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.
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.
Josh Homme: Record Store Day Ambassador -