I have never assembled an MP3 playlist. I know about iTunes, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have an account there. (Is it even a place?) My friend Stacey swears I’ll love streaming on Spotify, and my husband says we have an Apple Music account. I choose to believe him.
I don’t own a collection of recorded music that glows or shuffles or fits into the palm of my hand. But I do have the first record album I ever bought with my own money. And while I pretty much never play my copy of The Archies’ Jingle Jangle, that isn’t the point. Because my record collection — vast and diverse and taking up an absurd amount of space in my home — is about something more than just music I like to listen to.
That used to be harder to explain to people, not that I bothered much to try. Some folks believed I was “behind the times” because I owned CDs but preferred vinyl albums. My record collector friends understood the pleasure in owning records just to have them, but everyone else — particularly those who know I have 17 different copies of Jennifer Warnes’ fifth album — just thought I was crazy.
I’ve decided not to be smug about how lately people are returning to vinyl as their favored music format. Instead, I smile and nod as they explain their homecoming.
“Records sound warmer,” I’ve heard more than once. “I forgot how much I missed liner notes,” other people have told me. “I don’t want a music collection whose ownership reverts back to Apple in 20 years,” my friend Ken confided in an email.
I don’t care why so many are abandoning digital music in favor of record albums. I already own most of the LPs and singles I always wanted, so it doesn’t bug me that renewed interest in vintage vinyl is increasing its resale value. (Well, maybe a little. I should have bought an original-issue mirror-cover Colgems pressing of The Monkees’ Head back when, because now I can’t afford a decent copy.) And after being told for 30 years that I’m an idiot for preferring analog recordings over digitally compressed music files, it’s hard to feel superior for having stayed put.
Hard, but not impossible.
Rather than gloating, I’m going to take advantage of vinyl’s rebirth to launch this new column about record albums. I want to talk with other collectors about the joy of the hunt; about how thrilling it was, before the advent of eBay and discogs.com, to finally find a copy of Led Zeppelin’s first album, the version with the turquoise lettering. (Where’s the excitement in downloading Robert Plant, or even Linda Eder?) I want to interview industry insiders about those little letters etched into the runout groove of every album and quiz a music publisher (I’m looking at you, Dan Coleman) about the difference between ASCAP and BMI. I’d like to ask vinyl kingpin John Dixon about the most embarrassing record in his collection, and maybe meet a serious record collector who isn’t a middle-aged white guy. I know she’s out there somewhere.
Mostly, though, I want to consider what record collecting is about for different people. My buddy Jim Minnick likes to stumble on cocktail jazz records he hasn’t already heard, while my former record store colleague Joe Jennings doesn’t listen to his records at all; he only buys still-sealed hair-metal albums from the early '80s. My friend Mike Ford just bought a turntable and is shopping around for rock records he’d owned as a teenager.
Why, I asked him the other day, did he think vinyl was back in favor again?
“A huge part of it is about re-creating the joy that this music brought in the first place,” Mike told me. “Is it the same as it was then? It can't be, because there's never really another first time, and I'm not the same person I was when I was 12 or 14. But I can experience some of that joy by listening to that music on an album, like I did before.”
“Right,” I replied. “Like with me and my Archies album.”
“Well, not really,” Mike said. “Because listening to an Archies album is just weird.”
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