Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Praise of Vinyl

I came of age during the glory years of the long-playing 33 1/3 vinyl album. My high school years were colored by Frampton Comes Alive, Aja, Saturday Night Fever and Hotel California. These were the albums that we listened to, memorized and loved. For me there was also Red Headed Stranger, Some Girls and Bob Dylan at Budokan. Those were the days.

I had an 8-track player in my car, but I only used it to play the tapes that I recorded from my vinyl at home. When cassettes came along I could not get into them. They were boxy, inconvenient to play and had tiny print.

I remember clearly the first time I saw (and heard) a cd. It was 1985. I was at a friend's house. I was shocked that he was holding that disc so carelessly. He didn't seem to care that he might "scratch" it, or make it dirty. He treated it like it was virtually indestructible. But then... he put it in that funny looking drawer... he pushed play... he turned the volume up... and I had a religious experience. There were no pops, no scratches and no hiss. The louder he turned it, the better it seemed to sound.

But I had some problems with the cd. It was almost hollow-sounding. The artwork was too small. The size and shape of the disc (and its package) were not aesthetically pleasing to me. Not only that, I had thousands of albums and 45s that were suddenly becoming obsolete. (I have since found that finding replacement turntable needles is a real challenge.)

But the advent of the compact disc only heralded the beginning of the digital revolution. Now, it seems, the preferred way to access music is through digital downloading through sites like itunes, or streaming live over the internet. Again, I have problems with these avenues.
  • Downloading too easily leads to illegal sharing and bootlegging. (But, let the one without sin cast the first stone.)
  • Digital music is to sterile, hollow and "tinny."
  • There is no artwork that I can hold in my hands, tape up on my wall or show off to my friends.
  • Lyric sheets are extremely hard to come by.
  • Ear buds do not allow you to get the full spectrum of sound that giant, cloth covered speakers do.
  • Ear buds do not allow users to share their music in the communal way that listening with speakers do.
But, not only are the alternatives vastly inferior, there are many reasons that albums are better.
  • The artwork was designed for a 12 x 12 album cover.
  • Records sound better than any of the alternatives (even if there is a hiss and a few pops).
  • A record is a substantial item. You know when you have one. Unlike downloads which you may not know you own for quite some time.
  • Albums are very cheap. At garage sales and thrift stores you can get a classic album anywhere from $.25-$1.
  • And besides, I have too many to turn back now. I am committed all the way.

1 comment:

Taking Heart said...

My old vinyls are collecting dust. My husband collects 8tracks... he got a mint condition player with speakers and all for a buck at a garage sale and he said he felt like it would be a crime if he didn't buy it. Now he's obsessed and I am annoyed. Sigh. I guess some men have to just collect something that makes them happy.