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How the Beach Boys made me discover Barcelona

Por: | 13 de diciembre de 2011


I recently bought a Beach Boys CD in Barcelona. Nothing too outrageous about that, you might think, except the experience left me feeling like I’d been trying to buy some arcane anarcho-pornography or obscure adaptor plug rather than a common household item.

It was not, in short, a happy experience and led me to draw some fairly damning conclusions about the Catalan capital, which turned out – happily – to be wrong.

The CD in question was The Smile Sessions by the Beach Boys.  Its release was the culmination of 50-odd years of work for the band and their record label and, for me, would put to bed 20 years of searching through bootlegs in record fairs in an attempt to put together the legendary lost album. I was genuinely excited.

The problem was, where to go? I wanted a physical CD and I wanted it yesterday so the obvious answer was a high-street store. I could buy the CD quickly and be back at home in California pop heaven before the hour was out.

But where? The logical idea would have been to look online but by that point I had already left the house in a whirl of excitement and I didn’t want to go back. Besides, I reasoned, I’d been in Barcelona a few months and had yet to get a whiff of a record store in all my roaming.

You may think this a particularly stubborn view  - and you’d be right. But it was not entirely without foundation: I lived in Madrid for nine months at the start of the millennium and the record shopping there never threatened to rise above satisfactory. I figured that the on-going desolation of the music industry, which has led so many record shops in England and the US to close their doors, would have had a similar effect in Spain.

So I went to FNAC. Now, I’ve always quite liked FNAC – there’s something about its chirpy orange colouring that appeals and it is normally a reasonable place to shop for electronic knick knacks.

I was all the more surprised, then, to find its music section cowering at the top of the store like something out of Dawn Of the Dead.

No one was there. Well, not quite no one  - one or two customers were huddled from the cold in the international section - but the contrast with the rest of the busy store was marked.

There was more to it than that, though: the racks of CDs seemed apologetic and dull, as if they couldn’t understand why you weren’t at home on Pirate Bay. There was no pizazz, no touch of excitement, nothing to suggest that the next record you bought could just change your life. Just stacks of CDs and the odd record looking bored and out of place. No wonder no one buys CDs any more, I thought: even the shops can’t be bothered.

Nevertheless, I had a mission. If the Beach Boys had taken 50 years to finally release the record, the least I could do was look for it. So I tried: I searched new releases, catalogue, international, box sets, even jazz but was out of luck. I wanted to ask an assistant but I have a fundamental fear of mixing English words with Spanish – do you add an accent or not? – so didn’t want to try.

Yet just as I was about to pluck up the courage, there it was: Smile.

I’d like to say the album I’d taken 20 years to find was waiting for me bathed in a heavenly light. But it wouldn’t be true. Instead, there was one copy dumped unceremoniously on the counter. I took it and ran, tucking it into my bag as I left the shop as if I had bought something shameful.

Two weeks later I wrote my first blog for this site. The subject was downloading and the Spanish live music industry and it generated some debate.

Particularly interesting was one commentator who claimed that the cost of CDs was known to be very high in Spain. A thought went off in my brain: maybe this was it – maybe this was the vicious circle that was killing off music sales in Spain: high prices led to people buying fewer CDs, which led to fewer record stores, which led to higher prices.

It was a eureka moment. Except it turned out to be wrong.

I was weighing all this in my mind when, a few days later, I decided to have another look at the record shops of Barcelona. There was nothing particular I wanted to buy this time but I had a free morning on my hands and fancied a wander. I had heard rumours, too, of the odd record shop survivor, hidden away in Raval, but I didn’t expect much.

A quick Google search revealed Calle Tallers to be my best bet, so I set off in lukewarm pursuit.

The first shop I encountered confirmed all my worst fears: hidden away at the start of the street, the shop housed a reasonable stock of T shirts, flags and badges but the only CDs I could find were hidden away in a box some way above head level at the back of the store. There seemed no way to buy them, let alone browse, so I skulked outside unhappily.

And turned, almost immediately, into Discos Castello, a proper record shop: the kind you’d recognise from your misspent youth; the kind where exciting music is playing, where stacks of exotic CDs promise a world of titillation and where you can find albums from bands you never even knew existed. It was like returning to my youth.

Here were new albums! Here were old albums! Here were the Beach Boys! Here was a lovely stack of dusty vinyl to have a rummage through! Here were reasonable prices and a friendly-looking owner! It was heaven indeed on a Monday morning.

Even better, Castello turned out to be no fluke: the same street revealed two more excellent record stores, including Revolver, which sprawled over two locations, and each with a reasonable amount of people nosing around, despite the early hour.

I was delighted. To put this into perspective, central London, arguably the European capital of music, has just five record stores and two of them dedicate increasingly large amounts of space computer games as time passes.

I left the last store in Raval chastened and wondered what I’ve learned.

Firstly, I concluded, I don’t have to go to FNAC any more to buy my CDs. I’m sorry FNAC but I may pop in for some headphones at some point nonetheless.

Secondly, it’s all too easy to misjudge a city on some imagined fault, when you haven’t investigated properly and to draw the wrong conclusions.

Thirdly, and most importantly, whatever may happen to the music industry, somewhere in a dodgy side street in Barcelona there will always be a few record stores run for the love of music, where you can wander in, have a leisurely browse of the CDs and maybe even discover something new.

It’s part of a curiously international language of music buying, with stores the same from Budapest to Barcelona, and I can only salute them.

 Beach Boys picture 2011 of Brian Wilson Archive




Hay 9 Comentarios

Don't forget the Port Vell market at the bottom of the Ramblas, every weekend, pass Colom's statue and keep going. Several of the stalls there sell vinyls, vintage editions of Beatles, heavy metal, other classics. Always worth a browse!

Hello MMJ.

Those three in Soho, one central HMV and Fopp makes five.... and I can't think of any more. (Although I may well be wrong).

"central London, arguably the European capital of music, has just five record stores"

nonsense. phonica, blackmarket records, music and video exchange - that's three in soho alone.

El ayuntamiento de Madrid, y algun otro se permite cometer un acto de permisión del abuso del tráfico, con lo que proceden a cometer un delito contra la Salud Publica de los madrileños.
Es muy duro descubrir que tu hijo tiene cancer, y que la causa más segura ha sido por los tóxicos por el abuso del trafico.

Jelou. Ai so dis blog and ai zot. Ajaja. Nau ai can practis mai writen inglis in a espanis niuspeipag and ai can nou mor inglis dan mister ansar. Nau ai fil a tru iuropian ai fil gud and ai am sua I can faind a gud yob in eni cauntri of de guorld. Jau greit! I laik de bich bois tu.

Very nice article, good job. Here is a trailer for a documentary about record stores in the states that came out a few years ago, in case you don't know it. It's got the usual Watts, McNeils, Rollings, Moores and McKayes, but, obviously, that just makes it better.

British friend, Ramon, but thank you. I have a massive box of cassettes in England that I just can't throw away. Has anyone got a good boombox?

Right yo,even in Riera Baixa this lover from Bach Boys (like me)can find vinyl,cassetes even cd's.In Barcelona still exist places you can buy music,no problem my american friend.

Next time, you'd better answer any catalan....everybody knows that Carrer Tallers is THE place to buy music in Barcelona.
Enjoy your stay!

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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