Do you remember your first album? Was it something that seemed cool at the time and ultimately became an iconic symbol like the Abbey Road album by the Beatles, or maybe it was an album by the Rolling Stones, Beach Boys or Pink Floyd? Or was it something a bit more obscure, with less of an audience and more of an edge, which you bought on the sly? Everyone remembers their first and favorite albums and covers for a lot more than the artwork or creativity. Although with the onset of holographs and risqué covers and extras like posters and concert books tucked away in the jacket, the album covers were as much of an experience as the music itself. Waiting for the album to be released and sold in a store– yes, actually waiting for something was part of the experience. Tearing off the plastic, opening up the jacket, and taking it all in, this lovely piece of artwork and setting that needle down on the groove, waiting for the magic to happen. Then, setting aside time to just listen to the music. Listen and memorize every inch of that brand new beautiful album, from cover to cover, absorbing it all into your ears, heart and brain. What an experience that was.
With all of the technological advances and with the abruptness in which we can get a song downloaded, you would think the vinyl album would have stayed in the yard sale circuits forever, finally dwindling down to a few cracked pieces of junk, maybe being upcycled into a clock or something. But, instead, as often happens, the things that made memories for our parents and grandparents and the things that make the most sense often reemerge. And so is the case with vinyl records. According to a Neilson Report, sales of vinyl were 53% higher in the first three months of 2015 than they were for the same period in 2014. While this is small in comparison with CD and digital sales, it is hard to deny that the demand is there. A renewed interest by teens who have sought out the records at yard sales and thrift stores has created a hype among the younger crowds. In the past several years, the annual Record Store Day has successfully sought to bring the limelight to local stores still catering to vinyl lovers with new releases from independent artists and events centered on the nostalgic album.
One major stumbling block has been the dwindling number of vinyl presses still in existence that are still functioning. When CDs came into play and garnered the vast share of the market, many vinyl factories went out of business and machinery was either sold or destroyed. Only a few dozen vinyl plants are operating around the world currently, and about half of these facilities are located in the United States. Most companies are working with equipment that is decades old and with parts that are not easily replaceable. Prices for even the smallest nail or screw can reach into thousands of dollars. Creating state-of-the-art presses with today’s technology would cause album prices to skyrocket; therefore, companies opt to work with what they have and see every new acquisition of a vinyl press a win, regardless of its conditions. The wait time for an album to be produced can be upwards of six months which is a lifetime by today’s standards. But people are waiting and are buying as indicated by the almost 13 million LPs that were sold in the United States last year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
So in an age of digital quality unsurpassed by any other musical median and scientifically proven to be of higher quality than what can be produced on an album, it’s surprising that today’s youth is gravitating back to their parents’ roots and seeking out older and newly produced records. Maybe they’ve grown up in an age where it is cool to recycle and nostalgia is in. Or maybe they have discovered that waiting for the needle arm to swing over and make contact with that spinning album, and hearing the music begin is a rite of passage. And perhaps they have learned that the sound of a vinyl record, however imperfect that may be, is the perfect connector that is needed to link a memory to a melody and to add purpose to an ordinary moment.
Album photo-Flickr, commercial use allowed by Pauli Carmedy, Needle arm photo-Flickr, commercial use allowed by John Pemble, Born in the USA-Flickr, commercial use allowed by Camera Eye Photography