Records can hiss, pop and crackle. They can warp, repeat and they can skip. And I can’t tell you how many times a person older than 40 has walked up the stairs, through the door of Wazoo and said something along the lines of, “Wow! Records! I can’t believe they still make these!” So sure, records might be less convenient than CDs, and the sound quality might not typically be as good, but guess what? They’re the love of my life, and they’ll be around forever.
I remember my first encounter with records as vividly as I remember the night I lost my virginity. I came home from school in sixth grade with a Grateful Dead biography I’d chosen for a book report, and I asked my parents if they had any of their music. My mom scurried off to the closet by the front door and pulled out a crate of records I never knew existed. Next it was up to the attic to retrieve the turntable, and before I knew it I was laying on the floor surrounded by dusty sleeves and these strange black discs. I was hooked.
My real education began the next summer, when my best friend Alex Morgan moved away and a record store called Shady Dog opened within walking distance from my house. I started showing up every day and hanging out for hours. It sounds strange, but Mike and Dave, the owners of the store, men older than my father, became my new best friends. I spent hours there every day, to the point where they felt bad about not paying me, so they gave me a job. I don’t think I ever took home a paycheck anyway, preferring to receive my salary in records.
But why vinyl? Well, initially their allure lay in their accessibility to me. They were cheaper, and at the record store I frequented, there were simply more of them. But as I grew older, I realized my relationship with vinyl ran deeper than that.
Every used record has its own unique history. Inevitably, unless it’s literally never played, a record accrues its own unique flaws. It might be a tiny speck of dust in a groove on the second side. But after awhile, that particular copy of that album starts to sound just a little different from all the rest.
I’m not the first owner of the vast majority of my records, nor will I be the last. Furthermore, most of my records are more than 40 years old, and they’ve been more places than I have. I can just imagine my dad separating seeds and stems on the gatefold to Wheels of Fire or my Mom staring at the limited edition Robert Rauschenberg designed pressing of the Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues in the living room of their new house in Nashville. Some of my records have other people’s names or addresses written on them. Some have little notes, or marks next to their favorite tracks. Some are even from radio stations, so thousands of people have already listened to that exact record. I’ve found money in record sleeves, joints, hand-written reviews and even amateur home pornography. I could tell you exactly where I bought every single record I own. I think it’s safe to say that every album has a story.
And then there’s the way records sound. Without getting too technical, analog is a more pure waveform than digital, and it objectively sound better – although that’s assuming optimal playback conditions. In reality, most people don’t own mint LPs, expensive turntables and diamond styluses, but I’m no audiophile anyway. Records just sound warmer to me.
I don’t think there’s anything in this world that can give me the same satisfaction I get from spending an afternoon sifting through racks of records until my fingers are covered in dust and grime, walking home with a stack and sitting down to listen to them. There’s nothing quite like dropping the needle on a record, sitting back, examining the sleeve and just listening.
And really, what better way to listen to music than on the medium for which the artist initially intended it? You would rather see a Van Gogh in a museum than on a poster on a dorm room wall, so why not experience a Beatles album the same way millions of people did when it was originally released? I’m not saying CD’s don’t have their place (I buy most of my new music on the format and it’s made releasing independent music much cheaper and easier), but when it comes down to it, there’s really no comparison. Then there are also the nuances of song order, forced by the finite number of grooves you can squeeze onto 12 inches of wax. Gone are the days when artists had to keep their albums within the 30-45 minute range and worry about how to open and close sides one and two. Similarly, the rise of CDs has also signaled the downfall of album art – a jewel case just doesn’t offer the same world of possibilities as a cardboard sleeve (let alone a gatefold).
Records will outlast CDs too, and not just because they’re more collectable. (Don’t get me confused with a record collector either, I may be a nerd, but not that type of nerd.) Records will outlast CD’s because of their beautiful aesthetic. For me, I can tell vinyl will be a lifelong affair, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a more casual relationship. If you haven’t already, I admonish you to go out and get a turntable. You can thank me later.
– Cargo loves nothing more than talking about vinyl. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org