Living as a Mod in the 21st Century

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Incomplete Guide to Finding Northern Soul and Garage in Boston

It’s hard for me to visit an American city without searching out a few record stores. But with a very limited amount of time, I could only visit the two record shops that were near the venue I was spinning at that night.

I had to settle Cheapo Records and Weirdo Records on Massachusetts Ave in Cambridge. Don’t expect me to say good things about Cheapo Records because I won’t. I’m not big on negative reviews because when I don’t like a place, I avoid the subject. But this is different. I didn’t find any good records at Cheapo. Instead, all I got was attitude from the owner. I know that record shop owners are a particular breed and are sometimes an eccentric bunch but in this case, the guy was plainly rude and arrogant.

First, don’t expect to find a listening station because there are none. But that’s not a problem since I always carry my trusty Sound Burger with me.

Second, they have an impressive 45rpm inventory (in the thousands I am told) but you don’t have access to it. No crate digging here my friends! What you do is give a list of what you’re looking for and an employee goes searching for you in the basement. They do have a couple small boxes of singles behind the counter but that’s it.

The problem is I like to discover new artists and unearth new titles. Nothing is more exciting for me then to stumble upon a label I’ve never came across before. It’s the thrill of the hunt baby! But when in Rome, do as Romans do. So I gave the owner a few rare titles from my wish list. I had nothing to loose.

-    Do you have Turnin' My Heartbeat Up by the M.V.P.s?
-    What is that? Never heard of it before.
-    It’s Northern Soul.
-    I hate Northern Soul. Can’t stand it. I don’t get why people like that crap.
-    What about Melvin by The Belles?
-    The 50s Pop group? I’ll check.
-    It’s actually a 60s garage/soul group. You might be thinking of the Blue Belles. The Belles do a female version of Gloria by… [He interrupts me]
-    No, no, it’s a sugary pop group from the 50s.
-    Well if you find any title by The Belles, you can bring them up and I’ll have a listen.
-    I don’t think you understand. (In a very condescending tone) I’m not doing 20 trips, if I go get a record, it’s because you want to buy it.
-    I’m… I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to…
-    Anything else?

I was so taken aback by his lousy attitude that my mind drew a blank. The only other title I could think of was Since I Found My Baby by The Metros. A few minutes later he came back empty handed. He asked me if I knew what label the M.V.P.s were on.

-    I don’t know. But I have it on my iPod if you want to listen to it.
-    I told you I don’t like Northern Soul. I’m just curious to know what label they recorded under. Where are they from?

Again, I was a bit flustered. English being my second language and with his Boston accent, I wasn’t certain what he had asked me.

-    Are you asking me where I’m from?
-    What, are you the M.V.P.s?
-    … Euh…I’m sorry… I… They’re American…
-    If you ever find out, can you call me and tell me?
-    I could email you.
-    I don’t do email.

Maybe there’s something about the Boston sense of humor I’m not familiar with me but is this white bearded 60 something guy pulling my leg? He actually thinks that after one the worst customer service I’ve ever experienced that he’s going to receive a long distance phone call from me? He really believes I’m going to do him a favor? You have to be kidding me!

Weirdo Records is a few blocks down the street and was a lot more pleasant. The place might be the size of a large walk-in closet but it offers a wide selection of indie, alternative and punk music. Their 7” selection can be summed up to a box of a couple dozen records of newer releases. Not exactly my type but Jonathan managed to find a few good Freakbeat compilations on CD. It was the perfect remedy for a long car ride back.

My record collecting addiction was at least satiated thanks to my DJ accomplice Ty Jesso who had brought a box of 45s to trade. I knew it would make up for the unsuccessful foray into Boston’s record stores. I have to say that I did hear good things about the In Your Ear!  shop. I regret not having had enough time to visit the place.

Here’s a list of some of the incredible tracks I got from Ty.

Tell Me When – The Applejacks – London

Indian Giver – Chuck Bernard – Satellite
My Baby Changes – The Victones – Front Page
Backwards And Forwards – December’s Children – World Pacific
Yield Not To Temptation – Bobby Bland – Duke
No Ifs, No Ands, No Butts – Mae Young – Karate

Don’t Want To Cry – The Buckinghams – U.S.A.
I Don’t Need No Doctor – Ray Charles – ABC
Keep On Running – Jimmy Bailey – Colombia

Na –Na, Hey- Hey, Kiss Him Goobye – Dave Carroll – Pan-Vox
Just A Little Bit More – The Stuarts - Ascot

On the way back to Montreal, we stopped at the Pionner Valley Flea Market in Holyoke. A few hours out of Boston, it might be worth checking out from time to time. Once again, my mate Dan Baker came through with another solid recommendation. I suggest you check out The Relic Shop. All the 45s are a buck apiece. Looking for that Motown classic or a Stax hit? Chances are you’ll find it. The conditions of the records are remarkably good.

I had a few dollars to spare but only about an hour to do the spending. So I only had time to flip through the A’s and B’s.

I snatched up less common singles at another vendor’s. He asked a few dollars more per record but the prices were perfectly reasonable.

What You’re Doing To Me – Roscoe Robinson – Wand
The Jolly Green Giant – The Kingsmen – Wand
Searching For Love – The Kingsmen - Wand

I didn’t hit any goldmines in Boston but given a bit more time, I’m sure I would’ve dug up a few more nuggets.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vintage vs. New: Shopping for Mod threads in Boston

I've been to Boston only once before. It's hard to believe since it's only about a 6-hour drive from Montreal. I would venture to say that it's probably the American city that reminds me the most of home. Packed with great restaurants and boutiques, it's a shopper's paradise.

Being there for only a long weekend, I had to plan my shopping schedule carefully. Luckily, my travel companions Cynthia and Jonathan are seasoned bargain hunters.

Our first destination was the trendy Newbury Street.

A stop at the Ben Sherman store (154 Newbury St.) was in order to have a look at the new fall collection. There was nothing to get overly excited about but I did end up leaving with a classic red polo that had sleeves a lighter shade of red. At 70% off, it was going to make the trip back with me. I was disappointed they didn't have their fragrances in stock. Being an eau de cologne fanatic, I wanted to add one of their scents to my collection.

I have to give them credit for their stunning decor. A lot of thought went into the design of this 2-storey store.

Speaking of great looking shops, Goorin Bros. is well worth a look. This company is one of the few hat makers that make a short-brimmed trilby and porkpie. I bought one in New Orleans last year and can attest to their quality.

Jonathan looking dapper.
A few doors down you'll find the English clothing brand Barbour. Not typically Mod, they have a small selection of smart button-down shirts that would fit perfectly in any Mod wardrobe. 

But if you're looking for a wide range of high quality shirts, all you need to do is to walk a few blocks more to the impressive Brooks Brothers store (46 Newbury St.). Enter the Ivy League side of the Mod spectrum with 3 stories of my favorite American clothing label.

I was attracted to a very Mod looking tie pin displayed on a mannequin. But when I learnt of it's 120$ price tag, I resigned myself to living without a pure silver tie pin for a while longer.

Another shop worth seeking out is Hootenanny (36 John F. Kennedy Street). Situated a stone's throw from the prestigious Harvard University campus, it offers all your Mod friendly brands: Fred Perry, Ben Sherman, Levis, etc. I passed on an affordable 35$ pair of tan Warrior dessies. I'm a snob when it comes to my desert boots and only wear Clarks. Although they looked very close to the Clarks, I'm partial to the originals. I didn't leave empty handed. A fine pair of charcoal slim fit Levis made it's way into my suitcase.

The next day, we took the vintage route. Boston being the quintessential Ivy League town, my hopes were high. Under the guidance and expert recommendations of local Ace Face Dandy Dan Baker, we had a few addresses to visit. He first suggested we check out Bobby from Boston (19 Thayer Street).

Nestled in the hip South End neighborhood, the shop is not a place for sore eyes. It's like stepping back in time. The attention to detail would satisfy any Mod's highest standards.

Like any vintage store, you need a bit of luck and a good eye. It's hit or miss. If you happen to find something you can't live without, it's usually not your size. A vintage boating jacket had caught my eye but it was too small and the 495$ price tag was simply ridiculous.

Cynthia modeling a pink Baracuta Harrington
 I had better luck at the The Garment District. Less high end, they must survive on sheer volume. The place is huge! It's one of the biggest vintage clothing stores I ever been to. The prices are a fraction of what you would pay at Bobby's. The discovery of the day had to be this navy 3-button Brooks Brothers jacket. The golden buttons alone were worth the 11$ price I paid for it.

On the first floor, you can buy clothes by the pound.
Cynthia bought this great Ben Sherman jacket
 I also found a vintage piece I had been looking for, for a while now. This well-preserved satin smoking jacket would make Hugh Hefner proud.

I can already picture myself sipping a martini while lounging around listening to a Mose Allison record reminiscing about the wonderful time I had in Boston.