By Matt Pifko | @mattpifko_
It’s easy to poke fun at record collecting in 2019. After all, why are hipsters in such desperate need of these expensive plastic circles when Spotify, Apple Music, and Tidal provide literal centuries worth of easily streamable music? It’s a waste of money—straight up.
Shall I list the reasons? You need a proper (that’s code for expensive) record player to even hear a substantial difference in sound quality. Most people couldn’t even tell the difference between basic streaming quality and the high fidelity, crystal clear uncompressed vinyl sound anyway. Finally, on top of that, most modern albums aren’t even configured for vinyl.
Yes, it’s all true. And yet. And yet!!! Record collecting has become a really wonderful pastime for teens and twentysomethings, providing something of a respite from the anxious, chaotic, frenetic, intensely public social spaces of today. When I got my first record player, I was in tenth grade. Back then, collecting was a personal, lonely kind of pursuit—a way to forge a deeper connection with my most beloved albums, and moreover, an excuse to blare The Cure from the giant sound system I inherited from my aunt. It was an excuse to really sit with an album, to listen to the music and stare at the ceiling, lost in thought. To own it, physically, to hold it close to your chest and feel like it was yours and yours alone.
Now, attending college in Boston, I am connected with my fellow vinyl geeks. In fact, just about everyone here is a supposed vinyl geek. We compare collections, and we hunt through tiny shops all over the city for the best finds. More than anything, record collecting gives me a good excuse to really explore Boston, a quest to dive deep into foreign alleys and dusty basements. There’s a singular pleasure in digging through these crates for hours, patiently searching for “the one” you’ll take home, squealing with joy when you pick out an album that you and your friend love. Then, gradually, you go back to searching, both of you lost in your heads, sharing the silence like a cozy embrace. It’s the kind of comfortable connection that is increasingly hard to find in an often alienating city.
So, without further ado, here are some places in Boston I’ve used to reflect, to connect, and to dig. I’ll be rating them with the three Ps—Placement, Price, and Pretension.
Price - You can’t beat Armageddon in terms of prices. This place always offers records for the cheapest price, whether it’s a brand new Matador label release or a punk single from the D.I.Y. Boston music scene. My first time there, I stumbled upon a copy of Dig Me Out by “Sleater-Kinney” for $8. Suffice to say, I was sold.
Placement - Located in Cambridge, Armageddon is super convenient, wedged in between vegan coffee shops and barbecue joints. Just outside of Harvard Square, this place is a little hard to find, which makes it feel like more of a buried treasure. Inside, it’s a simple gray basement, filled to the brim with used records and all kinds of outre releases.
Pretension - Armageddon is, above all else, nice and quiet. Besides the owner standing behind a counter in the corner, you pretty much have the space to yourself. Perfect for exploring such a varied and well-stocked collection. This place feels uniquely authentic for Cambridge, and its emphasis on punk and metal gives it a unique feel.
Price - Nuggets fares pretty okay in terms of pricing. Definitely not the best I’ve seen, but there were some gems here or there. I picked up a great 12 inch of “Heart of Glass” for two dollars one time, and it sounds great. I’d say the prices are about average, but you shouldn’t go to Nuggets looking for deals.
Placement - Nuggets is one of the last stores in Kenmore Square with real personality. This record shop famously survived the overhaul of this area, which wiped out most of the quirky and unique businesses in Kenmore. The store itself is surprisingly large, with rows upon rows of crates.
Pretension - If you’re looking for an expansive back catalogue, Nuggets is the place to go. They have a great assortment of older rock records as well as all kinds of New Wave and the like. If you want to buy something for your dad, Nuggets is the place to go. Behind the register, there’s a very expensive signed picture of Kate Bush that I will buy one day when I’m rich and famous.
Price - For a place called Cheapo, the records are not particularly cheap. A lot of the newer records are actually quite overpriced. If you want cheap records there are definitely some to be found in the back, but most of them are worthless. This is the kind of place that tricks you into thinking you need a Kim Carnes record in your collection because it’s three dollars.
Placement - Located in Central Square near MIT, it’s pretty convenient. The T stops right near the place. This is probably the most well known independent record shop in Boston, I’d warrant. There’s a fun neon sign that looks like a record.
Pretension - This place felt indie when you were a freshman, but now, not so much. It’s definitely a solid shop, and it’s been around for much longer than half the other record shops (this place has been running since the 50s!). The owners are great people, too, with a real love for music. That said, it’s just a bit too expensive for my liking. Ironic, right?
Price - Disclaimer: I have never bought anything at this place. I couldn’t find anything that was worth the price, although I came dangerously close to buying a $25 “Sonic Youth” live album. They have some great deals on Criterion blu-rays, though!
Placement - Another one in Cambridge, this place is a short walk from Harvard. It’s a pretty quiet street, and the inside is nice and cozy. The shop isn’t organized all too well, and resembles a hallway more than a store, but the cashier and owner are quite friendly. Definitely a comfortable place for digging around, and it has good lighting to boot.
Pretension - As noted previously, the staff is kind and passionate. While I couldn’t find anything I needed when I went, they were very helpful and attentive. I would love to have a good conversation with these guys.
Price - Newbury may be a national chain now, but you can still find some good sales at its original location, not to mention the secondary shop in Cambridge. Their catalogue is pretty fairly priced, and they have a tradition of setting their most popular records at lower prices—usually around $17.
Placement - Newbury Comic is a big chain named after its original location at, you guessed it, Newbury Street. The shop is huge, with the entire basement dedicated to a vast vinyl collection. It’s well organized and labeled, although it lacks the authenticity you would find at a local record shop. There’s not much reference to the fact that this is the original location, not to mention the shop has moved away and expanded from its humble record origins.
Pretension - The least pretentious shop on this list. It has some history to it, but Newbury has been revamped, repainted, and renovated to fit the chain. There are a lot of great exclusive record packages and special color vinyl disks, and it’s probably the best place to pick up a brand new record. That said, the sense of community is clearly lacking.
Deep Thoughts JP
Price - Wow, does this place have some great deals on used records. I snatched up a copy of David Bowie’s Young Americans for $4 in great condition (“Fame” sounds so badass on vinyl, it must be said). There are a lot of obscure records for good prices, so if you have an encyclopedic knowledge of white people indie bands, this is your place.
Placement - Located in Jamaica Plains, it’s not too tough to get to Deep Thoughts (although it does require taking the dreaded Orange Line). This is definitely the coolest looking store in Boston that I’ve been to—weird neon decorations hang from strings, pop culture oddities are pinned to the walls, and then there’s the basement full of books and a small stage where local bands perform. The whole place feels like a Lisa Frank drawing if it smoked a bowl of indica.
Pretension - Speaking of indica, the entire place smells of dab pen vapor, but in a kind of comforting way. The cashier was high, or at least on something, but she amicably agreed to play the Lady Gaga “Paparazzi Remix” record I was eyeing. She then told me to look at the sunset outside because the sky was a beautiful shade of pink. And guess what…it was! Very comfortable vibes.
All in all, the Boston record scene is really a bunch of fun, especially for an eager college student wading into the waters of pretentious collection for the first time. Our humble city might not have the same volume of shops as others, but ours make up for their scarcity with their oversized personalities. Each one of these densely packed vinyl vaults will leave a lasting impression—each a little pocket of warmth, familiarity, and dusty memory. Go with friends, fill the place with smiles and laughter, and just feel the history at your fingertips.