Yesterday I was a bit distracted by things sciency, so didn’t get to acknowledge World Record Store Day! Usually I would try to be at home and play records I haven’t played for a while. But better late than never.
World Record Store Day is of course a marketing initiative, and has been going for over ten years now – how time flies! Although I haven’t bought any new vinyl for a long time, I have happily held on to my collection across many house moves, and through the advent of CDs and iTunes, despite the derision and scoffing of others. “The recording in digital is so much better, the sound production perfect,” I was told. “Records take up so much space …” Well, yes. But so does sports gear, or children, or books.
While I can accept the arguments, that is not what it’s about for me. This is my collection (and I use the term loosely. It’s not a regimented collection as some of my former radio station colleagues would have built, with every record ever made by an artist, 45s and 33s). I do not have every album by say Fleetwood Mac (although we do have two copies of Rumours). I do not have every Elton John album. But I have what I like – such as Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom, Kate Bush’s The Kick Inside, Blondie’s Parallel Lines, Flowers’ Icehouse, and Hall & Oates’ Bigger than Both of Us. The opening saxophone strains of their Back Together Again transport me to the adolescent bedroom in the inner suburbs of Newcastle, where the only knowledge of Philadelphia was the cream cheese sold in blocks in the supermarket. And that is what it is about – this music, the album covers, even the plastic sleeves from the record stores where I bought them – all contribute to a memory that is somehow tangible. I was there when I heard it.
These pieces of rotating vinyl are the soundtrack of my life’s formative years, and it is not by co-incidence that when I am feeling low or disconnected, that I turn to this collection. Some have crackling and jumps (not too many), but it is those very imperfections that I like, remembering when I flogged a particular track or side, or why it jumps there. Sometimes I put a record on to be surprised by the tracks on a second side because I hadn’t ever flipped the disc.
At the Patti Smith concert in Sydney recently, they were playing the whole of the Horses album live. After playing Free Money, she quipped wryly, “And that is the end of side 1 of Horses,” knowing that a large part of the audience would understand her reference.
A 2016 YouGov study indicated that the recent resurgence in vinyl record purchasing is driven by midlife nostalgia. The research found that, “Those who have recently purchased a vinyl album are most likely to be aged between 45 and 54.” Ironically, many are re-purchasing albums they previously discarded.
While there are some albums I can see myself discarding in the future – bits and pieces that I picked up along the way – playing records is such an important part of my life, I can’t ever imagine not having them. So I am glad for World Record Store Day – it means I won’t have difficulty getting a new stylus for the turntable (it was a bit tricky for a while in the 90s) for some time yet.