Vinyl Dynamite #48: Forever Vinyl

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. 

2. Tangibility

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.

7. Format

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.


  1. Nothing says LP superiority like a flash of stockings and squirrel covers and the possibility of pancakes while listening to some Barry White.

  2. After all these years I am piecing together a vintage stereo. I pretty much only use craigs list for finding these pieces. My first purchase is a Kenwood reciever from 1979 that I bought a little while back. I recently bought a Dual turntable made in 1980 and I am looking for two floor speakers of the same vintage. I had to have the stereo components that are made of wood/ faux wood. I have been missing that record playing experience. I have a 1964 console that I play records on but I have been wanting that 70's quality when I play them. The only problem I have with records is that the classic ones are so damn expensive now. I find cool records here and there but all the really good bands are too pricey. O well, I'll keep trying the thrift stores and garage sales. At least my kids know what a record is.

    Side note: I was watching married with Children last night and Peg was reading a TV guide. My 12 year old daughter wanted to know what Peg was reading. She had never heard of or seen one before.

  3. I worked in radio in the mid-70's in to the early 80's. That gave me access to vinyl records to play and plenty of For Demo Use Only albums to take home when the music director tossed them in to the "please take these home" box.

    Working in a radio station also gave me a the best sound system in town with the on-air monitors in the control room. The amps usually had names like Macintosh, Ampex or Peavy.

    Recently, my wife and I were on the road listening to the 70's station on satellite radio. She asked if they had remixed the songs from the 70's. They sounded so much better now. I didn't hear a difference. We finally figured out that she spent the 70's listening to those songs on an AM radio with a two inch speaker.

    I'm rambling on like an old man, aren't I?

  4. YAY! VINYL!

    Great post.....

  5. Like that scene in Almost Famous when his sister gives him the gift of all those albums. Knocks me out every time. You just can't duplicate that with a digital file.

    I love the smell of a new record. Opening the cellophane, pulling out the record, that wiff of vinyl...

    You are so dead on about the artwork. Cover art is a lost... art.

    I've got some albums that you wouldn't believe how great they sound. Most people would probably think they're listening to a CD it's so clean. But the depth of the music is so much better.

    Recently I sold a bunch of my albums to a dealer. As he was picking them out I'd tell him when I bought that particular one, where I was, sometimes even how much it was. It was kinda emotional, but I really, really had to thin them out.

    1. AnonymousJuly 10, 2013

      Ah, the smell of a new vinyl album, just opened from the shrinkwrap! There was nothing like it. An album was an entire experience for all the senses. Aside from the music there was the artwork. Albums often included posters, booklets, poetry, etc.
      And the songs often sounded "all of a piece", they were made stronger by being surrounded by other songs. They were truly a "collection of songs". People don't know what they are missing in this download age where they download a song here and a song there. It's not the same.

    2. And artists would spend months in the studio putting an album together, selecting and rejecting songs, rewriting and reordering the tracks until they had whet they regarded as the perfect mix.
      It seems now that a CD is going to be sliced up by the consumer anyway, so it's all the singles, some B sides (whatever happened to B Sides?), maybe a couple of covers and let's chuck in a couple of woefully dire 'original demo of tracks 1,3 & 5' so we can give listeners the impression they're getting something 'special'.
      After Hendrix dies, there was a swathe of 'previously unreleased' compilation tracks that showed us clearly why they had been rejected from any of his living albums. In these days of loudness War and retuned voices, we only seem to ever get the rejects.

  6. In the '70s the record store at the mall was the hub of all things cool. That was where you found the coolest t-shirts, where you first saw black lights and strobe lights in person. Band posters covered the walls. And there was always a hot girl at the listening bar. I used to just go in to soak up the vibes. Where is this experience today?

  7. AnonymousJuly 10, 2013

    It is possible to tell the year of some of the photos by the prominent display of certain albums. For example #5 down is almost certainly 1970. You can see "Sweet Baby James" by James Taylor and the fist Stephen stills solo album, not to mention the first Partridge Family album. #6 is probably 1973, with Lou Reed's "Transformer". #7 is likely 1967, with "Axis Bold As Love" and the Tiny Tim album so prominently displayed.

    Some of the photos look like they might be the record departments of department stores, which was a slightly different experience than the hipper record stores themselves, but still great places to find albums.

    1. Good eye Anonymous. Pic #5 also includes Tommy, Zep 2, Grand Funk's 'red album' Procol Harum's 'Salty Dog', and Jethro Tull's 'Stand up', All released in 1969. And Zep 3 from 1970.

    2. AnonymousJuly 13, 2013

      Also: Emmitt Rhodes. I have that album now.

  8. I could swear I owned that exact stereo from the second picture/

  9. YES! All of this. This article. These comments... I couldn't agree more.
    Kids these days- They don't know what they're missing.

  10. AnonymousJuly 10, 2013

    took my 200 mid 60's to early 80's rock LPs to my son in the northwest.,, got to give them away sometime. My monitor is stuck on photo number 11, the blond, hose and garters,,sigh*.*

  11. In 1979, our parents gave me, my brother and my sister, each our own Stereo for Christmas. They were Hitachi's and they included a turntable, a receiver and a cassette player/recorder. From that moment on all my old toys and hobbies fell away and I became a committed vinyl enthusiast. My first purchase was Yellow Submarine and Disney's America Sings!, which I had just experienced at Disneyland. I still have them. I bought them at Odyssey Records on 7th street in Phoenix, Arizona.

  12. Those 2 girls might be spinning platters now, but they'll soon be spinning pancakes.

  13. BTW, I remember buying Rush's "All the World's a Stage" at the Pamida (named after the guy's kids, PAul, MIke, and DAve) in Washington, IA, and Kiss' "Double Platinum" 8-track in Musicland in the Sycamore Mall in Iowa City.

  14. AnonymousJuly 11, 2013

    Everything you said is right on the mark. And yes, the kids today don't know what they're missing. But, like a wise man once said, "this too shall pass". Records will come back.

  15. I agree I miss holding the album appreciating the cover artwork and reading every bit of liner notes.
    Sometimes when you go back to an older LP you find a session players or back up singers who is now famous.
    Downloads give you no information who's on it.
    You need a hard copy of your music. Do you actually think 10 years from now will you be able to play your mp3s.
    2011 I ordered Alice Cooper's latest release "Welcome 2 My Nightmare" on CD and limited vinyl. I received
    the vinyl a week before the CD. It really took me back playing it on my turntable.
    I still have some of my old vinyls I play now & then.

  16. AnonymousJuly 12, 2013

    You are correct. Sometimes people are way too fast to embrace ephemeral new technology. Think of how EVERYONE dumped their record collections when the inferior sounding CD first came around in the 80s because they were duped into thinking CDs sounded better. I bet most of those people wish they had their albums back now. Do people who have amassed thousands of songs on iTunes REALLY think iTunes will exist in a few years? What do they do then? I have to laugh at this question of "music ownership" that now arises. "Do we own our iTunes music or just lease it?" Call me old school, but it is best to own your music on a physical medium like an album.

    1. CDs are still better than records in the car. Cassettes brought their own "unique" qualities to the music that can't match CD. And yes, I own my iTunes music just like I do my CDs and records, mainly because most of it comes from those CDs and records. Downloading all your music is for 12-year old girls.

  17. Useless trivia: I still have the Tiny Tim album seen in picture #4. It's called "Concert in Fairyland".

  18. This just showed up: http://www.buzzfeed.com/perpetua/things-vinyl-collectors-love?sub=2423454_1364262

  19. AnonymousJuly 27, 2013

    I agree with this blog. Heck, we even used a splitter device like in photo #1 in 3rd grade! We also used Califone record players similar to the one in photo #3. I now have 4 dirrerent ones of my own.

    I'm 45 and I never stopped collecting vinyl records and turntables. I'm glad CDs came along. So many nitwits gave up their LPs and 45s and turntables in yard sales for cheap to replace them with CDs which I also am buying for under a buck nowadays! Enjoy your MP3s, fools...

  20. I worked at Record Bar. I just now remembered how we used to open shrink-wrapped lp's by holding the opening side against our thigh (long pants required) and sliding it back and forth quickly a couple of times. Cleanly split the opening every time while keeping the album otherwise wrapped!

  21. I agree with ALL of these sentiments right up to the actual listening of the LP itself. RECORDS HAVE ALWAYS ABSOLUTELY SUCKED FOR SOUND QUALITY AND ALWAYS WILL!!

    Y'see, I am of a similar vintage to the webmaster, except that my LP infatuation involved 99% classical music. I still vividly recall purchasing the Karajan/Rostropovich recording of 'Don Quixote' on Angel, as well as my first copy of the 'Sinfonia Antartica' with Previn. I also vividly recall my massive disappointment with how much the shitty LP medium ALWAYS RUINED the experience of listening to music for me from the very beginning. I LOVED the music but massively HATED how the medium so fucked up the delivery - and got worse and worse and worse over time. We LIVED for that first play because it was fucking straight downhill from there as we gouged the record with a sapphire in order to play it.

    Finally, one day in 1987 I got my first CD player and I will NEVER EVER forget how magical it was to put on that first CD of the Berg Violin Concerto (it was the *meh* Mutter/Ozawa recording, but that was all that was available at the time). None of that *SKUNCH....... crunch...........crunch............crunch* shit when you put down the tonearm. Just golden silence and then from the silence emerged platinum music without wobbles, wow & flutter, surface noise, or ANY of that irritating shitnoise that used to make listening to LP such a perpetual goddam downer.

    For those who listened to mostly rock and roll (and yeah, I DO still vividly recall going with my friends en masse to purchase 'Moving Pictures' after we all heard 'Tom Sawyer' on the radio that first time), you really only lost cover art by going to CDs. We classical listeners gained EVERYTHING by switching to CDs (including shelf space for more CDs). As for moving the medium again to mp3s or flacs or whatever sound file type: couldn't give a fuck. In fact it makes it easier to safeguard the collection by making it WAY easier to back up and keep elsewhere just in case.

    As for the loss of cover art, I never needed it: I have THE SCORE!

    1. Wow, what a mouthful of digital snot that was.
      You cant blame the medium for your crappy sound system. And if you're scratching records after the first play, you're doing something wrong. Remember that almost ALL music is firstly recorded to a Source TAPE. And then the digital guys spike, drop, and thin out the wave of sound so that your tinny ears can make out instruments. Does that make it better? Well if you think it sounds better, then it does. To you. Me, I'd prefer to spin any of my Olympian Mercury Classics,RCA Victor Red Seals, London Treasures, or CBS Masterworks. ( digital source lps by the way), to name but a handful of sweet labels from the 50's through the 80's , before I'd want to hear any of your "magical" cd's.
      And by the way, you might want to check the shelf life on those babies because unlike vinyl, cd's don't last forever!

    2. Signed. For the cover art, there is less space on a cd cover, but it's replaced by a booklet where pictures can be put in. In the end that's more space for cover art (though splitted).

  22. *Yawn*

    Get offa my lawn, hipster.

    You've added nothing because you know nothing about me, my "crappy sound system", or my "tinny ears". Furthermore, in addition to clearly adding nothing to a conversation I wasn't aware we were evidently having, you obviously also don't read very carefully either. The "shelf life" on my multiply backed-up collection of digital music is effectively == my eventual lifetime.