By Anastasia Beaverhausen
The news became official in 2016. Vinyl sales outstripped digital downloads! Who woulda thunk? In 1990 the music industry unceremoniously dumped the original music format, vinyl, for the shiny happy promise of the compact disc. Most consumers followed suit and only die-hard collectors continued to mourn the death of the LP.
10 years later downloads began to supplant the CD and people switched from buying full albums to just downloading songs. Millennials were weaned on the instant gratification of hearing a song and then owning it minutes later. They completely missed out on the sado-masochistic joy of hearing a song on the radio, tracking the album down in a store and wearing out the grooves. They never experienced the fetishistic pleasure of studying a record cover, scanning the photos, memorizing lyrics on the LP’s inner sleeve and obsessively reading the liner notes. It’s hard to “collect” music when it’s only confined to your phone.
Luckily for them, Record Store Day was invented. Conceived in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees, it seemed like an excellent way to celebrate the singular culture that surrounds the nearly 1,400 independent stores that continue to thrive in the United States.
The first official Record Store Day happened on Saturday, April 19th, 2008. Artists and record labels came together and created special vinyl and CD releases that could only be found at independent stores. That first year Metallica were the official ambassadors for Record Store Day, spending the day at Rasputins, in Mill Valley, California, meeting and greeting their fans.
Since then Record Store Day usually occurs on the third Saturday of April, (this year it falls on the fourth of five Saturdays). Participation is worldwide, throughout the years artists like Wilco, Mastodon, and Emmylou Harris have popped up in local stores offering support and encouragement. In recent years, Jack White and Dave Grohl have acted as RSD ambassadors; Metallica reprised their role in 2016. This year, it’s St. Vincent’s turn.
Here in the desert, Record Store Day feels extra special since it always syncs up with the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Locals and visitors know the best place to find records in the desert, is at the Record Alley.
Music aficionado Jim Stephens originally opened the Record Alley in Palm Springs back in 1978. Although there were half a dozen other record stores that dotted the desert floor, Jim quickly distinguished his store by stocking it with hard-to-find imports. He offered a huge selection of Punk, Funk, Prog, R&B, Disco and Rock. Knowledgeable music fans bypassed closer stores to make the trek to his North Palm Canyon store. In 1985, he made it a little easier by relocating to the Westfield Mall in Palm Desert. All told, he has been shaping music tastes in this valley for nearly 40 years.
Along with his wife and co-owner, Shelly, Jim has always managed to stay on top of current music trends. They rely on a knowledgeable staff which includes Eleni P. Austin, Cory Heskett and Lauren Ivy Holm. Eleni got her first record store job as a sophomore in high school in 1978. Cory has been at Record Alley nearly three years, and offers a keen twentysomething perspective. Then there’s returning vet, Lauren Ivy Holm. She made her bones 15 years ago when Eleni hired her at the Palm Springs Wherehouse. Since then she spent a few years at Record Alley and has just returned from a stint at Amoeba Music in Hollywood.
This year, Record Store Day has hundreds of titles exclusive to independent record retailers. “We order as many titles as we can,” shared Eleni, who has been at the store for six years. “We won’t know exactly what we have until it all arrives at the store, a day or two before the event. We are competing with other stores for a limited amount of product, so we don’t always get everything we order.”
Highly anticipated releases include music from Avenged Sevenfold, R.L. Burnside, Motorhead and Iggy Pop. There are live offerings from the Doors, Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix, Lou Reed and (local treasure) Victoria Williams. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper and the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, the Beatles and U2 have issued special singles. There are a series of special 12” Prince singles, which feels particularly heartbreaking, coming less than a year after his untimely death. There are also a couple of special David Bowie releases.
Cheap Trick and the Ramones have released special singles compilations. Soundtrack selections include The Bronx Tale and Pineapple Express. There’s a 10” rarities LP from Stevie Nicks, a children’s record from Johnny Cash. Classic singles from the Kinks, Jane’s Addiction, the Smiths, the Germs, Pearl Jam, Pink Floyd, Dolly Parton and Patti Smith.
Hip Hop fans are looking forward to music from Busta Rhymes, Andre 3000 and Slick Rick. Jazz aficionados will welcome music from Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Dexter Gordon and Wes Montgomery. Various artists’ compilations include a new Nuggets collection, Girls In The Garage and a Roky Erickson tribute that originally came out in the early ‘90s.
“This is the event we look forward to all year,” Austin shared. “Since it coincides with Coachella, our longtime, loyal customers line up with music fans from all over the world. It’s ‘first come, first serve,’” she added, “but we try and accommodate everyone, making it a fun day and a great experience.”
Record Alley opens their doors at 10am. The store is located on the lower level of the Westfield Mall at 72840 Highway 111, Palm Desert. For a current and complete list of on-going sales and merchandise, check out their website, recordalley.com