From David Bowie to Prince, Record Store Day exclusives excite fans

Remember the days when music fans rushed to their favorite record shop to get their hands on the latest vinyl LP from classic artists like Prince, the Ramones and David Bowie?

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Well, what’s old is new again. Thanks to the recent resurgence of vinyl and the popularity of Record Store Day, an annual event taking place this year on April 22, fans will once again be lining up at their local record store in the hopes of owning that special must-have album.

The event, now in its 10th year, celebrates the culture of independent record stores. More than 20 businesses in the Atlanta area will participate this year, from Wax’n’Facts in Little Five Points to Stone Mountain’s 4 Seasons Records, from Vinylyte in Newnan to Comeback Vinyl in Alpharetta. Each store has its own celebratory sales and special events planned, but the day actually centers on a limited number of new releases and reissues, all exclusive to Record Store Day.

This year, the list of about 200 special Record Store Day releases includes a three-disc live album featuring Bowie performing in Los Angeles, a picture disc single of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” a rare vinyl release of an early recording of the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever,” as well as reissues of hard-to-find albums, box sets and singles from artists like the Ramones, Lou Reed, Bill Evans, Robert Johnson, Madonna, Peter Tosh, Def Leppard, U2, Sia, the Smiths and many more.

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Each record store places an order for its share of the exclusive releases, but store owners won’t know what they have until their box of Record Store Day releases arrives, usually the day before the event. The scarcity and desirability of the rare albums can motivate the most intense fans to stand in line before the doors open in the morning or even to journey from store to store throughout the day.

“It’s an all-day celebration of everything vinyl,” says Rand Cabus, owner of Roswell’s Mojo Vinyl, which has participated in Record Store Day annually since the shop first opened six years ago. He says fans start lining up in front of his store in the wee hours of the morning and that he usually will have about 50-80 people waiting when he opens the doors. “The exclusive vinyl records are only available that day. They’re all limited quantities. If I have three copies, that is all I have and all I can get. … That’s the beauty of vinyl as opposed to downloads: You have to physically find it. There’s satisfaction in that.”

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Cabus says that by noon, the most popular Record Store Day records will all be gone, but to make it an all-day party, he puts out other rare stock, holds giveaway contests and books a cover band, Roswell’s Project Detour, to start at noon in the parking lot.

The international event has become a boon for record stores all over, but it actually has strong Atlanta roots. Eric Levin, owner of Criminal Records in Little Five Points, is one of the co-founders of the first Record Store Day, which took place in 2008. At a yearly convention of record store owners in Baltimore in 2007, Levin proposed the idea that a day celebrating independent record stores could model itself after the hugely successful Free Comic Book Day.

“This was at the height of Napster and downloads,” Levin says. “We just weren’t getting any good press. We only had about seven or eight months to get the event together, but it came together really fast.”

Atlanta artists Janelle Monae and the Coathangers performed at Criminal Records’ first Record Store Day, making for a memorable kickoff. Levin says that now his customers, like many vinyl fans around the world, look forward to the day. “It’s become an international event,” he says. “That’s been very gratifying and very exciting.” The event has now grown to include stores in the U.K., Japan, Mexico, Italy, Australia, Spain and many other countries.

“We’re very much looking forward to it,” says Jim Kumpe, who owns Sweet Melissa Records of Marietta along with his wife, Melissa. “There’s no question it’s helped raise awareness about vinyl records. It was really a brilliant move that Eric and the crew came up with.”

Last year, vinyl LP sales reached sales of 13 million albums, according to Nielsen’s Year-End Report, increasing for the 11th consecutive year. But if listeners can easily download all the digital music they want, often for free or at a very low cost, then what’s behind the recent resurgence in the popularity of the old-fashioned format?

Some say vinyl has a better sound. “Side-by-side comparison on high-end gear, I think records will beat anything digital,” Kumpe says. “If you play the same thing, A to B, you’ll hear a huge difference.”

Others point out that music fans, young and old alike, will always long for the pleasures of physical ownership. “Nobody wants to look at your iPhone to see how many MP3s you have,” Cabus says. “But you walk into someone’s living room and there’s a stack of records, you’ll go flip through them to see what they’ve got. It will start a conversation. It’s something you can collect and show to other people.”

Richard Kuykendall, manager at Decatur’s Wuxtry Records, says vinyl is back simply because manufacturers have started making it again. “There have always been people that have wanted vinyl,” he says. “A lot of times when there was a new release, people would still want it on vinyl, but it wouldn’t be available. A lot of the resurgence is just because they’ve decided to make it again.”

Whatever the reason, it seems many fans just can’t get enough of spinning those vinyl records once again. “My favorite thing to see is high school students who come in with their parents, and they ask their mom or their dad which Beatles album they should buy,” Cabus says. “I look at mom and dad and say, ‘Did you ever think your kid would want your opinion on which record to buy?’ They love it.”

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