Music lover and Freebird Club founder, Peter Mangan celebrates the resurgence of vinyl.
If like me, you spent much of your youth hanging around music stores, eyeing up and saving up for records by your favourite artists, you will take immense nostalgic pleasure in the recent resurgence of the vinyl record. I vividly recall the sheer joy of picking up a new album, admiring the cover, poring over the liner notes, carefully slipping the black disc from its sleeve, placing it gently on the turntable, before putting the needle on the groove…the anticipation, the sensory indulgence, the purity of sound…and that’s before I even heard the songs! Despite looking like it was headed the way of the albatross, vinyl is back with a bang. Cassette tapes, CDs, iPods, and digital downloads have all led an assault to put the vinyl pressing plants out of business. However vinyl has not only survived, it is thriving again. Rather than being a nostalgic throwback, it is the younger music fans who are behind the renaissance.
Credit to the DJs Most credit goes to the club DJs who kept spinning records for the dancing masses and to contemporary musicians who insisted on releasing their music on vinyl. Then there’s the idiosyncratic folk who despite the new tech options, insisted on buying a vinyl record because of the purported sound quality, the record jackets and sleeves, and the indulgent pleasure of putting on a record. They were behind the times and ahead of the times, both at the same time. Part of vinyl’s renewed success is thanks to Record Store Day, an annual international event held in April since 2008, which caused huge spikes in vinyl sales, with dramatic increases year on year.
Warmer sound The draws of vinyl are pretty obvious when compared to the current alternatives. To the discerning ear there is a fuller, richer and warmer sound, with details and dynamics that get lost when music is compressed for inferior quality MP3 files. Then there is the tangible nature of the physical product as a collector’s piece, with its sleeve and cover art, in contrast to an impersonal click on the computer, iPod or smart phone.
Aesthetically, a vinyl collection is a bit like a book collection - it adds character and warmth to a room. A difference anyone can appreciate between listening to vinyl and hitting shuffle on your playlist is the experience of listening to a full “side” of a record; the five or six songs in the order the artist intended them. So many artists made their albums very conscious of the song sequence and record sides - one side ending with a certain song, another purposely opening - both calculated for specific effect. It’s revealing to sit back and listen to all the songs in a row. Vinyl almost forces you to do that. It draws you in, bringing you closer to the music, and the artist.
So what better time to dust off your old record player, or maybe even buy a new one? If you still have a bunch of old records somewhere, it’s time to “get down with the kids” and revisit them. It’s really easy these days to add to your collection. More and more music stores are dealing in vinyl again and you will be guaranteed to find all kinds of gems in flea markets and second hand shops. There are also great online resources. For new vinyl, Amazon is the place to go – offering good selection at very good prices. For used records, check out Discogs - an online record selling, cataloging, and trading platform that can help you find some of the rarer gems.
Once you’ve got your gear together, I’m advocating that you sit on the couch for a spell. Put the needle on a record. Listen to the music. It’s never sounded so good.
Here’s my own vinyl treasure trove…
Astral Weeks - Van Morrisson With the A and B sides of the record respectively titled “In the Beginning” and “Afterwards”, this is the “Ulysses” of contemporary popular music. A rich, multilayered, quixotic and evocative album – this is Van’s finest work and blends folk, blues, jazz and classical music in ways never heard before. It is my alltime favourite album, and it still holds the power to transcend.
Kind of Blue - Miles Davis Widely regarded as the greatest jazz record ever made, this is an essential in any self respecting vinyl collection. More than any other genre, jazz is really (only) at home on vinyl. The details and dynamics that are the essence of jazz need vinyl to breathe. Here Miles is surrounded by Bill Evans, John Coltrane and Jimmy Cobb. With that kind of line-up something extraordinary was bound to happen – and it did. Sublime.
Sticky Fingers- The Rolling Stones With its iconic Andy Warhol designed ‘tight jeans and real zipper’ cover, this is real rock n’ roll hardware and a genuine collector’s item. The opening track “Brown Sugar” is the Stones at their absolute peak and sets the tone for a masterclass in guitar-based rock n’ roll with Jagger in full swagger.
Nina Simone & Piano - Nina Simone On this concept album we hear Nina’s inimitable voice accompanied only by her own piano-playing. She never sounded so good. Nina herself was very proud of this album, saying that of all her work, this is the album she would most like to be remembered for. A simply beautiful, intimate record.
Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles Given its recent 50th anniversary celebrations, I couldn’t but include this – probably the most famous, most influential, most lauded album ever made. While it’s not my personal favourite by the Beatles (that’s a toss-up between Abbey Road and The White Album), I’m very proud of my copy of this record. Although I only bought it in the mid 80s, it is an early pressing which includes the original cardboard cut-outs of Beatles’ moustaches and glasses. It must be worth something at this stage…definitely another listen.