As those of you that read my occasional Friday night music posting will know, music is very important to me. Whilst contemplating what I will be listening to this evening I began to think about my music collection generally. There has been such a revival in Vinyl that I have been re-evaluating the wonders of vinyl versus digital. I can remember as a teenager going by bus into town and visiting the record stores to see what they had; this divided into a number of categories, so that if it was a new release off to HMV or WH Smiths, or if a general pot-luck search, in which case it would be Derricks. There was something magical about thumbing through the racks of plastic and cardboard, then pulling out the large square package with its inevitably well-crafted sleeve artwork, whether single or (hopefully) gatefold sleeve, and even better with loads of photos and the lyrics too. That moment when you pulled the LP out of the outer sleeve and held the crinkly paper sleeve to read the circular label in the centre. There was even a particular smell to the LP when you took it out for the first time. When I got home I would rush upstairs, switch on my Sharp turntable, push the buttons on my Sony amplifier and listen to the thump of the Wharfedale speakers kicking in. I’d lift the turntable lid, put the disc on, close the lid and press the button and as the red strobe wheel glittered, watch the arm lazily glide up and over the (usually) black vinyl to drop into the lead-in groove.
However, this was often when the frustration began. You would listen to the first few tracks and, more often than not, your heart would stop at the sound of the first click, crackle or worse still, skip. The whole vinyl experience could be ruined by poor production, a poor mix or even worse poor handling at the factory so you would end up with a scratched piece of virgin plastic. I can feel that bitter disappointment and annoyance even now after all these years. The quality of the record itself varied too, from nice thick heavy flat vinyl with a great mix (Head On by BTO, a Canadian import) to mass produced UK or European albums that were so thin that they were warped even before they started.
I was really pleased when I heard my fist compact disc; cool clear sound – and no scratches! I was an instant convert, I must admit. There has been a lot of snobbery about “analogue” vs “digital” and some of the points are true; I do miss the fabulous artwork, the physicality of opening the record. I don’t miss the tinny sound and scratches. I can now download music and albums I had only read about before – even the deleted ones long out of print. Admittedly, the quality of cd’s can vary but this is often due to the bit sample rate and the mix. Some are crystal clear – Deep Purple’s Made in Japan is so good a mix that you can even hear the hum of the amplifiers. Others are not so good. A lot depends on your listening device – I have a new pair of Pioneer headphones which are leaps ahead of my old Akai ones, and I had thought they were amazing in their time. I could never listen to clicks and hissing LPs through headphones!
My Record memories? Like getting off the bus in Ynystawe with my copy of Deep Purple’s Fireball clutched under my arm and colliding with a friend on his bike so that the record in its bag leapt nine feet in the air and landed on its corner. Despite its creased sleeve it still played perfectly! Lifting up a turntable with Caroline Morris’s copy of Seconds Out on it and wincing as the arm bounced across the record. Still can’t remember why I did that. Ooops. My first real album – Who’s Next by the Who, still one of my favourites. Or listening to Neil Young for the first time in the Sixth Form area in school.
I have been gradually rebuilding my collection in CD format and many of these have now been remastered and remixed to achieve sound definition not previously thought possible – Made in Japan is a case in point. Anyway, whether you love analogue – warts and all – or digital (soulless though it could be) the important thing is the music and that you enjoy it. And my choice for tonight? Hmmm, still working on that one.