musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘CD shops’

Victoria Music in Kuala Lumpur

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During my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur I spent a lot of time browsing the CD shops in town. Unlike in Bangkok, where it’s become nearly impossible to find good back catalog or anything other than mainstream new releases, there are several shops in Kuala Lumpur offering a very good selection of CDs and even some vinyl records. I may be one of a vanishing breed, but I vastly prefer shopping for real CDs, as opposed to downloading songs or buying stuff online. Okay, I’ve worked in retail since the late 1970s, so I’m biased, but I still think that nothing compares to the experience and ambience of shopping in a well-stocked store, and thankfully in Kuala Lumpur they have those in abundance!

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I think it’s safe to say that the Rock Corner chain of stores have the best selection of CDs in the KL area. I went to their branches in KLCC (next to the famous Petronas Twin Towers), Mid Valley Megamall, 1 Utama, The Curve, Subang Parade, and Bangsar Village, the latter branch having my favorite mix of new releases and older titles, plus the employees are all very nice, and the in-store music that they play is always interesting too. In some shops you invariably encounter a metalhead, hip-hop fanatic, or even someone who still worships Kenny G, but the employees at the Rock Corner Bangsar branch have much better taste in music!

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Another good chain in town is Victoria Music. I always visit their branches at the Amcorp Mall in Petaling Jaya and in Sungai Wang Plaza in the Bukit Bintang area. I stumbled upon both stores by accident initially, but I now go out of my way to visit them, finding that, like the Rock Corner stores, they have a good mix of new releases and back catalog. The young woman who works at the Amcorp Mall branch is always very friendly and invariably recommends something I had not thought of or had overlooked during my bin browsing. She is one of those retail wizards who know exactly what they have in stock.

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Both Victoria Music and Rock Corner also have a good selection of these new mini-boxed sets of CDs that WEA and Sony have been putting out the past couple of years. These sets include 4 or 5 entire albums by a single artist (dozens of popular names, such as Hall & Oates, Bill Withers, Fleetwood Mac, Foghat, Young Rascals, X, Chicago, George Duke, George Benson, and many, many more) all housed in cardboard sleeves and packaged inside a sturdy box. But the best thing is that they are priced not much more than what it would cost you to buy a single disc, so they are great bargains indeed. For some reason I never see any of these special CD sets at the shops in Bangkok and if check online at sites like Amazon they are quite expensive. But not in KL!

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During my shopping spree I found a ton of new music from the likes of Broken Bells, Robert Cray, Blood Orange, Bombay Bicycle Club, Capital Cities, Mazzy Star, Tory Y Moi, Paul Heaton, Low, Temper Trap, White Denim, Eddi Reader, and My Morning Jacket. And I bought plenty of older goodies from The Hollies, The Turtles, Peter Green, Crown Heights Affair, Solomon Burke, Husker Du, Willie Nile, Robin Trower, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and The Troggs, Gordon Lightfoot, oodles of cool compilations, and many more than I want to list!

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Another cool thing about the Amcorp Mall, in addition to Victoria Music and the giant Book Xcess store, is their weekend “Flea Market”. This indoor market features several dealers that sell affordable secondhand CDs, DVDs, and vinyl records. Some dealers even have Star Wars memorabilia and other collectible items. Something for everyone!

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Stiff Records

Stiff Records billed itself as “the world’s most flexible record label” and during their glory years from the mid 1970s through the early 1980s they released dozens of excellent and influential singles and albums. Artists such as Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Devo, The Damned, Lene Lovich, Rachel Sweet, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, and Madness were among the most famous, but digger deeper into the Stiff archives and you’ll be rewarded with even more amazing music from The Members, Wreckless Eric, Tracey Ullman, Any Trouble, and many others. Call it punk, new wave, indie, alternative rock, or just plain pop, but the recordings on Stiff were mostly very good and definitely very influential.

 

In addition to the music, Stiff was notable for their bold, and sometimes bawdy, advertising slogans. In print, and especially on those omnipresent buttons and badges, it was hard to ignore jewels such as:

“If it ain’t Stiff it ain’t worth a fuck”

“Stiff’ll Fix It”

“If they’re dead, we’ll sign ‘em!”

Fuck Art, Let’s Dance!”

“Money Talks, People Mumble”

“We Lead Where Others Follow but Can’t Keep Up”

 

Yeah, there was no other record label quite like Stiff!

 

When I was in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year, I was delighted to find a two-disc set called Born Stiff: The Stiff Records Collection at one of the Rock Corner shops. This CD has the usual Stiff suspects plus obscure tracks from the likes of Pink Fairies, The Tyla Gang, Larry Wallis, Billy Bremner, The Yachts, and The Sports. Some of my very favorite songs of that era are included: the rollicking “Swords of a Thousand Men” by Tenpole Tudor; Kirsty MacColl’s brilliant version of Billy Bragg’s “A New England”; Jona Lewie’s nifty “You’ll Always Find me in the Kitchen at Parties” (a good tune, and one of the best song titles ever!); Lene Lovich’s faithful cover of “I Think We’re Alone Now”; The Belle Stars Motown-like nugget “Sign of the Times”; and Graham Parker & The Rumour’s bitterly brilliant “Mercury Poisoning.” Stiff Records pretty much came to a grinding halt in 1986, but was resurrected two decades later, and this collection contains three tracks from 2008, including a wonderful song from Chris Difford of Squeeze and a nice new tune from Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby. She was so good that he married her!

 

About the only knock I can make about this collection is the absence of two very good artists: Ian Gomm (who had a big hit with “Hold On” and wrote some songs with Nick Lowe too) and the underrated/overlooked New York band Dirty Looks. Instead, we are offered a Motorhead track that seems woefully out of place, along with the puzzling “England’s Glory” by Max Wall. There are also a few tracks on this collection that sound dated or just plain dull; I never was a fan of Yello’s novelty-like tune “I Love You,” and while I like Devo very much, the version of “Jock Homo” on here sounds like it was recorded in a well. For the most part, however, Born Stiff is a great listening experience: fascinating collaborations, singular brilliance, and myriad moments of musical magic.

 

The Decline and Fall of the Music Business

I recently read a thought-provoking book about the music business called Appetite for Self-Destruction by Steve Knopper. The book, sub-titled “The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age,” attempts to explain why the music biz went to hell so quickly and what, if anything, can be done to keep the industry from totally imploding. The author takes the major labels to task for failing — or rather, waiting too long — to take advantage of Internet technology and selling downloads of music to customers. Instead, of course, many people discovered the ease of free downloads and got hooked on that “service” instead. Naturally, the author cites the dramatic advances in technology and the equally dramatic rise in illegal downloading as the biggest reasons for why the music labels saw their profits evaporate nearly overnight. But he also cites the obliviousness of the executives at the major labels as another factor.

Let’s face it; what we are seeing now is a generation of thieves who don’t have the slightest bit of remorse about obtaining music for free. These kids have grown up with the Internet and think nothing of downloading songs and not having to pay for it. Thanks to the wide availability of free files, music has been devalued to the point that most of the kids nowadays would never think of paying money for it. They might think that they are “sticking it to” the big, bad corporations, but what about the artists who make the music?

 

Of course the advances in technology and Internet access created an entire new culture of bootlegging, but I think that’s only part of the problem. In this digital age, not only is there a mind-numbing variety of new products to spend your money on, but the whole culture and the way that people spend their free time has changed. The masses are now more mobile, and are easily distracted; constantly multi-tasking and not really taking the time to focus on things like they used to. Attention Deficit Syndrome is all the rage. How many of these people have time to sit at home and listen to an entire CD without interruption? Oops, gotta check my e-mail; gotta read this tweet; gotta send this text message; gotta download this file; gotta attach this photo; gotta update my Facebook page; gotta check out that video clip on YouTube. People are all over the place. Sadly, I think that listening to music is not as important to people’s lives as it used to be.

 

The author of this book also trots out the old tired argument that consumers got tired of paying $15 for a CD with only one or two good songs on it. Really? What sort of insipid music were there idiots buying? Maybe a Britney Spears album or some other disposable Top Forty crap has only a few decent songs on it, but any serious artist is not going to put out an album with “only one or two good songs.” I own over two thousand CDs and I don’t have a single one that has “only one or two good songs.” Most of them are wonderful from start to finish. Sorry, but that “only one or two good songs” argument simply doesn’t hold up.

 

But there certainly are some consumers who only WANT to hear one or two songs by an artist. These types of listeners were never real album buyers in the first place, but without the availability a CD single, many were forced to buy the entire album to get the song they wanted. Obviously, with their short attention spans, they don’t have the patience to listen to unknown songs that aren’t certified “hits.” But hey, now they can download all the songs they like with wild abandon.

 

But what about the serious music fans and collectors who prefer listening to entire albums and will gladly pay money for quality product? I’d much rather peruse the albums in a well-stocked shop and buy real CDs than surf online or download digital files. We are the consumers who were burned by over-priced CDs for far too many years, but we’ll gladly still buy CDs, and buy lots of them, if the price is right. It’s not just the technology; it’s also the greedy business practices of the major labels that have created this situation. It’s sad for legitimate consumers, but especially crippling for the musicians who make the music we love to listen to.

 

Kuala Lumpur Escape

I’m spending most of this week in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Just a quick 4-day trip to buy a bunch of cheap books for my bookshop back in Bangkok, and lots of CDs (some not so cheap) for myself. And of course indulge in the variety of great food here. All in all, I like KL a lot, and enjoy spending time here in the city.

I left Bangkok on Sunday, which was the big national election day. I planned this trip many months  ago, so leaving on election day was pure coincidence. It’s not like I expect “problems” in Thailand in the wake of the election, particularly after the big Pheua Thai party win, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about how the transition to the new government will go, and how the results will be accepted by the so-called “elite” corridors of power.

And yes, I still use “Pheua Thai” when referring to the new ruling party, and not the ridiculous “Pheu Thai” they insist on using when spelling the name in English. Just another example of how clueless these politicians are. Why they decided to eliminate an entire vowel from the English spelling is very odd. And the mass media, being the sheep that they are, blindly go along with this bizarre spelling change without questioning it.

 

Meanwhile, get ready for the “Pheu Thai” era. Taking a look at the list of Pheua Thai executive members, you’ll see a veritable rogues gallery of unsavory characters. If that doesn’t frighten you, nothing will. It reminds me of the David Bowie song: “Scary Monsters and Super Creeps.”  But they won the election fair and square, so that’s what Thailand now has to look forward to. The Democrats screwed up their chance at the helm thanks to blatant incompetence and poor communication, plus they ran an uninspiring and dismal campaign, so it’s not a surprise to see Pheua Thai win so easily. But it’s still a mighty depressing scenario. The same Red Shirt thugs who held Bangkok hostage last year, the same deviants who instigated and provoked the entire confrontation, will now be running the government. And our new prime minister lists her experience working in real estate as evidence that she’ll be able to handle the job. Actually, the ability to pick the phone and take orders from her older brother on the phone is all she’ll need to do, right? Urrgghh!!!

 

I’ll be leaving KL just before they hold a political rally or their own here too. Yes, people are dissatisfied everywhere nowadays. I just watched BBC coverage of the House of Commons back in England, and all the shouting and hooting reminded me off a football match attended by hooligans. These are the people making laws in that country? No wonder the world is screwed up.

 

Right now my main concern is just getting to the airport with all the  heavy bags I have. After packing tonight I realized that these books not only take up lots of space, but they weigh a ton, too! But I found some good stuff, some fun stuff, and some stuff that should sell well. Books are a good thing. Factor in some pretty cool CD finds, and this was a very successful trip. Now I just have to brace myself for the red road ahead.

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