Why do I love vinyl, because, believe me, I really do. My collection, amassed over the last 15 years is my pride and joy and if there was a fire it would be the one thing… Actually, I would probably have to unhappily abandon it due to the sheer size and weight of it. Maybe I could just grab a couple…
For me it all started with my Dad’s records and stereo. They were forbidden, we weren’t allowed to touch but every once in a while got to listen to it booming out loud enough to annoy the neighbours.
I excitedly bought my first records at 16 but my Dad refused to let me play them on his record player as they were so scratched! The record player finally came months later and I got to listen to those records I had bought; Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home and a Smiths record with an anonymous black cover. Not a bad first haul I have always thought, but then I won’t tell you the other rubbish I bought that day.
Recently I moved house and took my records out of storage for the first time in nearly two years (a painful absence), so writing about why I love them a few days after re-organising them, discovering many I had forgotten and listening to them ever since, is perfect timing.
So, why do I love vinyl? I love the sound, the artwork, the way you buy vinyl and the way you listen to it.
The sound is better. It just is. Don’t argue. It is. It’s warmer, fuller and envelopes you in an all-encompassing loveliness, especially when played loud enough. I was asked recently by a friend if it really did sound better and to prove it I played 2 records. Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin. When he plays the ‘San Quentin’ twice in a row and the roar from the prisoners builds to a crescendo, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and demands to be listened to, it feels like you are almost there (well, without being in prison).
The other record I played is my copy of Abbey Road. It is my favourite record and the second half is my favourite piece of music. And my version is the best. It crackles, whistles, fizzes, hisses, pops, and just sounds fucking excellent. Vinyl can be individual and even when in perfect condition it resonates through speakers or headphones better than anything else.
Then there is the artwork. When I was a student record covers were all over my walls and now just a select few are in frames. Artists took care over their covers and many a record has been bought just because the cover was good (see Sam and Dave riding a tortoise on the cover of Hold On, I’m Comin). Take Parallel Lines by Blondie; I love the songs, I love the attitude, I love the menacing sound of Debbie Harry singing about ‘finding’ the listener and I really love the cover. The artwork on vinyl gave music its identity in a way it doesn’t in other formats.
The process of buying is wonderful too. You rarely go out to buy a specific record because you don’t know what a shop will have. You go to explore, enjoy the ambience and maybe find a bargain or something new. You develop strong fingers for flicking through them and strong knees when crouched over crates on the floor. And you walk out with records you didn’t know or ones that look great or occasionally ones you’ve been hoping to find for ages. You can spend loads in record shops or a pittance in charity shops but it is always unexpected and adds an excitement to music which other forms don’t have.
To give an example, I have a gospel record by the Dukes of Dixieland and Clara Ward and her Gospel Singers called We Gotta Shout!, it is as good as it sounds and I would never have bought it on anything other than vinyl.
I remember being on holiday in Amsterdam and suitably lacking in the ability to make decisions when I stumbled into a record shop with a wall of vinyl and a sign saying 5 for 10 euros. I spent many a happy hour in there. Should I get The Specials or the Everley Brothers? This doesn’t happen with other forms of music.
And I love the process of listening. It’s immersive. The spin of the deck draws you in and you have to change sides every 15 minutes or so, it keeps it at the front of your mind. Listening to music can often be a background activity but not with vinyl. Other forms of music are throwaway but vinyl is anything but.