Vinyl? Yes, vinyl!
I love the internet. It brought us many a wondrous thing, like BRP. But it also led to the downfall of many other cool things, like book stores and record stores. I used to love going into record stores and hunting around for new bands, new sounds, and checking out the cut-out bin. Finding new music back then was a challenge, and I loved the thrill of the hunt. If you're too young to remember those days, well, you missed out on something.
With the introduction and huge popularization of CDs in the 90s, record stores became purveyors of both vinyl and CDs. Eventually, CDs pushed the vinyl farther and farther into the back of the stores, and it appeared to all that the days of vinyl were over. Vinyl records ended up in used record shops for those who were either too cheap to buy a CD player, or so wedded to the "warmth" of vinyl that they never left the format. Digitalization and its downloads seemed destined to end packaged music forever.
But the death of vinyl did not happen. Rappers and indie rockers started to release singles and EPs on vinyl due to their low cost to produce and sell. DJs still hunted up vinyl. And people started moving back to the format. And now comes the news that Sony Music Entertainment, which owns the Columbia and RCA labels, is going to produce vinyl records for the first time in almost 30 years. According to the Wall Street Journal, vinyl record sales in the U.S. are up for the eleventh year in a row, and in the UK, they sold more than digital downloads last year. Whoa! Sony is going to produce the vinyl records in Japan, a country that never really took to the digital revolution and where Tower Records and many other hard format purveyors still thrive.
And guess what? It doesn't stop there. Panasonic is now selling Technics turntables, and Sony is introducing turntables that play the records and also digitally store the music in hi-def format.
Being the hoarder that I am, I still have a lot of vinyl in my house. That's a picture above of my few hundred albums. I can't say that I buy them anymore, but I have a lot from my youth, and I still listen to them on occasion. I have some stuff that is incredibly hard to find in any other format, like the most excellent XTC track "Take This Town." (It's on youtube, of course, and I linked to it below.)
But vinyl for me conjures up memories of cleaning each record with the discwasher system, cleaning the stylus, getting up every 4 or 5 songs to flip it and clean it all again, and cussing when I dropped or scratched the fragile records. The pop, hiss and "warmth" that you get from records? Not my thing. As soon as I got the money, I went to CDs and never looked back. To me, CDs were superior in many ways - more dynamic range, no cleaning, they played straight through without having to flip them, they didn't get scratched or ruined, you could immediately skip to your favorite track and hit it over and over again, and they replaced cassettes in the car. I still like them enough to buy them, both new and old.
What about digital downloads and streaming? Well, you can't fight the system, and the digitalization of music is one of the game-changers of the internet age. I have a huge iPod packed with tens of thousands of songs, including all of my CDs. I'm not a guy who buys a few hundred singles and listens to them over and over. I have Amazon Prime and use that streaming service in a limited way, and I have a non-subscription version of Spotify. I know, I know, I'm getting there. But digital music is seriously compressed, sometimes to the point where entire guitar solos disappear, and the sound quality is lacking. I don't get how younger people have foregone the amazing sound systems that the boomers enjoyed in exchange for convenience and a 2 inch tinny computer speaker. I spent thousands on my stereo system back in the day, and the sound and dynamic range were incredible. Just ask the neighbors down the street from my parents house.
One thing that I do miss about LPs is the cover art and the size of the jackets. Cover art was a huge phenomenon. Go look at the old albums for Hendrix or the Beatles (or hell, even Molly Hatchet), and you will see what I mean. They also often came with lyric sheets (where the fonts were sized so that even I could read them), and some had fold outs with more pictures. CDs offer decent packaging, but it's so small that I need these ridiculous Peabody and Sherman 2.0 readers to decipher them.
So that's my turntable pictured above. Not very snazzy, but a good piece of equipment. I have never used a stack of pennies on the stylus/arm to keep the needle pressed into the grooves of the records. Well, at least not on this turntable. I did, of course, use such a sophisticated system on our old "close 'n play" record player. My brothers and I would listen to records while we fell asleep. As a kid, the soothing sounds of the Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" or Steppenwolf's "Greatest Hits" were just the antidote for insomnia. Strange, but true.
I'm glad to see vinyl make a comeback. I'm happy that music is once again for sale in a format where you actually own the music that you buy (not so with iTunes, the bastards). And I'm satisfied with the thought that record and CD stores may soon fill empty storefronts again. (I'll blog about a few CD/record shops that I frequent on the Main Line another day.)
And with that, I'm off. You readers are the best, and I'm glad that you keep visiting. If you keep returning, I'll keep it coming. One last tune for you, from the fabulous Steppenwolf, and then I'm G-O-N-E ... at least until next time.
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My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.