''They have 8-tracks here? Seriously?'' With this, Mandy Moore abruptly deserts Amoeba Records' sprawling CD section for the 8-track department, which commands rather less acreage in the Hollywood store. ''Did you have freestanding players [in the 1970s], or were they just in cars?'' asks the 19-year-old, plucking ''The Best of Uriah Heep'' from a lonely cardboard box. We try explaining the world's clunkiest music technology but settle for assuring her that nostalgia has its limits.
Not that you'd know it from Moore's fourth album, ''Coverage,'' which consists of covers dating back to the cassette era and even, yes, the 8-track epoch. (John Hiatt's 1986 ''Have a Little Faith in Me'' is the newest, Carole King's '71 ''I Feel the Earth Move'' the most ancient.) Who better to tag along with on a record-buying spree, we thought, than this comely curator of classic '70s and '80s pop?
Only it turns out she'll be requiring a lot of shopping tips from EW; Moore cheerfully cops to dilettantism. ''I feel so out of the loop,'' she says, tossing OutKast into her basket. ''I grew up with musical theater -- and deep within my heart, Broadway is still a prevalent goal for me -- so [with pop] I'm constantly like, 'Oh my gosh, I haven't heard that!''' She began educating herself in the classics last year while shooting the feature film ''How to Deal,'' haunting the Virgin Megastore adjacent to her Toronto hotel. ''I was owning up to not owning a Cat Stevens or Joni Mitchell record, knowing I should know what they're about.'' The gal once pegged as the next Britney soon embarked on ''Coverage,'' which is aimed at Lizzie McGuire's figurative mom as much as midadolescents. ''I know it's weird for someone my age, without the musical credibility, doing this,'' says Moore. ''But dammit, I wanted a challenge.''
Today's first challenge: finding Bette Midler's new Rosemary Clooney tribute album. ''I don't know Clooney's music, but I'd love to discover it through Bette Midler. I grew up idolizing her; I had her karaoke tapes.'' After a second-floor show-tunes stop, to snag both Midler's and Bernadette Peters' versions of Gypsy, Moore nabs a live box from current fave Jeff Buckley, and -- researching ''Coverage II,'' perhaps? -- fresh best-ofs from Randy Newman and Bonnie Raitt. At Lifetime's recent ''WomenRock!'' taping, she marvels, ''[Raitt] came up to me and said, 'You sang the hell out of that Hiatt song.' And I just froze.''
Around the corner, she lands a vinyl copy of Joni Mitchell's ''Court and Spark,'' source of ''Coverage'''s ''Help Me.'' ''I'm trying to find [the LPs] of the artists I covered,'' Moore explains. Don't tell us she's got a turntable? ''I don't. But I have frames for the covers!''