Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Bronx Cheer For RSD

My approach to Record Store Day is both serendipitous and practical. If I'm going to a favorite store like Other Music, I know there will be many people with more burning desire for particular special releases than I have, so I prefer to see what I see. That way, I feel lucky with whatever I end up buying. In 2011 I picked up an awesome Fela 7" and a limited edition cassette from Numero Group, along with a couple of other goodies. Last year, I had an event at a Knights Of Columbus near Westwood, NJ (all in a day's work) and let my GPS do the driving to Music Merchant, which turned out to be an excellent store run by dedicated fans. I scored a beautiful Lee Perry vinyl box and a number of used albums at great prices.
This year I was seriously pressed for time so I plotted a course to the nearest RSD participating store, which turned out to be Harmony Records in the Parkchester section of the Bronx. My daughter and I headed out there in the morning, planning to arrive when they opened at 10:30. It's a good thing we weren't completely on schedule because it turned out to be more like 11-ish when the owner, Glenn Velger, came and rolled up the gate. Harmony has been operating since 1956 and if it's not the oldest record store in NYC still at its original location, I'd like to know what is. The small narrow space is decorated by accretion, like a cave that has been transformed by millennia of drips, floods and geologic events. Dion's fingerprints are probably somewhere under the grime and accumulated stuff.
Quick observation made it clear that Harmony was not stocking any RSD special editions so I didn't even ask. I asked Glenn how long he'd been there and learned that he bought the store from the original owner in the 90's and that they still talk a couple of times a month. Before giving me the lay of the land, Glenn delivered a practiced spiel about how downloading was ruining the music business, the kids today don't want to pay for records, etc. Moving on...

Besides a few new release CD's, most of the stock at Harmony consists of well worn LP's and 45's, with a strong concentration in soul, disco and hip hop. Some of the inventory has come from DJ's liquidating their collections and it shows in the number of promo copies and white labels. Serious crate diggers might find some long-sought items here, but they best have deep pockets - I discovered that the base price for LP's and 12" singles is $14.99, even in rough condition.

It was entertaining to flip through the albums - my daughter was incredulous that anyone would want to dress like Don Johnson on the cover of the Miami Vice soundtrack - but some other would-be patrons weren't so happy when they found out there were no limited editions in stock. One dude, in expensive head-to-toe black, came in with his phone to his ear saying "I'm building the house mainly for my records," and asked for the McCartney single.
He looked like he was sucking a lemon when Glenn said he didn't carry any of those things, after all who wants a bunch of kids lined up to fight over a copy of something and downloading is ruining the music business and the kids don't want to pay for music... Expensive Black was clearly not interested in debating the contradictions inherent in Glenn's rap and repaired to his car - a BMW so new I've never even seen it before (license plate FAB4LP) - to try to track down the Sir Paul 7". Between the car, the house full of records, and the attire, I had to ask him if he was in the music biz. "Used to be," he replied, telling me he was a DJ in California - but that's all he wanted to say.

After the sticker shock, I ended up making a few token purchases in the spirit of the day. I took a chance on George McCrae's 1976 album Diamond Touch, partly because I've always like the TK sound and partly because he looked so sad on the album cover. He might have been depressed because the record wasn't recorded at TK HQ in Miami, home of Rock Your Baby, Rock The Boat, Rocking' Chair (by George's wife Gwen), and a dozen hits by KC & The Sunshine Band. Diamond Touch was instead made in NYC under the supervision of Gregg Diamond, known for taking More More More by former porn star Andrea True to the top of the charts.
Diamond Touch is a gleaming edifice of high disco style that surely got them on the floor at 54 but leaves little space for George's sweet vocal stylings. I'm sure it will spice up a mix tape or two, once I rip it to digital, as will the frankly amazing Disco Mix of the South Shore Commission's Free Man. It's a Tom Moulton Mix of a Bunny Sigler production - need I say more? Finally, Don't Take My My Kindness For Weakness Is a sentiment I can get behind, and I'm always a sucker for Stax, so I threw the single by The Soul Children on the pile.

I'm glad we made the trip as our little adventure took us to a part of NYC I'd never seen before, although I've lived here all my life. While I may never go back to Harmony it's definitely a spot any record store aficionado should visit at least once, although maybe not on Record Store Day.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:46 PM

    After the madness I witnessed on RSD in Richmond, Harmony's non participation seems downright refreshing.

    Really digging this Soul Children tune. I (shamefully) know next to nothing about Stax, and this is excellent incentive to learn.