My wife thinks I’m crazy for liking records.
She’s not alone.
And honestly, I totally get it. Most of us have that image in our head of the pretentious audiophile who praises the richness and warmth that emanates from the grooves, maaan. They tout the superior sound that comes from a needle and a record and denounce CDs and MP3s as cold, lifeless data conveyors.
Beyond that stereotype, though, there’s also the impractical nature of the LP. They’re big, they’re bulky, most of them are old and smell musty, they snap-crackle-and-pop, the sound is often warped and they’re not very portable. Sometimes they skip and you can’t easily play only one track. I’m fully aware that there are a plethora of reasons for MP3s being the dominant format for music these days.
There are reasons that records are still around, though, too.
So, why do I dig records?
Without sounding too hippie about it…there’s a magic to them. Ok, that’s pretty hippie. Listening to a record is an experience, though. I love rifling through my collection and then pulling the right record, carefully removing the disc from its sleeve and examining it’s surface to make sure it’s clean, admiring the grooves. There’s something about physically holding a record. There’s a weight to it that you don’t get from the thousands of songs on your iPod. I gently place the record on the turntable (which is quite the task when you only have one hand)and then lightly set the needle on the edge, watching it catch that first groove and start moving its way to the middle. Then the music starts. Whether it’s Count Basie or Miles Davis or Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin or Tower of Power or The Beatles or The Who…
Ok, so, it’s not quite that dramatic, but you get the point. (And if you haven’t seen Almost Famous yet…sorry)
For me, the perceived weaknesses of a record are actually quite character-building. Our expectations are sky high these days. Everything needs to be perfect and convenient and we need it NOW! Records slow us down. They are an exercise in patience and understanding. When I play a record, I understand I’m going to listen to Side A and then Side B and I’m going to do so in the order the artist presented them to me. Records harken back to a time when musicians crafted an album, not just random, hit songs. Not that there aren’t musicians who do this now, but in the LP’s heyday they really had to think about it. I can’t skip a track. I can’t put it on repeat. I allow the record to play and enjoy the experience. The crackles and pops and occasional moment out of tune reminds me that imperfection can be endearing. Fifteen years later and I can tell you at exactly which moment my Wish You Were Here record skipped and played the same saxophone part over and over until I moved the needle. Like life, it’s usually the imperfections we remember.
Now, I’m no snob. I’d say at least 95% of my music listening happens on my phone or computer. Spotify, Pandora, iTunes…love ‘em. I’m not saying that listening to records is somehow better, but I am saying it’s different. And there are certainly times in my life when it’s better. Those times where I’m running ragged and I’m trying to do a thousand things at once. Or when I’m feeling nostalgic. Or, you know…Stairway To Heaven. There are times when putting on a record and having a cold drink just seem right.
And that’s why I like…no, love records.