I started picking up on this stuff when I was old enough to buy records, maybe 14 or 15. There were one or two record stores in Highland Park, the Chicago suburb where I grew up. I learned the joys of browsing and being picky about surfaces. I was in love with jazz (recounted in a memoir here), and the LP (long-playing record) had just come out to displace the 78-rpm shellacs that my father had stacks of.
Vinyl LPs gave you lots of music on one disc and much better sound, though the first discs were recorded in mono, not stereo. To appreciate that sound, however, you had to have good audio equipment which, then as now, was not cheap. In high school and college I got my father involved in hi-fi, and we had some pretty elaborate setups, including reel-to-reel tape.
I bought a lot of New Orleans jazz in the early ‘50s, then got into Bud Powell, Charlie Parker and bebop, and then Monk and Mingus, who introduced me to the “modern” sounds I still treasure. My hoard grew and later incorporated many classical sides. My father dumped the LPs from his collection when the CD came out in the early ‘80s. Big mistake on his part.
When I began to review music as a critic for Playboy and others, my assemblage of albums grew apace. I continued buying records, mostly jazz, while I was reviewing classical and rock for the magazine in the ‘70s. And, yes, I kept some good ‘70s rock. The collection now consists of about 1,500 LPs and maybe 1,000 CDs. I’ve moved it too many times to count.
Which means, I guess, that I can’t do without it. The appeal of vinyl for me is not sentimental or faddish. It’s the medium I depend on for my musical fix. It’s also, given the vagaries of my collection, one person’s version of the history of music and, certainly, a history of my taste.
As to the sound, CDs have gotten generally better in the last few years, but vinyl still has the edge in terms of warmth and fullness. It’s closer to the sound of live music, and that after all is the goal of musical reproduction. As to streaming and most online music, well, one writer put it this way: “Streaming is much like fast food, it’s not the greatest but the convenience is really nice. Records are more like cooking a really nice meal at home, you enjoy the whole experience.” I do cook a lot at home.
People ask about the pops, clicks and scratches. I’ve always handled records with great care and kept them clean, and I have a vacuum machine for the scruffy ones. Clean sound is worth the effort.
A friend who owns a multi-CD player asked, “Isn’t it a drag to turn the record over every twenty minutes?” My answer was that in the days of 78s, you turned the record every three minutes. So it’s what you’re used to—and how much you value clear and full sound.
The great days of music can be reheard if you take the trouble. Likewise, your own great days of music can be brought back to you, and that’s worth a lot.