Vinyl You Need calls up the people who work at record stores and asks them what records they think are essential. This edition features Charlemagne Record Exchange.
Paul Janeway, also known as St. Paul of St. Paul and the Broken Bones, owns more than 3,000 albums on vinyl. He tells me this from his Birmingham, Alabama home on the day that his soul and R&B band releases its sophomore album, Sea of Noise. As we start talking about his collection, I ask where he likes to buy records. Without hesitation, he recommends his hometown store, Charlemagne Record Exchange.
Owner Marian Rosato seems both honored by the referral, as well as proud of her store’s legacy. “Paul is so great; all of them are! They shop here and we just love ‘em!” she exclaims. “We’re too small to actually have the band play up here, but we had an autograph party for them for their first album and it was so fun.”
Charlemagne Record Exchange opened on the Southside of Birmingham in 1977. Rosato and her brother started the business with, as she describes, “five peach crates full of albums and $500. We sure did!”
Since then, the tiny store has grown—at least in stature—to become one of Alabama’s best specialty stores for used records. Plus, Rosato herself has gone on to sing in and front her own jazz group, Marian McKay and Her Mood Swings. The ensemble plays jazz standards at weddings and parties across town.
But as a community asset, Charlemagne Record Exchange remains a meeting point and source for musical folks to congregate. As Rosato muses, “I think that we’re a really positive force in the community. People come up here to socialize. And also, we are therapists! We have longtime customers who have grandchildren and It’s just a wonderful place to visit.”
Five Essential Records to Own on Vinyl
Owner, Charlemagne Record Exchange
Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: Blood on the Tracks
Reason: To me, this is Bob Dylan’s best album and it’s heart wrenching. It brings up so much emotion. It’s just heart wrenching. That’s all I can say.
Artist: Billie Holiday
Album: Greatest Hits
Reason: Every time I play this in the store, people ask, “What is that? Which one is that?” It’s hard to get. It’s just called Billie Holiday Greatest Hits on vinyl and she’s my favorite female vocalist.
Artist: Sam Cooke
Reason: Sam Cooke is my favorite male vocalist. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to get. There’s two of them—one’s live and the other is called Portrait and it’s got all his great songs on it.
Artist: The Band
Album: The Band
Reason: My brother [who co-founded the store] picked this one, so I just went, “Okay, good!” It’s just The Band! You can’t say more than thar!
Artist: Van Morrison
Reason: It’s kind of jazz, but it’s got a lot of soul to it. And the lyrics are just beautiful. “Into the Mystic” is very mystical. He kinda gets mystical on that one.