News story: Sales of vinyl records have overtaken CDs. You think: They’ve sold 11 records this year, and only 10 CDs?
No. About $232 million worth of records were sold, and $129.9 million in CDs.
Who, you ask, is buying records? Grandma getting fresh copies of her Living Strings “Songs for Getting Misty-eyed About Vague Recollections” series? No; these devotees of the supposedly special attributes of vinyl are turntable geeks, people who buy special needles made in antiseptic Swiss factories.
I suppose I could poke fun at these hipster conceits, but I don’t care. If you like records, enjoy yourself. That’s all. End of column.
Hmm, seems that I have a lot of space left. Well, I’ll have to manufacture some strong opinions, then.
Personally, I don’t miss records miss records miss records miss rec ... (skritch) ... don’t miss records at all, for some reason. I miss the albums, which you could look at while you played the record, but my days of sitting on the sofa staring at a 12-inch-square image vanished, along with my attention span, once the internet was invented.
Let’s be honest: Playing records was such a production. You had to page through your collection. If you were a serious record collector, everything was organized by genre and artist, and of course chronologically. The people who just dumped everything together were the sort of people who’d refile a book on a library shelf without looking at the last number in the Dewey Decimal System.
(Google it, kids. It’s how we kept chaos at bay.)
But even the guy with the carefully arranged collection knew there were serious record nerds who treated their collection like ancient Roman dinner plates on loan from the Louvre. The serious guy had that special dust-remover brush. He’d draw a bead of the magic anti-dust fluid along the edge of the brush, turn on the record player and remove the accumulated dust with gentle pressure so he didn’t stress the belt that drove the turntable. He acted as if this somehow made him part of the band.
Most of us waited until the singers sounded like they were singing through an old sock filled with sawdust, and then we flicked the cotton-ball-sized gunk off the needle. Yes, we touched the needle. Record nerds are wincing as they read this because that contaminated the needle with personal oil. So? The guitar’s going to slip out of the musician’s hands because I lubed the needle? Dude, I’m listening to AC/DC. There’s not a lot of nuance here.
CDs were so much easier, even if they also sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk sk ... (removes CD from tray, wipes with sleeve, replaces) ... skipped, in their own robotic way. They were better than records in every other way, because you could jump past a boring song with the push of a button. In the vinyl days, we sat on the sofa debating whether to get up and move the needle, or we just sat there and endured the inevitable “Side 2, Track 3” filler.
Audiophiles are now ready to Rumpelstiltskin themselves out of frustration: Don’t you realize that CDs didn’t have the same warm sound as vinyl? It’s cold! It’s sterile! To which I reply: I was in the second row for Blue Oyster Cult at the Fargo Civic Center in 1976, and I have not been capable of detecting faint nuance ever since.
In fact, I went to hear Blue Oyster Cult last year to see if I could get my hearing back, the way you lose your memory from getting hit on the head and then you get your memory back when you’re hit on the head again. Turns out it doesn’t work that way.
I SAID, TURNS OUT IT DOESN’T WORK THAT WAY. Oh, you were at the concert, too? Awesome!
Anyway. If you like vinyl, great.
If you like to play old 78s with a Victrola that has a needle like a railroad spike, great.
If you’re into cassettes because you miss pulling the guts out of the cassette deck and re-spooling the tape with a pencil, great.
If you yearn for the days of eight-track tapes that had 37 minutes of music on something that looked like half a Tolstoy novel, great.
Let’s just not romanticize old tech as something that was better because it came along when we were young. I don’t miss answering machines, fax machines, wood-grained plastic alarm clocks, chunky digital watches the size of manhole covers, dot-matrix printers zinging out every line like prissy teletypes or CD players. Newer might not be better in every extent, but it usually has something that makes up for what you lost.
These days I have my entire music collection on my phone, accessible at any time. If I want to hear any old song, I can, and that’s a modern miracle. But I’m tired of most of it, so I listen to the radio.