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Mar. 24 2010 - 7:06 am | 828 views | 7 recommendations | 13 comments

Record Store Day: An ode to vinyl

It’s spring, and my thoughts turn to vinyl.

April 17th marks the fourth annual Record Store Day.

[Record Store Day] is a celebration of the unique culture surrounding over 700 independently owned record stores in the USA, and hundreds of similar stores internationally.…this is the one day that all of the independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate the art of music .

Between marking this on my calendar yesterday and reading some of the comments on my post about the eventual demise of the CD, I spent a good portion of a rather restless night thinking about records.

My first “record” wasn’t vinyl at all, but an Archies record that I punched out of the back of a cereal box.  No one would let me play it on their stereo. Not my parents, not my cousins, not even the next door neighbor. No one would dare let their precious needle touch a piece of cardboard pretending to be a record. I suspect now that it wasn’t so much the cardboard as it was the Archies themselves. I ended up listening to it on a Fisher-Price record player.

I was given real records after that – Partridge Family and Bobby Sherman collections and a few children’s albums. But they were just novelties. My real love affair with vinyl began when I was nine, when an older cousin introduced me to The Who’s Tommy. I remember pulling the record out of its sleeve as my cousin showed me how to properly handle a album.  He placed my hands around the edge of the record, explaining about fingerprints and dust and grooves.  He showed me how to drop the record on the turntable. Until then, I had been using the Fisher Price system and was a bit haphazard about how I handled my cardboard records. My cousin was almost reverent about it, holding the edges with his palm, placing the album gently on the turntable, dropping the needle on the groove by hand because he didn’t trust the automatic arm to do it right.

He turned the volume up. The unmistakable crackle and hiss of needle upon vinyl filled the room.

My love for vinyl was born at that moment.

I’ve been through all the phases of music storage since – 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, digital – and none of those storage mediums have the character of vinyl.

I’m not an audiophile by any means. When I say vinyl is the best form of music, it has nothing to do with how clean or pure the sound is; it’s about my sensory  relationship with albums. The way a record feels in my hands, the symmetry and pattern of the grooves, even the imperfections  – the scratches and skips – are part of what makes vinyl matter so much to me and what makes each individual album unique to its owner.  The way my copy of Led Zeppelin IV had a little pop at the start and in my mind, it became the intro to the song, the thing I hear right before Robert Plant’s Hey, hey mama.  Or how my mother’s copy of Sgt. Pepper had a scratch in it and to this day I can’t hear A Day in the Life without singing found my way up…found my way up…found my way upstairs. Some might view those things as flaws. To me, they are part of the charm and personality of vinyl.

Purple Rain on purple vinyl (photo by me)

Can CDs or digital offer you the artistry of records? Album covers framed and hung on the wall like pictures at an exhibition. Colored vinyl and picture discs turning your music into a work of art.  In 1980, I bought True Colors by Split Enz and was endlessly entranced by the laser etching in the vinyl that made it seem full of colorful prisms.  Later, I would work in a record store and spend my entire paycheck each week on seven inch imports, a reminder of my days of collecting 45s.  Each record had its own character, a specific memory attached to it – memories that were made of more than just sound. There’s the feel of the record, the sight of it, things so ingrained in the experience of listening to vinyl that just walking into a record store is like opening up a time machine.

I’ve never met a CD that made me fall in love with it like a record. I’ll still love the music, but the CD is just a container for that music, where a record is part of the entire music experience.

It’s good to see that records are making a comeback. More and more bands are including album versions in their new releases. Turntables are selling again. A new generation is learning to embrace vinyl.  I hope they appreciate the imperfections that make records so, well, perfect.

Last year on Record Store Day I bought Radiohead’s The Bends. This year I’m hoping to pick up Queens of the Stone Age – Feel Good Hit of the Summer EP, just one of a slew of special releases in honor of Record Store Day.

Find a participating store near you.

Josh Homme: Record Store Day Ambassador -


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  1. collapse expand

    I remember my dad’s ritual of removing the album and then lovingly cleaning it with a special solution from a small plastic squirt bottle and a special tool with a velvety surface.

    His stereo components didn’t match. He had an Akai receiver, Pioneer turntable and Yamaha speakers. He also had a reel-to-reel tape thing I was NOT allowed to touch.

    I could admire album artwork ONLY when the album was not in the sleeve. King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King” was a favorite to look at.

    He revered his vinyl. While I think we all revere our music collections for content, there’s nothing as tangible and fragile as vinyl. The fragility made it precious.

  2. collapse expand

    I think you’re right. I just started listening to Santana ‘Evil Ways’ on vinyl and then compared it to digital. The former is like stepping back in a luxuriously rich textured world! While the latter is just like everything else I listen to, perfect quality but somehow lacking texture.

  3. collapse expand

    My closet and garage are filled with my vinyl — the stereo system died years ago and it was almost impossible to find (then) someone to repair it. I miss it terribly!!! I can’t wait to hear all my albums again, including Led Zeppelin and Tommy.

    There is also a (lost?) very different way to listen — paying sustained, undivided focused attention — that has disappeared with albums. I loved seeing how an album was constructed/produced and in what order they’d decided we should listen to it all.

    My most powerful memories of vinyl were my Mom blasting the Beatles (which I loved) and my own addiction to Hejira, the best of Joni Mitchell’s many albums. I love music and I enjoy my CDs but I also miss the cover art of albums — Joni Mitchell (as many know) often did her own cover art.

    I also miss the camaraderie of a great local record store — like the one in the film High Fidelity — where you can find new gems after someone there recommended something. I still remember discovering Lloyd Cole and the Attractions. I absolutely loathe the utter loneliness of most music departments of Borders, etc. with a few headphones and 10 pre-selected things to listen to.

    If indie record stores disappear, we’re in deep trouble.

  4. collapse expand

    Caitlin, you mentioned the one thing I neglected to talk about – listening to a whole album from start to finish. Most people I know (myself included) have their iPods on shuffle mode and listen to music that way. You lose the continuity of an album like that (and I should probably write about the Pink Floyd/iTunes thing where it was ruled their songs could not be sold separately). Sometimes I’ll listen to a whole album (like Queens of the Stone Age, Songs for the Deaf) and remember that albums were meant to be heard like that.

  5. collapse expand

    My sweetie gave me an Ipod several Christmases ago. I haven’t touched it since (he understands.) I hate the whole idea of an artist’s vision, thought and creativity being chopped up like so many pieces of lettuce.

    I eagerly (hah) await the day people take one of my paragraphs, add it to another, then another…and decide “Yeah, that’s how Caitlin writes.”

  6. collapse expand

    “I’ll still love the music, but the CD is just a container for that music, where a record is part of the entire music experience.”

    This sentence really captures it. The memories of vinyl, the experience of it, has a linear logic. We had a relationship with vinyl, with the physical record… how we held it, where we stored it, how we looked at and read the album cover, where we sat when we listened. When I dj’d in college (right before cds took over) there was one magical move we all sought to master: the counter-clockwise quarter-turn to cue the record. There’s still nothing — nothing — like that perfect segue on vinyl.

  7. collapse expand

    Michele/Caitlin, you both touch on the concept of an album and that’s something I’m curious about. Even though I was only a child of vinyl for a few years before the cassette was king, to this day I still view an album as corpus, rather than a collection of individual tracks. Despite the ease with which we can all download individual tracks I still almost never do this, opting instead to grab the entire album. I wonder of other people of my/our generation are similarly affected or if I’m one of the few with a sort of Pink Floyd mentality.

  8. collapse expand

    Dude! I didn’t even know about record store day! And there are two quality vinyl shops in my town, both within walking distance (I nearly used another exclamation point… will try to refrain). This is going on my calendar. I think I have that purple Purple disk (though it may be an extended single that I own… I can’t quite remember… will have to go check). The thing that I’m always surprised about is when I hear a song on an “album” now and think “I don’t remember that being on that album,” and then I think hard and remember that I only ever listened to one side of that album because the other side sucked. This rarely happens to me now. I either buy the one song I want, or I fall in love with the whole band and their friends and relations.

    Blessings.

  9. collapse expand

    Definitely a fan of RSD, although it’s a tough balance between good new stuff that is created in limited release, and then mass produced reissues that have undefined “limited pressings.” I.e., 2,000 is about the upper end of an actual limited edition, but you know some of these limited pressings that don’t specify their number probably run upwards of 10,000. It’s also an interesting process watching the people who grab up releases and try to sell them on ebay same day. If they are already worth more than you paid, then there’s likely something wrong with the system (although I guess maybe they are providing to people who don’t have record stores in their town).

  10. collapse expand

    While I too own, and still listen to, plenty of LP’s.. I am a bit wary of all this over-fetishizing/romanticizing of the format.
    I don’t think you can truly have a “vinyl resurgence”, when retailers, both big-box and indie alike, are attempting to charge twenty five dollars and up for a re-issue of a single record that just happens to be pressed on heavier grade vinyl than it was back in “the good old days”.. y’know, when the music apparently “sounded better” on vinyl..I mean, if this was truly the case, than whats wrong with the wafer thin, 70’s Coloumbia House record club version of that Kinks record that I just fished out of the dollar bin?
    Fact is, unless you happen to own an audiophile grade needle, stylus, reciever, and speakers,(and how many of us actually do?) you aren’t really going to hear that big a diffrence with 180g vinyl.

    Even though the compact disc is highly unfashionable right now, I take issue with the “tinny-sounding” argument. Yes, when Cd’s first became available, the mastering process hadn’t caught up the the format yet, so older cd’s sound pretty crummy. But buying a re-mastered cd now? (My Sly Stone box set springs to mind) I couldn’t be happier with the audio quality; Deep bass, resonant highs and mids..My ears aren’t “fatigued” by it…In fact, until the squished-sounding MP3 format matches CD quality, I will keep on buying Cd’s (another plus: “passe” format equals deep discounts for me, so keep dogging those discs people!)

    The whole ‘vinyl is the only good format’ argument always makes me think of that ‘Mr. Show’ sketch where David Cross plays a pretentious fop who carries around a mini victrola with him.
    (see below)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6fA9sJ3LBwg

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    About Me

    Music is my true passion. Listening to it, talking about it, writing about it. Definitely not playing it.

    I live on Long Island. I have two kids (17 and 20) a dog (a miniature schnauzer) and a boyfriend (a transplanted Californian). We all aim to move to California one day. I take pictures, I write stories, I eat sushi and I play video games.

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