Today, as we all know, is Black Friday. People satiated from a Thanksgiving supper of starches and carbohydrates are searching for and buying great, once-in-a-lifetime deals that will soon be wrapped and gifted.
Randy’s Records near downtown Salt Lake City is having its own Black Friday sale, though it didn’t open at midnight, just its normal hour, 11 a.m. But there will likely be a line around the block by the time the shop opens for business, because up to 500 specialty vinyl records will be on sale for the first time, with possibilities including:
• A Blind Boys of Alabama, Jason Isbell and John Paul White (of The Civil Wars) collaboration.
• A Cheap Trick box set.
• Special, limited releases from Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Duran Duran, Dawes, Flaming Lips, Paul Simon, Jack Johnson, Grateful Dead, U2, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Lady Gaga, Metallica, Nas, Uncle Tupelo, Miles Davis, The Clash, Nirvana, Roy Orbison and The Rolling Stones, among many, many more.
And you might have thought the record industry was dead.
An outgrowth of Record Store Day, Black Friday — officially known as Back to Black Friday, in honor of the classic AC/DC record — sales are proliferating around the nation, with record companies seeing the purchasing power of people who want the best music listening experience available today: vinyl records.
According to a 2013 industry report, vinyl record sales in 2012 hit their highest point since 1997, and there was $171 million in global vinyl sales in 2012, up 52 percent from the year before.
“Listening to a record is like going to a really nice restaurant,” said Randy Stinson, who has been running his namesake store since Oct. 13, 1978. “Listening to CDs is like going to a fast-food restaurant.”
Days for record stores • The first Record Store Day was in 2007 to celebrate nearly 1,000 independently owned record stores nationwide and thousands of similar stores internationally. Held the third Saturday in April, it is the most profitable day of the year at Randy’s and similar independent record stores. The day was such a success that on the Friday after Thanksgiving, the same record stores celebrate the unique culture and independence they share. There were approximately 10 special Record Store Day releases in the first year. Now, there are hundreds of special releases on Record Store Day and on Black Friday. And you can’t find those special deals at big-box retailers.
Randy’s Black Friday sale follows the success of the weekend of Nov. 23, when the store held its 35th-anniversary sale. In a warehouse across the street, more than 7,000 records were unveiled to the public, some for the first time. Each was $1. The store holds a warehouse sale every six months or so.
And every single day at Randy’s, about 100 records are added to the racks, ensuring that customers become loyal customers, many of whom like to stop by once or twice a week, looking for records that will fill gaps in their collections. Just as people used to buy CDs of their favorite LPs, now more and more every year do the opposite.
Yes, Randy’s sells some CDs and cassettes, and new releases — Justin Timberlake’s two albums have been flying off the shelves this year — but it is the thrill of the hunt for classic vinyl in mint condition that makes the shop an institution in Utah.
So what is it about vinyl records that inspires devotion in increasing numbers?
Divinyls • For one, it is about the sound. An example is when you listen to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” for the first time on vinyl, after spending your whole life listening to it on a cassette or CD. With the record grooves vibrating, you can hear the potency and vibrancy of each instrument in that epic song. On a great sound system, it sounds as if the recorder is in the same room as you. On Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore,” you could swear that Jimmy Page was playing the mandolin right next to you. “It’s as close to real as you can get,” said Chris Copelein, assistant manager.
Analog (vinyl) and digital recordings are very different. Original sound is analog by definition. Also, by definition, a digital recording is not capturing the complete sound wave, as an analog recording does. Digital recordings are only approximating the complete sound wave. In addition, a vinyl record has a groove carved into it that mirrors the original sound’s waveform, and the result is what audiophiles call a “warm” sound.
Sound is the most important factor in choosing vinyl over digital recordings, but it’s not the only thing. Records come in a much larger package, complete with liner notes and artwork that often has more imagination than the music. Would the cover of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” have had the same impact if it had been issued on CD first? Would Pearl Jam’s “Vitalogy” album have the same affect if its accompanying faux-health booklet were issued inside a cassette? And would The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” album lose some of its drama if it lacked the bona-fide zipper on the pants pictured on the cover?
Another value of the vinyl record is, well, the value. “Records hold their value,” said Kris Rounds, assistant manager. “You can treat it as an investment.”
Consider that recent sales at Randy’s Records include a $1,000 factory-sealed “White Album” from The Beatles and an $8,000 test-pressing edition of one of Stinson’s favorite records of all time, Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks.” Both are expected to increase in value as time goes by, much like baseball cards.
Paul Helms, of Murray, came into Randy’s Records last week hoping to fill holes in his collection. He is a wedding DJ on the side, and collecting records is a hobby, something he has done at Randy’s since he moved to Salt Lake City in 1999. Under his arm was “Sticky Fingers” — complete with the real zipper.
Another customer was Tim Buys, who recently moved to Salt Lake City after living in Amarillo, Texas. With Justin Townes Earle and Roots vinyl albums in his hand, he tried imparting the importance of vinyl to his 3-year-old daughter, Morgan,but she only appreciated one aspect of records: “I like when it spins,” she said. “I like to spin, too.”
Summer of ’69 • Stinson came up with the idea of opening a record store while stationed in Vietnam in 1969.
Once home in Salt Lake City, he bought an old house in the Avenues, intending to turn it into a record shop. But zoning rules changed, blocking Stinson from opening a shop in the neighborhood. Over the years, he continued to buy and collect records.
Stinson finally opened his shop in 1978, and he has been in business ever since, although there were times when he came close to bankruptcy, he admitted. His two biggest regrets in life are the two records he wishes he had held on to, but at the time, he needed cash to pay the bills as the CD market started encroaching on his business in the dark days of the 1980s.
The first record was a rare Beatles single with the A-side “Anna” and the B-side “Tell Me Why.” A record collector bought it off Stinson for more than $10,000.
The second was an equally rare early Beatles record, titled “Introducing … The Beatles,” that contained the tracks “Love Me Do” and “P.S. I Love You.” That, too, sold for more than $10,000.
Stinson still remembers the first record he ever bought. It was a copy of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk,” an instrumental steel guitar-based song. Now, there are scores of cardboard boxes in his back office — more like a warehouse — still waiting to be processed and put into circulation. Stinson estimates he has 200,000 albums in his collection, with all except a very few to be on sale at one point or another. Those very few might involve The Beatles.
Make Randy an offer he can’t refuse, but I want to warn you: He isn’t as hard-up for cash as he used to be.
Randy’s Record Shop
Where • 157 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City; 801-532-4413; email@example.com
When • Tuesday–Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m to 6 p.m.; closed Sundays and Mondays
Randy Stinson’s desert-island artists