It’s week three of my Harvard Square record adventure, and we’re digging deep into what the area has to offer. I’ve already checked out the quirky Planet Records and the (literally) hardcore Armageddon Shop, both of which will prove more than satisfying to vinyl enthusiasts. Today, we’re headed across the way to 72 Mount Auburn St., the second and smaller Boston location of In Your Ear! Records. I don’t want to discourage anyone from visiting this little shop — they’ve got a great collection of classic records on their side — but trust me when I say that this one’s only for the most dedicated of record hunters.
For one, you may feel like you’re entering a dungeon when — after seeing a barred window and an eye-level sign, but no formal entrance — you realize that the store is actually located underground. Descending the stairs takes you to a small entryway with red walls; graffiti scribbled everywhere; indie leaflets and papers strewn about; and a handheld stereo propped on a shelf, doing its best to blast out some tunes to set the mood. There are a few doors to choose from once you’re down there (setting up an awkward situation for any first-time visitors), so I’ll give you a hint: Turn right.
Because I had been to this In Your Ear! once about a year ago, I can admit that I was prepared for the relative disorganization of the place. Even so, I wasn’t too thrilled that absolutely nothing seems to have changed since then. It doesn’t look like the owners have made any effort to touch up the space, move things around, or make the shop more attractive to visitors. In Your Ear! has been there since 1982, but with a barricade of unpacked cardboard boxes in front of the register to this day, it’s almost like they never bothered to finish moving in. I can’t tell if this seeming lack of order is intentional or not, but it certainly doesn’t do anything to help a record store that’s living in a cold, musty basement in the first place.
All is not lost, though. With 50,000 used LPs, CDs, cassettes, and DVDs crammed into the space at cheap prices, In Your Ear! proves that maybe looks aren’t everything. Once you come to terms with the fact that yes, you’re going to have to do some serious digging, and yes, it’s probably going to smell, it’s all smooth sailing. As I made my way from one end of the shop to the other, a Smiths record played in the background and the friendly owner offered to help me find anything I was looking for. Not to mention, I definitely chuckled once or twice at the handwritten commentary on some of the labels denoting the artist names.
Despite the uncomfortable reach and craning of the neck required to look at the records in the rock section, a copy of The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (1967) — clownish album art and all — caught my eye. I’m not sure that this Beatles staple needs any explanation besides the words “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “Penny Lane,” and “All You Need Is Love,” but suffice it to say that this whimsical compilation of songs boasts some of the group’s most celebrated work. Although the record was just reissued in 2012, I actually preferred seeing it in its dusty and beaten-up form — as if it had made the rounds on someone’s turntable decades ago. There’s something special about old records, passed down from generation to generation, relics of the past.
Still, if you’re a newcomer to the record-collecting scene, the Cambridge location of In Your Ear! probably shouldn’t be your first stop. There is no denying that it’s unorganized, cramped, and a little too grimy for comfort. Will it hold its ground for much longer in light of Harvard Square’s other record store offerings? We’ll have to see. The shop has a few redeeming qualities that shouldn’t stop you from wandering in if you happen to pass by, but in the end, it’s not worth a special trip.