I kind of miss the days of the record store. Sure, some say vinyl is making a bit of a comeback, but it’s not the same. There was something cool about heading down to the record shop and flipping through the albums…taking in all the cover art (much better in the larger format, I must say). Then when you got your albums home you carefully slid them out of the covers, blowing off any flecks of dust you spotted. The kids today don’t even know what “handle by the edges” means. Our film today takes us back to the glory days of the local record shop. Courtesy of American International Pictures it’s 1978’s Record City.
The story is basically a day in the life of an L.A. record store called Record City. The store has a wide variety of characters working there, more than any record store would ever realistically need. There’s the slimeball store manager, Eddie (Michael Callan) who likes to spend time with the female customers alone in his office. We also have the goody-two-shoes stock boy Danny (Dennis Bowen) who is desperate for a date with the new register girl Lorraine (Wendy Schaal). Others at the shop include The Love Boat’s Ted Lange, Tim Thomerson, and Ed Begley Jr. as a stock boy plotting to rob the store.
On this particular day, the store is to be the site of a talent contest hosted by Gordon Kong (Rick Dees) of radio station KAKA (yes, kaka). A variety of acts do their thing, including watermelon smashing comedian Gallagher. Meanwhile, a big time crook known as the Chameleon (Frank Gorshin) is lurking about planning to rob Record City during the festivities. Many more familiar faces show up along the way including Ruth Buzzi, Alice Ghostley, Larry Storch, Sorrell Booke (Boss Hogg himself), Stuart Goetz (who was Marsha’s boyfriend on a Brady Bunch episode), Harold Sakata (Odd Job from Goldfinger), and the one and only Kinky Friedman.
The day-in-the-life approach can be a fun formula, but it usually requires some fun characters that the audience wants to spend the day with. Record City is only about halfway there. The menagerie of characters has potential, but there are so many of them that none of them really gets enough screen time to become fully developed. For a while we think that the story of Danny wanting to date Lorraine will be the focal point, but that ends up being pushed aside for much of the movie. Plus it takes an odd turn when it is revealed that Lorraine has a bit of a crush on Kinky Friedman. That’s even further up on the bizarre scale than PJ Soles crushing on Joey Ramone in Rock ‘N’ Roll High School. Most disappointing is that the great Frank Gorshin really gets the short end of the stick in this film. He’s playing a crook called “The Chameleon,” yet this great impersonator never gets the chance to live up to that name. Rather than having him actually change personas throughout the film, he is resigned to simple costume changes. This sin aside, most of the characters get a few funny moments, they just don’t get that much opportunity establish themselves..
Underdeveloped characters is not the film’s biggest problem, however. There’s something that really drags down this movie and it’s spelled RICK DEES. He plays a radio DJ (which Dees is in real life) who grunts like a gorilla, has one furry arm, and wears a leopard skin outfit. His schtick wears very thin very fast and almost succeeds in derailing the entire movie before it even reaches the halfway point. Even when the focus shifts from this monkey man to the talent show acts like Gallagher and Keni St. Lewis, Dees is still right there wiggling and mugging for the camera like a child desperate for attention.
Looking past the Rick Dees element, Record City is still mildly entertaining. It’s got a fun funky soundtrack, an eclectic cast, and is a nice time capsule of the days of the local record store. With a bit more character development, and ditching the corny DJ schtick, we might have had something great. As is, though, it’s only a somewhat amusing piece of 70’s silliness.