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.


  1. I'm not a fan of the phrase myself, but in your situation with that first record dealer, I would have responded with a "F*** you" as I was leaving. No call for that kind of treatment!

    At least you had better experiences elsewhere including with Ty Jesso!

  2. C'est vrai que les gens de magasins de disques sont une race à part...On se rappelle High Fidelity! Le mec de Cheapo Records me fait un peu penser aux types de l'Oblique, ici, à Montréal. Des fois c'était pas terrible. D'ailleurs, je n'y vais plus depuis des années!

  3. Hey Patrick. I wish I'd known you were coming to Boston, I could have recommended a few places, as I lived there for 20 years. Actually just relocated to Ann Arbor Michigan last month.
    Unfortunately Cheapo Records is about the second best record store in Boston. I never had any problems with the employees there, but that definitely sounds like you got a good dose of Boston attitude. Sounds like a typical Bostonian having a bad day and taking it out on someone else. One of the reasons my wife and I finally left there.

    Weirdo is a fun little place, but "In Your Ear" is the one you really should have gone to. there are two locations, maybe three. The one near Boston University is amazing. They too keep all their 45s behind the counter, but they will pull down hundreds of boxes for you if you ask. They have an amazing selection of just about any genre you could imagine, including tons of Jamaican Ska, Northern Soul, Stax, Motown, etc. Thousands and thousands of boxes of 45s in good condition for fairly reasonable prices.That's where you go if you ever get back to Boston! :)

    October 23, 2011 6:37 PM

  4. Thanks Chaz! I guess you've confirmed all my assumptions. I will definitely visit In Your Ear the next time around.