Vinyl Destinations Music: From Towson to Forestville, used record stores offer second chance for LPs, 45s and CDs.

UP FRONT

March 05, 1998|By Jarrett Graver | Jarrett Graver,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

In today's shrink-wrapped, fiber-optic world, few know the pause. Many have forgotten it. It's that inspired half-beat after a phonograph's arm swings out in a short half-arc, but before the needle drops into the expectant grooves spinning as slow and sure as a Marvin Gaye ballad.

Except for the most die-hard of vinyl advocates, the majority of serious music fans boxed up their turntables years ago, instead embracing the cleaner sound and quicker gratification of compact discs.

But, if you buy into the old truism that everything shunned eventually resurfaces into the cultural wellspring as retro-hip -- think lava lamps -- then it's only a matter of minutes before Rolling Stone runs a "record rebirth" or "trendy turntable" piece. So dust off your old Akai or Fisher original, and prepare to replenish your vinyl collection by venturing to the many area stores that deal in 12-inch memories. Here are just some stores to check out for those old records or even those early CD releases that are difficult to find.

A place to start is the home office branch of Record and Tape Traders, 734-36 Dulaney Valley Court, Towson. 410-337-0002. Hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m. and Sundays noon-6 p.m. It is a sort of regional Sam Goody, but with vast vinyl holdings. Record and Tape Traders has flourished with over a half-dozen local franchises. New and used CDs are how the stores pay their gas and electric bills, but any store that carries a pristine copy of Elvis Costello's stellar 1986 album "King of America" for only $6.99 has to be at or near the top of any album hunter's list.

The records are split into two categories at this location. "Collector's Vinyl" comes replete with handsome plastic slipcovers and pricetags ranging from $5.99 to more than $20. The discount bins throw at the discriminating consumer for a dollar or two such vintage schlock as "Pac Man Fever" and Foreigner's "Head Games."

The employees' matching red shirts smack of chain-store chic, but the tequila-flavored lollipops sold near the cash register more than make up for this mainstream concession.

If you want to paint your vinyl fixation with a thin coat of intellectualism, then head to Normal's Books and Records, 425 E. 31st St. 410-243-6888. Call for hours. This is a bohemian oasis that allows you to browse through albums while surrounded by musty copies of Faulkner and Joyce. Normal's smells like your grandmother's attic, the way any good record shop should. Housed in a delightfully broken-in building on the interesting end of 31st Street, Normal's is mainly concerned with peddling second-hand books while soft jazz lilts in the background, but its moderate-sized vinyl collection holds some real treasures. Folk, soul, spoken-word, classic rock and punk are all well represented, while the Progressive rock/'80s New Wave section is practically second to none. Prices are ridiculously affordable, with most selections under $10 or $12.

One of the mainstays of the Baltimore record scene is Record Collections, 523 N. Charles St. 410-528-1616. Hours are 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Located across from Louie's Bookstore Cafe in a shop sunken below street level, Record Collections has been an institution on Charles Street since the early '70s and has probably the most eclectic 12-inch record collection in the area, with the mid-'80s rappers the Fat Boys rubbing elbows with Debussy and Bach.

A small nod to progress has been made with a modest-sized CD bin, but this certainly doesn't diminish the charm of this shop's extensive caches of classical, rock, jazz and soul vinyl. A whole table of records along the back wall is priced at $1 and includes impressive fare like a slightly worn copy of the Police's "Synchronicity," though you should expect to pay close to $50 for an original edition of Frank Zappa's first album. Store manager Marquita Edwards specializes in rare and hard-to-find items, evidenced on a recent visit when she proudly presented one customer with a scarce album by German art-house legends Kraftwerk.

Nestled right in the bustling thoroughfare of Fells Point is Flashback, 728 S. Broadway. 410-276-5086. Call for hours. An engaging hodge-podge of mothballed magazines, novelty gifts, goofy postcards, coffee-table books and, of course, records, Flashback is deliciously unique and well worth the time of any serious vinyl freak. With a signed picture of Ricki Lake and a profoundly disturbing photo/mural of Edith Massey staring down from the walls -- one of the proprietors is an old friend of John Waters and if prodded has some stories to tell -- patrons are free to skim through the charming record stalls that are fit to burst with an assortment of sensibly priced -- it's a rare album that's more than $10 or $12 -- '60s, '70s and '80s classics.

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