A History in Records

A History in Records

C utler’s Records, Tapes & Compact Discs on Broadway, founded in 1948 and on its third generation of Cutler family management, announced on May 16 that the store would “retire.” The turntables in the front window will soon stop spinning. The Ms. Pac Man machine will stop beeping. The giant neon Cutler’s sign—once a beacon of Broadway, now a museum piece filling the back wall of the store—will dim.

Here’s a grab-bag of one man’s memorable purchases from decades of shopping and browsing at the legendary Cutler’s.

1. The soundtrack LP of an original Yale Dramat musical revue from 1955, So What!, featuring a slew of undergraduates who went on to make their mark in show business, including TV executive Brandon Stoddard, Bill Hinnant (the original Snoopy in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown) and George C. White, founder of the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford. Cutler’s was always a reliable place to find recordings by Yale a cappella groups, local bands and university-based composers.

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2. & 3. A couple of cassette tapes with soft blue cover art, from the mid-‘80s Sony Walkman era when Cutler’s had thousands of bargain-priced cassettes on display around the front counter. One was the Don Redman Orchestra, a saucy 1930s swing band whose breezy beats and devil-may-care attitude synced perfectly with the punk rock I was otherwise listening to at the time. The other was a Mel Torme collection, Blues in the Night. I once badgered Torme with questions about this album, which I considered one of the most diverse selections of his wide-ranging career. He shut me up by saying it was probably put together illegally and he had no knowledge of it.

4. Earphones. How many $2.99 sets of pre-iPod earphones did I burn through? Hundreds? How many bargain-price blank cassettes or blank CDs?

5. Clutch Cargo. Found among the many racks of dirt-cheap DVDs packaged and distributed by the Alpha Video company. Clutch Cargo was a semi-animated adventure cartoon from 1959  in which only the characters’ mouths moved: even weirder, the mouths were filmed human mouths, superimposed on the drawings. This was one of those purchases that everyone in the store at the time felt compelled to comment upon.

6. The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits. The Beatles section at Cutler’s kept up with all the new collections and remasterings of Beatles records, and all the various solo Beatle projects. But the rack was also remarkable for obscure Beatles-themed projects such as this one, a CD reissue of a 1964 tribute by the squeaky-voiced rodents.

7. An extendable, telescoping-handled fork. A gag gift which my then-six-year-old daughter Mabel saved up her allowance for, so she could steal food off other people’s plates at mealtime. We still have it in the cutlery drawer. When CDs began to be supplanted by mp3 files, Cutler’s stocked the walls with groovy gift items, from magic tricks to comical packages of candy and band-aids.

8. My Frequent Buyer discount card. I guess I was indeed a frequent buyer at Cutler’s, but that was never reflected on the card, which earned its bearer a whopping $20 credit once $200 had been spent. I’d almost always forget to brandish the card to get my purchases validated and collect the savings. But I always had the card on me, like it was the membership card for some cool club. I expect I’ll have it in my wallet for years after Cutler’s closes its doors.

9. Limited collectors’ editions of whatever the newest REM, Radiohead or U2 album was. The perfect gift for any ‘90s rock fan. Long before there was such a thing as Record Store Day (when independent record stores are honored with special products and in-store appearances by stars) Cutler’s was the go-to place for special editions of LPs and CDs.

10. The Cutler’s T-shirt. In its final years, Cutler’s got heavily into the T-shirt business, and in fact the store’s owner Phil Cutler now works for the Campus Customs T-shirt company just one block down Broadway from Cutler’s final resting place. Cutler’s developed a fine array of local-interest tees, including ones memorializing the late lamented Yankee Doodle Diner across the street. But the best Cutler’s shirt was the one the store has been selling for most of its existence. Everybody should have one. Mine’s bright green. People wear them all over the world. The design is the epitome of college-town cool, just a straightforward Cutler’s Record Shop logo—the store’s name framed by a black vinyl disc. It’s a classic, and it will be Cutler’s legacy, worn with pride as our memories of a great independent record store continue to spin.

Cutler’s Records, Tapes & Compact Discs
27 Broadway, New Haven (map)
(203) 777-6271
Mon-Sat 9:30am-9pm, Sun 11am-6:30pm

Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.

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Christopher Arnott has written about arts and culture in Connecticut for over 25 years. His journalism has won local, regional and national awards, and he has been honored with an Arts Award from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. He posts daily at his own sites www.scribblers.us and New Haven Theater Jerk (www.scribblers.us/nhtj).

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