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Moogs and Muppets: Record Shopping in Brooklyn

It’s time for another installment of the recurring Amplifier segment My Record Haul, honoring the serendipity and bargains that can be found at brick-and-mortar shops. Today’s features weird and wonderful finds from one of my favorite places in Brooklyn, the Academy Records Annex.

I’ve been shopping at the Academy Records Annex (the Brooklyn offshoot of Academy Records on 12th Street in Manhattan) for long enough that I’ve visited it in three different locations: its huge former home on North 6th Street in Williamsburg; the Greenpoint spot it moved to in 2013 right by the East River*; and, now, its brand-new store in the same neighborhood, at 242 Banker Street.

My latest visit was particularly fruitful — especially in the dollar bins — and I’ve put together a playlist from the records I bought that day. It’s fun, breezy and, as you’ll see at the very end, contains a few unexpected musical connections.

Listen along on Spotify as you read.

I have a morbid fascination with the many novelty synthesizer records that were pumped out in the late 1960s after Wendy Carlos’s “Switched-On Bach” became an unexpected commercial hit. By 1970, there was “Switched-On Country,” “Switched-On Bacharach” (clever) and my personal favorite in title if not in execution, “Switched-On Santa.” I did not own a copy of “Switched-On Rock,” one of the most popular of the bunch, and when I saw a cheap one in the crates, I could not resist. Please enjoy what I hope is one of the strangest Beatles covers you’ll ever hear, centered around a Moog modular synthesizer just five years after it was invented. For all their overwhelming kitsch, there’s something I genuinely love about the “Switched-On” records and this era of electronic music in general, when there was a palpable sense of wonder (and slight confusion) about what these newfangled machines could actually do. (Listen on YouTube)

A year before his untimely death, Otis Redding played a three-night, seven-show residency at the Whiskey a Go Go, the famed Los Angeles rock club that at that point didn’t book many soul acts as headliners. This quick, ecstatic performance of Redding’s own “Mr. Pitiful” is just a taste of the brilliance that the audience (which, according to the liner notes, on this particular night included Bob Dylan) witnessed at those shows. It comes from the 10-track “In Person at the Whiskey a Go Go,” which was released in 1968. But if you’re looking for more Otis (and really, who isn’t?), a comprehensive boxed set of the complete Whiskey recordings was released in 2016. (Listen on YouTube)

Remember just a few weeks ago, when I sent out a newsletter about John Cale and raved about his 1981 post-punk record “Honi Soit”? Just days later, I managed to find a copy in Academy Records’ New Arrivals section! Record-shopping serendipity is a beautiful thing. (Listen on YouTube)

Tim Hardin, if you’re not acquainted, was a superbly talented folk singer-songwriter who lost his battle with addiction in 1980, at just 39. While he could have done a lot more, the work he left behind is sterling. This jaunty little tune is one of my favorites on a 1970 Golden Archives Series compilation — a record that I totally forgot I already owned. I have no regrets, though, since it was a dollar-bin find too good too pass up, and I’m sure I can locate a friend who wants it. (Listen on YouTube)

Perhaps the best dollar I have spent this year was on an unscratched copy of the goofball country singer Roger Miller’s greatest hits. It is scientifically and psychologically impossible to stay in a bad mood while listening to Miller: I have tested this hypothesis many times over. Same goes for this zany video of Dick Clark interviewing him on a 1964 episode of “American Bandstand,” which gives Miller an opportunity to do his impression of a telephone. (Listen on YouTube)

Speaking of value (and, oddly enough, telephone operators), I was pleased to find a two-LP compilation of Chuck Berry songs in the bargain bin for just $2. “Memphis, Tennessee” isn’t one of his hardest rockers, but it’s a favorite nonetheless. (Listen on YouTube)

OK, maybe this was the best dollar I’ve spent this year: a pristine copy of the soundtrack from “The Muppet Movie.” The LP cover alone made me smile and filled me with memories of a movie I loved as a kid, but this particular bop was the one that really brought me back. At first I thought I would put it on the playlist as a lark, especially since there’s been a relative lightheartedness to today’s selections. But then, while scrutinizing the liner notes of “Switched-On Rock,” I noticed a wild coincidence: The keyboardist on that Moog record was Kenny Ascher, the jazz pianist and composer who co-wrote the songs on the “Muppet Movie” soundtrack with Paul Williams. So, unexpectedly, today’s playlist ends where it began. I will say it again: Record-shopping serendipity is a beautiful thing. (Listen on YouTube)

Footloose and fancy free,


*The Academy Records Instagram boasted of the new space, “It’s bigger! It’s clean! It doesn’t smell weird!” As a loyal customer I would contest the implication that the previous Oak Street location smelled weird, but I can confirm that there was some lovely, musky incense burning at 242 Banker Street, so I will admit, at least on the day that I visited, that this new space is the best-smelling Academy Records Annex yet.

Listen on Spotify. We update this playlist with each new newsletter.

“Moogs and Muppets: Record Shopping in Brooklyn” track list
Track 1: The Moog Machine, “Get Back”
Track 2: Otis Redding, “Mr. Pitiful (Live at the Whiskey a Go Go)”
Track 3: John Cale, “Dead or Alive”
Track 4: Tim Hardin, “Don’t Make Promises”
Track 5: Roger Miller, “Dang Me”
Track 6: Chuck Berry, “Memphis, Tennessee”
Track 7: Kermit and Fozzie, “Movin’ Right Along”

A person dressed head-to-toe as Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. An inflatable boa constrictor worn around someone’s neck. An inflatable alligator crowd surfing. A Jerry Springer T-shirt worn in seemingly earnest tribute. (R.I.P.) These were just some of the things I saw on Saturday night, when I left the rational world behind and went to a sold-out 100 gecs show.

100 gecs are the sonically anarchic duo of Laura Les and Dylan Brady; if you’re unfamiliar with them, my colleague Joe Coscarelli’s recent profile is a great primer. Their latest album, “10,000 gecs,” is a brash, frequently hilarious assault on good taste — and with each passing day I become more certain that it’s one of my favorites of the year. (See: the towering, Blink-182-esque “Hollywood Baby” or, in keeping with our Kermit theme, the absurdist and deliriously catchy “Frog on the Floor.”) Its appeal is perhaps impossible to explain (or, some might say, justify) but I keep coming back to an idea that the critic Julianne Escobedo Shepherd articulated in her astute review of the album for Pitchfork: “It’s a re-evaluation of the most déclassé and dunderheaded rock genres that roiled the 2000s, positing that when it’s not delivered by misogynistic frat guys, it can be terrific music. 100 gecs are speaking to and for the regressive ids of us all; dumb [expletive] should be inclusive too.” A lot of the punk-rock humor espoused by the bands I grew up with was, when you held it up to the light, woefully homophobic, sexist or racist — sometimes all of the above. Like Shepherd, I appreciate the more inviting inanity of this new generation of weirdos. As I realized, chanting “gecs! gecs! gecs!” among my fellow misfits on Saturday night: The kids are all right.