The Fade Out The Fade Out

        

THE FADE OUT.....
 
"Slim" lost the lease at the original store. After all, the store was under The Times Building, in Times Square, the building from where the ball falls on New Years Eve. Looking back, it's hard to believe that the space was even available!  (Yes, that's why it was called Times Records. The Times. The New York Times owned the building, and they objected to the name of the store, which led "Slim" to using the name "Times Square Records" ).  Over the years, it seems that most people automatically use the latter name, "Times Square Records".
 
 It's impossible to know how long the Times Records "magic" may have gone on, had the old store remained as it was, but I personally believe it had another 1 1/2  years of "magic" before an overhaul of some type would have been  necessary.  I knew, and I felt,  long before the new store opened that an era was closing. I could sense it in the air.  Sure, it was exciting to be moving the old store in shopping carts, in the heart of New York City, but I knew it wasn't ever going to be the same. "Slim" had a strong dislike for photos, but he relented enough for my taking those photos that you've seen. I always wondered if he pondered this passage, and maybe feared it as I did. I never asked him. I don't think he did see it as era ending at all, and I hope that's correct.
 
Looking at it from the view of "Slim" himself, here he had created an icon of a store, and was rightfully moving to a bigger store, and on to bigger and better things. Having no choice but to move, he was staying as close to the old address as he could, and he was staying underground, down in the subway. This was remaining true to the image, and providing more space for the customers. When you think about it with logic, then it makes perfect sense. Ah, but logic had nothing to do with the success and the almost mystical magnetic attraction of Times Records. This move had the feeling that would later come when Coca-Cola changed their formula. It was wrong, and it doesn't matter why it's wrong. Some things are meant to be.
 
If you built a movie set to capture the original store, no one would believe it. It just was what it was, and it was a place filled with records that rumbled with the subway vibrations, and maybe was only a heartbeat away from falling down on our heads. It didn't pretend to be great. It was great because it was what it was. I'm telling you this because any fancy five-syllable description would miss the point. This was genuine Americana, only a few years after the birth of rock n' roll. You can't top that.
 
Even in the early days "Slim" would tell me that he wanted to have a store that sold everything for 39 cents. Nothing would cost more or less. He was, in 1961, predicting something he would never see, "the dollar stores". He asked me if I wanted to manage one, while he ran the main location. He saw it as a "chain" operation. This made me nervous, because I needed to think of "Slim" as the guy with the rare records, and all the other craziness that was Times Records. It took me years to understand, and even now, it's not something I dwell on, because I believe in the musical part of the story. It's easy to understand that dealing with each rare record, one at a time, would eventually become very difficult for "Slim", whereas selling items you don't have to know the history of, would be appealing. "Slim" had come from quick sale retail, and it was what he related to in a natural way.
 
But, attitudes and styles  were changing not so slowly. The re-issued singles becoming new "hits" had almost stopped by mid-1963, as "Slim" was moving the store. Stores copying Times Records had sprung up in major cities, and in smaller cities in key places such as New Jersey. While these stores all owed their very being to Times Records, they sought to corner their own market, and in doing so they undercut "Slim" in what were sometimes very unkind moves. "Slim" had painted a target on his back, and there were people aiming at the target. It was a natural evolution, but it wasn't necessary. The original vocal groups of the fifties had almost all disbanded, or changed drastically, and those few that remained were getting too mild. The new groups weren't really singing as "groups", but were relying on the commercial aspects of the productions that were geared to a more "solo" feeling. New and really weak white groups were mere mimics of the black group sounds of 1959, and all the while the new black groups were going in a different direction, away from true vocal group sounds.  It wasn't a "plan" actually, but it seemed like a scheme to water-down what had initially been so bold and powerful. It was mid-1963 and we didn't know that in only months, President Kennedy would be killed, and the nation would plunge into a morbid, more adult atmosphere. Furthermore, only a half year after Times Records moved, the benefactors of the darkness that held sway over radio in the month following The Kennedy killing, would be The Beatles, who, in early 1964, gave little kids a break from the serious tone that prevailed. Radio was fast becoming the enemy, in its' greed and total uncaring attitude toward the music that had helped establish the very format of the stations. This was the worst time for Times Records to have moved. Even if there had been a chain of Times Records stores, it would have been terribly wounded by what was coming. The stores that survived the rest of the sixties, did so by also selling current popular records, and that was not a concept that would have worked with the Times image. Everything was knocked out of kilter, and nothing would ever put humpty-dumpty back together again. This was probably the main reason not to move the store. (Day by day we move into the future, whether we like it or not).
 
In the early days of Times Records, even the known oldies were hard to find in stores, because they were not being re-pressed. They were gone. It may seem hard to believe now, but records such as "Deserie", "Florence", "Chapel Of Dreams", and all the others that are considered "standards", could only be found in quantities at Times Records. If you really wanted to add "People Are Talking" or "A Thousand Miles Away" to your collection, you needed to head to Times Square, and drop in at Times Records. There was a whole audience of "oldies" buyers who were not "collectors", and these people just wanted the records, and  didn't care about the trappings of strange surroundings. Before "Slim" knew it, stores were starting to stock the main "oldies", and people from the suburbs didn't have to trek into the city, if all they wanted was a standard oldie. The Times Records customers were the remaining, and newly converted collectors, and all those extra people that created long lines outside the store had vanished. Gone were those golden days of only letting two people into the store when two people left, and the subway stairs being crowded with anxious customers champing at the bit, no matter how bad the weather may have been. There had been the feeling of being let in to a rare place, where few got to go, and it was also similar to the stories of trying to get into Studio 54, or other  nightclubs that only let a handful of people in. This paragraph is another reason why Times moving to a new location was not a good thing.
 
"Slim" had tried valiantly to stem the tide of losing customers to other stores who only stocked a handful of oldies. He tried to get "exclusives" on re-pressings of 45's. I gave him exclusives on what I was doing, and so did a few others, but for the most part it was a losing battle. Sometimes he got an exclusive for a week or two, in return for playing the record on his radio program. Soon it was obvious that the only real "exclusives" he could count on would be his own releases, which worked pretty well for awhile, but tapered off as the quality of the releases became run-of-the-mill group sides, which were good records, but wouldn't draw you in from out of town. When "Slim" had trouble getting certain records, he began trading his releases with stores in return for the records he needed, but this was counter-productive, in that the competing store now had his "exclusive" records in their stock. It was a spiral that could not be controlled, no matter how it was configured. Times Records was no longer "the only game in town", but it was still the one and only original store. And yes, this  is yet another graphic reason why moving the store was  not the thing to do. 
 
The original store was a nightmare to any "normal" customer, even by New York standards. People would wander in and look around, in shocked disbelief, and leave mumbling to themselves. Adults stopping in to purchase a record for their children would stare at the high prices on the wall, and not understand that these were older records. The most usual happening was the funniest though, and that was the non-record customer who was looking for chewing gum or a newspaper, or a subway schedule, and left dazed and confused by the unreality of the world they had stumbled into. The Twilight Zone of Times Records. I loved it. What was not to love about it?
 
There was a time that you could drive through small towns and out of the way cities, and actually find record stores that no one knew about. It was exciting. It was intoxicating. I mean there were stores that had started in the latter forties or early fifties, and had benefited by what rock n' roll had brought them, and they were still around in the dawning days of the sixties. These were classic stores, with listening booths. By any yardstick you apply, Times Records was the new kid in town, and yet because Times was 100% devoted to rock n' roll vocal group records, it became the main hub of stores, around which all others would revolve in orbit. Times Records assumed the role of being new and old at the same time. Times was tacky and lurid, like a New Jersey boardwalk on a hot, edgy night. How could you resist that? 
 
So, what had "Slim" really done? Don't stores go out of business every day? Doesn't the "hot location" in any area of the country eventually become old news?  And, wasn't "Slim" just trying to make a buck as any store owner does? He hadn't invented selling records. He hadn't invented selling used items. Yet, something about the "rummage sale" aspect of this, applied to "group" records,  was attractive and addictive. (The old time "rummage sales" became called "garage sales", "yard sales", "swap meets", and "flea markets". With the internet  it's best known in its' electronic form as Ebay). He had done a lot of things by accident, and not everything done on purpose made sense. So what was the big deal?
 
I'll tell you what the big deal was. "Slim" had, by luck, and strange fortune, done for us what we hadn't done for ourselves. In the confusion, and the chaos of Times Records, he had created a shrine to vocal group recordings, and it's light shown like a beacon in the night, guiding us to its' source. Times Records restored our faith that this kind of music meant something, even if the damn radio stations chose to diminish and ignore it. Those of us who had never wavered in our faith, were nonetheless inspired by the glow that we felt, even when we couldn't see it. Times Records kept the dream alive, and underscored the fact that The New York Area was the home of hard core vocal group rock n' roll and r&b. It was the right thing, at the right time, in the right place. It was a magic store without the tricks. It was home to the heartbeat of the city as personified in the very music it presented. It was on many levels, a part of us all. Even if you never were there, you should thank God that once upon a time, such a place existed. We are all the better for it.
 
Wayne Stierle



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