It must have been 2:00 AM last night when I started rummaging through my parents’ basement—the place I like to call my post-college-can’t-pay-off-my-*&^%ing-student-loans apartment. I was fighting to salvage a record collection entombed somewhere amid piles of useless crap.
I’ll admit, I’d had a few drinks and my search was sloppy; I’d tossed broken Lego’s into a heap on the pool table, Candyland pieces lay thrown across the floor (not quite by accident), and my eyelids had swollen up like Kanye West’s ego from some kind of dusty Chinese wool frock my mom bought about eight years ago and whose purpose for being kept I’m still trying to decipher.
But I didn’t let my determination wane and it turned out the frustration was well worth the payoff when I finally unearthed those old stacks. Dylan, Moody Blues, The Beatles, The Byrds, all the greats were in there, and between my sheer joy and the one too-many Ranger IPA’s I’d downed earlier at the bar I nearly fell over with excitement.
Though, I could understand if you aren’t especially surprised by the titles I found; they’re fairly suspect names to almost any baby-boomer record collection out there. If you or your parents are older than fifty you probably already know this collection and have heard most of it.
Myself—I’ve had most of the albums that I found in my parents’ basement in digital form on an external hard-drive for several years now. We all know the drill: grab your portable device and head to your friends house to siphon an entire discography of your favorite band off his or her iTunes in thirty minutes or less. Whether we like to admit it or not, we’ve all worn the eye patch and captained the pirate ship at one time or another. After all, why not save time and money while getting access to thousands of free tracks?
But sometimes we need to remind ourselves to return to those metaphorical backroads, those scenic routes where badass album art and fuzzy analog tones stand roadside with hiked-up skirts, thumbs out, and cardboard signs in hand reading “Take me home, baby, Take me home!” Sometimes you can’t get to the destination without making the journey, right?
I’m talking about the beauty of spinning vinyl, a medium that isn’t just great for nostalgic effect, but is a quintessential element of being a true music collector. Here are a few reasons why the extra work it may take to find and play vinyl is worth the effort:
1. True Blue Sound:
By definition original sound is analog. For example, when a musician is recording a guitar track the sounds being made before they pass into the microphone are analog. However CD’s and MP3’s are digitized versions of these sounds.
Digital recordings like CD’s take snapshots of an analog sound wave around 45,000 times per second in order to catch the closest replication of the real sound as possible. But what happens to the sound in between each snapshot? It doesn’t get recorded, meaning the whole sound wave isn’t captured.
With records this isn’t an issue because the sounds are physically mimicked within the grooves in the vinyl—picture it as a sound wave’s fingerprint. Vinyl achieves exact replications of the sound wave, thereby recording it without losing any information. That makes for a much truer listening experience.
2. Hear whole albums the way the artist intended:
It’s easy to hop online and pinpoint any song you could ever want to hear. This is one of the great benefits of that cool technology we have at our fingertips. But if you’re like me, sometimes when you’re listening to your iPod you get antsy and switch songs halfway through, or change artists in the middle of an album.
Sometimes we’re trying to get to work or rushing to the grocery store and we don’t have time to listen to a whole album all the way through so we skip to the songs we know we want to hear.
But songs are like ingredients in a sandwich; they taste great on their own, but they taste even better when put together. An album as an entity is just as important as the individual songs that it compiles. After all, the artist takes some serious time to choose which songs go on the album and in which order they appear.
Often times the songs are meant to cohere into a unified theme—any Pink Floyd album can serve as a classic example. We still see this in current music as well—Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky is a good example with its recurring lyrical and melodic themes.
A benefit of vinyl is that when we send it spinning we’re devoting ourselves to taking time to sit down and really listen. Obviously record players aren’t portable (though it would be badass if they were), and that means anchoring down for a bit. And because it’s much harder to jump to specific songs on vinyl than with a digital device, it’s easier just to play straight through an album. The result is a more comprehensive approach to hearing the artist’s project and message as a whole.
3. Experience the record, well, experience:
There’s something to be said for spending a little time in a record store. One can stumble across all sorts of goodies they never knew existed. Such is the beauty of being physically surrounded by music; you’ve really gotta’ sift when looking for an album and you might come across some really cool new stuff.
Not to say that couldn’t happen on the internet, but online search engines make it much easier to cut out the search all together. It’s convenient, but it can sometimes be a bit depriving.
For example, a lot of times online searches eliminate the fun of digging through amazing album artwork. Some of the most iconic images in pop culture have been found on album covers. Like Velvet Underground and Nico’s self titled album, which features the work of Andy Warhol. And who can forgetSgt. Peppers or Dark Side of the Moon? Chances are if you really love music you know at least one of these images.
If you’re interested in finding current album art that will blow your socks off, I’d recommend heading for the record store for a copy of Wilco’s new album The Whole Love. And you might find some others you’ll like as well.
Plus, this Friday will be a great day to check out new releases at the store because it’s National Record Store Day’s “Back to Black” Friday. Iron and Wine will be releasing exclusive vinyl versions of live shows, Red Hot Chili Peppers will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of Blood Sugar Sex Magik by releasing a limited edition double-disk red vinyl, and other artists like the Black Keys, Warren Haynes, and the Beatles will be taking part will special releases as well.