Vinyl You Need: Amoeba Music

On April 19, 2016

Vinyl You Need calls up the people who work at record stores and asks them what records they think are essential. This edition features Amoeba Music.

In California, Amoeba Music is synonymous with independent record stores. With three locations—Berkeley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles—Amoeba supersedes the designation of a record store; each place is its own mecca and a destination location for locals and tourists, alike.

Amoeba first set up shop on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in 1990. That four-and-a-half-mile stretch, which connects downtown Oakland to the University of California’s Berkeley campus, is a cultural haven that also served as a countercultural meeting point in the years surrounding the Vietnam conflict. In 1997, the second location of Amoeba Music opened in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco—another area with a history of self-expression through music and culture. Finally, Amoeba Hollywood took over an entire city block on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles in 2001.

But what distinguishes this independent California chain from other local record stores (or even the iconic, if now-defunct Tower Records) is the sense of community it fosters among shoppers, as well as musicians. Each location hosts regular in-store performances and Amoeba also films the fun video series, What’s in My Bag?, in which musicians share what they snag when they stop by the stores.

We checked in with Amoeba’s staff editor Billy Gil to see what he thinks everyone should get on wax.

Billy Gil
Editor, Amoeba Music

Five Essential Records to Own on Vinyl

Artist: Pink Floyd
Album: Dark Side of the Moon
Reason: This is the first record that comes to mind when I think of vinyl. It’s a true experience from start to finish—no skipping necessary. Not only is it one of the best and most popular albums ever, it’s got some of the most iconic album art, as well. And that Wizard of Oz thing totally works (for the first half of the film, at least).

Artist: Cocteau Twins
Album: Heaven or Las Vegas
Reason: Shoegaze and dream-pop always sound great on vinyl. Since My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is pretty hard to find, I’d recommend the best album by the band that started that noisy, ethereal stuff to begin with. Liz Fraser’s semi-lingual dream-speak never sounded warmer, more human, over Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymonde’s paint strokes of heavily effected guitar. This was just reissued last year, so it’s easy to find.

Artist: Wu-Tang Clan
Album: Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
Reason: Hip-hop and vinyl go hand in hand, and this one of the coolest albums of any genre. It’s got lots of grainy samples from kung fu movies that sound particularly great on vinyl.

Artist: The Velvet Underground
Album: The Velvet Underground
Reason: Of course the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones are all musts, but I’d rather call out the Velvet Underground as our classic rock pick. The first two albums are groundbreaking, but this one’s just a sweet, smooth listen from start to finish. It’s the kind of album that’s perfect for lazy, rainy days; you can listen to it without doing much of anything else.

Artist: Miles Davis
Album: Bitches Brew
Reason: You’ve gotta have jazz in any record collection. While Davis’ Kind of Blue is one of the great jazz albums and usually recommended as a place to start, Bitches Brew is the kind of album you can put on to impress your friends. It’s the point at which Davis’ already pioneering style tore a hole into another dimension of sound, using innovative studio techniques and multiple percussionists the ground a center around which instrumental lightning fires in all directions.

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