Online Resources

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 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.
eBay 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 common trick.
CDNOW 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.)
Vinyl Vendors 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.
Vinyl Ink 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.
Vinyl Tap 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.
Action Records 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.
CD World 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.
Music Imports 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 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 ( Until mid-2000, someone had pre-emptively registered, but that URL now comes up as unknown.