You Spin Me Right ’Round

Dust off the turntable – vinyl is back

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS -

aSANYONEWHOCAME OF AGE in the ’60s or ’70s knows, cool­ness was de­fined in large part by the size and scope of your al­bum col­lec­tion. Sadly, I was never part of the cool club, but with vinyl sales con­tin­u­ing to soar in re­cent years, it looks like I may have a sec­ond chance.

From the get-go, I’ve al­ways been vinylly chal­lenged, my col­lec­tion for­ever too sparse, too pop or too yes­ter­day.

Flash­back to the sum­mer of ’75: I’ve just turned 13, and my fam­ily is vis­it­ing rel­a­tives. My cousins, all of whom are older and most of whom are male, are pretty much stuck with me, and so I ac­tu­ally get to hang out and lis­ten to mu­sic with them. We’re all draped over the fur­ni­ture with dozens of al­bums scat­tered across the floor. For the most part, no one says any­thing, but once in a while some­one grunts out a com­ment about some band or mu­si­cian I’ve never heard of and so, want­ing to add my own two cents, I scan the sea of records for some­thing fa­mil­iar hop­ing to find at least one of the few LPs I own.

There’s nary a Beach Boys al­bum in sight.

Rather than just sit­ting there star­ing into space, which, frankly, to be part of this glassy-eyed gang is ex­actly what I should have done, I pick up the empty jacket of the LP that’s play­ing and feign in­ter­est in its im­age of nude chil­dren climb­ing a pile of rocks. “What’s your favourite Zep­pelin song, Becky?” one of the boys asks out of the blue. Is he chal­leng­ing me? Can he see through my ruse?

All I have to do is flip the cover over and pick a song ti­tle at ran­dom but, in­stead, I say, “Uh … this one,” and then, as if to prove it, stand up and ac­tu­ally start bop­ping about, try­ing to sing along. Thank God the lyrics weren’t rocket sci­ence. Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, you don’t have to go, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh …

Cana­dian Mu­sic In­dus­try Hall of Famer Ralph James tells a much dif­fer­ent story from mine. When he talks about hang­ing out in Win­nipeg record stores back in the ’60s, his voice takes on a warmth and au­then­tic­ity as nostal­gic as the sound of vinyl it­self.

“They had play copies so you could lis­ten to the stuff and you couldn’t wait for those copies to come out ,” the former bass gui­tarist for Har­lequin and ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent, di­rec­tor for the newly launched Cana­dian of­fices of Agency of Per­form­ing Arts (APA), a world­wide tal­ent agency, which reps the likes of Nick­el­back and Billy Tal­ent, en­thuses. “Some of them were full dou­ble al­bums with pic­tures, lyric sheets, cred­its and ev­ery­thing. It’s part of the rea­son a whole bunch of peo­ple I know got hooked on mu­sic – it wasn’t just the mu­sic, it was the art­work, the al­bum cov­ers and ev­ery­thing.”

Wow, I coo, but of course I can’t re­ally re­late. I’m even more lost when he talks about the 100 or so al­bums he saved from his col­lec­tion, which, back in the day, num­bered close to 5,000. “I have the Rolling Stones 12 X 5 on Decca, mono. It’s about an eighth of an inch thick.”

More empty coo­ing from me, and I find my­self wish­ing that cool­ness were con­ta­gious and I could reach through the phone line and touch him – surely then, some of it would rub off on me. But, no, I need to look into this vinyl thing fur­ther.

Vinyl, ex­perts say, is not only mak­ing a come­back but is a for­mat that is here to stay. But is it? I mean, I can’t go through an­other for­mat fi­asco like when all those now-grownup cool kids were kick­ing their al­bum col­lec­tions to the curb, and I was smugly pat­ting my shoe­box of cas­settes. And then my shoe­box of CDs. And then … do MP3s fit in a shoe­box?

In her re­cently re­leased book, Why Vinyl Matters: A Man­i­festo From Mu­si­cians and Fans, Jen­nifer Ot­ter Bick­erdike tracks the rise, fall and resur­gence of vinyl. She cites the early 2000s with the in­tro­duc­tion of MP3s as a lam­en­ta­ble time in his­tory when the al­bum cover, al­ready shrunk to CD size, was fur­ther re­duced on tiny mo­bile screens. “Mu­sic had be­come com­pletely un­teth­ered from a phys­i­cal com­mod­ity, lack­ing the emo­tional ties and cul­tural sym­bol­ism for­merly pro­vided by the com­pre­hen­sive pack­age,” she writes.

Early in 2017, Sun­rise Records an­nounced plans to take over 70 former HMV stores across Canada, most with around 25 per cent of vinyl in­ven­tory. And also early in 2017, Gerry McGhee, pres­i­dent of Iso­tope, a mu­sic dis­trib­u­tor, opened Pre­ci­sion Record Press­ing, a 20,000-square-foot record-press­ing plant in Burling­ton, Ont., that, once run­ning at full ca­pac­ity, is set to be­come the sec­ond largest vinyl plant in North Amer­ica. McGhee, like James, is a former rocker (lead singer of Brighton Rock) who even sit­ting be­hind a cor­po­rate desk at his head of­fice drips cool. The more he rem­i­nisces about his vinyl voy­age, the more I re­al­ize I missed the boat. “My older brother owned a record store in Hamil­ton in 1977, so I went to work there when I was 14. All we had back then was mu­sic and movie the­atres.” Gawd, I think, all I had was books and babysit­ting.

But what’s driv­ing vinyl’s come­back?

The­o­ries abound. The rise of vinyl co­in­cides with Record Store Day, an in­ter­na­tional phe­nom­e­non, which launched in 2008. To hip­sters, it helped in­tro­duce a brand new shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence and to boomers one that is nostal­gic and tried-and-true.

That same year also saw the launch of Spo­tify, a streaming ser­vice that re­cently an­nounced it has more than 60 mil­lion sub­scribers and 30 mil­lion songs. Hot on its heels is Ap­ple Mu­sic with more than 28 mil­lion

sub­scribers but more than 40 mil­lion tunes. But what do streaming ser­vices have to do with vinyl? Some ex­perts con­tend that streaming sup­ports vinyl sales by al­low­ing users to sam­ple count­less tunes and then go out and pur­chase the phys­i­cal ver­sions of their favourites.

Of course, the grow­ing se­lec­tion of LPs helps – in fact, ac­cord­ing to James, prac­ti­cally ev­ery band or mu­si­cian wants to re­lease on vinyl. “It’s the art­work alone. They see other bands do­ing it, and they want to do it, it’s just so cool,” he says.

On­line or in a record store, then, to­day vinyl fans can pur­chase ev­ery­thing from indies to gi­ants, from younger artists like Bieber to the back cat­a­logues of The Doors. Glob­ally, sales have reached a re­ported 25-year high and, here in Canada, ac­cord­ing to Nielsen En­ter­tain­ment, sales have shown dou­ble-digit per­cent­age in­creases ev­ery year since 2012 and were up 29 per cent in 2016 over 2015.

The top-10 sell­ing vinyl al­bums in Canada in 2016 in­cluded a mix of the present and past from The Lu­m­i­neers Cleopa­tra (2016) to The Bea­tles Abbey Road (1969). Among the top sell­ers, too, were Adele and Amy White­house con­tem­po­rary yet old-school croon­ers who, to me, per­fectly re­flect vinyl with all its beau­ti­fully scarred pops and scratches as op­posed to the loss of soul found in the clin­i­cal per­fec­tion of the newer for­mats. Sand­wiched be­tween Bob Mar­ley and The Wail­ers’ Le­gend and The Trag­i­cally Hip’s Man Ma­chine Poem is the No. 2 best­seller, Black­star, the late great David Bowie’s fi­nal al­bum. Not sur­pris­ingly, the re­cent deaths of leg­ends such as Bowie and Prince are also cred­ited with fu­elling vinyl de­mand as sen­ti­men­tal con­sumers seek to ex­pe­ri­ence the mu­sic on the for­mat on which it was orig­i­nally re­leased.

Dur­ing a re­cent Skype in­ter­view, Bick­erdike raved to me about the sheer beauty of vinyl’s tan­gi­bil­ity. “Vinyl is a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of mu­sic, some­thing you can touch and feel and in­ter­act with us­ing senses be­yond just your ears. There is a sim­plis­tic joy in the rit­ual of putting on a record that, no, you can’t walk around with. You have to be in the same room, stop and lis­ten. You have to sit and lis­ten to a record.”

The sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence of vinyl can help to evoke fond mem­o­ries of days gone by, says Eva Fisher, a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist based in Ot­tawa. The sim­ple act of pulling a beloved al­bum out of the cover and plac­ing it on your record player can call up a string of other happy mem­o­ries. “Happy rec­ol­lec­tions un­ex­pect­edly ex­pe­ri­enced is a big dopamine en­hancer,” says Fisher, sug­gest­ing that if the song and the way it sounds on vinyl takes you back to your first dance, your first kiss, your first time, the emo­tions will be even stronger and eas­ier to re­live.

This brings me back to a few years ago when my mom was sell­ing the fam­ily home, and I was help­ing to clear things out. Next to the big old con­sole, for years the house­hold’s sole sound sys­tem and long since rel­e­gated to the base­ment, was a pile of LPs, mostly my late dad’s. But there amid Andy Wil­liams and Doris Day were my pal­try few and, I’m proud to say, Meatloaf’s Bat Out of Hell was among them.

Just pick­ing it up, I ex­pe­ri­enced a rush of plea­sure as I flashed back to the sum­mer of ’78 and slow danc­ing with my boyfriend. We must have changed the words slightly – I want you, I need you, But there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you – for we were each other’s first love. Sweet, I know, but let me rip the nee­dle off of that mem­ory. Just pick­ing up that al­bum, I re­mem­bered the ques­tion­mark rid­den lyrics of that other hit and was awash with anx­i­ety.

Do you love me? Will you love me for­ever? Do you need me? Will you never leave me?

Never mind the al­bum, my head spins just think­ing about it. Still, me­thinks I’m go­ing to go out and buy a turntable. And al­though I won’t plas­ter my bed­room with posters or have milk crates lin­ing the floor, this time I’m go­ing to get the vinyl thing right. Re­becca re­mas­tered.

“The sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence of vinyl can help to evoke fond mem­o­ries”

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