N.b.: I am not saying "vinyl is better"!
In fact, I don't listen to vinyl much. Even given the well-documented "vinyl revival," vinyl accounts for just under 6% of worldwide music sales. I currently have a funky, steampunky stereo system set up in my family room, and I've rather arbitrarily decided—I dunno, perhaps because false parallelism pleases me—that vinyl listening comprises slightly less than 6% of my music listening. As a real fact, that could be off by a few percentage points.
There are, however, some things about listening to vinyl that I continue to like.
• One is that one song comes after another. It's not very convenient to skip cuts, and it's certainly not convenient to design your own list and ordering of songs—even from one album, and still less so from multiple albums. In practice, you're more or less forced to listen to everything on the side, in sequence. This has several effects—it gets you to listen to the "lesser" cuts on an album to get to your favorites, and sometimes, cuts that didn't grab you at first begin to grow on you. Or you might begin to get over the ones you liked best initially. I like the fact that my feeling about various songs—their relative value—morphs and changes over repeated listenings.
• Sequencing has an odd effect. Ever listened to a song on the radio, and, when it was over, immediately "heard" in your mind the opening bars of the song that followed it on the album you've listened to sixteen times? Even when the album is not a deliberate unified sequence, placing cuts one after the other has a cumulative effect that one song in isolation might not have. Maybe it's similar to seeing five or six photographs in a row on the wall instead of one in isolation.
• I like the fact that a "side" is a discrete period of time. I have 12" records with sides as short as 12 minutes and as long as 28 minutes. It's easy to understand listening to a side as a discrete occasion, one that has an expected duration. I think this tends to make me alert, as if it were an event. I understand it subliminally as something that's happening now and will be over soon.
• I like the fact that some artists design sides as programs of music*.
• I like that the end of a side is a break. (Personally I insist on semi-automatic turntables...that means a turntable that picks up the arm and needle and turns itself off at the end of every side. They're very uncommon today, apart from a few cheap mass-market models.)
• I like the fact that a vinyl record is a physical object that has some weight and some cost. This is entirely artificial; the same music as a digital file has no object-presence. It's easier to "treasure" an object. It anchors or tethers the music (which is, after all, just evanescent vibrations in the air) to something tangible. It makes the music less abstract somehow—not terribly similar to, but also not entirely dissimilar to, the act of watching a musician create sounds with an instrument.
• You may sue me, but sometimes I kinda like groove noise, and even, sometimes, pops and ticks. Yeah, I know. But these imperfections emphasize the mechanical origin of the event. It's possible to find it charming. It's not like I have to listen to it.
• As is widely shared by other vinyl lovers, I like the 12-inch square "canvas" of the record cover as a field for a visual design or for printing lyrics or notes. The music gives the ear something to do, and the album cover gives the eye something to do. Again, it's entirely artificial to link these two things, but whatever—I still like it. I usually set up the cover of whatever album is on the turntable on a ridge that runs around the wainscoting of my family room.
• This might sound strange, but I like it that a record "lives" on the turntable for a while. I'm normally either enjoying hearing the same record (or even the same side) over and over again, or else I'm too lazy to put one record away and get another one out. Familiarity has an effect too—it clarifies your feelings. So I really get to know a record intimately, hearing it multiple times before it's relegated to the shelves again. This is even more true because my listening at the computer ranges so widely and freely; I get my fill of variety there and don't feel the need to get variety from the turntable in the family room as much as I would if it were my only source of music.
• I like the "toy" factor of mechanical turntables. Again, this is silly and (these days) unnecessary, but I like it all the same. I'm currently using a 40+-year-old turntable (restored) and an even older cartridge (with a new stylus).
Child of my times, c'est moi. Or maybe I just like old stuff. Vive la <6%!
Hope you have a very nice weekend. See you on lundi.
*Of course, one downside is that one cut you hate might ruin a side for you.
Original contents copyright 2017 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
LJ Slater: "At 30 years of age, I might be considered a 'millennial hipster,' although I've never quite felt at home with either of those distinctions. But I love vinyl too. And cassette tapes(!). And old school 'Red Book' CDs. FLAC all you want, but I love anachronistic media—which is why I just purchased minutes ago a Polaroid Speed Magny attachment for my Nikon F3, which is basically as high as you can get on the Toy Factor scale. However, one thing I can say in my defense: unlike several of my peers, you will never catch me washing my vinyl records with water—the ultimate in messing around with things that ought not to be messed around with."
Dave Kerr: "I've always liked your Off-topic posts because the various topics you share are always of interest. My vinyl collection dates back to the early '60s. It includes rock, blues, jazz, opera, classical and much more. In addition to the reasons you like vinyl, I might add that a lot of material on vinyl didn't make it to digital. I play mine on a VPI turntable via an outdated amp and tube preamp. Vinyl, an aural delight."
Brian Taylor: "Your photo of the Abbey Road LP sparked a pang of nostalgia for the London of 1969. I was a student at the time, and probably on a trip across Europe, so can't claim to have been nearby. That police van marks the time so vividly. It's like looking at another country—unfortunately. I see from Wikipedia that the zebra crossing is now grade II listed for its 'cultural and historical importance,' that the VW Beetle in the picture kept having its number plate stolen and is now in a museum in Germany, and that fans have often staged their own imitation of the iconic photo."
mani: "So how was this post OT? It's obviously subconsciously about how shooting film is superior to digital. ;-) "
hugh crawford: "I agree entirely. By the way, nice dulcimer. I made them when I was a teenager; did you make that one? Also by the way, excellent taste hanging the picture of the Phil Hill/Bob Bondurant Cobra at the 1964 Targa Florio. I'm more of a Dan Gurney fan; he won the '64 Targa Florio in the other Cobra and Phil Hill DNF'd. (Dan Gurney won the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix in a car he designed the same week that he won LeMans.)"
Mike replies: It's astonishing that you would recognize all that from the slight visual clue in the illustration of the post. But you're right. The print was a gift from a kind reader and is signed by Phil Hill, Carroll Shelby, and the artist. The artwork of the poster is obviously copied from a photograph, because Hill's face is bisected by, and hidden by, the windshield frame—an artist would never make that choice deliberately in a painting meant to celebrate Hill.
The dulcimer is from McSpadden Dulcimers in Mountain View, Arkansas.
Hugh replies: "The artwork is based on a photo by Dave Friedman, one of those 'people with interesting lives.'"
John Krumm: "Vinyl albums have a lot in common with photo books. I don't look at them or listen to them every day but when I do I sit down and take my time. Streaming music is more like viewing images on a screen, enjoyable but different. I also miss good dj's. I'm still waiting for a streaming service run by humans, for humans."
Fellow Photographer: "I have to be honest when I say that when I first looked at the title on a photography blog, I scoffed and wondered why it was there. But intriguing enough to make me want to waste five minutes of my time. I expected some photos of vinyl albums, etc., but what I got was trip in several different directions. After about 10 minutes I realized that I was reading comments. This was a tremendously ingenious post but it also became worthwhile as I was introduced to great music I had never heard. I guess you never know. Bravo! Keep 'em coming!"
Mike replies: Whew. That comment ended better than I thought it was going to.