Portland’s Record Stores

A shelf of used rock music at Music Millennium. The store sells a wide variety of records, including mystery bags. Photo by Sadie Tresnit.

For a long time, I thought records weren’t especially relevant to my life. I mean, I’ve always had an appreciation for music, but I was a proud child of the 2000s and we had CDs, which were so much cooler. Recently, though, I saw the error of my ways and gained more respect for records. Now I realize they’re a fun way to listen to music that brings you back to the past in a good way. And, as Annabella Mesecher (10) puts it, “they just give off cool vibes.” One thing I struggle with sometimes is finding new music. I’m a bit of a self-confessed music snob, and I mostly listen to classic rock, but sometimes I feel like I want to branch out a bit. Vinyl mystery bags (usually brown paper bags filled with random records) seem like a great way to do this. I had heard of them before, so with my slightly newfound admiration for records and four dollars in my wallet, I set out to conquer my favorite music stores in Portland.

Music Millennium:

The first record store I visited was Music Millennium, an expansive store located at 3158 E Burnside. The building is astoundingly full, which I guarantee is the first thing you’ll notice. Music Millennium sells new and used records, CDs, and tapes covering a variety of genres, along with fun novelty items such as toys, shirts, and other band memorabilia. The store also hosts music events and has satisfied the surrounding community’s need for music since 1969. The first time I went, they were unfortunately sold out of mystery bags by the time I got there. Despite this, I still had a great time looking for my favorite bands and obscure sale music and taking photos with my phone through one of their kaleidoscopes like some kind of dumb teenager. I commend them for putting up with me. 

I went back about two days later, and they were back in stock again. Music Millennium sells bags of five mystery records for five dollars. The brown paper wrapping features unique and funny designs, and I had a great time trying to pick a favorite. I eventually decided on the one labeled “Bag of Wonder!” with a doodle of a man asking what was inside. The contents of this bag were pretty wild. It contained Meat and Potatoes & Stuff Like That by the Hotmud Family, The Very Best of Conway Twitty (my official least favorite) by Conway Twitty, The Train I’m On by Tony Joe, White, Cisum by Nautical Almanac (which has a super cool record design), and The Mercy Seat by Zena Von Heppinstall, Gordon Gano, Patrice Moran, and Fernando Menendez. All records were in good condition, which was a nice surprise for the price. Cheaper records are often scratched or damaged in some other way. Also, I guarantee I wouldn’t listen to any of these on my own, or even give them a second glance. If my original goal was to branch out my music collection, I certainly succeeded here.

Exiled Records:

Next, I dragged my dad all the way to Exiled Records at 4628 SE Hawthorne. This store is smaller than Music Millennium, and also a lot less overwhelming. It’s conveniently located a few blocks from my house, so the neighborhood is familiar to me. Exiled sells a wide yet manageable selection of vinyl and cassette tapes for very reasonable prices ranging from the obscure to well-known bands like the Beatles. Here, mystery bags cost one dollar for four 45s or four cassettes, which is an incredibly accessible price. For a brief moment, I considered buying a bag every week for a year but ultimately decided against it, at least for now…

I was pleasantly surprised by this bag. For the price, I expected slightly poorer quality, either in genre of music or scratched records. However, I ended up enjoying pretty much everything inside. First in this bag was “Barrel of a Gun”/ “Painkiller” by Depeche Mode, followed by “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover”/ “Up in My Mind” by Wayne Cochran (a man whose hair I highly recommend you look up), My Car Drives Fast by Dancer, and a mix of music by The Clap called Savage American Punk from ‘81. I don’t think I could pick a favorite out of these, and I would definitely listen to them all again, especially the titular song from My Car Drives Fast because it immediately got stuck in my head. All in all, this mystery bag was a success, especially considering the price.

Jackpot:

My last stop was Jackpot Records, located at 3574 SE Hawthorne. Out of all the record stores in Portland, this one is probably the most familiar to me. They were unfortunately out of mystery bags when I got there, but they ordinarily sell them for five dollars. They also sell both new and used records sorted into categories such as “God Awful” (largely featuring Merrill Womach) and “Keeping Portland Weird,” along with more mainstream groupings. If you’re looking for a great deal and music you’ve never heard before, Jackpot has bins of $1 records.

All in all, Portland’s record stores and their mystery bags have a lot to offer. If you’re looking to broaden your music taste, you should definitely check them out.

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