Boston's best record stores are a hardy bunch—while most of the city's CD-and-vinylmongers have gone the way of the dinosaurs there are still a handful that keep trucking along. It's thanks to eclectic music selections—a la Weirdo Records and In Your Ear, dedicated fans—like the rapheads you'll find atUGHH.com, and undoubtedly some dirt-cheap rental arrangements. Throw on your crate-digging gloves and embark on an aural adventure with us as we explore the shelves of the best tunesmiths in town.
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When stacks of records overflow outside a store's front door, you know you're in for a deliciously disorganized display. In Your Ear doesn't disappoint. The main location stocks 100,000 LPs and CDs, though the word "stocks" is used loosely here; crates in the aisles and a massive odds-and-ends bin feature three-for-a-buck bargains. (OMC's "How Bizarre"? Score!) The 8-track selection is uncommonly large, the magazine section has random back issues of Relix and Rolling Stone and the corner of the store is plastered with kitschy Mexican movie posters like El Regreso de King Kong. It's a glorious mess.
A place truly frozen in time, Nuggets houses VCRs for sampling videos, and the walls spotlight signatures from drop-in guests like Billy Joel and Harry Nilsson. Named after the seminal '60s garage-rock compilation, the Kenmore shop has a formidable classic-rock selection, including lots of seven-inch singles for under $3. Owner Stewart Freedman is refreshingly throwback, admitting that he hasn't updated the website in years but has considered getting “one of those Tweetering accounts.” Even among a bevy of cheap DVDs and Blu-rays, the vibe is old-fashioned and the record sleeves are all coated in a satisfying layer of dust.
Record stores have enough financial issues as it is, but try making it work when you only sell one genre. To be fair, UGHH.com—founded back in 1997 by a Northeastern business student—started on the web, and earns 90 percent of its revenue via mail-order purchases. The store is less than ideal for browsers, with computer kiosks in place of traditional rows of physical albums, but UGHH's rap inventory remains peerless. it also carries T-shirts, watches, graffiti supplies and more. Buy enough, and they might throw in a free poster. UGHH also hosts free live performances—time things right, and you might catch a drop-in from a Wu-Tanger.
If stepping into this Central Square spot feels a bit like revisiting your first post-college apartment, you may not be surprised to learn that owner Angela Sawyer ran the business out of her tiny Somerville flat until 2009. No Beatles LPs here—Weirdo specializes in experimental and foreign music, from free jazz to Indonesian psychedelia. The store sports a colorful aesthetic, with bobble-head dolls lining the shelves and sky-printed fabrics adorning the walls. Sections display un-ironic titles like “New Sixties” and every price tag is affixed with the slogan, “Get your freak on.” Sawyer occasionally crams people in for concerts that feel, aptly enough, like intimate house shows.