When I was a small boy growing up, my mom and dad played records all the time. But if I told this to some kid on the street, his response would be something like, “What the hell are those things?” So let me educate you. Dating back to 1877 when Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, this device reproduced and recorded the sounds of music like no other. There ‘s much debating over digital quality versus analog (vinyl records). I have both. In fact I have way more mp3’s and CD formats than I do records. But up until the early 1990’s, vinyl was the most popular medium for buying music. I enjoy vinyl records because of the novelty of the crackles, hiss and pops. The combination of the needle and the record, create this beautiful harmony that transports you back in time to the old ways of our forefathers.
I especially remember that my mom and dad’s record player could hold up to five of those 12-inch albums at a time and after one finished playing; the next one resting in the queue device would drop down and play. That memory is so clear in my head. Anticipation of each track was an electrifying thing, like I was sliding on the surface of that large disc spinning around.
I have a friend named Mark who sums up his recollection of listening to records, “Nostalgia of my childhood and looking through my brother’s albums and pouring over the lyrics.” I am sure that the defenders of vinyl can relate to those kinds of moments. I have always cherished the artwork that is plastered on the front and back of the album jackets. Sometimes inside you’ll find a thin booklet with the tracks, song lyrics and occasionally there would even have a brief write up about the album inside.
My grandpa had this antique radio/record stereo. A Victrola made by the Victor Talking Machine Co. and the precursor to RCA Victor. Grandpa would play these old records from the 30’s and 40’s on it. Comedy and Jazz music is what I remember or maybe it was Swing. After all, he and grandma went square dancing so maybe that’s the kind of music he enjoyed playing. It sure was a big honking thing! It collected a bunch of dust too. But nonetheless it was a neat thing that played 78’s. The number signifies how many rotations per minute it spins around. This was quite a spectacular device he had.
The needle scratching on an album, freshly pulled from its sleeve, used to be something only the older folks enjoyed, but that’s changing. Vinyl records sales are on a rising trend. It seems as though the media has finally woken up. I feel that people like me are starting to despise music in general today because it’s intangible leaving us music lovers to feel empty and lost. Another music buff, Brian from my high school days related this to me, “I still enjoy CD’s. I just feel that if I am going to spend money on an album I would like to have something physical in return for the money I paid unlike buying an MP3 album. Also, the liner notes/lyrics are nice to have and read while listening to the album. I’d probably feel the same about vinyl but I am not ready to start buying all of the albums I own on CD again on vinyl.”
Vinyl is not just limited to your mom and dad’s old Donna Summer or Jethro Tull LP’s or what is known as a long-playing microgroove record. A wide variety of artists, past and present, are on the cover of these albums. So why on earth would anyone want to hear the new Katy Perry album on a turntable when one can easily and possibly illegally download the music? Simply put, more folks are acquiring a taste for the analog sound. It’s richer and has a lot more human elements about it.
Personally, I feel that digital is not as good as analog. Many disagree with my sentiments for the quality of wax cuts. They say that, with digital technology, the sound is cleaner and crisp. That may be true. Digital music is just so robotic, automatic and it’s way less emotional. How do you connect with….ummm……..air? There is no fear related to digital music. No need to be careful how you handle mp3’s at all. That’s what you miss with digital technology. There is a secret thrill of possibly destroying your record by scratching it.
The sizzle of success when laying the needle down is pure enjoyment that no one on the face of the earth can contest that an iPod is anywhere near as dangerously thrilling as that. I say this because the analog sound has an impact on how one feels because it connects to emotions in a warm and fuzzy sort of feeling. My friend and college roommate Brett once said, “The crackling sound the needle makes at the exact moment it makes contact with the record is something I will always cherish. You don’t get that sound with any other medium.” I couldn’t agree more.
Just pick an album on LP and see if it reminds you of something wonderful in your life: a first date, first kiss, or your teenage years. Mine was hearing Michael Jackson’s Thriller for the first time in the autumn while the fireplace was burning and we had just gotten back home from a haunted house. As a seven year old, I was bedazzled. Those are the memories you cant buy. Those are the things that records provide. With an LP, one feels the music more, and it generally enhances any previous appreciation for the music. What is the driving force behind vinyl’s rebirth? The sound? Not necessarily. I think it’s more of the relationship with tactile memories and the simple beauty of this kind of sensory experience with music.
Sometime around 2007, records made a comeback. They are now being produced more and more today. Out here in the burbs of Chicago there are still mom and pop shops selling records. There are several record shows held in hotel convention halls for the privilege of browsing through those rare and old collections of vinyl. Even kids in junior high today are making comments like, “Haven’t you heard the NEW rave? All the cool kids have these things called records!” As endearing that is to hear, I hate to break it to those 13 year old kids that when I was in junior high and even when my dad was in junior high, we were already familiar with these things called records. But it’s nice to know that this old technology is truly connecting with today’s culture.
Album sales at independent record stores always seem to rise during the weekend of Record Store Day, which occurs annually on the third Saturday of April, as a tribute to these independent record stores. We just experienced the fifth anniversary of this event last weekend. I was there and it was like a nice little street party in the middle of the night. Probably 200 of us showed up to grab some wax music. I grabbed some real nice treats. One of which I will explore in greater detail in my next blog entry. So whether its a popular thing or not a fashion at all, vinyl continues to prevail. I understand now that this kind of style is a reflection of American culture and that people just want to hold on to it’s beauty.
Originally published on 4/26/12