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Browse, buy, listen, repeat
The intimacy of purchasing and listening to music has been dulled over the last decade, as the modern consumer browses streaming services, YouTube and the iTunes store in a frivolous search for something catchy. For those of us who still prefer the dropping of a needle, then hearing an artist’s vision in full, DC has lots in store. Lose yourself for hours at these hubs for vinyl records in the metro area. You’ll leave satisfied, records under your arm and, quite possibly, bereft of that week’s paycheck.
Crooked Beat Records
A walk along 18th Street in Adams Morgan will bring you to this cozy habitat for vinyl nuts. Walk inside and immerse yourself in new, used and rare records that run the gamut of rock and indie genres: punk, metal and pop LPs are all available, along with singles, 45s and CDs. The used section is especially ripe for picking out old favorites.
Side A: Any vinyl collector will appreciate the variety found here. You’ll find bands you’ve never heard of, bands you love and bands you loved ten years ago that you never told your friends about as well as reasonable prices galore. Check in weekly because the best new releases find their way to Crooked Beat’s shelves. Or it’s possible that rare gem you’ve been searching for may be waiting for you.
Side B: Memorabilia such as t-shirts, buttons and posters can be purchased to supplement your vinyl haul for the day. Also remember to bring in any rare records, CDs or band merch that you are looking to sell. No hair metal or mainstream ‘70s rock, please.
Crooked Beat Records, 2116 18th Street NW, 202-483-2328
Don’t jet out of Adams Morgan just yet – a stop by Smash! is a must. All forms of rock ‘n’ roll records can be found on the shelves, from classic rock to garage to hardcore. There is also a great selection of used CDs available (if you’re still into that kind of thing). You’ll be able to grab something for your punk rock snob of a brother AND your cousin immersed in his “obsessed with Led Zeppelin” phase.
Side A: Walk up the stairs and through the door and you’ll notice that the store’s favorite kind of fun involves punk/alternative music from the late ‘70s to the present. Expect the best of the best hardcore bands to be available, along with new product from the bands scorching the garage punk scene in the here and now. And yes, you’ll be able to snatch up the “hot” indie bands here as well, just don’t expect a nod of approval from the cashier.
Side B: Back up the punk rock collection with stylish clothing and shoes at Smash! Band t-shirts and accessories are for sale, as well as vintage clothing. You can punkify your feet with Doc Martens and Converse Chucks. Indie designer fashions are here too, from bracelets to button downs.
Smash! Records, 2314 18th Street NW,2nd Floor, 202-387-6274
The U Street neighborhood is full of culture, so its record store must include the most variety of any in the city, right? Right, to an alarming extent. Som features the most intriguing new releases that greet you right when you walk in the store, along with a wide selection of used and rare records perfect for any crate digger. Looking for a samba release from the ‘60s, or a reggae compilation? This is the place.
Side A: Peer at the walls and you’ll notice a stunning selection of special editions, genre collections and reissues. The used section is overflowing, with hard-to-find gems and low prices to boot. There’s a record player nearby to preview your choices, as well as a section of $1 LPs for the bargain hunters. Don’t forget to check out the t-shirt rack!
Side B: Som Records fits perfectly into a night on U Street. It’s situated near some of the most enticing restaurants in town and is a very short walk away from The Black Cat, one of the city’s premier concert venues. Grab a bite, peruse Som (it’ll have a list of upcoming shows at The Black Cat), check out a show. DC Cool itinerary complete.
Som Records, 1843 14th Street NW, 202-328-3345
Red Onion Records & Books
A record collector gets a rush from finding vinyl treasures as much as the record stores that may escape the naked eye. Tucked along 18th Street in Adams Morgan (a hop, skip and a jump away from Crooked Beat and Smash!), Red Onion may look small, but its selection is large. All eras and genres are on display.
Side A: When visiting numerous record stores, it’s the little things that set each apart. Red Onion organizes its new releases by record label (as opposed to the standard “Artists, A-Z”). This makes for fun browsing, as a particular label may have several new artists that make your ears happy. There’s a solid new release usually playing on the stereo as well.
Side B: Red Onion has a very friendly staff that is happy to assist you with any record requests or questions about their selection. There’s a great used jazz section that may require some help sorting through to find that particular album you seek. There are also rare 45s for sale, and the store is happy to appraise some records you’re hoping to get off your hands.
Red Onion Records & Books, 1901 18th Street NW #B, 202-986-2718
Joe’s Record Paradise
This mecca of a record store is located just outside DC lines and is a short walk from the Silver Spring Metrorail station. Its selection (and the variety within) of used CDs and LPs is unrivalled in the area, making it an institution, even though it has relocated five times to accommodate its immense inventory. If you’re a record collector in the DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia), not going to Joe’s is a sin. From bargains to rare punk records to ‘80s hair metal, there’s something for everyone.
Side A: The front room of Joe’s is packed to the brim with low-priced used records (yes, some are a dollar or less), posters for films, bands and television shows, a wide range of used DVDs and a glass case full of box sets and special editions. Start your migration to the back and you’ll find new releases along the way.
Side B: Prepare yourself for the expansive back room of this record paradise. The aisles contain thousands of items and there’s also a section dedicated to singles and 45s. Rock, jazz, hip-hop, electronica, classical, country, you name it – it’s here, on vinyl and CD. The rare section (make sure you ask to go in first) may dent the wallet, but the returns are always worth it. Joe’s also buys used LPs and even recycles those that are unusable. We know, right? Record. Paradise.
Joe’s Record Paradise, 8216 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring, MD, 301-585-3269
Hill & Dale Records
Georgetown now has a record store that can match the neighborhood’s sophisticated reputation. Hill & Dale burst onto the scene this past February, and its sleek, minimalist design makes perusing its selection aesthetically and intellectually pleasing. Photos and art adorn the walls, featuring stars of rock, jazz, country, punk and more.
Side A: Take a long look at the wall display next to the cash register; it is full of choice selections from all over the store, including reissues, new releases and hard-to-find gems. Also keep an eye open for limited edition box sets throughout the store. These can carry a hefty price tag, but aficionados will love all the liner notes, photographs and trinkets you just don’t get with a normal record purchase.
Side B: Most record stores want you to march from section to section, genre to genre. Hill & Dale opens things up a bit; every artist is organized alphabetically, with no care for genre, era or classification. Country Joe & the Fish can sit right next to John Coltrane. Townes Van Zandt and Violent Femmes can share a shelf in harmony. Oh, and it makes finding and buying records easier, so that’s a plus.
Hill & Dale Records, 1054 31st Street NW, Washington, DC, 202-333-5012