BIG WAX BUILDUP

IS VINYL REALLY THE CHOICE OF A NEW GENERATION OR ARE PEOPLE JUST WAXING NOSTALGIC?

Enough to fill the Albert Hall!
McGuinn's friend, longtime prodigy Tom Petty, demonstrates with his latest album, Wildflowers, just how far from digital recording an artist can go for the sake of his sound. Petty and producer Rick Rubin have made a point of saying this is an all-analog album with no digital remastering whatsoever.

Not surprisingly, the vinyl version of Wildflowers, spread out over two LPs with wider grooves, is selling like wildfire at independent stores like Tempe's Eastside Records.

"The new Tom Petty, I sold 30 or 40 on vinyl as opposed to 15 or 20 on CD," says store owner Ben Wood. "Things that I normally wouldn't sell well, like Petty and Queensr˜che, people are coming to me, because they know I'll have the vinyl." Eastside recently expanded its digs to make way for a 350-gallon fish tank and the oncoming tide of new vinyl. And business is booming, vinyl-ly speaking.

"Pearl Jam's two albums and Nirvana's Unplugged--we sold 150 copies of each, for sure," says Wood. "A lot of people are also snapping up The Beatles Live at the BBC and Robert Plant and Jimmy Page's UnLEDded to complete their Beatles and Zeppelin record collections.

"I don't want to be some bourgeois vinyl elitist," says Wood. "I don't pooh-pooh the CD format. But I love going home, putting on some coffee and playing records. I never say I'm going home to play CDs or cassettes. I do that deliberately. I pull out the vinyl." Later, at his home, Wood did just that, spinning selected, vinyl-only cuts from artists new and old--Man or Astro-Man?, Dick Dale, Petula Clark, Tom Jones.

If any good has come out of this, it's that the majors--like Warner Communications, which led the way in announcing it would discontinue wax in the late Eighties--now see that a lot of people have an emotional attachment to vinyl that compact discs can't replace. Compared to vinyl, CDs seem like heartless, evil stepsisters with no warmth to them. While Bill Bentley, vice president and director of publicity for Warner/Reprise, acknowledges that the majors may have underestimated the ongoing appeal of vinyl, he draws the line at talk of a resurgence. "I don't see Warners dramatically pressing up more copies of vinyl than it does now," he states emphatically. "Compact disc is still the format of choice. We'll continue to press vinyl strictly on an artist-by-artist basis. If it's an artist we feel we can sell well within that independent collectors' market, like Neil Young or Tom Petty, we'll press it." He adds, "Frankly, it's too many headaches for the majors to press vinyl."

In March, MCA will placate those who demand the elaborate packaging of LPs when it reissues The Who's Live at Leeds CD in the original, lavish 12-by-12-inch packaging. But indie labels like Amphetamine Reptile, which have been putting out vinyl because they do God's work, resent the capitalistic impulse of the majors to jump on the vinyl bandwagon.

Pat Dwyer, Amphetamine Reptile's "press propaganda czar," says, "I don't want to see major labels co-opting the vinyl market just to gain credibility for their artists, and, in the long run, hurt the mom-and-pop retail stores. Pearl Jam wanted to show they were 'down,' and basically threw mom-and-pop stores a bone by letting them sell the vinyl for a week."

Dwyer has a political reason for buying vinyl. "When the band Jawbox put out their own vinyl LP, I bought it because the money went straight to the band instead of Atlantic Records."

Even though Amphetamine Reptile is committed to putting out vinyl, Dwyer is skeptical about its long-range staying power. "When we pressed 10,000 copies for Helmet, we looked at that as the roof for vinyl demand. People under 20 aren't buying turntables, because it's too hard finding new turntables. I don't see vinyl dying immediately. I see it as having a very long retirement."

It's hard for even the most fervent record fans to see the vinyl reactivation as a full-blown resurrection. Zia's Dave Walker attributes the success of the vinyl edition of Pearl Jam's Vitalogy to its release date, two weeks before the compact disc and cassette. "But that hasn't hurt sales of the CD a bit. I've seen people walk out with all three formats at once."

Clay Wells, the 19-year-old jazz buff who clerks at Mesa's Stinkweeds Record Exchange, doesn't believe those 40,000 Pearl Jam fans who rushed out to buy vinyl are going to change their format allegiance. When Wells saw the Vitalogy LP selling hand over fist at Stinkweeds, he got curious and conducted an informal in-store survey. Just how many of his peers were indeed planning to "Spin the Black Circle" when they got their purchases home?

"Half the kids who bought it in our store didn't even own a turntable," he cracks. "One even said, 'I'll have to play this at my grandmother's house.'"

FATALE ATTRACTION ... v1-19-95

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