Time Travel: Record Store Day circa the 1990s

First things first, a big thank you to the Palace Inn for hosting the 1990’s equivalent of record store day.

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My friends and I looked forward to spending our parent’s hard earned cash inside your walls on an annual basis. The record conventions you housed were our musical holiday, and conveniently presented us with one of the only opportunities to eat at a Taco Bell during the year. For this one day out of the year we excitedly left our cozy suburb north of Pittsburgh to make the 45-minute trek to Monroeville (a different, lesser known-to us-suburb) that had one of the few Taco Bells in the greater Pittsburgh area and was also home to you.

All praise and glory to The Palace Inn aside, let’s get bootleg. Real bootleg.

The Palace Inn was a hotel that appeared stuck in time (1960s/70s). It was as if it had been teleported from the “off off” strip in Las Vegas and landed in Pittsburgh missing a casino and most of the glitz and glamour. Despite having no casino, there was a lot of gambling that occurred during the record conventions we attended inside it’s unmemorable ballroom. At these events, music fans could purchase a wide array of items including, KISS picture discs, overpriced rock n’ roll memorabilia, and most importantly bootlegs. Straight. Up. Bootlegs.

These bootlegs came in an array of shapes and sizes. Some were on silver CDs and looked like semi-official releases as evidenced by being on “labels” such as Kiss the Stone (KTS) and Blind Pig. Before committing to a purchase you had no idea what the sound quality was going to be, or if they were even going to be “real” concert recordings. Sometimes you would drop $30 only to own a CD of studio recordings with fake crowd noise mixed in. I quickly learned that one way to reduce the odds of a big burn was to purchase bootlegs dubbed onto cassettes. This roll of the dice typically only cost $5 to $8 and came complete with hand-written labels. As a grungy and odd 14-15 year old, I had become fascinated and fixated with MTV and “alternative” radio’s newest misfit, Beck.

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I felt a strong connection to him as he appeared to embrace his low self-esteem and poor self-image all the while managing to run it through a drum machine, a casio keyboard, a broken guitar, and finally, into a tape machine to create powerful and otherworldly sounds. I bought everything I could find in the record stores of my local mall that had his name on it (Mellow Gold, Loser EP, Stereopathetic Soulmanure, One Foot in the Grave).

As a result, whenever I went to the convention I scoured each and every table with the sole mission of finding any and all Beck bootlegs. I bought the cassette Beck: 1st Ave Minneapolis 6.29.94.

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My late adolescent eyes opened wide as I saw song titles that I did not recognize (“Colour Coordinated,” “Asskizz Powergrudge,” “Takes one to know one,” etc.). You see, I have always had reoccurring dreams about seeing, hearing, or experiencing things that did not exist in real life, but wished that they did (e.g., different flavors of Kool-Aid, a proper sequel to Rocky IV). This seemed like one of those dreams, but it wasn’t. This was reality. I could take this cassette with me out of this dream!!!! I also purchased the I’m a Schmoozer Baby bootleg and the Melkweg, Amsterdam show on cassette all from the Mellow Gold tour (1994).

As I collected more shows I began to realize that an album of unreleased music was forming (e.g., “Casio (Good Stuff),” “Brother,” “Convalescent,” etc.). Could this be the follow-up to Mellow Gold? Beck fueled my excitement for the follow-up as he introduces “It’s All in Your Mind” from the Amsterdam Show. “It’s gonna be on the next record” he drawls before launching into the song. Readers need to remember that this was pre-(mass)internet, so information about upcoming releases was often limited to Kurt Loder reports on MTV and a few magazines. I took Beck at his word and my hope continued to grow…

Unfortunately, most of these songs have not been released or recorded/released with the same energy or feel as the Mellow Gold era tour or Beck’s previous records (e.g., “Convalescent” released as “Glut” and the version of “Minus” on Odelay (both bullshit in my opinion)).

And so, to celebrate the spirit of Record Store Day pre the actual formation of Record Store Day, I encourage you to walk around any corner in America and grab some Taco Bell. Here is my record store day gift to you passed down through the hands and ears of cassette dubbing peddlers and pseudo-record labels from Europe. Here is part of what the follow up to Mellow Gold might have sounded like before Beck leaped off the bold and prolific cliff of lo-fi noise rock and folked-up hip-hop and left us in a puff of polished and contrived dust.

Enjoy,
Matt

Casio (Good Stuff)

It’s All In Your Mind (Single Version)

It’s Not Easy

Sandman

Dear Morrissey,

I love Your Arsenal.

I like to think I was raised by three things: a mom, a dad and MTV. My parents’ care shaped my character, while channel 14 on our cable box fostered my then-burgeoning lifelong love of music. For much of 1992, my version of an after school special was “Hangin’ with MTV,” a live program that invited artists into the studio to perform and take questions from the audience.

One Thursday afternoon, the show began with a quintet of retro-looking rockers playing a tune in which the singer sang affectionately to a girl he called “Fatty.” I thought, “How wacky is that? He loves her and is calling her such a name?” It was just the sort of slightly off-kilter thing that has always appealed to me in artistic expression.

The rest of the band, all as well-groomed and handsome in a 1950’s kind of way as their vocalist, played coolly behind him. After a commercial break, VJ John Norris introduced this man as Morrissey and explained that he’d be back later to play another song from Your Arsenal At that moment, my main priority in life became owning that album.

“This isn’t one of those bad tapes, is it?” my mom asked. The cassette I’d just pulled from the wall in my local mall’s music store featured a fuzzy sepia-toned image of a man, taut torso exposed, licking his one hand and positioning a microphone near his crotch with the other.

“No, see, it doesn’t have a Parental Advisory sticker on it,” I answered, my 13-year-old mind totally oblivious to the sexual innuendos oozing from the album cover. Even the title was aahemcheeky double entendre. All I saw was this cool, well-coiffed, and mononymous man, Morrissey, who mesmerised me for the first time only days before.

“Hmm, okay. Well, it’s your money,” my mom said. Still slightly suspect, she walked with me to the cash register, where I proudly purchased what I just knew was going to be my new favorite tape.

I don’t remember exactly what happened after that, but I assume that as soon as I got home from the mall, I went directly to my room, popped the tape into my boombox, and listened to it from start to finish. It’s just one of those albums whose songs are so expertly sequenced that they lead you along like a story. Two tough-edged tunes, the driving and surf-like “You’re Gonna Need Someone on Your Side” and the swaggering, “Jean Genie”-esque “Glamourous Glue” kick off the album, which veers down a rockabilly back road with “Certain People I Know” somewhere in the middle, descends into the marvelously mopey “Seasick, Yet Still Docked” and the melodramatic, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”-esque “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday,” and finally resolves with the skeptically hopeful “Tomorrow.”

Overall it’s an album that perfectly melds grittiness with glamor. The toughness of the new backing band, which had been recruited from the London Rockabilly scene, and the sonically muscular production from Mick Ronson (no duh where the Bowie inspo came from!), are balanced beautifully by Morrissey’s fay Britishness.

And it did indeed become a favorite from that day, so much so that I’ve now purchased it in three different formats over the years: cassette tape, CD, and vinyl. It’s never missed any all-time favorite records list I’ve made, and it even influences my own musical output to this day.

So, Your Arsenal, for all the aural pleasure you’ve given me, I “thank you from the heart of my bottom.”

Richard

Dear Bill Stevenson,

In the early 90s, there were few better places to discover music than the used cassette section of Record Connection. At $3 a pop, this was a cost-effective method to keep your ears busy in the pre-streaming era. I managed to dig up Fugazi Repeater, Bad Religion Against the Grain and NOFX Ribbed before finally stumbling upon one that really clicked: Descendents’ I Don’t Want To Grow Up.

After my first listen, I was hooked. A single and love thirsty teenage girl, I nearly always flipped to side two and started with “Silly Girl” and fell in love with Milo before “Good Good Things” ended. I listened to him in the morning on the bus, on the way home from school and eventually in my car. Milo was the perfect counterpoint to my nerdy, somewhat angsty art girl persona. He sported the thin, bespectacled, slightly disheveled emo look long before it came into fashion. He was in a really cool band yet somehow managed to seem accessible. AND HE SANG ABOUT GIRLS.

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“I think about you every night and day, and when I could have asked I let it slip away. I’ve got to get to know you, but I’m so afraid. Well it’s so hard to be a friend and be in love this way.” COME ON! How could I resist? Maybe someday, I thought, a guy like Milo would fall in love with me.

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So why is my letter to you, Mr. Stevenson, and not to Milo?

Descendents are one of those bands from which I never felt compelled to disassociate myself (I’m looking at you, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy). It’s a badge of honor to be a fan. People who like Descendents like them with all their heart—not only nostalgic gals such as myself but actual punk dudes.

I’ve always wondered why that was the case, and a recent viewing of Filmage answered my question. You are the man behind the magic. It seems almost obvious that someone with your passion and energy would produce music that stayed with me for decades. You poured everything you’ve got into the music and are deserving of all your loyal fans (and particularly the one who brought you back to health). My fandom has reached new levels, and I even bought my baby girl (and a friend’s baby boy) an I Don’t Want To Grow Up onesie.

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So, now that I have your attention, here’s a quick anecdote:

In 10th grade, I participated in a class trip to see Macbeth at a local playhouse. Jackie sat next to me on the bus. Jackie was captain of the soccer team, tall, thin, peppy and blonde—everything I was not. Did she want to talk? Even though I was weirdly excited someone actually wanted to sit next to me, my walkman and trusty I Don’t Want To Grow Up cassette were waiting for me.

Jackie didn’t exactly want to talk, but asked if she could listen to my music on the way back to school. Considering the contents of my walkman, I politely warned her that it might not be her thing. My warning lead to her increased curiosity so I set it up for side two (of course) and reluctantly handed it over. After side two ended, Jackie seemed a bit nonplussed and asked “Do you really like listening to stuff like that?” Perhaps she thought I was pretending in order to be different. I was not, and I’d let her into my world exactly long enough to feel exposed, embarrassed and wondering why I didn’t bring a different cassette with me. What about the Cranberries—something I enjoyed that was safe, feminine and mainstream?

I could feel my face getting red and my self-consciousness increasing by the second. Would she tell people what happened, ensuring that my classmates continued to see me as an outcast? Most likely yes, and although it stung like hell at the time, the very thing that made me an outcast as a teen makes me special(ish) now. A Milo bobblehead sat on my corporate desk for years. Everyone who came in asked who it was, and I was delighted to tell conservative men in dark blue suits all about the Descendents.

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Descendents are a reminder of how happy I am to be unlike everyone else, and for that, Bill Stevenson, I owe you a great big thanks.

Much respect,
Christine

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Silly Girl

In Love This Way

Good Good Things