Welcome back to Music Monday!
Let’s talk about vinyl this week. Specifically, why vinyl is cool.
As you probably know, vinyl has been enjoying a comeback in the last few years. Independent record stores have re-gained popularity and now have an entire day dedicated to them every year in April. More and more artists are releasing their albums in vinyl format in addition to CD format and MP3 download. Audiophiles like me are building record collections alongside their iTunes libraries and/or CD collections (I’m not the only person who still buys CDs…right?).
The vinyl resurgence has probably been causing eye-rolling among some. Record collectors sometimes get the “hipster” label slapped on them. Some probably don’t understand the point of records anymore. Even the legendary Neil Young dismissed the trend, calling it a mere fashion statement and pointing out that new records are basically just CDs in a different format.
To be honest, I do see Neil’s statements reflected in my own vinyl-purchasing habits. I tend not to buy new and remastered vinyl because a) I can get similar—if not better—sound quality from a CD or download for much cheaper than a record, and b) new albums are so easy to find on vinyl, which diminishes some of the thrill of the music hunt for me. Vinyl-collecting is an impractical endeavor, for sure, especially in this era of the digital, the portable, and the easy-to-replicate. Nevertheless, I am a strong defender of the vinyl record and I am cheering on its return whole-heartedly. Here’s why:
- Three words: independent record stores. The independent record store surely would have faded into antiquity had the vinyl record not made its comeback. Music has largely gone the way of, well, the large—we can buy music in big-box stores that also sell our home goods and groceries, from online megastores, and from digital download vendors. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course—all those things and more have made music super-accessible and easy to buy and share. But people’s new-found (or maybe re-found) enjoyment of vinyl has saved many record stores from closing and has opened up new ones. And who needs my business more—a big company that’s in no danger of going under, or a little mom-and-pop store that relies on a smaller-but-loyal customer base to keep it thriving? Plus, record stores are groovy and vibe-y and full of treasures that big stores just don’t have. Who doesn’t love that?
- Music becomes more sensory and interactive. I’m sure the mechanics and little bitty details of how sound is produced in a computer or MP3 player are fascinating. But it’s a hidden process, not to mention invisible even if we could see the guts of our electronics. Of course the music-making process of a record player is also invisible, but the workings aren’t as hidden. The record isn’t enclosed but totally visible as it plays. We see it spin and wobble and we see the arm bob up and down. We see the connection between groove and needle, the point of contact that produces the sound. And listening to a record involves more effort on our part than just selecting a song and hitting “play” on our modern devices. We have to ready our turntable—open it up, turn it on, remove the needle cover, raise the arm. We have to choose a record, remove it from the sleeve, set it on the turntable, and lower the arm precisely to start playing it. Not to mention the fact that records require a good deal more care and maintenance than modern music formats. It’s hands-on. It takes a bit of time and effort. There’s something about that that I like.
- Records are a step back in time. Old music is, of course, available in newer formats. I have many CDs of classic albums and I listen to plenty of rock and roll on Spotify. But I still choose to collect vinyl, and two-thirds of my collection is classic titles by classic artists (a little Bob Dylan, a little Led Zeppelin, some Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and a whole lot of U2, to name a few). Each used record holds an untold (and, unless you know the person you inherited or bought the record from, unknowable) story. As I scan the bins and shelves of records at my hometown shop (Toad Hall, baby!) and pick out records that I want, I wonder who owned them last and where they were stored and how they wound up in the shop. I wonder if their first owners bought them at a similar record store when they were first released some thirty or forty years ago. I’m a sucker for stories. I am a writer, after all.
Curious as to what I have in my collection? Here’s a sampling of my favorites:
- Creedence Clearwater Revival, Cosmo’s Factory
- Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited
- Peter Gabriel, So
- Led Zeppelin, Houses of the Holy
- Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More
- Pink Floyd, Wish You Were Here
- U2, October
What about you? Have you hopped aboard the vinyl bandwagon, or not so much? What’s in your collection? Feel free to comment!
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Alsooo, just announced today…Mumford & Sons are back after almost a year and a half since their last tour ended! Their third album, Wilder Mind, is out May 4 and they’ve announced a few Gentlemen of the Road stopovers for this summer. If you’re unfamiliar with the Gentlemen of the Road stopover, it’s basically a music festival curated by Mumford & Sons. They did some back in 2012 and 2013 and I went to one during each of those years. It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to make it to a stopover this year, but head on over to www.gentlemenoftheroad.com to learn more about their selected stops, line-ups, and tickets. And go to Mumford & Sons’ website for more info on their upcoming album!