Phonographs, platters, records. These days, we mainly know them by the term “vinyl”. Pictured to the left is lil’ baby me making a mess of my mom and dad’s record collection. I loved the records I had as a kid. But the decades-long dominance of records as the leading form of media changed as I grew up. My 11th birthday present was a rockin’ double tape deck (boom box, ghetto blaster, whatever), and I switched to collecting cassettes. Five years after that, compact discs became the media of choice. The new millennium brought us digital forms of music, from MP3s to streaming.
Ever since I was 11 years old, records have been an inferior form of media. The drawbacks of records were obvious. They aren’t as portable as a cassette tape, don’t have the sound quality of a CD*, and aren’t nearly as convenient as a “present on every device” digital library. So for years I looked down on records, ranking them somewhere above wax cylinders in the great hierarchy of methods to listen to prerecorded sound.
*I know there are folks who claim that music on vinyl sounds better, but I don’t buy it.
In recent years, my interest in records was rekindled for one reason only: album art. I used a handful of records saved from my childhood to decorate my garage game room. My wife and I enjoy visiting flea markets, and I started looking for interesting album art from the 70s and 80s. Records from that time are harder to find than you think, due to cassettes taking over. We picked up several cool records over time, mostly of stuff we listened to back in the day.
At a random flea market stop while stretching our legs on a long drive, I found this gem. This is Peter Frampton’s 1982 album “The Art of Control”. The art just screamed 1980something, and the subject matter made it perfect for the game room. None of the songs on the album seemed familiar, so I went looking on the internet. But the internet let me down. The MP3s were not easily obtained.
That’s when I began to seriously consider getting a record player. I knew there were USB compatible ones, and that I could rip the Frampton album digitally that way. But it seemed like too much of a hassle. And why spend $50 on a record player to listen to an album I bought for $3? I decided not to bother, and contended myself with listening to a video of the album on YouTube (it wasn’t great).
But the initial desire for a record player was there. And, if there’s one way to make me buy something, it’s Transformers. When the original score for the Transformers cartoon was released as a vinyl-only exclusive, well… I’m sure you know where this is headed.
The album and a reasonably priced turntable were ordered. After everything arrived, it took only a few minutes to hook it all up to the living room sound system. On a Saturday morning, I sat down to play a record for the first time in what I’d estimate to be thirty years or so.
Hearing music from my favorite cartoon of all time was very emotional, but that’s not really the point of this post. What surprised me about that first listen was how intentional it was. I sat and paid attention to what I was hearing. I truly listened, looking only at the liner notes and album art without any other distractions. How long had it been since I listened to music like this? Most of my music listening happens while I do something else: drive, walk, paint minis, clean up my office, whatever. Sitting down to focus on listening to that record felt different.
I listened to the Transformers score (both sides!) a couple times that morning. Then I put on the Frampton album. And the next day, I grabbed all the albums displayed in the game room and listened to them, too. Some were leftover from my childhood: Sports, Eliminator, The Curly Shuffle. Some I purchased because they looked cool: Miami Vice, ??? Removing the record from the jacket and sleeve, putting it on the turntable, carefully setting the needle on, and flipping it over halfway through… it took me back in time.
I have zero regrets over purchasing the record player. I’ll go digital first whenever I look for music, but it’s good to be able to listen to stuff only released on vinyl. And the sheer physicality of it is enjoyable. It feels nice. I don’t foresee myself purchasing an extensive collection of records, but who knows? When something cool comes up, I may just grab it. Like, for example, the score to Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, which OF COURSE I purchased as soon as I saw it. I mean, come on, look at this and tell me it isn’t a piece of art: