“If you like records, you’ve got to go to Oz!” That was the phrase that I began to hear from people when they heard of my record collecting aspirations.
By the summer of 1977, I had learned the record-listening habits of most of my neighbors who lived in the same building of my apartment complex. My next-door neighbor Michelle loved Cher. The girl who lived above Michelle (although she was only in third grade) was already loyal to Elvis. Leslie, the teen who lived in the unit above me and my father, adored James Taylor and John Denver. It was Leslie who gave me my first Kiss album. It had been gifted to her by her ex-boyfriend and then she passed it on to me under the condition that I never mention his name again (especially around her new boyfriend).
The lady that lived on the other side of our unit was all about Barry White, and living in the building that backed up to mine, was my friend Elan, who at only twelve, was off in Led Zeppelin land. In the building next door to mine, lived my best friend, Jimmy. Like myself, Jimmy was on team Paul McCartney. Jimmy was with me when I purchased my first McCartney record “Jet” from the Oldies section at Richway. He purchased “Live and Let Die.”
Jimmy’s mother had a decent album collection that Jimmy and I would listen to while his mother was at work. We were most fascinated with Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie,” the latest E.L.O. album, “A New World Record” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” by The Beatles.
A few doors down from Jimmy lived a married couple. Though I can no longer remember the wife’s name, her husband was David. I believe David was a former hippie from the age of Aquarius. He had a fairly large collection of albums by the likes of Yes, The Moody Blues, Jimi Hendrix and of course The Beatles. He had an impressive stereo with huge speakers that he loved to crank up (especially the song “Baby Love” by Mother’s Finest). It was David who first plopped his headphones on our young heads to hear the running footsteps (and other assorted noises) going back and forth on Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of The Moon” album. He also showed us how to spin an L.P. in reverse to hear the backwards messages using E.L.O.’s “Fire On High” as his demo. The E.L.O. track blew our minds but we didn’t get the Pink Floyd thing just yet.
So, the problem with going to Oz Records from my home in North Springs, down to their location on Peachtree Street in Buckhead, was how to drum up a ride. Unlike a mall, Oz was in a stand-alone building and was all about records. There was no other store attached to give my father a reason for going there. This is when my neighbor David came to the rescue. He owned two vans (one of them a VW bus of course) and one Saturday he offered: “You ain’t been to Oz yet? Hell, I’ll take you there today!”
Oz Records was founded by David Kaye, who along with his partner Steve Libman, developed the concept and operated the store through their company Southland Music Distribution/Emerald City Records Inc. The opening weekend in November of 1976, had an impressive 9,600 customers make the journey over the rainbow. Within their first year, Oz added two more Atlanta locations and by the end of their second year, had expanded their stores to Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery Alabama.
In my last post I compared myself visiting Franklin Music to Dorothy entering Oz. When a customer entered Oz Records though, that experience was a reality. The store’s design was set up to recreate Dorothy Gale’s journey through Oz as seen in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz,” for each patron who entered.
The front of Oz Records was built to resemble the front of a movie house. The ticket kiosk at the entrance was set up to actually sell tickets for local events. Upon entering customers found themselves in Kansas which was actually a market area set up like a bazaar. Various stalls were leased out to venders to sell items such as incense, magazines, candles, leather crafts and other items of head-shop nature.
From Kansas, customers entered into the land of Oz through a round plexiglass tunnel which was designed to resemble a Kansas tornado. Once the guests passed through, they found themselves on the yellow brick road made of bright yellow floor tiles and greeted by a store staff, some of whom were in character costumes from the land of Oz. At certain times on weekends, a cast of actors portraying Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tinman and the Lion would perform a musical number and then mingle with the customers.
If you followed the yellow brick road it would lead you through the different departments of the store. Munchkinland is where the vocalists’ LP’s were displayed. The Tinman’s cabin is where the Rock LP’s were. Classical music was displayed in the Lion’s forest, and the tapes were up inside the Wicked Witch’s castle.
A customer purchasing a tape at Oz was something to behold. The tapes were held prisoner behind Plexiglass at the Witch’s castle. Once you selected the titles you wanted, one of the staff up in the castle would place it into a basket that was clutched in the hands of one of the Witch’s flying monkeys. These monkeys were suspended from the ceiling by a cable. This cable would actually allow the monkey to “fly” over everybody’s heads and land at the cashier’s kiosk to deliver the tape in his basket!
The yellow brick road came to an end at the Emerald City, and this is where the Wizard’s “throne room” was. It was set up like a stage where artists could perform in-store and there was a large screen, but instead of the face of the Great and Powerful Oz, there were music videos. Getting a chance to see a music video was less common then. There were not as many outlets to view them as there are now in our current age of instant access digital media.
It wasn’t a tornado that took me to the land of Oz that Saturday in the late summer of 1977. It was my neighbor David, in his van with the jungle tiger print curtains in the back windows. I climbed inside and we headed off down the road to Buckhead. Of course, now that he was out of the house and out of sight from his wife, he could also stop at his favorite places along the way, one of which was a large liquor store. I waited in the van for what seemed like 45 minutes for him to return with his adult beverages. He probably wasn’t really in there that long. My anticipation of arriving at Oz was probably distorting my perception of time.
I was not disappointed upon entering Oz. It was everything and even more than what I had heard about. I didn’t see one of the cast performances, but I did see a life size Tinman, Scarecrow and Lion. I followed the yellow brick road through each section and watched the flying monkey with his basket of tapes pass overhead a couple of times.
I was hoping that I had enough money to purchase the LP that I was after, which was the new Heart album “Little Queen.” As it turned out the prices at Oz were very allowance friendly and it was even cheaper than the department store price. I nabbed the album which featured Ann and Nancy Wilson dressed as gypsies on the cover and hopped into the cashier line to pay and then back out to the tiger van for the journey back home.
Over the next couple of years, I was able to visit the Buckhead location a few times and eventually did some shopping at two of the other three metro Atlanta Oz locations which were on Cobb Parkway in Smyrna and Marietta, and on Memorial Drive in Stone Mountain.
At the start of 1981, Oz was facing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. The Atlanta stores were then taken over by the team of Bill Tolar and Steve Mills. They felt that the bazaar section of the stores with arcade games and head-shop paraphernalia, had become a liability and was not really useful for people who were coming to purchase music. The novelty of the Oz theme had apparently by that time, had worn off for shoppers. In order to make the stores profitable again the team decided to downsize the stores. This plan also meant the end of the giant Buckhead store.
The Buckhead store closed down in 1981. It was sad to pass by and see the building standing empty. Although their Journey through Oz presentation had been scaled down a bit, I could still go visit the yellow brick road at the other locations. The Marietta store was in a standalone building on Cobb Parkway. The Memorial Drive store was in Memorial Bend Shopping Plaza. My last visit to Oz was at the Memorial Drive location around 1986 (Doyle went with me). The flying monkeys had been removed by then, but I was still greeted by a life-sized Tinman figure at the front of the store. Out of all the record stores that I have been to, Oz was a unique experience, and truly something special.
Some things I bought home from the Land of Oz:
The Last Oz Standing!
In 2022 there is still one Oz location still in operation. That store is Oz Music, now operating as an independent record store in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. You can visit them if you are in Tuscaloosa or shop their online store: Store | Oz Music (ozmusiconline.com)