WEST ALLIS, Wisc. (CBS 58) — On the corner of 71st St. and Greenfield Ave. sits a time capsule of music’s history.
With over 7,000 vinyl albums and 50 years in the community, Record Head has cemented its place as a West Allis staple.
The business opened in 1972 and since then, has expanded as Wisconsin’s longest tenured and independently owned record store, according to manager William Sanders.
“Our vinyl offerings have exploded as more people have wanted to buy it. 2020 and 2021 were the first years that vinyl has outsold CDs since CDs have come out,” Sanders said. “The industry has evolved to more modern times but ultimately, you look at a vinyl record. There’s nothing that’s so consistent in a form of a media form ever.”
Inside of the store, you can find pretty much any artist or genre that you could want.
“We cater to all of the different genres, all of the different types of music. If you like heavy metal, if you like the Spice Girls, if you like rap music, if you like classic rock like the Beatles and Pink Floyd, we carry the whole gamut,” Sanders said.
Sanders, who has worked at Record Head for 15 years, said it’s “cool” to see all kinds of people come in to explore.
“I’ve seen three generations of customers,” Sanders said. “If I had to guess this woman’s age, I would probably peg her somewhere between like 60 and 70. She walked over to the record section and she starts like jumping up and down and we look to make sure everything’s okay. This woman had, in her hand, a Wu-Tang clan album that she was grasping and like hugging for dear life and was so excited that we had it.”
Sanders said there are multiple reasons he believes why vinyl keeps coming back into trend for the general public.
“You have your box of records and if you have a favorite artist, you’ll get every release that they put out on vinyl. It’s collecting and physical musical enjoyment,” Sanders said. “It’s something they can hold, feel, and look at rather than looking on a screen.”
Plus, when you play a record, it is music in its “purest form”.
“You have a lot of people who are essentially raised on an iPad or a Chromebook who are going backwards and talking about the validity of analog and being simple,” Sanders said. “The quality difference between listening to vinyl and listening to something on a Bluetooth speaker is night and day.”
Sanders added that records are also a chance to listen, rather than to hear.
“When you put on a record you’re mentally engaged into that process. You have to pick out a record out of the stack, put it on the record, you drop the needle, your brain is ready to listen to music because you’re engaged in the activity,” Sanders said. “Whereas if you listen to something on your phone, you walk away, go vacuum, do the dishes. You don’t have to be actively engaged and listening and so what that does is when you’re more actively engaged into it, you enjoy it significantly more.”
Records are also something that Sanders believes unifies the community.
“You see people who are 16 and 17 talking to someone who’s 65 or 70 about records. There’s a common bond there that doesn’t really exist in a lot of other hobbies,” Sanders said.
Besides records, the store sells video games, DVDs, musical instruments, speakers, and more.
“We just carry it all and just let everybody else sort out what they want,” Sanders said. “We sell enjoyment.”
For residents like 65-year-old Malik, Record Head is “the best place in the area.”
“I can get the things that I need, especially in the wintertime I sit in the house and keep myself busy,” Malik told CBS 58’s Ellie Nakamoto-White. “I’ll come in here and buy my music and so I can get anybody I want.”
And with 50 years down and 50 more to go, for Sanders and his team, there’s no sign that the store will slow down.
“Music is a universal language. It’s how people communicate emotions that words can’t express,” Sanders said. “It’s the colors on a painting, it’s the seasoning on a steak. It’s something that’s not 100% required for you to live but the idea of living in a world without music is something I don’t want to be a part of.”