Vinyl is a format that has enjoyed mainstream success for a very long time, from the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, through to Beatlemania and beyond, it has been a format that has refused to die. It saw its eventual downturn in mainstream popularity with the introduction of the cassette and at the advent of the digital age with the CD. But to some, it has never gone out of style.
The record collector, you will see us in record stores & charity shops, eagerly flicking through records with catlike dexterity for that next find to quicken the pulse. What is it that makes us do this? it certainly isn’t the convenience of filling our living spaces with large amounts of vinyl of varying degrees of value and expense, so what is it?
Some maintain it is the audio quality that is superior, a presence that just isn’t there in the digital format. For others, simply finding that rare or sort after record can produce an odd euphoria akin to the drop at the top of a roller coaster, it’s there, in the pit of your stomach and i have experienced it on one or two occasions admittedly. Perhaps it’s the comforting familiarity in the age-old ritual of simply putting on a record? The musty smell of the old record sleeve, carefully wiping any dust from the surface before setting it down on the turntable and lowering the needle, waiting for the crackle or pop of a worn, well-loved record? I myself can relate to that one with a wonderful copy of Johnny Cash: I walk the line, a song that can only truly be enjoyed with the characteristic crackle of aged vinyl. It is a feeling that is immensely satisfying i must say.
Maybe it’s all those things? A sense of history & place etched in polyvinyl chloride, sat neatly on our shelves, satisfying all our musical needs and maybe in some dark, dirty corner of our subconscious, that age-old ingrained need for possession, MINE!!
One point I think that can be universally agreed upon is the most obvious, it’s because we love music. We want to experience an album in the format it was intended, we want to hear subtle nuances on records that just aren’t noticeable on CD (I had this with a copy of Tom Waits: Mule Variations I bought from my local record shop, still to this day the best record i own, i swear you can hear fingers grazing piano keys) We want that fancy vinyl only 8 disc 180g special edition with liner notes in a velveteen box……ok, maybe not ALL of us on that last one.
There is no grand overarching answer here, it probably is all those things, some more than others. One thing is for sure, it’s not going away anytime soon. Vinyl sales are competing admirably with those of CD and streaming services, its recent peak in popularity bringing to my mind a theory presented by a fictitious version of Tony Wilson in the film ’24 hour party people’ of certain things in life being cyclical, ascendant one moment, descendant the next and so on forever and ever, and with each return to prominence, a new generation of vinyl gannets eagerly pacing the aisles of our local record shops in hope of that next great find.