By Scott Westerman – Curator – Keener13.com
My first 45: Limbo Rock by Chubby Checker. My first LP: Shut Down Vol II by the Beach Boys. LPs who’s grooves I wore out with repeated play: Crosby, Stills & Nash, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Earth, Wind & Fire. The number of LPs and 45s in my library now: 672
Remember the sound of putting a needle to vinyl and waiting for the first track to vibrate out of the grooves, through the cartridge and the pre-amp, across the amplifier’s power transistors (after adding appropriate bass and pressing the ‘loudness’ button) and along the two pairs of copper wires towards those expensive speakers that were the heartbeat of that stereo system that cost almost as much as your first automobile?
In the day, exploring an album often meant discovering a deep track, about three cuts in, that would never be selected as a single, but touched something at your emotional core (Quatermass – Good Lord Knows is one of my faves). If the LP was Abbey Road or Dark Side of the Moon, it meant 45 minutes of bliss, interrupted only by the amount of time it took to flip the disk to side two. If it was The Firesign Theater’s “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pilers”, it was something you replayed until the Adventures of Porgie and Mudhead were burned, line by line, into your long term memory.
Vinyl was an experience you shared. Listening to the Bridge Over Troubled Water LP while exploring the heights of passion with a half dozen other junior high couples in the dark corners of a friend’s basement. Wondering what the heck the obscure band was that the guys at Discount Records always liked to play while you and your testosterone charged buddies were trying to sneak a peak at banned Jimi Hendrix “Electric Lady Land” album cover. Or running Funkadelic’s “I Got A Thing” over and over so your band could learn the nuances of a bass line, a wah wah peddle, and some drum licks in a hopeless attempt at imitation.
Vinyl, when mixed with the 12AX7A vacuum tubes that powered your stereo created a warmth that added an indescribable something that the best digital Pro Tools plug-in could never recreate. The LP’s cover became a work of art in itself. Sgt. Pepper’s cover launched a hundred analytical dissertations, fed the Beatle rumor mill and became fodder for trivia buffs who memorized the names and faces of every image thereon.
Vinyl, in the hands of the right disc jockey became an instrument that could create a symphony where disparate artists came together in a seamless harmonic whole to take you on an emotional roller coaster ride.
Then came one turn of the evolutionary road, where it was thought that Vinyl was as anachronistic as a pterodactyl, technically deficient and ultimately too fragile to be a permanent part of the audio archive. CDs and their successor, the MP3 were pure digital storage devices that could be identically cloned without the generational losses inherent in the magnetically arranged iron filings on strips of Mylar or the vibratory bands encircling black plastic.
For three decades we’ve believed that digital perfection was the be all and end all. But now, it seems that everything old is new again. Even as CD sales continue to decline, vinyl is in a renaissance.
The Chicago Tribune quotes Ken Shipley, co-owner of the Numero Group, a Chicago label that specializes in reissues of underground soul music. “We’re seeing the (vinyl) resurgence in all walks of life: from 50-year-old guys who want high-quality product to match their high-end stereos to 19-year-old kids who are sick of the minimalist Ikea design that has plagued dorm rooms for the last decade..Vinyl is the new books.”
Pressing plants are being brought out of mothballs and limited edition vinyl box sets are selling out, at price points that would make CD manufacturers salivate. Bill Gagnon, senior vice president of catalog marketing at EMI Music told the Trib that he expects vinyl to eventually make up about 4% of EMI’s revenue. As with everything else, it’s the younger generation that is driving the demand.
Will the LP supplant digital? Nope. The pure ease of carrying your entire record library around in a cigarette box that renders it perfectly and pristine first time, every time ensures a digital future.
But like the Keener generation, new audiences are discovering the same magic we remember from that first time we put needle to groove.