Houston's Top 10 Record Stores 2014
It's true, Rocks Off brought you a very similar list of Houston's best record stores almost a year ago. But times change, people come and go, and information falls out of date. Mostly, there are probably tens of thousands of new Houstonians now who weren't here in February 2013, and might like to know where they can go buy some music already.
We're happy to report that none of the places on our 2013 list has shut down (that we've heard of, certainly), but wanted to be a little more scientific this time around. So we polled ye olde Rocks Off round table for their choices of the Bayou City's best places to buy music, and tallied up the scores. The results may surprise you, or they may not. Either way, we'll probably do this again next year too.
10. HALF PRICE BOOKS/SOUNDWAVES These two chain stores (or former chain, in Soundwaves' case) serve as the demarcation line between serious record geeks and our favorite oxymoron, "casual music fans." But value judgements aside, neither should be dismissed out of hand by record shoppers just because a large part of the inventory is devoted to other stuff. For the record, that's one of the biggest selections of surf and skate gear in town at Soundwaves, and all manner of non-digital content (books, LPs. CDs. DVDs, magazines) at one of the area's five Half Price locations.
But the bottom line is the bottom line: both places are inexpensive, both will buy the music you don't want anymore (within reason), and they're both apt to contain hidden treasures that might be quickly snapped up at more "serious" music stores. Stop by sometime.
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9. MUSIC TOWN Music Town is a little store in northwest Houston that's been around since 1979. It might not be the most famous store in Houston, but it has a long legacy and is filled with memories for those who grew up shopping there. Among mine are going there to buy new records from my favorite bands, or just stopping in to check out what they had in stock.
This is a place that stocks anything and sells things at good prices just for the love of music. You can find old Metallica bootlegs, the latest box sets, obscure country or the latest Lady Gaga CD there. Whatever you want, owner James May keeps it stocked, and will go out of his way to order it for you if he doesn't have it. It's a tiny store compared to a place like Cactus Music, but has a heart and soul you don't find in many places anymore.
17034 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-251-2924
8. ALLRECORDS Part of the charm of going to record stores in favor of ordering music online is dealing with the characters that occupy them. In the case of Allrecords, that character is Fred Allred. For more than 20 years, Allred has helped music lovers in his always packed store in Highland Village, after a move from its original location in the River Oaks Shopping Center.
Allred is friendly and about as knowledgable as one human gets about a variety of music, particularly jazz and classical. His choices are always impeccable and his advice spot on. Going to Allrecords not only gives you access to some outstanding music, but to one of the most underrated music aficionados in Houston.
3211 Edloe, 713-524-4900, Facebook page
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7. BLACK DOG RECORDS Black Dog Records in Bellaire is your dad's type of record store. Not necessarily that your dad would shop there -- its wide variety of records could satisfy young and old -- but that it would be the type of shop that your dad would open up and run. Its selection of records is unmatched by any other record store. Need the Beatles' "White Album"? Black Dog has three of them. David Bowie's Aladdin Sane? Four. Even for the newer stuff you rarely see at record stores these days, it's stocked to the gills.
While the store, which is planning a 16th-anniversary blowout in the weeks to come, has only been in its Bellaire location for the better part of a year and a half, the charm of the old Shepherd location has remained. When you're greeted with a "Hello, how may I help you" as soon as you open the door followed by a big friendly hug from one of its two namesake dogs, there is not many places in Houston I'd rather spend my time picking.
4900 Bissonnet Ste. 102, Bellaire, 713-522-6001, blackdogrecordstx.com
6. SCREWED UP RECORDS & TAPES As one online commenter stated, for Houston, there's NASA, the Astrodome, and Screwed Up Records & Tapes. Unfortunately the shuttle program has been scratched, the Dome is facing demolition, and the original Cullen Blvd. location of the "Screw Shop" has been closed for years. The good news is that DJ Screw's legacy continues to shine bright and bang slow over at the new Screwed Up Records in Hiram Clarke.
You can still find the close to 300 chapters of Screw's mixes for sale at the store, as well as lots of other merchandise honoring the H-Town legend. RIP DJ Screw.
3538 W. Fuqua, 713-434-2888, screweduprecords.com
5. SOUND EXCHANGE If you're looking for anything experimental, local, weird or just obscure, Sound Exchange is probably the place to go in Houston. They've got famous records and new artists too, of course, but this place's real hook is its relentless dedication to music that's off the beaten path, as well as its intense support of the local scene.
For a long time, this was the only store where I could find albums by bands like the Mathletes or Woozyhelmet, and it's got a serious selection for the Jandek collector in you. Sound Exchange also hosts a great collection of local art and zines, and no other store has yet beaten them on that front.
1846 Richmond, 713-666-5555, soundexchangehouston.com
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Chuck Roast at the Vinal Edge till
4. VINAL EDGE Chuck Roast's wonderful store Vinal Edge is Houston's go-to place for punk and metal records, but it's got something for everyone too. Whether it was at the classic Veterans Memorial location or the more recently established home in the Heights, Vinal Edge has provided a service that cannot be beat when it comes to records.
Even before the vinyl revival, it was a straggler from the old days, holding onto the dream of vinyl records and stocking extensive collections of 7" and 12" records when no one else would. It continues to thrive today in part due to the dedication of its awesome employees and commitment to stocking vinyl of all styles and eras. Not to mention, if you have something specific in mind and you can't figure out what it is, owner Chuck Roast is the man to see. This store is truly a Houston treasure.
239 W. 19th St., 281-537-2575, vinaledge.com.
Heights Vinyl owner Craig Brown
3. HEIGHTS VINYL If Black Dog would be the store your dad would open, Heights Vinyl would most certainly be the one that you would. While it still stocks the classics (with a healthy dose of the Doors and Pink Floyd), it's the penchant for rare '80s, '90s and '00s vinyl that really gets me excited when I walk through the White Oak storefront. Everything from Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam to Public Enemy and NWA is here; they somehow seem to pull in the stuff you only dream about.
And while the premium may be a little higher than most stores, Heights still leaves room to haggle with a sticker system that allows a little wiggle room at the counter, both parties can leave satisfied with a price. If you feel like digging cheaply, they also have a huge selection of dollar records that, if you can get past the million Chicago LPs in the bins, hides a few choice selections in the mix.
3122 White Oak, 281-974-1234, heightsvinyl.com
2. SIG'S LAGOON With all due respect to its bigger cousin, pound for pound Sig's Lagoon is as purely Houston as the No. 1 store on this list, which makes it an even more concentrated dose of local-music culture. As the ticket outlet for most of the shows that come through the Continental Club across the street, Sig's curates the musical spirit of the thriving "Mid-Main" block, meaning that roots music rules here (more or less), and its jazz, R&B and blues vinyl bins are especially enviable.
But you'll also find new vinyl releases, plenty of local music, reasonably priced (and actually listenable) used CDs, a very Houston-centric book section, Uncle Charlie posters, and once in a while an in-store book signing. And tying it all together is the elaborate collage covering the walls, a dizzying array of newspaper clippings, magazine covers, posters, backstage passes and more, all focused on music, Texas history or both. On top of everything else, that makes Sig's more of a pop-culture museum where you can pick up a few choice items before you head out the door.
3622-E Main, 713-533-9525, sigslagoon.com.
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A Cactus crowd awaits a Wild Moccasins in-store earlier this month
1. CACTUS MUSIC Well surprise, surprise, surprise. That's right, Gomer: Cactus won again. Although this list was hardly a one-horse race, Cactus was the hands-down winner. The Shepherd Plaza store is so central to Houston's musical goings on -- from its crowded in-store calendar to its must-read email newsletter or must-follow Twitter feed -- it's not a stretch to call it the flagship of the local music scene, because it's owned, managed and staffed by people who think about music as much as we do. Some of them also play in Houston's most popular bands.
But it's also a damn fine record store underneath all that, with the city's deepest vinyl and CD inventory -- thousands of titles strong, playing favorites with local and Texas artists -- plus all kinds of nifty accessories when gift-giving time rolls around. We're still partial to that "I'm not moving to Austin" T-shirt after all these years, and anyone who spends even ten minutes at Cactus should have no trouble figuring out why.
2110 Portsmouth, 713-526-9272, cactusmusictx.com.
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