Sunday, 28 January 2018
A bedroom scene from May 1974. I was nearly twenty-two. I still have all of these Beatles LPs.
In May 2015 I began a determined effort to clear out my attic (and, at the time, wrote a couple of posts about it). I soon got sidetracked, and then abandoned the project. By then the stuff up there had been somewhat rearranged, and it all looked a bit tidier. But there remained a lot more to do. I've promised myself another clearance at some future date. But as I don't urgently need the space, and I'm not moving house, it's hardly a priority job.
Still, it would be nice to get rid of some things sooner rather than later, while I feel like climbing up and down the step-ladder to the attic. Things that I never use and will never do anything with, that are just sitting up there uselessly.
For instance, my collection of vinyl records. You know: singles, EPs and LPs, all in boxes and dedicated carrying-cases bought in a different, pre-computer era.
You know what I mean. Vinyl discs, most often black, with grooves on each side that an ancient device called a record-player could turn into audible music when the disc was spun on a turntable. As found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Well, not really! But it was an old technology that reached maturity - if not yet its ultimate refinement - seventy years ago, and fell from mass popularity only during the 1980s, as the CD (that is, the Compact Disc, now itself rather last-century) became more affordable.
Vinyl never died, of course. It was beloved of disc jockeys everywhere. There were also people whose passion was collecting vinyl records, and preserving the means to play them. And for a long time some music was available only on disc.
There were, and still are, serious hi-fi enthusiasts who claim that the continuous analogue sound from a well-pressed vinyl disc is superior to any sort of discontinuous, reconstructed, digital sound. No doubt they are right - although appreciating such things does depend on the quality of one's audio equipment, and the acuity of one's hearing. My own hearing has never been good enough, nor trained well enough, to discern very small differences.
So vinyl has lingered on. And somehow, recently, it has had a distinct revival. Vinyl is fashionable again, albeit in a niche way. It's still a bit fringe. But there have been many fresh pressings, and superior turntables are on sale again. Personally, I think this revival is driven by nostalgia, and a quest for an alternative kind of excellence. Rather like the way some people hanker for the glory days of film photography, the special rendition of processed chemicals on photo paper, and the results obtainable from the celebrated cameras and lenses of that era. But a vinyl disc is not a robust, convenient-to-use, take-anywhere recording medium. It's easily damaged. So I can't see that vinyl, whatever its cool, will much affect digital music sales.
Still, vinyl is definitely back. And I have long-unused vinyl records up in my attic.
Should I consider dusting them off and playing them again? Or selling them on eBay to people who might want to buy them from me? Or just tip the whole lot into the bin?
Mine is not the largest collection in the world. Shortly before I retired in 2005, I catalogued what I then had, and popped that information onto a couple of spreadsheets. (Was I really so strapped for something to do with my time?) These spreadsheets were still in my Archive, although not consulted for many a year. But they tell me now that in early 2005 I had:
# 72 original singles (that is, purchased when the song was actually in the current pop charts);
# About 80 singles and EPs that were reissued as golden oldies some years later (there was, I remember, an Old Gold label); and
# 92 original LPs.
I expect many readers have much bigger collections of vinyl than this. But even my own modest collection takes up a surprising amount of attic space. And those boxes are awfully heavy. It would be worth hanging onto it all if the collection included many items of rare or unusual musical interest, but it's mostly the same stuff that everyone else bought, the same stuff you'll find in any charity shop.
I probably wouldn't throw away the half-dozen LPs I inherited from my late brother - they are a cherished physical souvenir of him. But the rest?
There might be the odd disc worth offering on eBay - I have a few cult singles, or singles from a cult label. And some singles that hardly made it into the charts, were unwanted by most, and are now hard to find in good condition. But a quick search on the Discogs website revealed to me that I'd be lucky to make more than £2 on any of them. With a return as small as that, what profit might be expected after safely packaging a fragile disc for posting? It isn't worth the effort.
So most of my vinyl is likely to be consigned to landfill.
I would of course photograph some of it first - certainly any disc with a special history, and certainly any record with good or distinctive artwork on the sleeve. And some other records that bring to mind an occasion I'd like to remember. But all of this material, or at least the best of it, has long since been repurchased in mp3 form. And with a comprehensive digital collection at my fingertips, I really have no reason to hang onto scratchy old vinyl.
Do I hear howls of outrage and protest? How can I possibly discard a major part of my younger life?
But let's be rational. It's the music itself that's the important thing, and not what it's recorded on. And I'd much rather have 1,500-odd intangible digital songs on my phone. They occupy no space, they are weightless; and they are brought to life, and playable in different ways and different orders, with just an app. There's no mystique or ritual about the digital way, but it does let you play what you want, how you want, anytime and anywhere.