I can feel the earth begin to move, I feel my needle hit the grooveThe Stone Roses
I struggled before deciding to buy vinyl again until I eventually took the plunge. After all, wasn’t it an obsolete format? One of the last vinyl records I bought was Pearl Jam’s Ten in 1992. I didn’t have a record player at the time and I distinctly remember at the time that the vinyl was cheaper than the CD. How times have changed.
Roll on 28 years to 2020 and the exact opposite is true. If I was Marty McFly and I had just landed in my Delorean, I would be staggered at the music industry in its current state. Most vinyl is about double the price of a CD. However, in 2020 I decided to make the switch back to vinyl. This is why.
You’re so warm, oh the ritual, when I drop down that crooked armPearl Jam
I’m going to put my hands up. I have an Apple Music account and use it voraciously. I devour whole box sets from my favourite artists (Bowie, Springsteen, the Beatles, The Who, Iggy Pop). But nothing beats the sound of vinyl. I own an Apple TV box and have access to millions of songs on Apple Music at the click of a remote control. I can sit in my living room and play any song of my choosing on a whim. But it still doesn’t come close to dropping that needle.
While there’s no real scientific evidence to prove that vinyl actually sounds better, the truth is that it just does. Whether it’s the soft crackle of the needle in the grooves, or just being able to take the record out of the sleeve. Ultimately a physical copy of a record is just much more satisfying. Many records now come with a download code which is an added bonus.
Music itself is going to become like water or electricityDavid Bowie
In 1999, Jeremy Paxman interviewed an enthused David Bowie about his thoughts on the internet. Bowie was one of the first artists to harness the power of the internet with BowieNet, his own Internet Service Provider. Bowie predicted the music industry in its present day state and was ahead of the curve as usual. Music has ultimately suffered as an art and as a result has become more disposable, deleted from our smart phones once played over a few times.
The Kanye Factor
One of the most attractive aspects of vinyl has always been the artwork. When streaming came into play, artwork was reduced to a thumbnail picture. But it was so convenient. Digital music has seen the importance of artwork in music decline exponentially. Kanye West’s excellent Yeezus album artwork depicted a CD in a clear case sealed with a piece of red tape. His creative director called it an open casket for the death of a format. The CD itself came in a clear case just like the one depicted in the artwork. Yeezus didn’t even get a vinyl release. In a retort to the Yeezus artwork, the cover of West’s new record ‘Jesus Is King’ features a blue vinyl copy of the record. A homage to the resurgent physical format.
While many see Kanye as an annoying douche (Taylor Swift stage invasion), his artistry can’t be denied. What West perhaps didn’t see coming, was just how strong the vinyl resurgence would be. Vinyl sales are increasing year after year. The Yeezus artwork showed that the album as a work of art is still very much alive and well. West made an artistic statement on the death of a physical format, but carried on the tradition started by The Beatles all those years ago. Releasing an album in a blank case was nothing new. The Beatles done it with the White Album.
Revolution In The Head
Back in the early 1960’s, albums or LP’s (Long Players) weren’t seen as the primary format. This can be seen when you look at the amount of singles that were released during that period that weren’t on albums. LP’s were seen as an expensive commodity, and not the art-form they were eventually to become.
A prime example during this era was the decision to leave Penny Lane/ Strawberry Fields Forever off Sgt Pepper. The main reason was record company pressure. The Beatles, who had intended these two songs to be on Sergeant Pepper, relented. The 3 minute, 7 inch pop song was king.
All this changed when The Beatles decided to stop touring and spend more time in the recording studio. From Rubber Soul onwards they became increasingly experimental. Along with producer George Martin, they pushed the boundaries of what an album could sound and look like. Using pioneering recording techniques and ground-breaking artwork they changed the whole landscape of popular music. This reached a pinnacle with Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. The artwork is a touchstone in the history of popular music. Let’s face it, what aspect of popular culture didn’t The Beatles change?
The vinyl record is the equivalent of whether you have the tea bag or the Japanese tea ceremony, the tea ceremony is the right way to approach musicNick Mason, Pink Floyd
It’s true what Blur said all those years ago, modern life is rubbish. I spend so much time in front of a computer screen, I’m constantly looking for ways I can reduce screen time. The latest iOS update tells me exactly how much time I spend on my phone, so I’m all too conscious of how much time I spend on my iPhone.
I’m always looking for ways to clear my head and meditate. I love getting out into nature and removing myself from gadgets just for a little while. For me, records are part of this ritual. Not only am I actively reducing screen time, but it just reminds me of a simpler, more beautiful time in my life before everything became so fast paced and hectic. These days I don’t even have to watch the news to keep up with current affairs. I’m constantly reminded about what’s going on in the world through Twitter updates and my Facebook news feed. I like going off grid for a while.
The whole experience of vinyl is what we’re after. If we don’t see something moving we lose romanceJack White
I could go through my entire record collection and tell you a story about each record. In today’s internet marketplace those days had become a distant memory until recently, with record shops springing up in every city across the world as vinyl makes a resurgent comeback.
Buying vinyl online can sometimes be a bit soulless, though it’s often the best value. Amazon provide a service called Autorip which gives you a free mp3 copy of the record when you order the vinyl. Even vinyl is portable these days.
The best way to buy vinyl though is by getting out into the community and digging. Crate digging has always been part of the allure and offers a social outlet for people that digital music just doesn’t. Anytime I go to a record fair or a record store I meet like minded people I can stop and talk to about the records I love. If you’re feeling less patient and just have to find that that rare pressing you’re looking for the online marketplace Discogs is the place to go.
Streaming Vs Vinyl
The album as an art-form has suffered due to streaming and the ability to just cherry pick songs to download off particular albums. Does anyone download skits on hip hop albums? For me, they were an essential part of the listening experience and part of what gave an album its narrative. They were littered through De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising, which is one of my favourite records of all time. A record makes selecting a particular song to play fairly difficult, encouraging the listener to enjoy the album in its entirety as was intended.
The figures suggest that the vinyl revolution is more than just a fad. Vinyl sales have been on the rise year after year since 2012. Record Store Day has created a buzz around new vinyl releases and gives record shops a great way to promote their stock and get people into record stores. Music fans are getting excited again about new records by their favourite artists.
Spin The Black Circle
Having music on tap though, like water or electricity as Bowie would have it, is too attractive a proposition. I listen to music the same way I read books. If I’m in the mood to listen to something I haven’t heard before I stream it or download it, as it’s relatively inexpensive. I stream or download on impulse, the same way I would buy a paperback in Tesco’s to read on the bus or train. But if I want something more meaningful I need to take time out to listen to I’ll buy the vinyl.
More importantly though, I’m determined to honour the legacy of my favourite artists (The Beatles, The Who, David Bowie) by buying vinyl and appreciating their art and legacy. The legacy created by Lennon, McCartney, Bowie, Townshend and even West lives on through these shiny black pieces of acetate. For anyone wanting to experience rock and roll in its purest, most unadulterated form, buy a turntable like I did and drop that needle.