ALL BECAUSE OF VINYL
We are in Pangbourne, an idyllic English village by the Thames in the historic county of Berkshire. The year is 1968. And summer has come. The very summer that saw the encounter between two men who were destined to go down in music history among the most legendary figures of rock. “I looked through his records one day when he was out and I pulled out a pile to play and somehow or other they happened to be the same ones he was going to play when he got back, to see whether I liked them,” Robert Plant told The Guardian in 2014 of his first bonding moment with Jimmy Page. “It just worked from there.”
Impossible to imagine today that if they hadn’t found that common ground in their initial time together, Led Zeppelin might have never happened the way they did. And all because of vinyl.
VINYL THROUGH THE YEARS
American visionary Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, the modern turntable’s oldest forefather, in 1877. The gramophone, under the imprint of Emile Berliner, was introduced shortly thereafter. However, the records conceptualized during the formative years were severely lacking in both quality and functionality. And the advent of the radio followed by the Great Depression almost obliterated record sales. Then the new 7-inch single and 12-inch LP formats running at 45 and 33 ⅓ revolutions per minute, respectively, emerged, and the market complied. With the culmination of World War II began an era of music playback that lasted forty remarkable years. The turntables we know today date back to the 1960s, a period when many of the most notable albums of all time were released. Then came the cassette and the CD. Records faced certain extinction at the turn of the century. Mp3s became part of the equation, and people discovered the comfort that is music streaming. Vinyl nail in the coffin. But lo and behold, here we are almost two decades later, and phono is as loved as can be.
AGED LIKE FINE WINE
So, what is it about vinyl records that accomplished such an astonishing comeback? Nostalgia is the underlying factor that comes to mind. A retro turntable with a bunch of records next to it is all it takes to clothe your living room in the zeitgeist of 70s past. Walls in homes and stores and rehearsal rooms all over the world are decorated with the unmistakable black disc, while collectibles like colour and picture vinyls are kept with more care than promises. People are all over vintage these days, and the old-fashioned sightliness of these seemingly prehistoric sound carriers and the devices that play them is all but undeniable.
Of course it’s not just aesthetics that people keep coming back for. It’s the keen memories of a past cherished by the people who lived it and envied by the generations who wish that they had. The human psyche is ultimately inclined to sentimental yearning. That time you danced naked in the arms of your hippie lover without a care in the world. The day the gates opened years before the wall fell. When one man took a small step and made a giant leap for mankind. Every time President Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. shook hands. The moment the first light of morning greeted you more gently than usual because they had finally made peace. Vinyl was playing in the background.
THE DARK SIDE
OF THE MOON
Arguably the most essential record to own on vinyl, maybe any format. In the temporal setting of its release, it was already so far ahead of its time that it continues to break the creative realm today still. But these things have been said a thousand times over about Dark Side of the Moon. Its merit is known. Every word of praise, every tribute, every accolade is deserved. It’s an album that has to be heard and felt and heard again and invited in with wide-open minds. From the artwork to the lyrics to the melody - Pink Floyd have packed the secrets of the universe into their magnum opus. It seems almost a waste to single out one song as the best because such genius has to be experienced in its entirety. Ultimately, The Dark Side of the Moon is a journey as much as it is an album.
IN NEW YORK
A live record as organic and gritty as it gets. Nirvana reinvented their own music with this concert, and the incorporated cover songs are frequently thought of as originals. Cobain’s vocals are as raw as ever for the acoustic renditions of iconic grunge anthems, and his former bandmates play vigorously alongside him. The sound is refreshingly stripped-down and still adds a myriad of unexplored layers to the acoustics of grunge. “The Man Who Sold the World” needs to be mentioned not because it is decidedly the best song on the album, but because playing a Bowie tune that can hold a candle to the original is an immense accomplishment. Opinions on Nirvana are as divided as any, but the interpretative brilliance of this album cannot be overstated. Everything unplugged will want to live up to the impossible standards set by this record.
There is no such thing as a vinyl collection without the Beatles. All the choices their musical catalogue offers are obvious ones. But Revolver has something so unassumingly psychedelic it belongs on any record shelf. The album achieves a unique balance of progression and standstill, capturing the soul of experimentalism without becoming the odd man out in an overwhelmingly congruous discography. In a collection of impressive individuals, “I’m Only Sleeping” is a treasure not seldom overlooked. As the title suggests, the song has something of a lethargic beauty about it. One that keeps resurfacing throughout the track list. Lennon sings with bittersweet softness, and the instruments add to the dreamy feel of the overall tonality. To this day, the harmony of Revolver remains unmatched.
A true 90s staple in any hip-hop collection, 36 Chambers is most convincing in its self-evident roughness. The beats are in all the right places, and the rhymes can’t be described as anything other than a work of artful intellect. The record is the kind of hallmark of underground hip-hop that is too damn infectious to stay underground and at the same time subject to an inherent sense of responsibility dictating that it should. A production that is far from smooth feels smooth because the rawness of creation is so in line with everything the album represents. “Tearz” is absolute sorcery, transforming emotion into rhythm and vice versa. It doesn’t get any more straightforward, direct or more in-your-face than 36 Chambers. It’s the sound of the streets of New York. It’s the harsh truth of the world, and that’s why it’s so great.
For heavy metal, how could we not go with the first full-on metal album to ever exist? That’s right – we can’t. Black Sabbath started a revolution with the release of their debut, and every metal band that followed drew inspiration from their crusade. All songs on the record deserve a trophy for innovation, but the eponymous title track added doom to an already novel idea, making it the pioneer of the genre. It was probably assigned the leading position on the track list with good reason. Accused of satanic rituality and blasphemy back in the day, the album was a service not everybody wanted to attend. But the unlikely congregation grew over the years, and today Black Sabbath is revered by fans of the grotesque and adherents to the conventional alike. Evil has a courier, and its message sounds so good.
Quentin Tarantino is big on vinyl, citing it as a decisive tool in the selection of music he curates for a film. The essence of “cool,” the Pulp Fiction soundtrack unites surf, soul and dialogue for a very different kind of mixtape. Every track is an immediate throwback to the scene it belongs to, and vinyl underscores the timelessness attached to both music and picture. The most spellbinding piece is Urge Overkill’s remake of the Neil Diamond classic “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon,” which also happens to accompany the most infamous sequence in the movie. In a modern world, Pulp Fiction is the most retro way to define pop culture. And the record that goes with it does just that. A soulful union of the spoken and the sung, this film score is the undisputed icon of vinyl movie soundtracks.
The best thing about this album is its versatile range. You’ll find punk, rock, hip-hop, reggae and jazzy elements in there, all coming together for a big rebellion against musical archetypes. Lyrically, the record explores the human condition in historical, political and social contexts with both fictional and life-based narratives. The Clash are a straight-to-the-point kind of band, and London Calling is the pinnacle of their unruly nature. The album cover is as famous as the title track, but the piece most captivating in mood, instrumentation and form is “Guns of Brixton.” To convey a song about being shot in your own home with such haunting indifference has got to be a Paul Simonon trademark of cool. The Clash bring disorder, and London Calling is all the chaotic layers of this riot of a band.
Techno on vinyl is probably the most unusual turntable experience these days. Because house music is futuristic by definition, and that’s exactly why a vintage twist makes this classic even more fun to dance to. If you go back to the origins of modern disco music, you will find this very album, and what it delivers is a nice mix of old-school funk and extravagant glam. Homework ushered in a new age of electronica. It made people want to party but had intelligent aspects to it. Like robotics that know how to move without programming. “Around the World” is quite possibly the catchiest song on the planet. Even if you don’t know it by name or have never heard of the band, you have definitely rocked out to this tune at one point or another. Daft Punk’s debut is the only kind of French homework you’ll love spending time on.
Pioneer DJ Turntables
SETTING COURSE FOR THE FUTURE
Maybe vinyls are here to stay, maybe not. But one thing is certain: Their collector’s value, their aesthetic and their sound are timeless. How else could it be that they made such a sensationally unsuspected return? That after all these years people still come back, drop the needle and linger with fascination as the record starts to spin?