Though I don’t head down to Queen St as much as I used to, my infrequent visits show signs that gentrification is in full swing. New name-brand clothing stores and chain restaurants are popping up all over the place, while the bare bones of those Queen & Portland condos have started poking outta the ground. An area once known for The Giant Purple Dive (aka The Big Bop) is now home to nauseating radio-rock bars like the Tattoo Rock Parlour, which I’ve vowed never to set foot in.
The hipsters have moved NXNW to the Dundas and Ossignton area, while the punk shows have moved back to Sneaky Dee’s or to pre-fab basement dive The Shop in newly-hip Parkdale. Then there’s The Rockpile, which I might visit before I set foot in the Tattoo Cock Rock Bar, but not bloody likely. (Man, I still remember the last time I caught a show in that part of town. Ugh…)
The one thing that remains from my fond memories of Queen St is the record stores. Whether it’s stores selling records to play on their state-of-the-art turntables, shops that specialize in vintage vinyl, or the remaining nick-knack merchants with the milk crates out front, there are plenty of places to buy vinyl on Queen.
The undisputed king of the Queen St. strip is Rotate This, a Toronto staple for decades. Of course, they used to sell CDs too–when they moved into their new location, I grabbed a buncha Man’s Ruin stuff for dirt-cheap–but they’ve recently cut back on their compact disc inventory to focus on vinyl. (Man, I’m pissed I missed that sale!) Rotate This also does brisk business in selling tickets for all the independent promoters in town, with a 10 per cent service charge that pales in comparison to Ticketbastard. Aside from the occasional stadium show, I’ve been buying all my concert tickets at Rotate This these past few years. On my last visit, I was couple bucks short on my ticket purchase (they only take cash), so the guy said I could pay the difference next time. I guess you could call me a regular.
A couple months back, on what woulda been my third-latest trip to Rotate, I noticed a sign in the empty storefront next door: “NEW PUNK/METAL RECORD STORE OPENING SOON.” I had to admire the audacity of opening a record store right next to NOW Magazine’s runner-up for Record Store of the Year (which I’m sure they’ve won in the past), and made a mental note to check this place out once they opened.
Well, it turns out that Hits ‘n Misses isn’t that new, having moved SXSE from the Bloor and Ossignton area. Though I was only a coupla stops away on the subway, I never made it out to the old location, which is something I now regret. They moved into the new space in November, and I haven’t bought anything but tickets at Rotate This since.
While RT does stock its share of punk and metal, they file everything alphabetically, so unless you’re looking for Black Flag or The Clash, who have their own nameplates, you gotta flip through a lotta crappy indie bands that start with C just to see if they carry the new Cathedral. (Nope. I ended up buying it–on CD–at a record store in Rochester, of all places…) HNM, on the other hand, has both kinds of music–punk ‘n metal, that is!
Well, not quite. The store is divided into New Releases, Punk/Indie, Metal, Hardcore and Crust/Grind categories. They’ve got all kindsa demos and bootleg live records on the rack, a small but solid CD selection in the back, and the most 7-inchers I’ve ever seen in one record store, including 80’s crap like Duran Duran, Culture Club and Dexy’s Midnight Runners, which I’m presuming is there for comedic purposes.
First time I went in, they were playing a Stooges live record, which prompted me to stick around. There are two kindsa people who walk into this store: those who spend hours browsing the racks and walk away a little lighter in the wallet–and those who come in, quickly realize that they don’t have the new Built To Spill record, and leave immediately. Watching some of those people is even funnier than finding “Come On Eileen” in a stack of punk rock singles!
As it turns out, I bought St Vitus s/t on blue vinyl from Hits ‘n Misses a few days before I heard of Armando’s passing. I’ve also grabbed YOB’s Catharsis record and The Desert Sessions 1 and 2, not to mention a few gems from the Man’s Ruin and The Music Cartel back catalogues (Dozer, Sloth, Earthings?) from their reasonably-priced used CD section (5-8 bucks a pop!) There seems to be more Metallica and Slipknot in said section than there was the first time I stopped by, but some hidden bargains remain to be had.
Christmas money in hand, I walked into the store on stat holiday Monday and dropped 22 bucks on a Black Sabbath bootleg, Still Paranoid in ’75–but only after grilling the store clerk (a fellow Albertan) about its sound quality. Though he hadn’t heard it, I made an impulse buy, which I’ve been enjoying immensely ever since. Despite the skimpy packaging–the blank white label didn’t even have A or B on it, which had me worried for a sec–I’ve got no beef about the sound quality on this record. Taken from a gig in Ashbury Park, NJ on a tour promoting the upcoming release of Sabotage, the stellar setlist consists of Killing Yourself to Live, Hole in the Sky, Symptom of the Universe, War Pigs, Snowblind, Supernaut, Spiral Architect, Children of the Grave and the requisite Paranoid encore. The band sounds great, and Ozzy seems to be singing the right lyrics on this one while delivering some amusing banter between songs. I do not regret this purchase one iota.
Alas, while Sonic Boom remains the go-to store for CDs–especially since the aforementioned inventory reduction at Rotate This–Hits ‘n Misses is definitely my first stop for vinyl nowadays. Get yer lazy, downloadin’ ass off the couch and check it out!
- Hits & Misses Records, 799 Queen Street West, M6J 1G1 Toronto, Canada
- P.S.: Speaking of concerts, I’ll be spinning tunes from the bands who played the best concerts I saw in 2010 tonite on Smokin’ Green. Be sure to tune in from 1 till 3 am at 88.1 fm on yer radio, channel 947 on yer TV or www.ckln.fm on yer computer! Playlist posted over here at 3 am sharp.