Record Store Review: A-1 Records
The East Village is the best place in the New York metro area to shop for vinyl. Not Greenwich Village, not Williamsburg, not [fill in your favorite neighborhood here]. At this point in my vinyl shopping experience I’m not afraid to make that bold statement with conviction. One more time: if you must choose one neighborhood to spend a day shopping for vinyl, choose the East Village. And if it’s the best place in NY, it must at least be arguably the best place in the United States and even the world. That’s right London, you heard me San Francisco – bring it on!
With that in mind, there are three stores that I believe make up the holy trinity of East Village record shops. I’ve already covered the first two, Other Music and Kim’s Video & Music. Today I will complete the trinity and review the third, A-1 Records. When I reviewed Kim’s, I mentioned that “I’m not saying that Other Music isn’t hip – as discussed, I love the culture they’ve created – just that if it’s a true East Village experience you seek, you need to go further east, preferably to either of my favorite NYC shops, Kim’s Video & Music or A-1 Records.” In terms of atmosphere, I think that the further you go east (A-1 is just off Avenue A, Kim’s is on 1st Ave.) the grittier you get. My East Village trinity is like a set of brothers – Other Music is your cutting edge, skinny-jeans and thumb-ring wearing hipster with 2-day stubble and a proper day job. Kim’s has plastic-framed glasses, a full beard and an ironic baseball cap, and may or may not be wearing the same flannel shirt he wore yesterday. A-1 is wearing a knit beanie (even if it’s summer), hasn’t shaved in weeks (maybe months), and has piercings in places you wouldn’t think to pierce. OM cares what you think and it shows; Kim’s acts like he doesn’t but he really does; A-1 truly doesn’t give a sh*t.
Now that you’re halfway through a record store review that has told you nothing useful, how about some reasons why I love A-1 (other than the atmosphere)? Like most shops, A-1 sorts its vinyl by genre and then alphabetically; unlike any shop I’ve ever been to, one of those genres is “New Wave, NoWave, Alt., Indie.” While known primarily for its extensive hip-hop, funk/soul and disco selections – and rightfully so – there is a misconception that A-1 fails when it comes to rock music. On the contrary, I like A-1 because there is no other store that properly distinguishes classic rock, punk/hardcore, and the aforementioned alternative music category, where I spend most of my time. The quality of their selection in this category varies; 12” singles – the enemy of many vinyl collectors – are impossible to avoid because A-1 caters first and foremost to a DJ clientele, but it is not a wasteland of bad rock music either. I’ve found that it was well worth my time to carefully flip through the section, as once you get past all the Depeche Mode and R.E.M. 12” singles you may find an original Bikini Kill, White Stripes or Young Fresh Fellows pressing (each of which I have found there). And while the quality (and prices) may not always appear to be ideal, I’ve never personally gotten a bad record, there are multiple listening stations available to test any of the vinyl before purchase, and prices can be negotiated, especially if you’re buying a lot.
Unfortunately, because A-1 doesn’t rely on the indie/rock crowd, the turnover in that section isn’t great. On more recent visits, I’ve taken to only looking through the new arrivals bin and avoided the deeper genre-specific areas. I guess there are only so many times I can see those same Depeche Mode singles. It’s also worth mentioning that their cheap ($1-2) records stored in crates outside have lots of quality names if not necessarily hard-to-find gems, such as albums by Squeeze, the Police, Michael Jackson, the Moody Blues and Barry White.
Honestly, as far as proper reviews go, I realize that I’m doing a poor job of conveying why I really like this store. My ratings below aren’t great and neither are the Yelp ratings or commentary. (In fact, the Yelp reviews, like my own, are wildly all over the map – inconsistently very positive, very negative or middling, with little consensus about anything.) This is just one of those places that you have to experience and decide for yourself what camp you fall into. So much of this store is about whether you enjoy the experience itself when it comes to record shopping (I obviously do) – no place pulls off the feel needed for that experience quite like A-1. And though I’ve never believed that a picture really is worth 1000 words, I think that in this case the photos of the store that I’ve included may be more descriptive than my 1000 word review could possibly be. So if nothing else, I hope that they convince you that A-1 is worth a try. (Click on any of the pics to enlarge them and click on this pic and zoom in to get a good full-view image of the store.)
Bottom line: A-1 Records is ideal for fans of Hip-Hop, Funk/Soul, Jazz, Disco, and other DJ-favorites, but is better than its reputation suggests for rock/indie too. If you enjoy the vinyl-collecting experience you must go here at least once; you won’t be disappointed. Whether you return is up to you.
- Sells used, new, or both: Used
- Genres: Hip Hop, Funk/Soul, Disco, Jazz, Classic Rock, New Wave/Indie/Alternative, Punk/Hardcore
- Non-vinyl for sale: Nothing
- Selection: 5 out of 10 (might be different for non-rock categories)
- Price: 5 out of 10
- Atmosphere: 9 out of 10 (not a “10” only because sometimes the staff can be a bit unfriendly)
- Ease of browsing/shopping: 6 out of 10
- Used vinyl condition: 8 out of 10
- Yelp rating: 3.5 stars