Mandy’s love of music is contagious, whether She’s reviewing the latest punk CD or recounting an afternoon in the mosh pit. In this column from October 19, 2007 (issue 1539), she considers the staying power of the vinyl record in this digital age.
Five years ago I bought a copy of NOFX’s The Decline on vinyl. The 18-minute song was to me, and still is, one of the greatest recordings of modern punk and having it on vinyl made me feel like it was all the more a piece of musical history. For this one special record I hunted down a second-hand turntable, somehow managed to hook it up to my existing stereo (by nicely asking my more technically minded boyfriend to do it for me, if I remember correctly) and carefully set the needle on the vinyl. It made a terrifying zip sound as the needle made contact; it crackled, and then I sat in awe for the entire 18-minute song, plus the B-side of ?Clams have Feelings Too.? It was a wonderful moment, but soon my turntable broke and my record went into storage to await an uncertain fate.
When I took my things out of storage a few months ago, this record was reclaimed, stroked lovingly, and then fastened to my bedroom wall amidst posters of Bam Margera and Chris Cole, Nonpoint, The Strokes, and of course my beloved NOFX skateboard deck. It was at home; it had a purpose and even though I didn’t fully expect to listen to it again I had some vague idea that one day I would find a working turntable in a second-hand store that could be sufficiently rigged up to a modern stereo. But it didn’t seem at all plausible.
Today I happily stand corrected, however, as my brand new Emerson stereo not only boasts a three-CD disc changer, double cassette player, and radio but also a shiny new turntable on the very top! The Decline was immediately played, crackles and all, and I have to confess that the intimacy of the vinyl, the needle, and the visual spinning has something warm and affectionate to it that CDs and MP3s never will.
During the golden age of the CD player, it was unabashedly assumed that plastic was in every way superior to its vinyl predecessor and because of this the vast majority of record companies stopped pressing their releases on vinyl. If you wanted to buy music, you bought it on CD (after a previous affair with cassette tapes, of course). Subsequent to the end of vinyl pressings, stereo systems were no longer built to accommodate records, and trying to find something to play your old collection on was something that involved a lot of trips to second-hand shops and investigations on EBay.
Thanks to the perseverance of a few bands and music appreciators who just couldn’t get over the bond between music and vinyl, however, a few special pressings were made available during the 1990s for bands like Green Day who had a tradition of pressing each album in green vinyl. Collectors scooped them up; most of us didn’t see the point.
The strange thing is that, unlike the 8-track and the cassette tape, the record has retained a status within the music industry that seemingly can’t be touched by modern innovations. Perhaps for some it is the nostalgia and for younger generations it is the novelty, but for whatever reason the vinyl pressing is something revered by young and old alike. I like to think of records in terms of old masters and new musical advances: an old Cheap Trick album is valuable because of its age, condition, and obviously because the music itself represents an era and a genre that directly affected much of what I listen to today; a new record pressed by Good Riddance, Lagwagon, Anti-Flag, or Diesel Boy is memorable because I adore the band and the music but also because its existence on vinyl is like a tribute to those who came before them.
Above all, vinyl represents prestige, and I’m glad to restart my own record collection aside from my many CDs and MP3 downloads.