If you do a Google search for Stereo Jack’s Records, most of the results are headlines from 2011 about the store planning to close down to make room for a pizza joint. But don’t be deceived, folks. ‘Twas a false alarm — Stereo Jack’s is alive and kicking. When I dropped in this week, owner ‘Stereo Jack’ Woker was still seated behind the table across from the cash register, and smooth jazz sounds were streaming from the overhead speakers as if nothing had ever happened.
Just a short walk from the T-stop in Porter Square, Stereo Jack’s has been a staple of Cambridge for about three decades. Many locals were justifiably disappointed when the store announced it would be shutting its doors per the landlord’s orders; Stereo Jack’s has built up a reputation as being Boston’s premier destination for blues, jazz, and R&B records. Rest assured, though. Two years after the announcement, there’s no mediocre pizza shop in sight on 1686 Mass. Ave.
Instead, you’ll walk into a haven of more $1 records than you’ll ever know what to do with. Almost half of Stereo Jack’s inventory comprises rock, country, folk, jazz, and classical records that you can add to your personal collection for just a buck. Not only that, but everything else in the store is ridiculously cheap, and in good condition too. I’m talking $5 to $10 for anything from Cream to Thelonious Monk.
My only caveat to you is this: Don’t make the trek to Stereo Jack’s if you’re looking for new releases. This is a store strictly stocked with the classics, so even the bins labeled “New Arrivals” aren’t going to satisfy your craving for the latest indie buzz bands. In fact, the only touch of modernity is the collection of $2 CDs lining the right side of the shop. (Which is good if you’re one of the two people who still buys CDs, I guess.)
Regardless, the wide range of artists and titles available in the shop was overwhelming. I managed to find a record that for the past year I’ve been searching for — Joni Mitchell’s Song to a Seagull (1968) — modestly priced at $5 and its bright yellow cover just waiting to grace my bedroom shelving. Song to a Seagull, the singer-songwriter’s debut, is a classically tinged concept album divided into two parts: “I Came to the City” and “Out of the City and Down to the Seaside.” It’s often overshadowed by Mitchell’s 1971 magnum opus, Blue, but I’ve always thought it just as gorgeous and just as timeless. With her poetic imagery and intimate storytelling flowing from track to track and that sweet acoustic guitar bleeding into her supple, expressive vocals, the sentimentality of this record makes it a must-listen on vinyl. The simple change from digital to analog turns it into a sort of religious experience. By the time Mitchell starts to croon, “She’s so busy being free” on the album-closer “Cactus Tree,” I swear, you’ll feel like you’re flying.
Overall, with washed-out vintage records adorning the walls and not much else to spice up the space, Stereo Jack’s could probably use some redecoration. It’s got that classic record store vibe, but it might need a little bit more oomph to draw in that coveted wave of younger music lovers. For now, though, ‘Stereo Jack’ seems content with where he’s at. As I was leaving, a man had just hauled in a cardboard box stuffed with hundreds of 45s, looking to sell them to the store. Jack gladly accepted.