The 10 Best Record Stores in Phoenix | Phoenix New Times

10 Best Record Stores in Metro Phoenix

There is no shortage of vinyl — and places to get it — in the Valley.
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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.

5. The Record Room
Owner John Rose says the customers at his new North Phoenix location are “a little different,” but the used records coming in the door are “much more diverse” than in his former Scottsdale space. And, with almost 2,000 square feet, Rose has plenty of room to showcase it all. Make the new arrival bins (there are several) your first stop inside the doors. That’s the place to start digging, as the Record Room consistently turns over albums. Why? Great pricing throughout, even on harder-to-find items, such as the original, recalled Lynyrd Skynyrd Street Survivors for $8.99 (sorry, bought it), Fear’s self-titled debut at $40, and several copies of Bowie’s Diamond Dogs around $20. The entire store, which offers classic T-shirts and posters as well, is stocked throughout with quality titles, with a nice emphasis on punk (especially 45s), reggae/ska and rockabilly — including Wildman Hasil Adkins wax. 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. Taking advantage of the expanded space, several numerous bargain bins of $1 to $3 LPs beckon crate diggers. There are also some CDs as well, and a nice offering of 45s, but vinyl rules here. Plus, just looking at the albums filling the wall is like a trip through musical history.

4. Record High
“We specialize in clean records,” the guy behind the counter says when asked what the store specializes in. Simple enough, but this laid-back shop also features a broad selection of audiophile pressings, both new and used, from Analogue Productions, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, Nautilus, DCC, and more. Jazz is also a specialty, with plenty of rarities and classics, reissues, and originals from the 1950s to now. Yet, all styles of rock, metal, blues, and a bit of everything else can be found in the well-organized and tidy shop. The new arrival bin overflows with goodness. Every record is stored in an audiophile sleeve, which is nice. Turntables and other audiophile gear — inner and outer sleeves, cleaners, et cetera, can be picked up here. There’s even a record cleaner where customers can clean their “dirty vinyl” for $1. A working jukebox sits against one wall (remember those?). Perhaps the coolest feature is a standalone jazz room, complete with acoustical foam on the walls and sink-in-and-melt chairs where buyers can listen to jazz in a relaxed setting before buying. It can’t be much better than that.

3. The “In” Groove
There is something almost antiseptic about this store, with its metal and wood bins and cement floor, every LP packaged in Japanese-style plastic sleeves. Those used to getting their hands dirty digging through record stacks won’t at the “In” Groove, and that’s not a bad thing. Owner Mike Esposito takes great pride in this care for albums — cleaning each before stocking on the shelf — as well as the selection stocked in the packed space. The new arrivals bin greets visitors and is always overflowing with stellar classics from artists such as Grateful Dead, the Beatles (Mike is something of an expert on the band), Derek and the Dominos, and Pink Floyd, along with unexpected prog offerings from If and Jade Warrior, psych rarities from the Standells and Shadows of Knight, classic jazz (no Kenny G here), reggae, African (lots of Fela Kuti), and punk. My last cool find: a near-mint copy of Cheech and Chong’s Big Bamboo with the original giant rolling paper. Looking for MFSL, 200-gram Classic DCC releases? This is the place. Rare ’50s and ’60s jazz has a home here too, as well as quality reissues. Plus, the back room has a nice selection of audio gear, especially turntables, for the newbie vinyl hounds. And don’t miss my favorite bin, labeled simply: "WTF?" Anything could be in there.

2. Double Nickels Collective/Ghost of Eastside Records
Owner Mike Pawliki has been a staple of the Valley 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, dub reggae classics, and the occasional deep blues album. Arizona artists are well represented here, too. Walking in the door, Death’s debut, For The Whole World to See, was on the new arrivals rack — 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. (DJs should find plenty of 12-inchers here.) There’s a great world section, and plenty of rock from the 1950s to yesterday — all nicely labeled with divider cards so it’s easy to pinpoint that search. You want to talk about music? Pawliki’s practically an encyclopedia of musical knowledge. Additionally, the back half of Eastside is the Double Nickel Collective, a consortium of rotating record sellers offering a wide variety of music at varying prices and conditions. Redundant to some degree, the overall buying experience in this location is excellent. Bonus: There’s always something interesting playing at Eastside that will make you pause, listen — maybe buy — and certainly smile.

1. Revolver Records
Revolver Records has gotten even better with a second Phoenix location on East Thomas Road. While the Arcadia store is a fine extension of the original — clean and stocked CDs, audio gear and with some higher-priced (befitting the location) items (like Japanese audiophile pressings), nothing beats the downtown location's atmosphere: dirty, dusty, and dingy, a place that 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 Monk, Coltrane, Miles, Hawkins, Blakey, Sanders, Mingus, and others of a 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 features a 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. Revolver’s nice mix of genres, with good prices and helpful clerks, makes this my first stop on future vinyl safaris.

This article originally published on April 18, 2014, and was updated for publication on January 17, 2017.
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