Updated March 2016
The death of physical music has been put on hold. Fans have twigged that paying for something you can never touch is a sure-fire way of accepting air will one day be privatised and have duly begun to remember how brilliant record shops were back in the day.
Thankfully there are plenty in London, so here are the best of them in our opinion. We’ve tried to give a good geographical spread – better to live nearby as you cart home an armful of vinyl – but please let us know your own favourites in the comments below the list.
The new boy: Yam Records
Yam Records ('you and music' apparently, not the mysterious vegetable) surfaced in Peckham in 2014, declaring itself 'a small shop for small labels', mostly due to the space constraints of their little place on Holdron's Arcade. Funk, soul, boogie, jazz are the focus of their carefully selected vinyl, featuring a mixture of second-hand stock and new releases hand-picked by staff. Closed on Mondays, and Sundays are variable and perhaps hangover-dependent, but the rest of the week it's noon to 8pm.
The stalwart: Sister Ray
Sister Ray has ridden the storm of physical music, somehow surviving the massacre that took down so many other record shops on Berwick Street and its surrounds - if they'd gone the way of Vinyl Junkies, Koobla, Ambient Soho and the rest it would have been a bloody tragedy. Not only are they still on that same Soho street - albeit in new premises across the road - they've also branched out with a small presence in the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch. Quality vinyl is the name of the game, both new releases, second-hand gems and rarities (they're regular participants in Record Store Day), with CDs available in the Soho shop (though vinyl only in Shoreditch).
Punk and hardcore heaven: All Ages Records
Hardcore is a word with so many wonderful uses, but in this case it means shouty guitar music, rather than happy hardcore pilled up to the gills or whatever other kind of hardcore your mind might have conjured up, you filthy beast. It's obvious what punk is, and it's obvious that if you like it you'll love All Ages Records in Camden. In addition to new releases and second-hand finds, they also stock a whole load of new stuff from unsigned and often local bands. You never know, that frightening hand-drawn CD cover you're peering at sceptically could be worth thousands when Mornington Chaos hit the big time.
A forager's paradise: Flashback
Back when people were predicting the death of record shops, the saddest aspect was the end of the foraging for hidden delights among huge stacks of records. That's what Flashback are all about, designed for those folks who like to rummage through piles of music, peering beyond much-regretted copies of Darkness 12 inches for the elusive second album by Teenage Fanclub or whatever equivalent your mind thrusts forth when thinking of rarities. And there are three branches to choose from: Essex Road, Crouch Hill and Bethnal Green Road.
In the rarefied confines of Cecil Court you'll find Intoxica, the purveyors of beat, psychedelia, R&B, soul, jazz, soundtracks, punk, new wave and 'anything bonkers in between', which probably means Captain Beefheart. Their website pulls no punches: "If the music is blasting, it's blasting for a reason. Your hangover be damned." You'll also be begging for a beating if you go in asking for Led Zeppelin, Journey, Styx "or any other dreadful bands we don't like".
(Frank admission: we haven't ourselves visited Intoxica as yet, we're giving it the benefit on reputation alone here, and it's possible they share a shop with David Drummond's Pleasures of Past Times — the pair's online presence muddies the waters of their connection, so if anyone in the know wants to set us straight before we next brave the environs of Leicester Square please do so in the comments.)
An emporium of garish delights: Lucky 7
It's not just about the music in Lucky 7 of Stoke Newington - there's books, comics and probably a garage full of second-hand lawnmowers out the back, such is their extensive range. But this is a list of record shops, and Lucky 7 fits in snugly thanks to a selection of vinyl and CDs they're often selling at bizarrely cheap prices. The place is bewildering colourful, so if you've over-enjoyed the night before it may be one of the few times sunglasses are acceptable indoors.
Of vintage stock: Sounds Original
The 1950s and 1960s formed a crucible for every form of music we know and love today, taking blues, jazz, gospel, music hall and every other noisey endeavour and mashing them together to form rock and roll, soul, pop and of course David Bowie, gawd bless him. And if it's the music of those two decades that gives you that special tingle, Sounds Original of South Ealing is the joint for you. They claim 95% of their records are 'original top quality 45's EP's & LP's pressed in the UK between 1953 and 1968', and if you're not licking your lips at the thought of that you must have a heart of stone.
Not rock and roll: Soul Brother
Specialists in funk, soul and jazz (though we shouldn't hold that third one against them), Soul Brother have been plying their trade in East Putney since 1991. They do a tasty line in disco 12 inch records and supply some of south London's finest DJs with the very finest in polyvinyl chloride. If you've an afternoon to waste, try and find a single negative review of this shop anywhere on the internet — or you could get down to Soul Brother and buy yourself the new Karl Hector record instead.
For the discerning drinker: Book & Record Bar
Obsessed with drinking as Londonist necessarily is, we are powerless to resist a record shop that allows you to sup while browsing. Open since 2013 on the site of an old pub, the Book & Record Bar in West Norwood not only have an excellent selection of second-hand vinyl assembled by semi-legendary local record collector Michael Johnson, there's also a range of books to peruse as you imbibe, confirming its claim to be a 'social hub' as much as a shop. They even do 'coffee', whatever that is.
A local favourite: Alan's Records
No such list could be deemed acceptable without the inclusion of Alan's Records, an institution of some repute in East Finchley. They claim to have a stock of over 15,000 records and 3,500 CDs across all the genres - an impressive haul for a store with a deceptively small frontage. Alan's website prominently displays Never Mind the Bollocks, The Fall, the Stone Roses, and a section for USA Punk, and only people with problems wouldn't be happy with all that. Bear in mind they're closed on Mondays and Wednesdays.
The outlier: Crazy Beat
Out in the wildlands of not-Essex-anymore, Crazy Beat Records are making sure east London’s extremities are kept well stocked with quality vinyl across every genre imaginable. Well into their third decade in Upminster, they claim their staff have an excellent knowledge of the records they sell so we suggest you get in there and quiz them at random about a few of the 100,000 items their website says they have in stock. And when they do indeed have all the answers, that’ll be you told.
The one everyone knows about: Honest Jon's
Arguably London’s most famous record shop, Honest Jon's has a pedigree going back to 1974, taking in some of the most significant developments in the business. It specialises in soul/funk, reggae, jazz and world music, all of which is nicely catalogued.
Worthy mentions go to:
Sounds of the Universe – another Soho old boy.
Rough Trade - legendary pair of shops need a mention, but not a bump.
Music & Video Exchange – alive and well in Notting Hill and Greenwich, and allegedly returning to Soho this year.
Banquet – home to the much-loved record label of the same name, based in Kingston
Record Detective Agency – there’s no website and we’re not quite sure if this is just one bloke in a shed, but everyone raves about it.
Love Vinyl – open since 2014 on Pearson Street in Hoxton.
Harold Moores Records – catering to fans of classical music and various genres floating nearby.