My first 45 was by Bobby Sherman and my first album was by the Partridge Family, and both were bought at Sam the Record Man, at my local plaza. The proprietor was tall and lanky and had hair to his waist and wore tie dyed t-shirts, and truth be known, kind of intimidated me when I was a kid. I mean, how many genuine hippies did I encounter in the burbs in the '60's, this wasn't Yorkville. He didn't mean to intimidate me, he was just such an imposing figure, and so different to me. He always sat quietly at the front of the store, spinning his records, behind the cash and the heat sealing maching that locked your records into the white plastic bag, to get them safely home. He never balked that I was eying the latest Partridge Family album, as I would pull it off the wall and check out the photos of David Cassidy on the back.
Sam's fared big in my youth. What money I had to spend on stuff for myself was usually on records and candy. What you could get candy-wise for 50 cents was amazing — my dentist will confirm that. Sam's had a door crasher special every Saturday morning that was advertised in the Toronto Daily Star every Friday, listing incredible deals for $1.99. So incredible that my brother and I both bought Frampton Comes Alive, at the door crasher sale one Saturday. Hey, what siblings consult each other about what they bought at Sam's? My brother is four years older and was all about Led Zeppelin and Ina Goda Da Vida for a few years before I caught up to his tastes.
The big iconic Sam the Record Man on Yonge Street in Toronto, with it's creaky crooked floors benefited greatly from me in my university years, as I made a weekly pilgrimage to the store after classes on a Friday. I loved looking up the wall at the new albums: Sticky Fingers, The Wall, The Kids are Alright. Sadly, album art is a lost art — some of those albums had stand out design, in terms of typography, photography and graphics. I remember Sam often working in the front of the store, as you were checking out his pricing. I would walk next door to A & A's to check out their prices, then back to Sam's for the final purchase. It always felt good to walk home with that flat white bag, with red writing on the front saying Sam the Record Man, and to play the coveted album for the first time, as you gently put the needle into the groove.
At one time, flying into Toronto in the evening, you could always pick out Yonge Street and the wonderful neon lights of Sam's spinning in the dark. Seeing Sam's let me know, I was almost home.
Sam Sniderman, you brought a lot to this country — uniting us in music.