Words: Geraint Ellis (guest contributor from The Midweek Mixtape)
On my ninth birthday, I got a Sony Walkman. The shiny black discus became my sole and trusted accomplice – everywhere I went, battling through the rain and gloom, that little machine whirred and overheated and filled my ears with the snarl of Oasis, the gentle thrashing of Sum 41 and, once or twice, the factory produced pop of Blue. It devoured batteries in milliseconds and ruined every CD I owned, but in return it let me listen to music everywhere I went, and that made everything just perfect.
The possibilities were incredible and the skies were truly the limit, provided I had enough triple A’s. That was until my thirteenth birthday, when I got an iPod Nano. A pocket sized potential national archive of music - Orange, Eight Gigabyte, Video Camera. It was sexy as hell. Within minutes my beautiful Walkman was locked away in a drawer gathering dust, covered in a million tiny scars that showed how many times it had been clattered, clutched and kicked about. It’s still in that draw.
I use my iPod every day. The screen is scratched, the back dented, the menu button refuses to click with an aged arrogance. Sometimes it betrays me - during a minute silence in school it decided to hurtle out The Kaiser Chiefs' 'I Predict A Riot' at full volume, but that little machine is effectively another limb.
Wherever I go, it has been right by my side. The sole witness and dutiful recorder of every song I’ve ever listened to. It has chronicled seven years of changing music, sound-tracked nigh on every second of my life, made me think and feel and love like nothing else has. Simply put, if my Walkman made the sky the limit, my iPod hurtles though the stratosphere, out of the universe, and continues headlong into the great and twinkling unknown.
When I write it like that, it does seem obtuse that for my twentieth birthday, I got a Fidelity 1960 Record Player. MP3’s and online purchasing have changed the face of music. Invisible and instantaneous and accessible and available right-here-right-now for the right-here-right-now generation, music has become blisteringly effective.
Comparatively, a vinyl record is useless - slow and heavy, demanding and difficult. It can snap and warp. It needs time and too much patience. It scratches then wails and jams and distorts and screws up. Vinyl is a marginally aggressive old relative who has no interest in cooperating. Vinyl should really only be used for flooring.
Vinyl, in short, should have died. Just like my cassettes did, just like my Walkman, and, probably, just like my iPod will. Everything evolves and everything else dies. It’s the great and inevitable Darwinian truth of technology.
But it hasn’t. My 1960 blue Fidelity Record Player is sat right next to me as I write this, currently spinning Stevie Wonder and his 'Songs In The Key Of Life'. After that, maybe some Genesis, or Prince, or The Who or Creedence Clearwater Revival or Grace Jones or Rachmaninoff or any of those other beautiful bits of hard shiny vinyl.
I buy vinyl records more frequently than I buy food. It’s an addiction and an utter compulsion. Every charity shop I walk past is a potential treasure trove; encased could be that Doors album I’m desperately searching for, or another Cure album for the collection. I’ve become a vinyl magpie.
Vinyl continues because, for the music lover, it represents everything that is good about music. It is tenaciously crafted, extremely delicate, and incomparably precious. Every scratch and hop and skiffle and crackle brings you closer and makes every listen a very different experience.
Physically holding your records, thumbing through them for your next listen, imagining that this is the way your grandparents listened to Jazz and Swing since the 1920s - vinyl has a soul that the MP3 cannot hope to match. It demands you listen, and rewards you for your care and consideration.
Obviously I’m not encouraging people to start lugging record players onto the bus. The iPod will still be there, the constant pocket-sized accomplice. But if you happen to have a record player stowed away in a dusty attic or a very large drawer, get it out. If you have a birthday coming up, start asking nicely. Put it next to a window with a nice view and within reaching distance of the kettle and tea-making equipment, and I can promise you one of the simplest pleasures I know.
Right, go get started – I’ll be popping back now and again to update you on my hunt for vinyl and records that get me excited, but for now, happy listening, and have a lovely day.
STREAM: Sum 41 - In Too Deep
Geraint can be found at The Midweek Mixtape, his blog-meets-radio show. Thanks for writing this ode to vinyl, good sir.