This Easter weekend, the hubby and I headed over to Cheshire to visit the in-laws. It was a very exciting visit, for three reasons: firstly, it was the furthest I’ve ventured from Derby since October; secondly, I saw the first swallows of the season, swooping over the river Weaver; and finally, we got to ferret through my father-in-law’s long-neglected record collection and swipe a few to take home and spin on our turntable at 33⅓ rpm. Yes, I’m a vinyl lover, a confession which once earned me the response ‘The LPs? Is that this band you’re playing at the moment?’ Over the past couple of years, I’ve invested quite large sums of money in expensive equipment to play these audio artifacts, and of course buying ‘new’ ones. Recent purchases have included Carole King’s Tapestry, Led Zeppelin IV,and more Deep Purple albums than most people would regard as strictly necessary. But this weekend represented a chance to pretty much double the collection, filling our shelf with classic records from the 60s and 70s.
After my husband dragged in the plastic crate from the garage, he wanted to sort through the records in a careful, systematic way. My approach, however, was to riffle rapidly and squeal with delight whenever I caught sight of something particularly exciting: a denim-clad crotch with Sticky Fingers rubber-stamped on top (’Don’t you have that on CD already?’ ‘Yes, but the LP has a zip!’); four blokes on a pedestrian crossing in St John’s Wood; or, peeking out from behind Leonard Cohen’s lugubrious face, the thinnest imaginable stripe of luminous orangey-pink, betraying to my eager eyes the presence of the psychedelic eyegasm that is the cover of Disraeli Gears. We got a brilliant haul, including nearly all Bob Dylan’s mid-sixties classics. Sure, the condition of most of them isn’t great, but I love ‘em anyway, the discs scratched and warped, the covers scuffed and torn. Shows they’ve been played and enjoyed.
And now they will be again, after decades stored away in a dusty box, forgotten. My father-in-law, however, was reluctant to part with some of them: In the Court of the Crimson King and Atom Heart Mother were given up only grudgingly, while he refused outright to let go of The Dark Side of the Moon and Ummagumma, allowing me only the briefest chance to admire the flawless beauty of the
young David Gilmour album artwork. He felt, he confessed, rather as if we were picking through his youth and taking bits of it away. I suppose in a sense, we were, but we’re also now going to bring it all back to glorious, crackly life.
But why on earth do I want to do this? Vinyl records are heavy, inconvenient, and easily damaged. You can’t listen to them whilst out jogging, or in the car. At home, the stereo dedicated to them on takes up an entire sideboard, and you have to keep getting up to flip the damn things over. Set against the weightlessness and convenience of MP3s, they’re a right pain. But I love them anyway. A lot of it is simple nostalgia – memories of dropping the needle on my Dad’s Hendrix LPs, reliving times before I was even born. Many audiophiles claim that vinyl offers superior sound quality, although I think that’s only true when they’re not scratched to buggery, which most of mine are. But mainly, I think, it’s the joy of their physicality: the cardboard sleeves, big enough to show off the artwork (especially if it’s a double-vinyl gatefold LP – squee!), the careful procedure to play them: sliding out the glossy black 12-inch disc, putting it on the turntable, wiping off the dust, setting it spinning at the right speed, placing the stylus in the lead-in groove. And then that wonderful sound of the needle drop, and the slight crackle, the shiver of anticipation, the home version of the orchestra tuning-up. I might have a lot of music stored on my hard drive, but I never feel like I really, truly, own it, unless I have it on vinyl.
Which means, oddly, that I feel I own a bunch of stuff I’ve just jointly acquired on extended loan from my father-in-law more than things I downloaded years ago. Hey, nobody ever said love was supposed to be rational, and if it makes me happy, I’m happy. Now, I just need to upgrade my turntable so I’ll be able to play my stash of 78s…