A friend of mine, Larry Kelp, who hosts a music show on KPFA and was once music critic for the Oakland Tribune, back when they really were an Oakland paper, asked me about a fellow radio programmer from the past. As it turns out, he was gathering historical information for a famed record store about to celebrate it’s 40th anniversary. Never mind that it had been out of business for 30. It’s that legendary.
From the mid-1970s through the early 1980s, Rather Ripped Records was located at the corner of Euclid and Hearst, at the north gate of the UC Berkeley Campus. It was the focal retail point for the new wave of Rock and Roll, from garages in Berkeley to squats in Europe, that most people called Punk Rock. Local labels such as Beserkeley, home of Greg Kihn and the Rubinoos, Johnathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, and Berkeley High’s favorite ban, Earthquake, found their support at this store. You could find whole albums or singles, 12 inch EPs playing at 45 RPM, an unheard of combination, from bands from with outrageous names such as The Sex Pistols, Flipper, and The Dead Kennedys. Kids who were passing songs around on cassette, or lucky enough to hear them on the radio, would come to Rather Ripped to attain their permanent vinyl copies of these anthems of angst.
I have fond memories of hanging out at Rather Ripped Records. I always gravitated to the Imports section, closest to the door, fascinated that the “shrink-wrap” was never shrunk-wrapped, and was loose, yet protecting those record albums, making them more precious. They had one bin of Folk music, where I first saw Richard and Linda Thompson, and the Morris On album.
Beautiful ‘bootlegs’ too, such as Elvis Costello at the Mocambo and Four Songs from Renaldo And Clara. I also liked they had a ‘Rock GODs’ section, for those who wanted such things as the Carpenters and Neil Diamond. First place I ever saw and heard of the elusive art-rock legends The Residents, in various garb, not just the big eyeballs in top hat and tuxedo. That is, the first time I ever saw their albums, not themselves, at least that I knew of. Patti Smith gave a signing, maybe even a poetry reading there when she was becoming a household name.
One thing for sure, the staff was knowledgeable and passionately loved Rock And Roll music, no matter how new and unusual it was. Someone auditioned a rollicking tune I recognized as an old Celtic march like Scotland The Brave, but for Electric Guitars, Bass and Drums. Right after they took it off, someone complemented “ROCK AND ROLL BAGPIPES!”
I was bit afraid of the Punk Rock stuff. I thought I had to be mean, leather clad, and willing to endure and inflict pain on myself and others in order to ‘fit in’. I could relate to the anger, though. I was in my late teens and early 20s. I could tell this was something that was growing from the bottom and was going to be big, and that all these unusual singles from the UK were going to be quite valuable in future years.
When Rather Ripped were bought by a family that didn’t seem to care about the music, it moved to an out-of-the-way warehouse backroom on Broadway in Oakland. They closed very soon thereafter. I thought I missed the opportunity to buy a very coveted record, the Irish Anti-Nuclear EP, a 12″ 45 RPM disc with Christy Moore and a long list of other Irish musicians singing songs and raising consciousness about nuclear technology and its evils, and specifically about a plant being built at Carnsore, Ireland. (the success of the movement was that project was never built!) Years later, Rather Ripped magically reopened at Shattuck and University. My beloved Irish Anti-Nuclear record was there waiting for me, as well as an all instrumental album by a guy who became my guitar teacher and good friend, Robbie Dunbar, of Earthquake fame. I felt I came full circle.
Further reading: Rather Ripped, Rick Rips, and Ray Remembers
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