Old King Cole lived in the lap of luxury: Whenever he wanted a tune, he would simply call for his fiddlers three. Most of us can't afford to keep a trio in residence, but we can summon up the Berlin Philharmonic, the La Scala Opera Company or Willie Nelson at the drop of a stylus.

We're talking about records, of course. And all King Cole's wealth couldn't buy what the price of an LP can: Glenn Miller can live again on our turntables, as can Caruso or Tetrazzini. For those who like to participate, there's a series of records called "Music Minus One," which will provide a handy orchestra or chamber ensemble lacking only the flute, oboe, piano or violin -- which you supply. Records can teach you languages, read you books, help you exercise or entertain your children.

But for the most part, records provide music, especially the kind of wide-ranging and esoteric repertoire that you might wait years to hear in a live performance.

Records have been spinning since the turn of the century. With old ones frequently being reissued, it isn't remarkable to be able to listen to Caruso or Harry Lauder along with Placido Domingo or Barbra Streisand.

The question, then, is: Where to find these old, new and reissued records? Washington has an excellent selection of record shops that offer just about every type of recording, musical and otherwise, at all hours. And with careful shopping the price can be right, too.

Here's just a skimming of the surface to start you on your search for the perfect record collection, mood music or original-cast recording. The stores were chosen on the basis of personal experiences or recommendations that they are out of the ordinary in stock, convenience or willingness to serve demanding customers. Many other good record stores can be found in the Yellow Pages.

If you're looking for guidance on which records to get to build up your library, one of the best reference works is the Schwann Catalogue, put out each month along with occasional special editions that list children's records, Christmas music or classical records by the names of performers rather than composers.

With all the recorded music to be had in Washington, who needs those fiddlers three? JEFF BARR JAZZ RECORDS -- P.O. Box 2905, Washington, 20013. Takes mail orders on out-of-print, hard-to-get and imported jazz records. Credit cards accepted. Has a stock of about 10,000 records. DISC SHOP -- 1825 Connecticut Avenue NW. 387-1358. 5300 Wisconsin Avenue NW. 966-3466. Open 10 to 9 Monday to Friday, 10 to 6 Saturday. Credit cards accepted, standard pricing. Also carries video games, some reel-to-reel, and accessories and will order anything in the Schwann Catalogue. FIELD'S RECORD SHOP -- 2840A Alabama Avenue SE. 582-9603. Open 10 to 9 every day but Sunday. Credit cards, standard pricing. Specializes in soul, jazz, gospel and blues and will order. GIANT SOUND CENTERS -- 9416 Main Street, Fairfax. 323-6900. Open Monday to Friday 10 to 8; Saturday 10 to 6; Sunday noon to 4. Credit cards. Discount pricing. Large selection of classical, jazz, rock, pop. Carries new and used records and will buy collections and trade singles. Also carries accessories, music magazines and sells or rents musical instruments. JACK'S GOLDEN OLDIES -- 11108 Baltimore Avenue, Beltsville. 937-8484. Open Thursday, Friday and Monday 12 to 9; Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday 12 to 6. No credit cards. Mostly groups from the '50s through '70s. Lots of imported "listening" music. Will buy collections. JOE'S RECORD PARADISE -- 2229 Bel Pre Road, Silver Spring. 598-8440. Open Monday to Saturday 10:30 to 9; Sunday 12 to 6. Cash or personal check. Discount prices on most of stock; specializing in imported reggae, New Wave, jazz and heavy metal and will special order. Claims to have the largest stock of imported 45s in the country. Also stocks more than a hundred music magazines, buttons and posters. KEMP MILL RECORDS -- 22 locations. Check your phone book and call for times. Credit cards accepted; discount prices on full range of recordings, blank tapes, audio equipment, etc. LAMMAS -- 321 Seventh Street SE. 546-7292. Open Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, 11 to 6; Thursday 11 to 7; Saturday 10 to 6; Sunday 1 to 5; closed Monday. Credit cards. Mainly a book store but carries records by women artists on independent labels and will special order in the field. MELODY RECORD SHOP -- 1529 Connecticut Avenue NW. 232-4002. Open Monday to Saturday 10 to 9; Sunday 12 to 5. Credit cards. Large selection in all areas, jazz and classical. MEMORY LANE MUSIC -- 9039 Lanham-Severn Road, Lanham. 459-4999. Open Monday to Friday 10 to 8; Saturday 10 to 6. Cash only. Buys and sells old records and tapes. Huge stock going back to 1903. MODERN LANGUAGE BOOK & RECORD STORE -- 3160 O Street NW. 338-8963. Open 11 to 6 Monday and Friday; 11 to 5 Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 10 to 5 Saturday. No credit cards. Mainly French songs and spoken records, some Spanish and German and language- course records. PENGUIN FEATHERS -- 3225 M Street NW (plus nine other locations). 965-7172. Open 11 to midnight Monday to Friday; 10 to midnight Saturday and Sunday. Credit cards accepted. Discounts on all records. Also carries accessories, music periodicals and will special order. RECORD & TAPE EXCHANGE -- 3249 M Street NW. 337-7970. Open 11 to 8 Monday to Saturday; noon to 6 Sunday. No credit cards. Mostly jazz and rock, out of print. Classics are mostly overstock and cut- outs in the $3 to $5 range. Buys and sells used records and carries current music magazines. RECORD & TAPE EXCHANGE OF VIRGINIA -- 821 North Taylor Street, Arlington. 522-6497. Open Monday to Friday 11 to 7, Saturday 12 to 5. No credit cards. Buys and sells used records and cassette tapes, specializing in rock from the '50s to present, mainly exotic imports and New Wave selections, "obscure releases from strange bands with strange names." Has local group recordings (Insect Surfers, etc.); doesn't carry any major label records produced in the U.S. Will rent out used albums for a day, taking full cost deposits and giving an 80 percent refund. RECORD & TAPE LTD. -- 1239 Wisconsin Avenue (plus three other locations). 338-6712. Open 10 to 10:45 Monday to Friday; 10 to midnight Saturday; 10 to 6 Sunday. Credit cards. All but one of the stores carry both books and records. The Georgetown store specializes in rock; the L Street store in soul and disco. RECORD COLLECTIONS -- 8231 Woodmont Avenue, Bethesda. (Also in Alexandria and Baltimore.) 652-5500. Open 11 to 6 Monday to Friday; 11 to 5 Saturday. Credit cards and mail order service. Buys, sells and trades 33s and 45s in every category and has a free search service for customers. SAM "K" RECORD SHOP -- 1839 Seventh Street NW. 234-6540. Open 11 to 8 Monday to Saturday. No credit cards. Discount prices. Mostly soul music, but also carriesy out-of-print records: old jazz, Duke Ellington, etc. SECOND STORY BOOKS -- 656 Old Georgetown Road. 656-0170. Open 10 to 10 seven days a week. Credit cards. Large selection, mostly used but some new. Both jazz and classical. Carries some records in all D.C. branches. SERENADE RECORD SHOP -- 1800 M Street NW (plus one other location). 452-0075. Open Monday to Friday 9:30 to 7, Saturday 9:30 to 6. Credit cards. Direct importers of classical and international records. Will special order any domestic or international record. Also carries all major brands of pre-recorded tape, blank tape (recording and video), music magazines and record- care equipment. WAXIE MAXIE'S RE magazines. ZODIAC UNLIMITED RECORDS, INC. -- 1754 Columbia Road NW. 328- 6533. Open 7 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week. Credit cards. Mostly Spanish and Latin American, pop, some African and classical. Also carries stereo equipment, radios, etc., foreign-language records, English and Spanish magazines and newspapers. Will special order.