Vinyl records are making a comeback, and it’s not just nostalgic old fogies who are driving the trend. According to Readers Digest UK, millennial and Gen Z consumers are digging the distinct sound of vinyl — and especially digging its imperfections and limitations. The scratch and crackle of a needle dancing atop a record’s grooves is a sound you don’t get with digital music.
The typical LP — “long-playing album” — plays only 22 minutes or so per side, which requires the listener to get up and change records a lot. Required participation offers the listener a more intimate and engaged listening experience. The wonderful ritual of pulling an album from a shelf where your collection sits, carefully removing the record from its sleeve, setting it on the turntable and then gingerly setting the needle down … this ancient ritual is just magical.
Appreciating the lost art of album cover designs is another important part of the listening experience — which is why Rolling Stone published a readers poll of the most loved covers of all time. I’ve had a love affair with vinyl since I was a boy in the1970s, the heyday of vinyl LPs. It was also the heyday of clunky, wooden stereo consoles like the one that sat in my parent’s dining room for 30 years or more.
The old oak console contained large speakers concealed by green fabric. It featured a record player and AM/FM radio. Sundays after supper, the sweet smell of coffee and pot roast and pineapple upside-down cake still in the air, my father loved to play his favorite albums on it.
He liked Barbara Streisand in those days. He also loved Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. And he’d go nuts when he played “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa. He’d crank the volume up and begin marching through our small house, lifting his legs and arms high and making exaggerated faces the way comedian Red Skelton did with his Clem Kadiddlehopper character. We’d jump from the table and follow behind him, marching and laughing until tears filled our eyes.
That old console played nonstop during the Christmas season. Our stack of records usually began with the “Holiday Sing-Along with Mitch Miller,” followed by the “Christmas with the Chipmunks,” then “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” then Bing Crosby. As soon as Bing finished “White Christmas,” we restacked the albums and spun them again.
My mother used the stereo more than anyone. She loved to listen to it while working around the house. Sometimes she tuned into an AM station that played Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Other times she’d play her Doris Day album. I still can hear her whistling — in perfect harmony — along to “Que Sera, Sera.”
That younger generations are embracing vinyl is an encouraging trend. Younger people have grown up in a world in which they have immediate access to whatever they want: streaming video or music, goods delivered the same day by Amazon and endless noise and chatter on social media.
Yet by returning to vinyl they are choosing to slow their lives down, relax and more fully experience the wonders of music, which — with the exception of a Sousa march at full blast — is a fine way to calm one’s soul. Goodness knows that our cranky, overstimulated world could use more of that.
Copyright 2022 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at Tom@TomPurcell.com.