There are various examples of what may appear to be a reverse – or at least the application of a hand-brake – in the relentless progress of technology. One of the most interesting examples is the massive rise in the demand amongst a younger demographic for iconic Vinyl Long Playing Records or “LPs”.
Whereas the expectation may be for those in their twenties/thirties to want the convenience and portability of a clinical digital system – the instant hit of Spotify or similar – it seems that they may be eschewing binary for a more authentic sound.
My techie pals will tell you that the regular digital MP3 format used to store your music on your favourite streaming services or remote library is in fact phonically inferior to LPs – something about compression and EQ. Alternatively, the purity of the MP3’s digital format filters out the highs and lows of the authentic rattle and hum that seems to contribute enormously to the listener’s enjoyment of the LP format. Consequently, audiophiles are increasingly seeking out original or re-pressed vinyl LPs to enjoy on their turntables; the grooves of which are read by a stylus, amplified by the AMP and played through speakers or headphones.
See our earlier post about one of the finest turntables ever built – David Gammon’s Transcriptors Turntable
Vinyl LPs, originally shellac, in the 1950’s became a recycleable plastic compound “PVC”, appeared in a number of formats. The most popular was the 12” version that held an album’s worth of material – recordings of perhaps ten to twelve songs – on two sides that rotated on a turntable at 33 1/3 rpm. A smaller double sided 7” record that contained usually one, two or three songs – a featured track or A side intended for the Top 40 chart eligibility plus a B side – that rotated at 45 rpm – these were called “Singles”.
In the clubbing years of the 1980’s, DJ’s called for extended mixes of Singles and these tended to be compiled onto another form of 12” – called an “Extended Play” or “EP” – that rotated usually at 45 rpm and contained several different mixes of the same song allowing the DJ to chose which to play or which to mix with other records on his deck – please see Dominic’s previous post here – Technics SL 1200 by Dominic Baker
Add these cool retro “Vinyl Rules” T shirts to your wardrobe – AMAZON links here
Vinyl LPs are a flawed format with some serious drawbacks. They are prone to scratch, attract finger prints if mishandled – palms at 9.00 and 3.00 is ideal – and through static acquired dust in the grooves such that it was entirely possible to “wear out” your LPs. Premium versions were pressed in limited numbers and made for better audio quality yet inevitably more expensive.
When I worked in the UK recorded music business from the mid-1980’s I was invited to Hamburg for the Phillips’ launch of the Compact Disc (“CD”) then seen as the answer to all woes of the music business. Pre-recorded laser-read shiny discs with digital storage, that could have drinks spilit on them and easily wiped off. Initially, of course, they were “Play Only”.
Here is an excellent BBC Archive piece from 1983 that highlights not only some market resistance to CD from EMI but also that convenience is shown not to have won! CD Here To Stay?
The format was impressive but the Phillips presentation fell a little short of the parallel Sony presentation. You may recall that the development of the science behind the CD format was a collaboration between the two electronic giants and then gifted – in effect – to the World. A typically sedate presentation for the Northern German’s involved the playing of a Deutsche Grammophon recording of a Bach “Toccata” which did little to impress the leather jacketed crowd of A&R audience. Word has it that Sony’s presentation – in an attempt to prove the stability of the format and to funk it up for the industry audience – the CD player was flung from one side of the room to the other with no loss of quality! A triumph for the Chelsea Tractor in car market.
CD was a massive filip – pun intended – to the back catalogues of the giant record companies who’d been recording artists for many years onto initially, analogue tape and then digital tape. They saw the opportunity; if you had purchased the LP when it was first released then you were almost compelled to add it to your CD collection which grew to mirror – and eventually exceeded – your vinyl LP collection.
The size of the CD and its jewel case had a dramatic effect on the packaging both the format but the look. For more than fifty year the packaging of an LP – and its appeal on the record store rack – had developed, in line with the increasingly competitive marketing conditions, into an art form. The work of celebrated artists including Roger Dean – the man behind Asia and Yes covers – contributed materially to the sale of their products.
Imagine Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” without a black cover punctuated by a rainbow emerging from a prism.
The extraordinary works of Peter Brooke and Jann Haworth – please see here our previous post – Peter Blake and Jann Haworth – “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” whilst its precise impact may be incalculable the importance of an album’s cover should not be underestimated. Interestingly, the 50th anniversary re-release of Sgt Pepper’s on vinyl became the top seller in that format in 2017.
It is reported that Nielsen Music’s market report in late 2017 marked a year on year increase in vinyl sales of around 60% compared to a mere 40% increase in digital streams during the same period. In 2017, Vinyl LP sales accounted for 14% of physical music revenue in the US and that sales of turntables and accessories exceeded $1bn in the US.
So with the previously slowed down or defunct Vinyl pressing plants now back in action, please allow me to offer some guidance to finding the most influential Vinyl LPs to play on your turntable – below each LP cover is an AMAZON link:
Bob Dylan – “Blood On The Tracks”
David Bowie – “Ziggy”
Bob Marley – “Legend”
Bruce Springsteen – “Born To Run”
Donald Fagen – “The Nightfly” – please see our previous post here – International Geophysical Year
The Eagles – “Hotel California”
Led Zepplin – “IV”
Billy Bragg – “Life’s A Riot”
Simon and Garfunkel – “Bookends”
The Stone Roses
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Image Credits – with grateful thanks to BBC, The Washington Post, Roger Dean, Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, RCA, CBS, Island Records, Sony, Warners and Cooking Vinyl