Methodically searching through your collection you scan the titles, head tilted at an angle ever so slightly to be able to read the words on the spine until you find your desired choice. Carefully you pull it out and place it on a flat surface. With care and precision you carefully remove the inner contents. Once that is removed, you even more carefully remove the object contained within from the sleeve, fingers delicately positioned in such a way to prevent smudges. Upon removal you stretch your fingers out on both hands to grip the object, pausing to surreptitiously blow visible dust off either side. Finally the object may be placed on its spindle as you carefully align the center hole. Next comes the not so technical decision about which switch to push (or pull, depending on type of machinery) that determines the rpm once the machine is on. Now the object is spinning, it’s distinctive label of varying colors, logo and artwork clearly visible moments before now a blur as the second crucial component of this machine comes swinging into place, momentarily pausing as if to say, did you make the right choice?
…the music you have so carefully chosen bursts forth from the distinct sound of a vinyl record. There really is nothing like the motion and sound of a record being played. The rotation of the turntable mesmerizing in its simplicity, the distinctive crackle as the needle sets down on the first grooves of the record and the anxious few seconds of waiting just before the music actually kicks in. For those with a steady eye and solid nerves, what today can be done easily with the click of a mouse or a fast forward button, you can skip to another song by the raising of the arm and the careful lowering of it again onto the thick grooves that mark the breaks between songs. Failure to drop it in the correct place results in a jarring scraping sound and a serious risk of damaging something you spent good money for.
There is also a physical side to record listening in many ways. The multiple staged procedure for placing it on the turntable I describe above can take a bit of time to accomplish for starters. When I was younger, and particularly if it was a great album, you would sit nearby, poised to grab the record once the first side finished so you could quickly turn it over to play the flip side. You also had to safeguard against the possibility of someone stomping through the room causing the record to skip. A far cry from the ease of playability in today’s digital era for sure.
In the last several years there has been a massive resurgence both in the popularity, and demand for vinyl records and turntables after many years in the dark ages it seemed. Vinyl was a huge part of my life growing up. What started with perusing (and sometimes chiding) my father’s collection of 45’s and LP’s gradually grew into the period when you had a choice about the format you wished to listen to your music on, which was not exclusively vinyl. Yes, I am of the generation that can remember those wonderfully indestructible 8-Track tapes one could usually find strewn in the foot well of your friend’s car and the marvelous ca-chunk sound they made when selecting program 1-4. Then came the smaller and more portable cassette tapes, and the advent of boom boxes and the Walkman allowing for carrying your own music around with you for the first time. But up until a certain stage of my life the vinyl record was always the preferred choice.
I think part of the reason was with an LP, you felt like you were purchasing something important. The pure size of a 33 rpm record felt substantial and meaningful in your hands. The photos of the band and the liner notes were much larger to look at than their digital counterparts today. Sometimes they came with little goodies, like band posters, lyric sheets, fan club information, or the famous cut out sleeve card on The Beatles Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, which no one dared actually cut up I should mention! It was solid, yet flexible. Durable, yet breakable if you were not careful.
One of the reasons I also loved albums growing up was for the wonderful assortment of album labels, each of which had their own distinctive logo and artwork printed on the record itself. The dog sitting next to the old fashioned phonograph logo of RCA Records, the palm tree symbol for Island Records. The burst of light logo instantly recognized as belonging to Sun Records. The classic lettering of Stiff Records, the corporate style stamp of an A&M Record, or the orb-like Geffen Records were all memorable. Others were almost dull in having no logo whatsoever such as Columbia Records, though the distinctive red color and font made them instantly recognizable as the label of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash among others. Below in the gallery are photos of some of my favorites.
But at some point among the general public, vinyl records really stopped being a thing. People wanted convenience and portability. They wanted something that was not so fragile to handle. Sure you could still find them in most people’s homes, often relegated to boxes in the basement, or at garage sales and thrift stores. Even if you had wished to play something from the old stacks of your parents records, it was difficult finding a functioning turntable to play them on, or worse still, locating a replacement needle. Though I kept all my old vinyl records from my youth, I literally had not played them for at least 25 years. That is until a few years ago when a resurgence in vinyl started happening from people who grew weary of the thinner digital sound and who longed for a return to those deeper and fuller sounds one can only get from a vinyl record. Suddenly it became easier finding turntables and the assorted equipment. In a nod to having the best of both worlds, USB turntables became popular as well, allowing for the vinyl sound to be transferred to your phone or mp3 player.
Even more surprising were record labels like the mighty Daptone Records in Brooklyn who released new material on records. And not just albums, but also singles on the beloved 45 rpm format. Reissues of classic albums started appearing. Missed the boat on those Beatles albums back in the 60’s? You can now buy them all on newly restored and reissued vinyl today. 25 years ago I would have never thought I would see this kind of renaissance happening, but here we are in 2016 and though it may pale in comparison to the digital sales of the latest pop sensation, there is a growing demand and desire for vinyl records once again.
Along with those new vinyl pressings has also come a desire for buying them from an actual store, and scattered throughout NYC, actual record stores have begun to crop up. Last summer, one such store opened in my own neighborhood-hifi records. In it you can find lots of those new vinyl pressings as well as bins of used records, turntables, and other equipment, not to mention tasty coffee as well! Just this evening, I went shopping for a brand new album there and HiFi put on an after hours showcase of three local bands. Great turnout, great free beer, and a great atmosphere hanging out in a store that only sells vinyl records! Best of all, as I scanned around the room tonight, I noticed that there is a steady stream of people shopping there, of all ages. All searching for a record to bring home and carefully open, and carefully placing on the record player, and reveling in that unique sound that can only come from a record player.
Now I bet some of you have been wondering what song I would choose for this edition, culled from my own vinyl collection. I thought about this for a good while, and I was thinking of something that was a really cool and cutting edge kind of group. Maybe some punk rock or some long lost vinyl classic. In the end I decided to go with something more personal. All this reminiscing has sent me back to my youth and I still remember the first album I solely picked out for myself all those years ago, and though battered and scratched, I still possess it to this very day. A couple of weeks ago as I write, we lost two great, but very different singers-David Bowie and Glenn Frey of the Eagles. Though I felt the loss of David Bowie deeply (still do in fact), that first album I bought for myself back in 1979 or thereabouts was the Eagles first album. There was a time when their music loomed large for me, and though I still like a few songs, I moved on from playing their music that much, with one notable exception. Side 1, Track 1 on their debut album is a song that I still easily put in my top 10 favorite songs of all time-Take It Easy. Those harmonies, that banjo, and most of all that wonderful line about ‘standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona defined the types of music I listened to in subsequent years. It all started with a vinyl record and a song co-written and sung by Glenn Frey. R.I.P. Glenn, this one is for you!
I’d love to hear some of your own vinyl record stories below in the comments. I would also urge you to dust off those old albums you or your family may have and give them a spin again. They really do sound better than any digital download you may buy. While you are at it, find and support your local record store, or anywhere else that devotes space to them. For me it is HiFi Records, and please do check out their website here, and give them a follow on Facebook and Instagram.
Many thanks to Javi and Chris of hifi records!
Take It Easy-Written By Jackson Browne & Glenn Frey
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle
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