Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Case for Vinyl

I find myself riding on the Metro on the way home from work listening to music on my iPhone. Playing is Streetsweeper Social Club, "Shock You Again" (full disclosure: not a great song) and thinking that maybe this is Tom Morello singing/shouting instead of normal lyricist Boots Riley on this duo's album. The voice on this track seems lower pitched and not rhythmic like Boots. Problem is, I have no way of knowing because there are no liner notes with digital music (or at least they remain on your computer not on mobile devices). Really, the point is that no one looks at digital liner notes. I immediately wish I had this album on vinyl so I could go home and look at the credits. And no, sadly, Wikipedia cannot tell you everything you want to know.

Would I have known that Peter Tosh's Bush Doctor was released on the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers label without looking at the record's liner notes? Possibly, but I bet I wouldn't have known that Mick Jagger provides vocal accompaniment on "(You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back" and that fellow Stone Keith Richards appears on guitar on several key tracks. Moreover, would these VVers have known that Cat Mother's The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away was produced by Jimi Hendrix? I'm pretty sure that is the reason we bought that album in the first place, it seems a little risky to just buy a random Cat Mother album without knowing anything about it. A record sleeve with liner notes is the tree of knowledge for music enthusiasts and the curious listener. It is also a source of entertainment - as previously reviewed, Men at Work credits one of the band members, "Russell Deppeler, on the telephone and calculator" on their liner notes for the album Business as Usual.

Do you think some of today's newer artists even have anything to write on the sleeve of an album? Do people even play music on instruments anymore? "Instrument and musician credits to my computer, who I've named Steve." At the risk of being too harsh, who wants to even read that? Unless you are programming your own music it's mostly a waste.

Album artwork is an often superior feature on vinyl than any other format. Why even bother having anything cool on your cover when people are only going to view it on a tiny little i-device shrunken down to 1/16th or less the size of the real deal? You see it once and then move on because it looks like a shiny matchbook. A great example of something that just does not translate to other formats, the Devo album Oh No! It's Devo has a cardboard die cut fold out so you can prop the album art up on a table like a picture frame! Classy. Let's face it. Musicians are often trying to create art, in sound, but often visually too. Many of these musicians play music in person and the visual element just shouldn't disappear because an mp3 is cheap. Having a large image to enjoy is simply fantastic part of the vinyl experience.

Lastly, no one cares how many megabytes of mp3s you have downloaded on your computer. But a record collection! ... now that comes with bragging rights. No one can even tell what type of music you like via digital - unless you set up some sort of share network, but that often comes with having to share that music list with the entire world. I have friends that I know zero about when it comes to musical tastes, and if it weren't for concerts, I would still be in the dark. I love visiting friends and checking out what's on the shelf, not sitting at their console and clicking through the flat colorless playlist. Record sleeves spark music conversations, just like the tangible nature of books.

To be fair, here's a problem with records once they get too old...

Ravel's Bolero almost bought from an estate sale until the bottom half of it crumbled in my hands while pulling it out of its old packaging. Sadness.

All these reasons to appreciate vinyl and not even a mention of the sound of the actual music ... let's leave that for another discussion.

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