A lot of you young whippersnappers don't get it. Who cares that records died out and were replaced by data files - it was just a round piece of vinyl, right? Wrong.
I've extolled the virtues of vinyl before on Retrospace; so, I apologize for repeating myself. But I think we're due for another round - this is a topic that bears repeating. Plus, as usual, I've got lots of cool pictures if you don't feel like reading my diatribe.
1. Childhood Memories
It's hard to get attached to a .wav file; but kids got attached to their records the same way you might get attached to a doll, a book, a favorite baseball card. It was something real, and it was something that you might treasure. Again, I reiterate - you can't treasure a data file.
Records were something tangible. You could hold it, collect it, stare at the artwork. No wonder the music business is flopping around like a dead fish - who wants to pay money for a crummy data file? The future of music appears to be in services like Spotify, and paying money to own a full album is just over.
Note: Yes, many of these will overlap. This is not a master's disertation - this is a blog post I'm writing in ten minutes while eating Burger King.
3. The Record Store
If you like books, then you can appreciate stepping into a nice bookstore. There's nothing better than being a book lover in a kickass bookstore.... there's something indefinably sublime about the experience that goes beyond just being among things you love. The same holds true for the record store.
It was a hangout too. Like the arcade, it was a cool place for the nation's unwashed youth to congregate. The video stores that popped up later were nice, but didn't have the same vibe. But think about this fact:
I remember where I was when I bought certain records I own from over thirty years ago. I remember the exact store, and the moment itself, when I purchased Magical Mystery Tour, Kiss Unmasked, Stars on 45, Spirits Having Flown, etc. (Hey, I never said I had great taste). Can you or anyone remember where they were when they purchased iTunes files? The memories just aren't there.
4. Album Art
Of this there is no argument: the record was the perfect canvas for artwork. The cassette tape was microscopic, and the CD was only marginally better... and today's data files are invisible as the ether. But back in the day, we not only had the music but the art that went with it.
I had a Steve Miller album that was a fold-out that used to blow my mind - obviously intended to be viewed under the influence. I would salivate over the old cheesecake records and soak in the splendor of everything from Iron Maiden to Journey. Life was good when you had a record in your hand.
5. Social Aspects
Records could be shared and traded like baseball cards. Friends could admire your collection. It was a good gift. On more than one occasion, I've bought an album at a flea market or yard sale, only to discover it smelled like week, even with little flakes of 30 year old grass still inside. Look at these old records and know that they were coasters for countless beers, and if it's a disco album, probably a convenient surface to do lines.
And there was just something about the process of putting the record on the turntable that transformed the tone of a room; it was a physical act that was as familiar as breathing, and meant it was time to relax or cut loose. Later, with the advent of tapes and other media, you simply had to press a button. And just like that, this wonderful ritual was over.
6. Analog Superiority
Try listening to a record on a really good stereo - it will blow you away. Just like there's no replacing live action with CGI, there's no replacing the "real" sound of analog to the very obviously digital version. We have bad memories of the sound for the same reason we have bad memories of analog television - most of us had crappy record players and crappy TV reception. However, on the right device, analog reigns supreme.
The beauty of the record was that it was a total package. Rather than just a mishmash of singles, there was a common thread among the tracks. Not always the case, of course, but it did create a degree of synergy (where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts) on a lot of albums. An album like Led Zeppelin 4 would never survive in a world totally dominated by the single; Zofo and iTunes do not mesh.