Bill Paul’s First Tuesday of Every Month: Vinyl vs. Virtual and The Merits of Spinning Wax
By Bill Paul
The benefits of vinyl and digital media can be fairly argued without resolution and each camp will have its boosters and detractors…and fanatics. For me, vinyl will always win the day and this victory has nothing to do with purported superiority of technology and everything to do with the warm fuzzies of rapport. Everything about listening to music through the medium of vinyl lends itself to a more enriching experience. Let me explain:
First, albums provide me with a tactile experience where I have something in my hands, something which brings a sense of having been crafted (I felt this with the first album I ever bought – The Alan Parson Project’s “Pyramid”). This is immediately followed by the ritual of ‘putting on’ an album allowing me to sit back, wait for the music to begin and then enjoy an entire 18-22 minute stretch of entertainment. This ritual is all the more rewarding if enjoyed with family and friends and since a record player is typically hooked up to a system using loud speakers, it lends itself to a more communal experience. On the flip side (pun intended), digital music is typically defined as iPods and ear buds. How does this stack up (pun intended)? Further to this point, I will often times have the album cover and liner notes in my hand while listening and this also brings a heightened sense of rapport between the artist and myself as they would use both to reach out and tell me about who they were, what they played, who wrote what and where it was all recorded. Album art contributes to my understanding of who this artist was and what they were all about.
Here’s a test: Pennie Smith, camera in hand, stage right, Paul Simonon and a bass guitar being violated. This album cover fully captured the spirit of everything the music it contained was prepared to unleash on the listener. This Clash album went on to be regarded as one of the seminal albums of our times. The “London Calling” cover art played an integral role in establishing its place in musical history.
Listening to albums also makes a demand on me to devote my time and attention to the experience of listening. To be sure, an album can be put on and left to play as background sound however, more often than not, placing the needle on the album is the beginning of an interactive experience where songs are in cahoots with one another and are building towards a larger experience or concept. Think about that, an interactive experience with a piece of plastic. How is that possible? It defies explanation but for any of us who have listened to the classic concept albums Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” or the lesser know Cat Stevens’ “Numbers”, it is absolutely the truth. Albums will sometimes tell us a story and, if we invest ourselves in the experience, they will transport us to another place. How does digital media compare?
Finally, record collections, whether 33s, 45s or 78s create a physical body of sonic evidence reflecting who the owner is and what they like. My collection certainly paints a part of my portrait. I also intend on passing along my collection to my kids (easy you three, you can’t have them yet!) once I trip this mortal coil. Musical legacies spanning generations are being created by individuals and families who have never created one lick of music themselves – I listen to and hold the very same disc of Bizet’s “Les Pecheurs de Perles” my late grandfather played 60 years ago and I enjoy thinking about my kids and grandkids listening to Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Psycho Candy” many years from now.
Spin ‘em if you’ve got ‘em!
Posted on January 4, 2011, in Bill Paul's First Tuesday of Every Month, Music and tagged Bill Paul, Cat Stevens, The Alan Parsons Project, The Clash, The Jesus & Mary Chain. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.