Record Shopping, Hong Kong Style

Hello from Hong Kong!

Every time we travel I make a point of scouting out record stores to visit, and our trip to Hong Kong was no exception. And while I didn’t go overboard on my record shopping this time (I bought about 15 records), I did make some stops as we traveled around the area and made a few nice vinyl scores.

HMV
(Multiple Locations)

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Yeah yeah yeah, HMV is a chain, I get it. But I was impressed that at least the flagship store in Causeway Bay had a nice selection of vinyl, including sections dedicated specifically to Asian artists and a fairly robust used section. Used titles were averaging about $150 Hong Kong dollars, or roughly $20 US, and I picked up Japanese pressings of Queensrÿche’s self-titled 1982 EP, Ratt’s Dancing Undercover, and, coolest of all, the Japanese-only 1984 live EP by Quiet Riot called Live Riot, which features four songs from the band’s 1984 breakthrough LP Metal Health recorded at a show in 1983, including the title track “Metal Health” and one of my favorites, “Slick Black Cadillac” (“Cum On Feel The Noize” did not make the cut). I went back for a second round a few days later and hit up the jazz section, scoring a vintage Japanese Sammy Davis Jr. two-record greatest hits compilation called The Best of Sammy Davis Jr. (with all the song titles in Japanese, so I have no idea what I’m getting!) and the 1983 Japanese release of The Techno Orchestra’s sole album, Casualtease (originally put out in the UK the year prior).

The shop also has the usual CDs, plus some stereo equipment, while upstairs are “lifestyle” items like t-shirts and such. The real win, though, is that used vinyl section which is a somewhat reasonably priced source for Japanese recordings.

The Record Museum
(39 Yiu Wa Street, Nam Hing Fong Building, 12th Floor)

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Our apartment was only about six blocks from new home of The Record Museum. It’s a bit hard to find – you need to know exactly where to look for it, because there aren’t any obvious signs visible at street level. But if you find it and take the elevator up to the 12th floor and ring the bell, chances are you’ll be met at the door by James Tang, who will sit you down on the sofa and take you on an instructional and educational sonic journey.

James, a.k.a. “Sam the Record Man,” is incredibly passionate, not only about music, but about teaching people how to listen to and appreciate it. He can be perhaps best be described as an “originalist” – his goal is to get as close to the first, true, original sound of the recording as possible. With that in mind, he’s done an incredible amount of research about pressing qualities by country and era across a wide range of genres, and the first half of his conversation with us used one song as the focal point – “Yesterday” by The Beatles. You know the song – you’ve heard it dozens if not hundreds of times. But James has something different in store for you. He has recorded the various vinyl copies (including recording directly from original metal stamping masters), using technology to ensure that he is getting results that are as close as possible to the true sound of each version, and then plays these for you side by side. The results are at times startling – hearing the clear and clean original mono put up against stereo pressings from only a few years later exposes so many production tricks it will make your head spin. Admittedly, other comparisons were much more difficult if not impossible for my ears to discern, but it quickly becomes clear how much some of these songs have changed over time, and how far the versions we know of them have strayed from the originals. Later in our visit he did the same with songs by Dire Straits, Queen, Elvis, Nat King Cole, Roy Orbison, and even some classical music. His sound system is first class, and it was amazing to listen to these songs with him.

I asked James what he thought about the recent Led Zeppelin re-masters, which were overseen by none other than Jimmy Paige himself. I suspected I knew how he’d feel about this, and I was more or less right. I’m paraphrasing here, but in effect he feels that just because you can “touch up” the original material now using technology that wasn’t previously available, it doesn’t mean you should. To use his analogy, if Picasso were still alive, would it make sense for him to touch up and alter his originals that are already considered masterpieces? That being said, James doesn’t take a “you should never do this approach,” but instead wants labels to be transparent about what they’ve actually done to the music, furthering his overall objective of educating the listener.

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The Record Museum also offers a selection of Japanese pressings for sale, along with some CDs as well, all of extremely high quality in terms of both the jackets and discs. Prices are wide ranging, but I had no trouble finding a few nuggets like Elvis’ Elvis In Person at the International Hotel and Frank Sinatra’s My Way, so I came away pretty happy. And depending on how the trip goes, I may go back to pay him another visit if I find myself with some Hong Kong dollars I need to spend before we return home.(♠) But James doesn’t do this to sell you some records at the end of your visit with him – in fact it was sort of an afterthought. Instead it’s all about the music. If you’ve got some time to spend with him, I strongly recommend visiting The Record Museum and allowing James to share his passion with you.

Time Traveler
(288 Hennessy Road, Emperor Group Center, B07)

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Down in the basement of the Emperor Group Center building area a handful of nice little shops, including the record store Time Traveler. After what had up to that point been a disappointing day of digging, including waiting around for one shop to open and nobody showing up, I was annoyed to find Time Traveler closed when I arrived. But about half way up the escalator back to the street, the owner flagged me down – he’d had to step out for a moment and was now open again. Good timing!

Time Traveler is a decent little shop, chock full of vinyl and CDs. Digging was a bit tough with most of the rock section along one wall in full shelves with spines facing out, but there was a separate section for Asian artists that was a bit easier to navigate, and that’s where I found a copy of Street Rock ‘N Roller, a mid 1980s hard rocker by the Japanese band 44 Magnum, something that had eluded me on our trip to Tokyo a few years back. Score!

Shun Choeng Record Company
(636 Nathan Road, Wing Lung Bank Center, Room 801, Kowloon)

We’d tried to find Shun Choeng earlier in the trip, but I’d forgotten to bring my notes with me so I didn’t have the precise street address, and in Hong Kong that’s the kiss of death. Fortunately we made another trip to Kowloon today and were able to quickly track it down on the 8th floor of the Wing Lung Bank Center, a straight-up office building that gives no indication from the outside that it hosts a record store.

I’m glad we found it, because it’s a super nice little store. The organization threw me off a bit – as near as I can tell, it’s actually organized by label/manufacturer, then alphabetically by artists within those sections. That didn’t help me much, but I did find a few cool things in the New Arrivals bin and decided to pull a trigger on a Japanese pressing (which has been a recurring theme this trip) of Tears for Fears’ Songs From the Big Chair, so that was a win.

The stock at Shun Cheong appears heavily weighted towards jazz and classical, so if you’re into those genres this is the stop for you. There is also a decent rock section of Original Masters pressings.

 

We attempted to go to a number of other stores, but found them to either be (1) closed even though they were supposed to be open, or (2) closed in a very permanent way. Those shall all remain nameless, but it was a bummer to arrive at two different stores 20 minutes after they were scheduled to open only to find them closed. But that seems to be pretty par for he course here in Hong Kong, where time is a very flexible concept. I did also luck into one additional record that I found in a box under a table at a street vendor – a Hong Kong pressing of Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers, complete with OBI strip and the full color Boy George poster insert, for a whopping $20 HK (the equivalent of about $2.50 US). It smells a bit musty, but it’s still pretty cool.

So that’s it for Life in the Vinyl Lane’s romp through the Hong Kong record scene. If you you’re going to come for a visit, make sure to carve out a couple of hours to visit The Record Museum to learn from James, and don’t skip HMV just because it’s a chain store!

 

(♠) In fact I did go back to visit The Record Museum and picked up a few more things including John Lennon & Elton John’s Live! 28th November 1974, an a-ha EP, and a pair of hard-to-find Japanese early pressing first editions on red vinyl of The Beatles’ Revolver and John Lennon’s Imagine.

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