Thursday, 22 September 2011

Fighting against The Vinyl Countdown

There is nothing more annoying than middle-aged people (OK, men) grumpily saying that things were better in the past and citing boring examples to back up the point. And, so, if you truly believe that, then I’m afraid you may need to start reading another column quickly.

For, although I still don’t believe I’m middle-aged (47? I’m only just getting started!) I fell back into that Grumpy Old Men nostalgic trap again at the weekend when, while clearing out an attic, I laid my hands again on the glories of my vinyl record collection.

Yes, despite the fact that I haven’t had a record player for at least 15 years, I have kept the absolute cream of my vinyl record collection which is covered in dust but also, crucially, smothered in happy memories.

Encouragingly, while once you were considered a dinosaur for even talking about vinyl, the format has had something of a comeback. Thanks to DJs on the dance scene particularly, young people no longer look totally bewildered when you talk about ‘records’ in that way they do when you wax lyrical about Tiswas or Aztec bars.

Indeed, you may be heartened to hear that vinyl is regarded as being on the rise. Last year in America an improved tally of nearly three million shiny bits of plastic were sold. This may sound impressive until you realise that this is in comparison to 325 million album sales via a CD or digital format.

Still a way to go then!

As someone with a large CD collection and a healthy enthusiasm for digital music, I’m not going to pretend I don’t see the huge advantage of both formats but I truly believe that vinyl was just so much more, well, fun.

Vinyl looked, smelt and felt different. There was nothing better than carrying home a 12 inch record, placing it on the turntable and then reading the sleeve notes and lyrics that were in more than the three point font size on today’s functional but unlovable CDs.

Last week I revelled again in those delicious big gatefold double albums like The Clash's London Calling and marvelled again about the wide variety of coloured vinyl, picture discs and even odd shaped records that I never got round to throwing out. My precious unthrowawayable Stranglers vinyl collection alone is littered with such items (a burger shaped disc for instance!) and all theoe multi-coloured joys seem ironic considering this is a band famous for just one  colour - black, the true home of vinyl.

But it wasn't just the look of records that made them superior to today's formats. What vinyl also gave you was a greater understanding of the rhythm of an album and the mechanics of putting it together.  One of the sad things about CDs is that they take away any concept of a ‘side A’ or ‘side B’. Among the joys of vinyl was hearing how an artist mixed and matched the songs so each ‘side’ felt complete and had the right opening and closing tracks.

You may be surprised to learn that the best-selling vinyl album in America last year was Abbey Road by The Beatles. In a way that does make perfect sense because that is a classic example of how well put together a record can be. Side two had a seamless quality that made it so different to side one. On CD you just don’t ‘get’ that as much.

But, perhaps most importantly to me, I really think vinyl (far more than CD and far, far more than digital) acts as a wonderful calendar of your life.

As I picked up a particular album last week I could almost instantly remember where I was when I bought it, how old I was and what was going on in my life. In future if all we ever do is download from the computer the ‘where’ in that equation is instantly forgotten.

A grumpy old man? Maybe. But vinyl was better wasn’t it?

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