Vintage vinyl — with a French twist

By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / October 10, 2010

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MONTREAL — My education of Montreal’s record stores was born of necessity: For five years, I DJ’d a night of ’60s French pop, Northern Soul, and girl group music. I was constantly on the lookout for the kind of musty, old, obscure albums that people either toss in the landfill or pay a small fortune for in the United States. In Montreal, I could find stacks of these records for far less money than I could at home. The city is loaded with independently owned record stores, and whenever I visit, I save room in my suitcase for vinyl.

My two favorite record stores for all genres — but particularly classic pop and soul — are Primitive (3828 Rue Saint-Denis, 514-845-6017) and Beatnick (3770 Saint-Denis, 514-842-0664), which are located a few blocks from each other. While large chains have come and gone from the city’s main shopping district, these and other independent stores are thriving.

Beatnik, which is larger and slightly less expensive than Primitive, has categories ranging from comedy to cocktail music. The store sells CDs, but focus your time and energy on the vinyl. Primitive is far more compact, but has an amazing selection of 45s from French artists singing Beatles songs to ’80s rarities. They have a particularly strong collection of soul LPs.

Not far from McGill University is Cheap Thrills, (2044 Rue Metcalfe, 514-844-8988), a Montreal institution that has been in business for nearly 40 years. Tiny, but well stocked, my most recent purchase here was a compilation of swinging ’60s Japanese pop that has found its way into heavy rotation in my iPod.