In the 56K modem era, my options for new, cheap music were limited to radio stations and repeatedly applying to BMG's "12 CDs for the price of 1" promotions under fake names. Like a starved mongrel—one that had been eating BMG's Son Volt and Spin Doctors CDs for far too long—I scoured the city to hit every nearby store I could. Most of them made it too difficult to sample CDs, though, and I didn't have a record player, which nixed Bill's Records & Tapes, perhaps the Dallas area's most legendary music shop of the past few decades.
I wound up at CD Source, conveniently the closest one to my parents' house at the time, with its four listening stations and its endless racks of $8 albums, all free from the tyranny of shrinkwrap. Listen to any album, the clerks said, and for at least four hours a week, I did.
Doesn't matter where you live; you've probably shopped at a CD store just like this one. The store's "pop/rock" section is a relatively inaccurate catch-all, including everything from folk to metal and even miscategorized electronic fare. The soundtrack, Christmas, and gospel/Christian sections are huge. The country section makes no qualms about stocking Kenny Chesney a few slots away from the Carter Family—same thing in the R&B section, where The Isley Brothers and Jamiroquai are practically neighbors.
The place doesn't look like a snob's outpost. The "recommended" racks are full of middling CDs, seemingly promoted to move excess stock. Posters for random national bands and movies line the walls for noise's sake, along with a few peculiar photos, like the one of the store's owner posing as Bruce Springsteen on the Born to Run cover.
So what's so great about it? Low prices on a massive selection are a good start, but I was attracted, weirdly, by the continual "Can I help you find anything?" philosophy. Clerks have to ask every shopper that question at least once, and they're encouraged to say that they're happy to recommend tunes, as well. I understand that shoppers may liken that question to a hassle; as a whiny teen, I sure did. Sometimes, though, brute force is the only way.
In one of my earliest visits, I was about to buy some albums when I saw a bizarre, white CD cover perched on the counter. It was Radiohead's months-young OK Computer, whose "Paranoid Android" single had just blown me away on MTV.
"Oh, you have to listen to this," the bleach-blonde clerk said, gesturing to the right to the listening station and almost forcibly putting the clunky Sony headphones around my ears. "The first song sounds like snow falling." She grinned and watched as opening track "Airbag" rattled in pieces around my ears.
From then on, the store forced music on to me incrementally. The MTV pop-rock of Everclear somehow became the baritone-sax attack of Morphine, which eventually got me hard into jazz at 18. And the Chemical Brothers' mainstream success meant clerks handed me Photek and Aphex Twin CDs, ensuring that my electronica palette didn't stay trapped in the big-beat fad of 1997. Folk, soul, metal, bluegrass, hip-hop—the clerks filled the cracks in each of my mind's CD racks.