Mark Elliott’s record-shopping stamina is put to the sternest of tests in Amsterdam – undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest and most varied crate digging destinations…

AmsterdamYou know that feeling that kicks in about 25 minutes after Christmas lunch – the self-satisfied glow and the sense you have over-indulged just a little too much? Swiftly followed, of course, by a billowing sense of exhaustion and the faintest trace of nausea? Well, a weekend of record shopping in Amsterdam feels rather like that. Ignoring the sins of food, flesh and intoxication on offer here in all their many forms, this is certainly a crate digger’s illicit den of temptation – with more than 20 shops, all offering something a little different. Throw in the city’s bustling flea markets and you’ve got a unique cocktail for overindulgence!

Not content with the world’s biggest record event just up the road – Utrecht’s Mega jamborees in April and November – plus a decent number of fairs held in Amsterdam itself throughout the year, this is perhaps the perfect choice for a weekend of the passion we share. Everywhere is easy to get around on foot (it is, of course, famously flat) and navigation is relatively straightforward, too, with roads following a simple-to-understand grid fanning out evenly from the Dutch capital’s centre. In truth, the challenge you’ll have is how to cover the ground in a couple of days. I managed 19 stores out of 21 in about 36 hours of uninterrupted shopping (well, I did eat and sleep – briefly) and failed to do the city’s flea markets any significant justice.

You’ll find a bit of everything. Being on the continent, the 1970s 45 picture sleeves are much-prized by pop collectors; the soul and dance is abundant and the prices for rock are keen – but it’s fair to say most of these dealers know their stuff. That said, I came across one of my best-ever bargains here, but I’ll let the narrative lead you to that joyful moment in due course. On departing most of the cities I visit on these trips, I leave satisfied the stock has been pillaged and I’ve unearthed much of what’s on offer. Not so, Amsterdam. This is a destination that one could imagine coming to visit at least twice a year, if stamina and funds would stand up to it. After wearily loading my haul into the back of my car (thank god I decided to drive here!) I had to concede defeat – I pride myself on covering a huge amount of crate digging in decent time. But Amsterdam had beaten me in the sweetest possible way…


RECORD PALACE
33a Weteringschans
Opening hours: 11am to 6pm Monday to Saturday; noon to 5pm Sunday

Record PalaceThis well-regarded generalist has been trading since 1988, and Jan van Dorsten has an army of customers from around the world. While I’m flicking through two floors of well-stocked racks of vinyl, I hear him in conversation with an American and a chap from Japan – both had made a special trip over just to go record shopping. Jazz is what Record Palace is most famous for, but there’s a good selection of classic material from the 60s, 70s and 80s, plus large import sections from Japan and even India. The domestic Nederbeat – 60s beat-pop – is another house speciality and is increasing in its collectibility, hence rising prices. I’m drawn to the huge soundtracks section…


RECORD MANIA
30 Ferdinand Bolstraat
Opening hours: 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday; noon to 6pm Sunday

Record Mania

Slightly further out of the city centre than many of the other stores on this list, this attractive shop is one of those places you spend as much time just soaking in as you do going through the stock – a monument, if you like, to gentler times for the retail trade, when owners cared as much about what their business looked like as what prices they could charge. The stained-glass windows really add a sense of occasion and the records are pretty fine, too. There are lots of deals (three for €10), but not many singles. The tiny basement has a good mix of cheaper discs, including a lot of jazz and soul.


CONCERTO
52-60 Utrechtsestraat
Opening hours: 10am to 6pm Monday to Saturday (to 7pm Thursday); noon to 6pm Sunday

ConcertoWhen men of a certain age go misty-eyed about record shopping, they’re likely imagining something like this Amsterdam institution (dating from 1955), that shows no signs of sinking anytime soon. It’s the record shop you’ll most likely see listed in a guide book and it deserves its place as, perhaps, the one music store you should visit above all others (as if!). It certainly has the best selection of new vinyl I find on my jaunt, with the second-hand stock picked expertly to offer up just the best of what is, in truth, a mountain of used discs for sale in the city. The 45s yield the Blondie gem I’m Gonna Love You Too (never issued as a single in the UK), while the LPs I buy include Eternal’s Always & Forever (90s pop albums on original vinyl issue are getting ever more collectable), and Tracks by Liverpool Express. I could spend a whole day in here, as I barely glance at the large number of new imports.


AMSTEL ANTIQUES RECORDS
110 Amstel
Opening hours: Noon to 5.30pm, closed Weds

Amstel

One of the most central sites on my list, this store looks unpromising at first glance – its basement brightly lit and featuring rows and rows of LPs and a handful of 45s by the door. What it lacks in atmosphere, though, it makes up for in breadth of stock and decent prices. There’s a lot of blues and metal in the packed racks; you may well find a copy of The Nolans nestling up against some Nazareth, such is the relatively free-form filing system. I find Joe Jackson’s Mike’s Murder soundtrack, some Marc Almond 12″s and more.

 


RECORDFRIEND ELPEES
64 Sint Antoniesbreestraat
Opening hours: 11am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday

One of the most central sites on my list, this store looks unpromising at first glance – its basement brightly lit and featuring rows and rows of LPs and a handful of 45s by the door. What it lacks in atmosphere, though, it makes up for in breadth of stock and decent prices. There’s a lot of blues and metal in the packed racks; you may well find a copy of The Nolans nestling up against some Nazareth, such is the relatively free-form filing system. I find Joe Jackson’s Mike’s Murder soundtrack, some Marc Almond 12″s and more.

 

 


CITY RECORDS
100A Geldersekade
Opening hours: 11am to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday

In perhaps the nicest location of all these shops, City Records isn’t the biggest you’ll find, but everything is clean, fairly priced and curated carefully. One of the things I enjoy when overseas is searching out a local band I haven’t heard of and buying up some of their back catalogue. Post-punk rockers New Adventures peaked here in the early 1980s and I start picking them up across my time on this trip.

 

 

 

 


VINTAGE VOUDOU
26 Oudekerksplein
Opening hours: 3pm to 7pm Wednesday to Friday; 1pm to 6pm Saturday

Vintage VoudouTucked away down a courtyard in the city’s Red Light District, this store has been open since 2010 and is a temple to the exotic. Getting in is half the battle (note the buzzer on the courtyard gate you may need to ring), but it’s worth persisting. With imports from around the world and from the past 50-odd years, this is much revered by the city’s cooler DJs – although you’ll obviously not find much Marillion here.

 

 

 

 


REDLIGHT RECORDS
Oudekerksplein 22
Opening hours: 9.30am to 9pm Monday to Friday

Red Light

This appropriately named shop next door to Voudou got started after the government encouraged businesses to take over premises employed previously for prostitution. A radio station came first and this room seemed a natural companion. Stock is small, but it’s an interestingly curated collection; largely second-hand, but some new discs, too.


BLUE NOTE
12 Gravenstraat
Opening hours: 11am to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday; noon to 5pm Sunday

Blue NoteThis cramped shop is packed with an even balance of CDs and vinyl, but there’s a bit of everything, despite the marketing focus on soul, funk and jazz. The clue’s in the name, of course: the jazz is pretty abundant, and I hear one knowledgeable punter putting the guy behind the counter through his paces. He seems happy enough – and leaves with quite a haul. I leave with less, but pick up a few discs, including a signed 12″ of Jimmy ‘Bo’ Horne’s 1980 dance hit Is It In. Is it just me (or the Amsterdam ambience), or is this the filthiest record title of all time?

 

 


BACK BEAT RECORDS
19 Egelantiersstraat
Opening hours: 11am to 6pm Monday to Saturday

Backbeat

This is another jazz specialist, but plenty of other genres are covered, too. There are new records, but second-hand dominates. Arthur Conley opened the shop in 1988 and there’s a strong tradition here of small gigs being held at the venue, which isn’t for the faint-hearted if you have a fear of heights. Climbing an admittedly small ladder to access a crate or two is a first for me!

 

 

 

 

 


DISTORTION RECORDS
244 Westerstraat
Opening hours: 11am to 6pm Tuesday to Friday (to 9pm Thursday);10am to 6pm Saturday

Distrortion This long-established indie is a daunting explosion of boxes when I visit; shoulder-high piles of precarious discs need to be navigated, but just as I’m wondering if I can face it, my resolve kicks in. And thank god! Now, there are many who won’t be able to imagine paying anything for a Nik Kershaw record, but his German-only 12″ James Cagney is on Discogs for £86. And there’s just one for sale! I stumble across a mint copy here for €2 and leave quickly, before the owner comes to his senses.

 


MICHIEL VINYL
76 Marnixstraat
Opening hours: Noon to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday

Michiel

By contrast, Michiel Vinyl is a fabulous blend of great records and top-rate shop design, with elegant crates packed with promising 7″s; not to mention the old gramophones and vintage furniture. The pop selectionis especially strong. I find an interesting couple of crates of Jamaican reggae imports, but I’m afraid it’s the pop singles that draw me in – from variant covers (Culture Club’s Do You Really Want To Hurt Me) to the obscure (Italo-disco god Den Harrow’s A Taste Of Love). I emerge with a haul so large I have to head back to the hotel to store it, before heading on…


EARDRUM BUZZ
9 Haarlemmerplein
Opening hours: Noon to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday

EardrumRecord shops that sell coffee or vintage goods are becoming more commonplace, but a joint venture with a barber is a new one on me. Having lost most of my hair in my late 20s, barbers don’t get a lot of business from me, but this basement shop with its lengthy racks offers an eclectic range, and prices are good, so it’s a different story. I pick up an early 80s precursor to today’s lavish multi-disc boxset reissue – a 1982 Dutch-only version of a multi-European territory Cliff Richard And The Shadows reissue of a 60s EP. What makes this interesting is Holiday Carnival is in a rare 12″ format, with Discogs listing it for nearly $100. Mine costs me less than a tenth of that.


FLESCH RECORDS
116 Noordekerk Straat
Opening hours: 11am to 3pm Monday; 1pm to 5pm Wednesday to Friday; 10am to 6pm Saturday

Flesch

With an emphasis on classical, Flesch Records is one of the most refined of the record shops you’ll find in this city. The elegant store sells old turntables – and even needles – but is perhaps most famous for the baskets of fruit and vegetables you’ll often see outside. Again, it’s the impressive soundtracks section I’m drawn to; picking up a copy of the release for Fassbinder’s provocative Lili Marleen and John Williams’ fantastic score to The Towering Inferno. A lonely looking box of singles by the door offers up near-mint copies of ABBA and some early Elton in pristine Benelux picture sleeves. I don’t even pass on a copy of De Electronica’s De Vogeltjesdans – yes, the Birdie Song started life here in Holland, before going on to terrorise the wider world in its cover by The Tweets. It proves an odd bedfellow here, with all of that Beethoven…


RUSH HOUR
116 Spuistraat
Opening hours: 1pm to 7pm Monday; 11am to 7pm Tuesday to Saturday (to 9pm Thursday); 1pm to 6pm Sunday

Rush HourBuilding up to be a worldwide brand in dance music, the original store led to a label, and Rush Hour hasn’t really looked back since its launch in 1997. Curating a mix of local and international talent, the brand’s releases get prime promotion, but in truth, there’s no better place to buy dance music – whatever the label – in this city.


WAXWELL RECORDS
8 Gasthuismolensteeg
Opening hours: Noon to 7pm Monday to Saturday; noon to 6pm Sunday
Waxwell

This multi-genre 2005 veteran has a strong reputation for just about everything – I find loads of great 1960s 45s and the jazz, funk and blues sections are top-notch. There’s new stock, but the second-hand dominates: the bargain crates are very interesting, with a surprising amount of Toyah. Clearly, some collector had been having a clear-out!


RECORDS & BOOKS
371 Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal
Opening hours: Noon to 6pm Monday to Sunday

Records & BooksDoing exactly what it says on the tin, this small shop has a range of decent bargain records outside, but the ground floor is largely books, with the vinyl relegated to the basement. Peter Cetera’s Solitude Standing for €1 seems about right, but a 1987 Coca-Cola local promotional LP featuring Cetera’s contemporaries, is a little pricier. 


SECOND LIFE
366 Prinsengracht
Opening hours: 1pm to 6pm Monday to Sunday

Sound Life

This is the sort of store I adore – mountains of vinyl, where you’ll battle through dusty piles to get at a stack rarely troubled by human contact. And that is precisely where you’ll often find the interesting stuff – in this case, Generation X’s 1980 12″ issue of Dancing With Myself, a lot of Jennifer Rush (appreciating that might appeal to me more than you) and the double-groove 12″ of The Shadows’ Theme From The Deer Hunter and Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina. Not especially rare, but interesting. What I haven’t seen before is the LP picture disc for Cher’s 1979 disco opus Take Me Home – a US issue for €15. I spend more than an hour here and would gladly stay longer, if exhaustion wasn’t kicking in.


HOMESICK RECORDS
24 Tweede Rozendwarsstraat
Opening hours: Noon to 6pm Monday to Sunday

HomesickI actually own a few Dylan records – the soundtrack to his lame 1987 movie Hearts On Fire and a couple of his 60s classics. Homesick Records got the seal of approval when Dylan visited the store, and the range of his releases is certainly very impressive. I finally pick up Lady Gaga’s The Fame and some 80s 12″s, including John Farnham and The SOS Band. At this point, I have to concede defeat. There were two shops I just couldn’t make across the two days I had – Zwart Goud (89s Geldersekade; especially good for dance) and Black Gold (13 Korte Koningsstraat; funk, dance and hip-hop). I’m grateful for the short drive back to the port and the peace of an overnight ferry home…

 

 

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