Not so long ago, if you were looking for obscure recordings or music
memorabilia, your resources were limited to the dealer ads in magazines
like Goldmine and Record Collector (my favorite ads were the
ones in GM that were both handwritten and unalphabetized)
and the dealer tables at record fairs. While these resources still
exist and continue to serve a useful purpose, web-based resources have
made life a lot easier for all of us or at least made it easier to
search for things, if not actually to find them.
The comments below reflect my own opinions and experiences. Except as noted, I've dealt personally with all these places at one time or another.
GEMM is a one-stop search-and-buy service for recorded music with
a huge worldwide dealer database. GEMM acts as middleman between you and the
dealers; you make your selections and GEMM contacts the dealers for you.
Many obscure titles can be found here, both new and used, with prices listed
for comparison. Item descriptions, however, are provided by dealers and are
often unclear or downright misleading, so caution is advised: That expensive
"import" CD might have been imported from your own country by a foreign
dealer; the 12" single you never knew existed may in fact not exist, as you
discover when it arrives and turns out to be the common 7". Track listings
are not supplied. "Backorder" is too often a synonym for "unavailable."
Some of the listed prices are minimum auction bids. GEMM imposes a surcharge
on a few items; such items are clearly identified, but I've never been able
to figure out what's special about them. It's an ambitious, if flawed,
system, but it should be the first place you look for anything extraordinary.
Sure, everyone knows about eBay, but I'm tossing in my two cents anyway.
With over two million items up for auction at any given time, I guess
it shouldn't be surprising that so many rare recordings and music
magazines show up here, but I keep being amazed all the same. Although
it is possible to score bargains here, especially on more common items,
bidders often run up prices that range from high to absurd. Sellers
sometimes play dumb when queried about track listings or other product
details. Beware of CDRs not openly identified as such; it's a
If it's in print, and not too off-the-wall, chances are excellent that
CDNOW will have it in stock for a reasonable price. If it's an indie
title with minimal distribution, you probably won't find it here ... but
it's worth checking. There's loads of information supplied about all
the titles listed, which makes this an excellent site for researching
song titles, production credits and the like.
Possibly the best selection of imports on the web, both CD and vinyl.
Prices are slightly north of the comfort zone, but not outrageous.
A potential drawback to dealing with them is that their database is not
kept up to date, and some items listed are no longer available (which
can take a month or more to determine). They claim a 98% availability
rate, but my own experience, a limited sample to be sure, suggests
a more modest percentage.
Compact Disc Europe
CD Europe has a database listing over 1,000,000 CDs and vinyl records
of mostly European (but some North American) origin. Database entries
can be sketchy, there are no track listings, it's often difficult
to tell if a particular item has any distinguishing features such as
bonus tracks or different artwork, and there are lots of apparent
redundancies. (I can't help suspecting, for example, that the $18.95
"Holland" issue of the Candy Apple Grey CD doesn't differ too
drastically from the $17.95 "Netherlands" issue.)
Garage D'Or Records
Garage D'Or owner Terry Katzman was "present at the creation" and
has maintained his friendships with Grant, Greg and Bob through
the years. The store accepts mail, email and telephone orders, and
often has Hüsker rarities in stock. It's also a good source
for Grant's material, which can be difficult to find. Terry and Bob
co-founded the Reflex Records label; Terry revived it in the late 90s
and has reissued on CD the two rare cassette compilations of Minneapolis
punk bands that were among the earliest Reflex releases. (Note: these
CD reissues, often seen at auction on eBay, remain available at a
reasonable price from Garage D'Or.)
Noted for its multipage Goldmine ads featuring fonts of a size more
appropriate for microfiche, this place has been around for a long time and
has a large, ever-changing inventory of used records, CDs and music videos.
It's a good source for promo stuff, although there's a strong bias toward
mainstream artists. Prices for many items can be inexplicably steep, but
you should always check here before placing that impulsive bid for something
you saw on eBay.
Another long-established dealer, Vinyl Ink carries a lot of obscure
indie and promo material. The website isn't fancy (no search feature),
but it's easy to navigate and you should have no trouble clicking your way
through the indexed artist list. In June of 1999 the physical store shut
its doors and the operation became restricted to mail and online orders.
Since that time the list of items for sale has not been updated, and
rumors of Vinyl Ink's total demise have been making the rounds. A great
shame if true.
Their online database is a godsend to those of us who used to squint in
vain through their print ads in Record Collector, which, it turns
out, only listed a small fraction of what they actually have available.
Lots of UK stuff here, including promos. When you search for titles by a
particular artist, links are provided to related artists (e.g., searching
for Hüsker Dü yields links to Bob Mould, Grant Hart and Sugar),
a nice feature. No track lists, but matrix numbers are supplied, so at
least you can identify items unambiguously.
Here is another good source of UK material, with a strong selection
of indie offerings. Item descriptions are accurate, but terse, so it
helps to know in advance what you're looking for. Prices are relatively
low, and shipping charges, even for overseas orders, are quite reasonable.
Eh. Strikes me as kind of a CDNOW wannabe. Their search engine is
a real dog, but they do furnish track lists, matrix numbers and some
audio clips. Prices are reasonable. Despite the name, they don't
appear to carry much non-US material.
Fast search engine, astronomical prices. Selection similar to CD Europe's,
but with Japanese imports thrown in. I haven't personally bought from
them, so my knowledge is limited to what I see on their website.
SST Records has been rumored for at least ten years to be on the
brink of collapse. Most (but not all) of the back catalog, however,
remains in print. Note the correct URL for SST (sstsuperstore.com).
Until mid-2000, someone had pre-emptively registered sstrecords.com,
but that URL now comes up as unknown.