The two main record stores in Campustown back in the late 80s/early 90s were Record Service and Record Swap. Both were on Green Street, the main east-west drag through the university, between 6thand Wright in Champaign. They targeted different audiences, by and large. Record Service, on the south side of Green, was the larger, more conventional store, selling exclusively new product. The focus was on mainstream rock and jazz, but there was also a classical store, Figaro’s, upstairs. They had maybe thirty feet of street frontage and a distinctive blue awning that displayed the logo you see above. Record Swap, on the other side of the street, offered more indie/alternative stuff and had a brisk resale business. To get to it, you had to ascend a narrow flight of stairs and make a hard turn at the top. The aisles were much narrower at the Swap, and they also sold incense, beads, and the like; it reminded me a little of Cut Corner Records in Lexington. It didn’t take long after my arrival in Illinois to check both out, though at the beginning I spent more time and money in Record Service. Other shops were in operation during those years, two-to-three blocks west on Green, but the Service and the Swap got most of my business. When the retail music scene convulsed in reaction to the arrival of online stores and later streaming, the two business responded in different ways, too. Record Service was shuttered in 2004, but Record Swap lives on, though in another location not so near to campus.
My musical tastes had been evolving/expanding beyond strictly Top 40 during college, and that definitely accelerated in the C-U years. My acquisitions that first fall of grad school perhaps show where I’d been and point a little toward where I was going. Let’s take a brief look at what was added to my collection around then, how about it?
REM, Lifes Rich Pageant
I won this from WPGU in my first weeks there by being the right caller. While I was a little late to the REM scene, I already had Reconstruction of the Fables by this point and was elated to get the newest release for free. I really like the muscular opening one-two punch of “Begin the Begin” and “These Days.” I’ve always thought the marvelous “Fall on Me” deserved a much higher chart peak than #94, and “Superman” is just plain awesome.
Talking Heads, True Stories
There was also a one-screen movie theater in the same block as the record stores, and I saw quite a few films there. One of the first was David Byrne’s True Stories, which I recall being enjoyable enough if plenty quirky (it was also my introduction to John Goodman). I was all about the Heads in those days and this was an easy purchase. I spent much of the fall (successfully) willing “Wild Wild Life” onto AT40, but tracks like “Love for Sale,” “Puzzlin’ Evidence,” “People Like Us,” and “City of Dreams” ran through my head over and over that fall, too. I’ll agree with the consensus that this isn’t quite as good as Little Creatures, but it’s far from bad stuff.
Joni Mitchell, Ladies of the Canyon
As I said back in July, I picked this up as a result of hearing it in the summer of 85 while visiting my cousin, a big Joni fan, in MA. Side one is completely aces: “Morning Morgantown,” “For Free,” and “Conversation”—mercy! I definitely prefer the studio take of “Big Yellow Taxi” that’s here to the live version that Casey played in early 75. On the other hand, I’ve long found her version of “Woodstock” far too plodding.
“Set Me Free” had been a big favorite in the spring of 80 and put me on the lookout for subsequent material from them. I hadn’t plunked any filthy lucre down on any of their stuff, though, until I saw this compilation at Record Service. What pushed me over the edge? Two songs: “Crybaby,” with its “96 Tears”-like intro, had caught my attention a couple of years earlier, and “Feet Don’t Fail Me Now,” for its buggy video, which I’d seen on one of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “AL-TV” specials. The other tracks are mostly only okay, so those two remain my go-to songs on it.
The Lover Speaks, The Lover Speaks
I was utterly entranced when I first heard “No More ‘I Love You’s,” from the British duo The Lover Speaks, on WPGU early that fall. It might be my single favorite song from the last half of 86. I picked up this cassette before too much time passed. The lead track, “Every Lover’s Sign,” is pretty good, but there wasn’t too much else I found all that exciting. Annie Lennox reached #23 in 95 with a cover of “No More ‘I Love You’s.” It didn’t grab me nearly the same way the original had, though I applaud her good taste (and get this—the B-side was “Ladies of the Canyon”).
Steely Dan, Greatest Hits
Soon after graduation, a bunch of my college friends started circulating a “chain letter” amongst ourselves. Somehow we settled on an order; the first person on the list wrote to the second, who added their own letter before forwarding it on to the third, etc. When it got to me, I had the genius notion of including a mix tape of stuff that was currently catching my fancy (I’ve long been bad about inflicting “my” music on folks). I wish I had written down the set list, but I do know it included “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” from the pressed-in-Portugal copy of Steely Dan’s double album Greatest Hits I’d bought on the cheap that fall. I sent the letters and the tape on to Mark, the next on the list, who was now back in St. Louis. He got it and did his part, but the package got lost on the way to the next one in the chain. That was the end of that. I can’t help but feel largely responsible for adding something that might require more than just a large envelope.
Lone Justice, Shelter and Suzanne Vega, Suzanne Vega
This was a pair of late-in-the-semester purchases that I took back with me to KY over the Christmas break for further listening. I didn’t have the debut LP from Lone Justice yet, but I’d liked what I’d heard well enough to give the follow-up a shot. Shelter is pretty good; I’d pick the title song, “Belfry,” and “The Gift” as the best tracks. It’s missing the country-rock vibe of the first album, though, which makes it a somewhat lesser effort overall. I wrote some about Suzanne Vega a couple of months ago. It’s still one of my favorite albums of all time.
Babys, Anthology and Heart, Passionworks
I got both of these in a discount bin at Record Service. I bought the former not only for the two big singles, but also tracks I’d heard over the years like “Turn and Walk Away” and “Midnight Rendezvous.” Good stuff. The attraction of the latter was not just “How Can I Refuse” but also “Allies,” which was still getting play on WPGU. I liked Heart plenty from “Crazy on You” to “If Looks Could Kill,” but their early 80s stuff is the least intriguing of the bunch. Passionworks was perhaps one purchase that would’ve been OK not to make.
David + David, Boomtown
I listened to this a bunch that first year in Illiniland; it’s a mighty fine album. I featured one of its tracks, “Swallowed By the Cracks,” almost exactly one year ago, and I semi-promised then to use “Welcome to the Boomtown” as a PastBlast track when I had the chance. Semi-promise fulfilled! It’s debuting at #40 on this show, and would get three positions higher. Even though Miss Christina and Handsome Calvin are denizens of sunny LA, hearing this song always brings to mind cold, cloudy, windy late autumn days. The wailing guitar at the beginning and end of the tune only adds to that feeling.