B-Sides in the Bins #34 – Highway to Hell : Retail Confusion With AC/DC Black Ice Vinyl

My family has been fans of AC/DC since Dad brought Back in Black home in 1980. At the time we had a black GMC Suburban with red cloth interior and Dad wanted to put vanity license plates on it that said “BAKNBLK.” This Suburban would be traded on another one later and its next owner was appropriately enough a funeral home! When Dad brought Back in Black home, I initially didn’t like it– I was more into The Moody Blues and The Beatles, I guess. During my Honda Express-riding Jr. High years I gained the appreciation for all-things metal, and that included AC/DC. John, who was born 1976, pretty much grew up with AC/DC. As a result he has been an AC/DC fan for most of his music-appreciating years. John’s vanity plate he’s been moving from vehicle to vehicle since his first car is “HWY2HEL.” Or, “Highway to a ‘Bad Word'” according to his daughter!

When I heard that there would be a vinyl pressing of the new AC/DC Black Ice album that would be available to Independent record retailers, I knew that this would be a cool gift for him for his birthday. In the past I bought him the 180g version of Back in Black (I got it at Hot Topic of all places!), as well as an Australian version of High Voltage on vinyl that had some different tracks on it.

I figured– incorrectly as it turns out– that because of the Wal-Mart exclusive nature of the CD version of Black Ice, that there would be decent availability of the 180g vinyl pressing at other record stores since the only way a retailer that wasn’t Wal-Mart could have the biggest new releases on a major label would be by stocking the vinyl. Trying to track this down in Eastern Iowa turned out to be a comedy of errors!

The first place I called was what I considered to be my mainstay record store– The Record Collector in Iowa City.

“Record Collector.” the young girl on the phone answered.

“Do you have the new AC/DC album Black Ice on vinyl?” I asked, trying to be as specific as possible.

“The new AC/DC album is only available at Wal-Mart” she answered in an obviously-rehearsed tone.

“Yes, that’s right. The new AC/DC on CD is available at Wal-Mart, but the vinyl pressing is available at Independent record stores.”

She conferred with someone else off the phone about it, “Uh, we won’t be carrying that. We only sell used vinyl.”

This was pretty confusing to me since I have seen and purchased new vinyl there in the past. In fact, I was looking at some very cool Sundazed repressings of Skip Spencer’s “Oar” solo LP. I wondered if I should call back when the owner Kirk might be working.

I got a sinking feeling. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to buy this in time for when I’d see John if I had to order it on-line and it was less than a week before I’d see him. The other local options for new vinyl had dried up over the last couple of years. I remembered hearing that Real! Compact Discs and Records was back in business. I had been a frequent shopper there during the late 80’s but hadn’t shopped there since I moved back to Iowa in 1997. In fact, I think it might have been out of business for a while. I noticed that Bo Ramsey thanked Real! in the liner notes to Fragile, so I figured they must be in business. A quick google turned up the phone number…

“Real Records” the man on the phone answered.

“Do you sell new vinyl?” I asked hopefully.

“Yep. that’s why we are called ‘Real Records'” he cracked.

I was trying to ascertain if they had new records, not just used, but whatever.

“Do you have the new AC/DC Black Ice vinyl?”

“Wal-Mart is the only place that carries the new AC/DC.”

“Well, that’s true– Wal-Mart has the new AC/DC CD, but there is a vinyl pressing that indie record stores can carry.”

He checked his distribution lists, and said “Oh, yeah, we might be getting that next week.”

“Well, I was hoping to pick it up this week as a birthday gift, thanks anyway. By the way, what’s the deal with the Record Collector? I called there and they said they don’t sell new vinyl. I’m pretty sure I’d seen new vinyl there in the past.”

“I don’t know. I’ve been hearing from other people that they haven’t been able to find anything there.”

“Well, that’s too bad. It’s been one of my favorite record stores forever. By the way, will you be getting the Ryan Adams vinyl for Cardinology?”

He checked his lists again, “yes, it looks like we will be getting that next Tuesday. It seems to have pushed back a week.”


So, at least it looks like I should be visiting Real! some time in the future.

The next place I called was BestBuy. I’d seen vinyl there recently– notably the new Coldplay Viva La Vida. It seemed to me that if there was a big-box retailer battle between BestBuy and Wal-Mart what better field of war than the new AC/DC? After navigating through their phonejail menus I got a human.

“BestBuy, home of the Geek Squad. How may I help you?”

“Can I speak with some one in CD’s and DVD’s?”

“How can I help you?”

“Would you happen to have the new AC/DC album Black Ice on vinyl?”

“The new AC/DC album is only available at Wal-Mart” he offered helpfully. This was beginning to sound like a phone prank.

Well, I was stuck with this one. Should I explain the vinyl situation, or just assume that if they had the vinyl he would have mentioned it?

“OK, thanks” I said choosing the latter.

I remembered that I had purchased the 180g Back in Black at Hot Topic in Lindale Mall, so I gave them a shot.

“Hot Topic” a guy answered.

“Do you sell vinyl?” I asked.

“What are you looking for??” It occurred to me that based on the clothing one can purchase at Hot Topic, I wasn’t specific enough by asking about “vinyl.”

“I’m sorry, I mean vinyl records.”

“Oh! Yeah, we sell records.”

“Do you have the new AC/DC Black Ice?

“No, we don’t have that. You should try Wal-Mart. They are carrying that.”

The rest of the conversation involved me educating him on the vinyl version of Black Ice. I’m sure he appreciated it.

My last hope would be that Mad City Music Exchange in Madison, WI would have it. They are close enough that I shouldn’t have to worry about overnight shipping either. I gave them a call.

“Mad City” the guy on the phone answered.

“Hi, do you have the new AC/DC Black Ice on vinyl?”


Frankly, I didn’t know what to say! I gave him a brief version of my trials of trying to find this record. I left it that I’d call him the next day to confirm. He said that he typically visits the post office twice a day so the next day he should be able to get it sent out. I called, and we talked about shipping options. He wasn’t sure what the shipping would have been for 2-day, so I gave him my credit card information and asked him to let me know.

What I found out talking to Dave Zero is that he’s the new owner of Mad City Music Exchange taking over for the previous owner who’d had it since 1986. Here is an article from the Isthmus about Dave buying the store from last December. It’s clear that Dave is very focused on keeping the customer happy and I think went way out of his way to get me the record and he even checked up to make sure that I got it in time. As a result, I ordered Ryan Adams and the Cardinal’s new Cardinology in the limited edition clear red vinyl and unique artwork from him, and I got that this week.

The record showed up in time for me to give it to John. and I have a diligent store owner to thank in Dave. It really is a beautiful piece. Unlike the CD artwork which are white on black, all of the album graphics are matte black on shiny black gatefold with a very bright red AC/DC logo on it. It makes it a bit tough to read unless you tilt the record, but still a very impressive pressing.

There are other record stores in Madison, but certainly you should make Mad City a stop if you’re in town. Tell them “It’s Time To Play B-Sides” sent you!