Vinyl LPs – a lament

music-records

When I was a lad there were only two ways to get your music, one was the 12 33⅓ rpm vinyl LP (long player) or the 7 45 rpm single, the other was the compact cassette or tape.

The cassette was always problematic and it was a good thing they made the holes the right size to insert a pencil so you could hand-wind the tape back onto the spools and untie all the knots that had developed when your car hi-fi mangled the thing! The sound quality was never great in my opinion, even when chrome dioxide and other fancy coatings came along. The only good thing about the cassette was that it was considerably more convenient than an LP. It made music portable either via the car hi-fi or those new fangled ‘walkman’ devices. That’s why it died so quickly when the CD came along. The CD was even more convenient (after they introduced ‘anti-shock’ devices) and had much better sound quality. Having said that, it is probably only about 8 years ago that the tape pretty much disappeared without trace. It was about that time I bought my current hi-fi system and I did buy a pretty good Denon tape deck because I still had a reasonable collection of tapes. I don’t think I have any left now and the tape deck is destined to take part in the “Great Allegro Clear-out” later this year.

The LP on the other hand is greatly missed and there’s no way Jose that I’ll be parting with any of my record collection or Allegroing my deck.

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My record collection is sadly not what it used to be as it has been the subject of various attacks of a vile and pernicious nature. I first lost at least as many as I now have in a strange incident involving a carpenter from Newcastle and a window frame. As I recall, although it is rather hazy, I had asked this nasty carpenter to make a window frame for me. I have no idea who the window was for, possibly parents or friends, but I doubt it was for me. Anyway, after it was made the guy increased the price he had originally asked so somehow I ended up giving him part of my record collection in addition to some cash and hating him forever. Like I said, it is all very hazy and may even be the remnant of some psychotic episode of mine but I do know one thing for sure and that’s that a chunk of my oldest records are missing. The collection was further depleted by the more usual reason of ending a relationship and leaving a few records behind or having them smashed by the offended party.

The ones I do still have were all purchased in the UK and were about the only things to have come over here with me. The rest of my UK existence got left behind, or destroyed by offended party. I cannot remember how I got them over here, I suppose it must have been parcel post unless I lugged a few boxes of them onto a plane? Having spent years collecting them, either buying when released or later from those magnificent shops like the ‘Record & Tape Exchange’ on Goldhawk Road, Hammersmith, where you could immerse yourself in a sea of second hand records and tapes. While flicking through the collection for this post I noticed one that probably came from Goldhawk Road or somewhere similar – the stickers say “Spiral Label” “£15”. Pretty expensive really but checking the internet now I see that the ones with the spiral Vertigo label are more valuable and this album, Black Sabbath’s first album might have doubled in value since I bought it.

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I imagine that most people today have never bought an LP, played one, possibly never even seen one. Not their fault of course because for the most part they have simply not been available, so they don’t know what they are missing. There’s something about vinyl that CDs and especially mp3 files just can’t give you. If you equate playing an LP to eating a great Sunday roast dinner then a CD is a roast beef sandwich and an mp3 is a vitamin pill. They all provide you with some essential nutrients but there’s a lot more enjoyment to had from the Sunday roast than there is from a vitamin pill!

The physical size of the thing for a start allows much more to be done with visual aspects such as the album art, which can be quite stunning and as memorable, sometimes more so, than the music itself. All the inserts as well can be of a meaningful size, posters, booklets, etc. Take a look at this boxed set “Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – Live 1975-85”. It weighs 1.2 kilo and includes 5 albums and a good booklet. You just can’t get that kind of content anymore. What would you rather have, all of this or a big file on your computer?

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I expect that most people who have never experienced vinyl music will expect the sound quality to be pants. After all, how could it be good when you’ve got a primitive needle running round some grooves with all that dust and stuff! Well, I’m not an audiophile but I think they would be very pleasantly surprised to hear the difference between the vinyl ‘analog’ music and the CD or mp3’s ‘digital’ music. I find the music from a good LP to be superior, more mellow, better tonal range, but don’t just take my word for it. It’s a bit like comparing an Ansel Adams black and white photo to an Andy Warhol colour one, if you see what I mean. Both good, but different.

Then there are the intriguingly anoraky things about LPs like notes written in the lead-out area of an LP. This is the part at the end of the record where the needle will just go round in circles waiting for you to turn it over and play the other side. The part of black vinyl closest to the label. This area always contains boring stuff like the catalog number and stamper ID as seen below:

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However, on occasion you can find all sorts of other stuff in there. On some albums I’ve found inspirational or personal messages running into a sentence or two but more common is a “signature”, most likely of the cutting engineer. Here are a couple of examples from the albums “Rumours” by Fleetwood Mac and “The Captain and Me” by The Doobie Brothers.

“Allen”

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“Kapt. Kipper”

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I see one of the Kapt. Kipper records was sold as ‘rare and collectible’. Hmmm.

I hope vinyl makes a strong and sustained comeback. I’m pretty sure it will actually because it has so much more to offer than an impersonal computer file. I noticed with deep joy perhaps 5 years ago that vinyl was appearing in some record shops. Even though this is so far limited to a handful of albums by ultra-hip artists it is an encouraging sign. I even had Andrew at work expressing an interest in vinyl last week, he’s just over 30 years old and keen on music and fashion. If more people like him start getting interested it might not be long before I can go back to building my library of music to be played at a gentle 33⅓ rpm and give my Rega planar 2 a bit more of a workout!

UPDATE – Andrew tells me today that the latest albums by Kings of Leon, Coldplay and U2 are all available on vinyl. Perhaps the comeback is closer than expected!

ANOTHER UPDATE – the comeback HAS already started. As usual my blog posts find themselves at the leading edge of world events! ;)

Investment tip for the day – go long on shares in companies that produce vinyl records.

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8 thoughts on “Vinyl LPs – a lament

  1. I still have my collection. I don’t want to part with them either…but am seriously thinking of it. My Elvis and Disco LP’s. I was thinking of having them transferred to a CD. I thought I read somewhere they were bringing it back but that hasn’t happened and if they do I’ll probably be bopping around in a wheelchair to old to enjoy them anymore.

  2. I remember my first boyfriend wanting Christmas day by squeeze and I spent all my spare time when at poly looking for it in second hand record stores. Eventually I did and they had two copies so I bought both – keeping one thinking if it was that hard to find it might be collectable one day. Pity squeeze never became the next beatles.

    I also had a friend whose brother bought every blondie record possible including Japanese versions. He wouldn’t play them though they were his cherished jewels.

  3. I’ve found a black vinyl disk with a hole in the middle of it. Is this a record?

    Frankly I don’t give a toss about the medium – vinyl, music cassette, CD and mp3, I’ve got the same bits of music on four different media, and the first two don’t get a hearing at all these days. CDs are heading that way too.

    But I’m not parting with the old vinyl, too many memories. “Ah, memories, what was it Baudelaire said…”

  4. Pingback: 20 east – now 3 years old! | 20 east

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