1- THE ARTWORK & PACKAGING
You simply can’t compare what you can do with the packaging of a 12” vinyl, to what you can squeeze on a tiny CD case. Everything looks much better in the bigger size of a vinyl cardboard sleeve! And when you take into account that you can have gatefold sleeves and inner sleeves, that’s plenty of space to do creative things with the artwork, that you just can’t do on CD.
The most famous example is, of course, the Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which more than any other album before it, showed that rock’n’roll could be considered art, and that album sleeves could be work of art themselves, as well. The sleeve was designed by a bona fide artist, Sir Peter Blake, who a few years earlier had won the prestigious John Moores Painting Prize and was well on his way to become one of Britain’s most respected artists.
The sleeve just don’t have the same impact on a CD-sized package, which, of course, can’t include the extra cutout insert as the original release.
This is just the most obvious example. We could also mention another Beatles’ release, The White Album: the original packaging included portraits of each Beatle, and a massive poster with a collage and lyrics.
But it doesn’t even have to be such sophisticated a package to make the case for vinyl. The simple, effective design of Joy Division’s debut LP, Unknown Pleasures (by Peter Saville) looks much better and more powerful on a LP record sleeve than on CD.
… and don’t get us started on MP3s! Yeah, music is what matters at the end of the day, and audio files can certainly be very convenient. Nothing against it. But with rock’n’roll in particular, it’s not just about the music! Image is arguably just as important, and iconic record sleeves have played an important part in the history of rock’n’roll, from Elvis to Nirvana. Without the right imagery, rock’n’roll loses a bit of it’s magic, mystique and sexiness.
Yes, it IS true – the sound of vinyl (analogue) is better than digital. Sure, there is a technical explanation for this, if you are interested, but for those of us music lovers who don’t care much about scientific data, and who are not sound engineers whose ears are tuned to every minutiae of sound, there’s still a difference. And I’m NOT being a Luddite here.
I’ll explain: If I play a CD, I won’t think “Oh my, this sounds awful” like some “sound snobs” may do. Any casual music fan can play a CD and think it sounds great, fair enough… and then wonder how could you improve on a crystal clear sound? If it sounds good it sounds good, and how can you improve on that? But if you play a track on CD and then play the same track on vinyl, if you compare them back to back, chances are you will notice a slight difference, and it’s not just a figment of your auditory imagination. The vinyl will sound ever so slightly warmer and richer, and you don’t need to be an audiophile to tell the difference.
But there’s another side to the story as well. When CDs were introduced in the 80s, one of the arguments in its favor was that vinyl records sounded so bad, could get scratches etc, and that CDs sounded clearer and could last forever. That was one of the great myths of the era! Lots of vinyl records made in the 80’s did sound bad, because the quality of the vinyl used back then was bad. They were very thin as well. Also, lots of people were probably comparing brand new CDs with copies of their old, dusty, 25 year old records. So, of course CDs would sound better to their over-excited ears trying that amazing new CD thing!
But these days, if you buy a brand new, heavy-weight (180g) vinyl and stick it to your record player, it’ll sound as great and as clear as you’d hope a CD would – actually, even better!
Finally, over the years, CDs do get dirty and scratchy and I, for one, had more problems with CDs skipping tracks and acting weird than I ever did with vinyl records – if you treat your records well, they can last longer than your CDs! Which leads us to…
3 – VINYL RECORDS AGE BETTER
At the moment, there’s a huge market for old vinyl records. Rare, old records increase in value over time, and any record, if well-kept, will look fine in 10, 20, 30 years time.
As for CDs… these wretched little jewel cases will get dirty, scratched and look like shit in no time! Have you EVER found a 20-year old CD in GREAT cosmetic condition? Probably not, and even if you did, it’d hardly be exciting, would it? There’s always at least a little bit of satisfaction when you find an old second-hand record that still looks mint!!
4- INDIE, INDIE, INDIE!
If we’re STILL talking about vinyl records today (and BUYING them!) it’s thanks to the indies. Independent record shops and independent record labels are the ones who stuck with vinyl, through the thick and thin, over the years. People like Virgin or HMV would just jump into any tech bandwagon, and were quick to dismiss the format. Look where they are now! And HMV, which managed to survive (just about) is now stocking vinyl records again – in an attempt to still be relevant and attract new customers.
As for record labels: indie labels kept vinyl alive because they usually care more about their product than major labels, and over the years indie labels such as Death Waltz, Finders Keepers etc have consistently invested in interesting packages – which was necessary also to make sure they’d sell their releases! Without massive marketing budgets, indie labels know they must focus on quality to succeed.
By comparison, major labels have invested less and less in the quality of their products, musical or otherwise, and more and more in marketing: they make shit, wrap it in shit, and then market it as gold. The production values of the releases from X-Factor/ Pop Idol type of artists is beyond dire, and the same goes to the “artwork”. Just compare the cover of any Susan Boyle album (probably designed in 5 minutes by a not very talented intern using an old version of Photoshop) with the cover of a Death Waltz release such as The Fog, designed by renowned artist Dinos Chapman (of the Chapman Brothers).
5- RECORD STORE DAY!
And, finally… another reason to love records is because thanks to them we got Record Store Day! Yes, despite all the hype which can get annoying, despite the major labels jumping on the bandwagon and repackaging Aerosmith albums etc, and despite some assholes buying records just to sell them for twice the price on Ebay the next day, it’s hard not to feel excited about Record Store Day if you’re a music lover.
Well, as far as I’m concerned, it’s “Record Store Day” every month for me, when I go buy records at my favourite indie record shop (in this case, Probe Records in Liverpool) but I gotta admit it, the official Record Store Day still kicks ass! It’s good that there’s a day in the year that helps boosting the profile of small record shops, but, as a music fan, it’s just great to be able to buy exclusive, limited-edition releases on vinyl. It feels special. The same couldn’t be said for CDs or MP3s.
The excitement we feel when we buy a limited-edition release on Record Store Day is the final proof that, indeed, there’s just something about vinyl records that still remains very unique and special…
EAT YR VINYL! RECORD STORE DAY PARTY
Come to our Record Store Day party this Saturday 19th April, at Sound Food & Drink. From 12pm-5p, FREE ENTRY!
We’ll be DJ-ing, playing only vinyl records, and there’ll be a record fair, too. People can buy, sell or trade their old records and are also welcome to play them!
There’ll be live, acoustic music by Songs About Death (yours truly!) and Tom George. Will be fun.