutely agreeable. If you can't get in the mood with this album on, you'd better find a new mate, or one of those pills they talk about every 12 seconds on TV.
2. Santana. Supernatural. Closing the sale: "(Da Le) Yaleo"
You have to love albums that close on song one. The lead song on Supernatural sold the album at our ASU store long before we got to the duets, which were great at first but got old quick. As a result, I haven't heard it in years (I had to go to Spotify to jam it) because we (and everyone else) played it so much then. Why? Because every time we'd play it, we'd sell multiple copies. I now abhor the concept of duet albums as a result (and surprise, surprise . . . Santana's new album features a bunch more), but this song still smokes, and the album is an all-time champ. More than 500 copies sold.
3. Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, and Robert Cray. Showdown. Closing the sale: "Lion's Den"
Early on in my career, I found a great connection at Alligator Records, and this was one of the first promos they ever sent me. I had heard Cray's "Strong Persuader" in college and loved it, so I was curious. Threw that sucker on and the selling began. Holy string-bending blues guitar, Batman, it's not hard to figure out why. This album just wails.
4. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. Best of Louis and Ella. Closing the sale: "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off"
Again, a song one closer. But this whole album is just full of the coolest standards by two of the coolest cats to ever crawl the planet. I could sell this album to a kid (in fact I sold it to my daughter to the point where she often requests it). Guarantee you this: You will be able to listen to this album into your old age.
5. Impulse Records: The Roots of Acid Jazz. Closing the sale: "The Beat Goes On" (by Gabor Szabo)
We discovered this compilation after we developed a relationship with Verve Records (one of my favorite labels ever) in the Zia days, and then we sold the living shit out of it by playing it at ASU. Almost every song is great. I could have used Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" or Chico Hamilton's "For Mods Only" or about eight more -- which is why our customers never stood a chance. The guitar work on the closer will blow you away.
6. Les McCann and Eddie Harris. Swiss Movement: Live in Montreaux Closing the sale: "You Got It in Your Soulness"
So funky I want to write this standing up. I could have listed track one, "Compared to What", but honestly, I like this song better. Plus, if the customer was hanging around, browsing, and they weren't sure after the first three songs, this song would truly "close the sale." I'll tell you what I told the customers: "Listen to how worked up the crowd gets as Les works into the crescendo of his truly blistering piano solo." Must . . . pause . . . to play air-piano now.
7. Tom Waits. Blue Valentine. Closing the sale: "$29.00"
Okay, here's how we'd do it. Start at track two. It's Waits-weird. Enough to pique curiosity. "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" is excellent, and a perfect mellow set-up song. If the customer doesn't know, they'll ask you who it is during "Romeo Is Bleeding." He (or she, it works on both genders) will be sold one song later with the cool-ass swing of "$29.00." If, somehow, they still aren't sold, the rest of the album, including the wonderful title track, will take care of business.
8. Barenaked Ladies. Gordon. Closing the sale: "Blame It on Me"
Still one of my favorite record store discoveries, still one of my favorite albums. Back at the now-toasted Wherehouse at Rural and Broadway. I hadn't heard anything like it. None of us had. I still haven't, and Lord knows BNL never matched it. Like a funny, whacky, Canadian CSN with some of the most brilliant lyrics I've ever heard (starting with the title, a tribute to the Gordie Howe-inspired boy-name boom in hockeyville).
They were one of the coolest in-stores we ever had at Zia (both times). Have I gushed enough? Listen to the song. "You think you're so smart, but I've seen you naked. I'll probably see you naked again." Lyrics don't get any better than that.
9. Stephen Stills. Stephen Stills. Closing the sale: "Old Times Good Times"
Selling you this album is like taking candy from a rockin' baby. Song four, the closer, is one of the only songs that features Jimi Hendrix as a sideman, and he is just plain wicked. He starts fast and just gets worked up by the final fill. Stephen just sits back and plays organ. In addition, what I'd tell you in the store is that the picture on the cover was taken the morning that Stephen found out Jimi had died.
Guess what? The track five sideman is Eric Clapton. Yeah, it's that kind of album.
10. Ryan Adams. Gold Closing the sale: "New York, New York"
The night before 9/11, I stayed up late setting up one of the biggest release-day sales in history. Obviously, we didn't quite hit our sales projections that day, but the release date did produce one of the greatest playlist albums of all time. Ironically, the title track, "New York, New York" is not only poignant to the moment, but it's just wonderful. With the fast tempo, big horns, and great passions, it just grabs the listener and takes them into the rest of the fine album (like so many of Ryan's efforts).
11. Howlin' Wolf. The London' Howlin' Wolf Sessions Closing the sale: "Rockin' Daddy".
This won't just get you on song one -- it will get you within about 30 seconds. Why? Because that tasty little guitar lick is being played by none other than Eric Clapton, and he is just tearing it up, along with Steve Winwood and the Rolling Stones rhythm section. Don't think, however, that those boys are the superstars. That would be the gravel-voiced Wolf. Three hundred pounds of joy . . . and one of the most influential artists in music history. I hardly remember it not selling.
12. Jurassic 5. Quality Control Closing the sale: "How We Get Along/Influence"
How could I not include some hip-hop? After all, we were at ASU. In my opinion, this album was our all-time rappin' sales champ. Why? To start with, it's great. And, it's great to start with. Like so many of these albums, it's gets your interest from the get-go. I'm not a huge rap guy, but this type of funky hip-hop really grew on me over the year. This is the only hip-hop show I've ever got off the couch to go see.
13. Zero 7. Simple Things Closing the sale: "Destiny"
I'm still pissed I never got a chance to see these guys in concert. You may remember the song "In the Waiting Line" from the scene in Garden State where they took the the ecstasy. Great song, but it's song eight, so chances are the customer was already on the way home with it because of song three. Ten years later, this is still one of those albums I can throw while I'm sitting on my patio with a glass of wine and just chill. "Destiny" is chilliin' right now . . .
14. Wes Montgomery. Talkin' Verve: Roots of Acid Jazz Closing the sale: "O.G.D. (aka Road Song)"
I can't believe I'm cheating my own system. I'm listening to track two, "Movin' Wes - Part 2" instead of the track I listed as a closer. Doesn't matter. This album is so funky, so groovy, that it just oozed into customer's hands. We had first heard O.G.D. (with the mighty Jimmy Smith on organ) on the Thievery Corporations' Sounds From the Verve Hi-Fi (another playlist champ), and that led us to this record. Throw in a $9.99 price tag, and someone nearly always bought it.
Okay. That's enough.
Although I could sell you albums all night.
And Lord knows I could listen to this stuff all night.
If you want to listen to it, try the Spotify playlist of the aforementioned tracks (first attempt at this, so I don't want to hear any shit if I mess it up. Here's the Spotify URL if you've got Spotify open).
Thanks for reading. Have an excellent day.
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