Under the Sun

Under the Sun: The End of Revolver Records Recalls a Time When Vinyl Ruled

click to enlarge Revolver Records, closing on February 1, once appealed to all generations of vinyl lovers. - MICHELLE SASONOV
Revolver Records, closing on February 1, once appealed to all generations of vinyl lovers.
Michelle Sasonov

Jim Minnick and a friend were shopping at what was left of Revolver Records on a recent Saturday morning. The store was kind of a mess, because it was closing forever on February 1, which made Jim and his friend sad. The jazz records were in the soundtracks section, and all the disco records had been dumped into the country bin.

While a crowd of collectors flipped through bins and boxes of LPs, Jim and his friend talked about vinyl.

“Remember when we had to try to sell this guy’s record?” Jim asked, holding up a Bertie Higgins album. Jim and his friend both worked for years in record stores, in the old days when they were yo ung men. Sometimes they worked together — at Hollywood Records, and Circles Records, and Zia Records — but not always.

“My first job was at World Records in Prescott,” Jim said, then stopped to chuckle at the cover of a Mae West album. “Then I worked at Bill’s Records and Audio while I was in college.” After leaving Zia, and for the past 20 years, Jim had taught high school in downtown Phoenix.

The young man behind the cash register put on a Lindsey Buckingham record.

“When I worked at Zia on Indian School, we still sold cassettes,” Jim remembered. “We had these little strips of plastic we taped the cassettes onto. It was supposed to keep people from stealing them. Every time you sold one, you had to untape it. And when CDs first came out, they came in these long skinny boxes. And people were like, ‘The new Dire Straits album used to cost me eight bucks. Now it’s $18. You’re making us pay $15 for a cardboard box!’ Then the labels got rid of the box, but the price stayed the same.”

Jim’s friend agreed. He recalled how angry buyers were when CDs replaced vinyl. “They felt held hostage because if they wanted to buy music they had to pay more than twice as much for an album,” he said. He slipped an Otis Redding album out of its sleeve, and squinted at the shiny black surface. “And they had to go buy a new machine to play it on.”

“It’s why I don’t have a problem with people downloading music for free,” Jim said. “I think the record industry is getting its comeuppance. They ripped us off for so many years — you’re doggone right we want free music.”

His friend held up a Jennifer Warnes album. “Do you have this?” Jim said he didn’t. “I’m buying it for you. You need to own this record.”

Jim remembered the mid-'80 Parental Advisory label, a sticker that some record labels stuck on LPs and tapes that contained offensive language. “It didn’t work,” he said. “When things are taboo, people want them more,” he believed.

Jim’s friend was thinking about buying three different Stephen Bishop records. “They’re only two bucks apiece,” Jim pointed out. “You can’t go wrong.” He pulled a Merv Griffin album from a bin. “This is so funny,” he said. “I may have to get this.”

Jim’s friend wondered if Jim remembered how the first Men at Work album was a surprise hit in 1981, how it sold and sold for more than a year. “But then their second one came out and we bought too many and it was a stiff,” Jim countered. “It sat there. You couldn’t give it away; we got stuck with boxes of that one.”

Jim said he didn’t mind the pops and cracks that most old records can have. It reminded him of a fireplace crackling in the background. Sometimes, he admitted, he bought records because of the beautiful cover art. He occasionally purchased records only to discover he already owned a copy. Then, he said, he had to listen to both copies to see which one sounded better, inspect the cover to see which one was cleaner. The extra copy went back to the thrift store.

“I’ve never seen this LP,” Jim said, pointing to a Paul Revere and the Raiders LP. “This must have been before they signed with Columbia. I’m gonna buy it.”

The other day, Jim found a Poppy Family album at Savers. Also something by the Ray Charles Singers. “I’ll pick up anything that’s exotica,” he said. “If I see an Arthur Lyman record I don’t have, or a Les Baxter, I have to have it.” Jim confessed that the racks in his record room were full, so he had to start stashing records in other parts of the house. “They’re stacked against the wall, all my Marty Robbins records, all my Rod McKuen records.”

Jim and his friend took piles of albums up to the guy at the cash register. “This Billy Eckstine record is still sealed,” Jim’s pal said. “It’s the original Motown issue.”

“Score,” the cashier said.

Jim’s friend said their hearts were broken that Revolver was closing. “Not as broken as mine,” the clerk said. He told them about the new Revolver project on Thomas Road, called Mojave Coffee and Records. Jim had heard about it.

“We’ll go there,” Jim’s friend promised. Then Jim noticed a stack of unpriced records sitting on the counter. “Can we look through these?” he asked.