The New York City of the Seventies stars in Vinyl, the new HBO drama from Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Terence Winter about the music business and scene back in the day. The series is set in 1973, at that liminal moment post-Woodstock but right on the brink of punk, glam, and hip-hop. This was the era before CBGBs, before the Bottom Line, before the Paradise Garage, when local bands played anywhere they could get a gig — and established act sometimes found themselves in the kind of mainstream locations not necessarily compatible with rock ‘n’ roll. Here’s a map to many of the very real places that existed and were part of the music business in New York in 1973, many of which are visited or invoked in Vinyl. We’ll keep the map updated as the series progresses to track the activities of Richie Finestra, Jamie Vine, the Nasty Bits, and the rest of the world of American Century Records.
Click on the map icons for more information about each landmark.
Mercer Arts Center, 240 Mercer Street: Located in the Broadway Central Hotel, the Mercer Arts Center was originally meant to be a home for affordable theater but later began renting out its spaces to performance artists and musicians. The New York Dolls performed here regularly. The building collapsed in August of 1973. (The two things did not happen at the same time, as depicted in Vinyl.)
Electric Circus, 23 St. Marks Place: This former Polish cultural center, known previously as “the Dom,” was a hub for experimental music. The Velvet Underground played their first gig here (as the Exploding Plastic Inevitable). Others to perform at the Electric Circus included Deep Purple and Sly & the Family Stone. There’s a Chipotle there now.
Club 82, 82 East 4th Street: The 82 Club/Club 82 was a drag bar of some renown, though by the early Seventies its glory had begun to fade. It became a place to hang out for the downtown punk and glitter set, and rock bands (like Suicide, the Stilettos, and Wayne County) began to play it as early as 1972. While the Dolls may have hung out here, they didn’t play on the Club 82 stage until 1974.
Max’s Kansas City, 213 Park Avenue South: Downstairs at Max’s Kansas City was still very much a place to see and be seen in 1973, and a wide variety of musical acts, from glam to folk, performed upstairs. A little surprisingly, most of the bands that played upstairs — especially in a headlining capacity — had to have some kind of label support to get the booking. In 1973, you could have seen Gram Parsons, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, Waylon Jennings, or a newly signed Bruce Springsteen.
The Academy of Music, 126 East 14th Street: The Academy of Music on 14th Street (between Irving Place and Third Avenue), later known as the Palladium, was a 3,000-seat former movie palace that became a key venue for rock shows in the late Sixties after Bill Graham closed the Fillmore East. The Academy would host every genre of music, from folk to rock to punk to glam, through the Seventies and into the Eighties.
The Brill Building, 1619 Broadway: The headquarters for American Century Records, the Brill Building is best known for being the headquarters of American songwriting and music publishing in the Fifties and Sixties. Carole King, Neil Diamond, Phil Spector, Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and dozens of other legends worked out of the building, which housed songwriters, publishers, and record labels — you could write a song, sell the publishing, and find a band to record it all under the same roof. By the Seventies, it was far past its heyday, which is why the a&r staff at American Century wants Richie to move the label to a hipper location.
Madison Square Garden, Seventh Avenue & 33rd Street: Madison Square Garden, one of the world’s greatest arenas, needs no introduction. In Vinyl, it’s where Richie heads to try to convince Led Zeppelin to close the deal and sign with American Century. Zeppelin’s rock doc The Song Remains the Same was filmed during those 1973 gigs at MSG.
The Felt Forum, Eighth Avenue & 33rd Street: The Felt Forum was a 5,000-seat theater located on the lower levels of Madison Square Garden, accessible from the Eighth Avenue side. It was in the space currently occupied by the Theater at MSG, but with a different layout. The Felt Forum was a key midsize venue in the late Sixties and Seventies, a waypoint between the Academy of Music and the Garden proper, showcasing everyone from Mott the Hoople (with the New York Dolls in the opening slot) to Procol Harum, Deep Purple, and the Grateful Dead.
Hotel Diplomat, 108-116 West 43rd Street: Circa the Vinyl era, this place — gone for decades by this point — was happy to let local bands hold shows in its function rooms. Headliners included everyone from the Young Rascals and the MC5 in the Sixties to the Dolls, Kiss, Television, and other glam and proto-punks in the Seventies. The Police were booked at the Diplomat as late as 1979, and hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Flash DJ’d here as well.
Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street: In the Sixties, Town Hall tended to host folkies and soft-rockers (Dylan played a key gig here), but by the Seventies the scene had changed somewhat. The fans arriving for that double bill of Captain Beefheart with the Dolls in the opening slot sure must have charmed the rest of the theater district that day.
Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center: The dearth of proper rock ‘n’ roll venues in the city in the Seventies would occasion some strange bedfellows, like Lou Reed at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall.
1520 Sedgwick Avenue: Jeff Chang, in his definitive hip-hop history Can’t Stop Won’t Stop, traces the birth of hip-hop to a party held in the rec room at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. The party was DJ’d by Kool Herc, who installed a massive sound system, sending the bass to the other side of the Major Deegan. This is the scene from Vinyl‘s pilot episode where Richie’s looking for a detour and, hearing something he’s never heard before, asks his driver to stop.
The Coventry, 47-03 Queens Boulevard, Sunnyside: The Coventry, located out in Sunnyside, Queens, was one of the few places an unpopular (heck, even a popular) local band, playing original music, could get a gig. Kiss played their first show there; the New York Dolls made regular appearances, and you’d see the Dictators, Television, the Planets, and a host of other local acts. Fans and musicians would make the trek simply because their options were limited.
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