Diary of a Vinyl Addict

The summer following my freshman year in college I drove out to Long Island to visit my father and stay with him for a few weeks. One day I decided to drive over to my grandfather’s house a few towns over and have dinner. I loved my grandfather’s house, a 19th century converted barn nestled on the north shore of Long Island. After dinner and a long leisurely discussion of sports and history by the fireplace, I noticed my grandfather’s record collection.

He had a large steel and wooden solid state system that looked about twenty years old and in the cabinet beneath there were several records leaning slightly askew. I sat down to flip through the large sleeves when one record caught my eye; it was Pink Floyd’s 1977 LP, Animals.

The cover, well designed like all Floyd albums by graphic artist Storm Thorgerson, depicted the Battersea Power Station in England with a large pig flying overhead. I had just started listening to Pink Floyd that summer and had become a big fan.

My grandfather told me that the album had belonged to my uncle Kenny, who had died at sixteen in a car wreck when I was a baby. He told me I could have the record. After my grandfather went to sleep that night I sat by the fireplace, drinking a glass of red wine and smoking a cigarette listening to the phonograph softly crooning Animals. The music closed my eyes and I was hooked.

That was how I began my record collection.

Upon returning to father’s house the next day I showed him my uncle’s record and he surprised me by giving me several records that he had lying around in the basement. There were at least thirty gems from the 1960’s and 70’s including one of the gems of my collection, an original 1967 pressing of Are You Experienced? My father had Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Doors and an extremely battered copy of Rubber Soul.

At the end of my trip, I brought the vinyl home and tromped down into the basement in search of an old portable record player that had belonged to my Great-Grandmother and had been in her house when I went to visit her as a small child. I brought the turntable up to my room, cleaned the dust off and sat for a lazy summer afternoon playing records.

I began to amass a respectable collection. I scoured thrift stores in New York and New Jersey, looking for used records in decent condition. Such records always cost only a few dollars and many are in decent condition.

I got my copy of The White Album, Aqualung and Houses of the Holy in this way. In Red Bank at the used bookstore, an old woman also sold records, although she owned a pricing guide and charged a good deal more for some of the higher quality records.

She did sell me one of my favorite records, a 1971 copy of Sketches of Spain. The rest of my records have been chosen carefully and paid for at premium prices through E-bay and at local record stores like the Princeton Record Exchange, which has perhaps the best selection of vinyl in New Jersey, and Bleecker Bob’s records on West 4th street in Manhattan.

The most I ever paid for one record was $60 for a vintage copy of Nick Drake’s masterpiece, Pink Moon.
Currently, I play my vinyls-rarely-on a wooden replica phonograph that was a Christmas present from an ex-girlfriend. The sound quality of the player is reasonable on its own and sounds fantastic when hooked up to my JBL speakers and subwoofer.

My record collection, about 200 LPs and 50 45’s, is lined up in a large trunk in my living room. Knowing the basics of record care, my records stand on edge to alleviate compression. I have a felt record-cleaning brush and clean my records regularly. I also only handle vinyl by their edges.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a rather extensive digital music collection and I own about 50 CDs but I prefer vinyl. Vinyl is history. They are artifacts of the 20th century, particularly the past 50 years of music, a time period that I love dearly.

My parents had records when I was a child. I remember being mesmerized by the eerie cover of Queen’s News of the World that depicted a mammoth robot with blood stained fingers holding the corpses of the band members. I remember being amused by Jane Fonda’s bemuffled legs in her infamous workout record. I love to hold old Beatle’s records and think about when they were first released, shiny new and covered in cellophane or paper, sitting in the record store waiting for legions of adoring fans to come by them. Records are history but unlike most artifacts that are dusty relics under glass in a museum, records were actually owned and enjoyed by real people and best of all, you can still listen to them. Records are also a great conversation piece when you have company over.

People love to flip through my record collection and ask me to play some of their favorite vinyl.

I also believe that records sound better. Of course, some records are of notably higher quality than others. This is particularly true of 180-gram vinyl which is pressed on non-recycled vinyl, usually for collectors.

A newly pressed and well cared for record played on a high-quality turntable just sounds fuller and warmer than a CD. For older records, like Led Zeppelin IV,created before digital recording, I believe this is due to the fact that analog recording captured a broader dimension of sound that was lost in remastering processes of the past twenty years.

Remastered CDs sound too high-pitched and thin. Records can be more palpable to the ear, possessing a living quality. Even the crackles and pops, if they are not too severe, of an old record can lend a sense of character and authenticity to the experience of listening to a cherished album. I just don’t ever feel the same affection for a CD. Some audiophiles refer contemptuously to the sound of digital music as “soulless.” I do, however, believe that contemporary music recorded and mastered entirely in digital sounds closer in fidelity to high-quality records.

Audiophiles and record collectors comprise a niche market that provides enough demand to ensure that records will still be created and sold. For older records, companies re-release small quantities of albums for the same market.

If you are interested in finding a cherished vinyl the internet is a great starting place but for an authentic experience I highly recommend a trip to a vintage record shop, however, which can be a trip back in time.

The dusty aroma of old records and the faded covers is a sure trip down memory lane.