N THIS DAY AND AGE WHEN TECHNOLOGY is advancing almost faster than the human mind can comprehend, what is it that still keeps vinyl lps in a viable segment of the recording industry?
Even though Linda Schiller-Hanna of Medina buys "the new stuff" and says she is a new subscriber to Sirius Radio, she still loves her vinyl. "The vinyl has old stuff you can't find in any other medium," she said. "I have belly dancing music, old Tennessee Ernie Ford hymns, Janis Joplin, and other rock and roll favorites. I also have things like Handel's Messiah, a great Elvis collection, Johnny Cash ... a very eclectic mix. The old stuff 'cracks and pops' in a nice way that reminds me of the music of my childhood when Mom would dress us up in her clothes and dance with us in the kitchen." She also likes the nice texture and "licorice" smell.
Sally Sampson of Deerfield says that people cling to what is solid, a happier time, part of their youth. "Those vinyls recorded our history, in one form or another. To discard those histories is like discarding part of my own past, which is, let's face it, getting harder to recognize every day," said Sampson.
Jill Lewis of Ellsworth likes the real sound of vinyl. "I feel with the new digital technology they eliminated the "noise," like the sound of fingers squeaking down the strings. Vinyl keeps it real," she said.
Carol Skok of Paris says they collect all forms of recorded music. "Vinyls are an extension of our love of music, a hobby. We collect 8-tracks, cassettes, and CDs, too, mostly rock, like Pink Floyd, and Alice Cooper. My son loves the album covers as a work of art."
Then we get to the serious collectors. Like Al Simones, owner of Purple Phrogg records in North Lima, who combines his spiritual philosophy with his search for unknown records and artists.
"Radio dictates what becomes famous, but these artists ventured outside the mainstream," he said. "We have to have non-conformists to move forward. As soon as the Beatles had success, they changed. The Doors were alien and weird at first. Radio dictated a 2 1/2 minute recording. But they did things their own way. Now, as soon as a band has success, everybody copies them."
Simones owns many rare recordings. One is by a band called Zerfas. It is an independent pressed record, made in 1973 in Indianapolis. Only 500 were made, and Simones owns one autographed by all five band members. He describes it as progressive psychedelic rock, combining blues, jazz, folk, abstract ... magical."
Another is from Venezuela, about 1,000 copies made, dating from 1969, called Ladies W.C. "It is bluesey, with guitars, harmonica. . . about peace, society, caring for the world," said Simones. "The whole energy around this one is high vibes. The way it's constructed is complex, totally different, a primitive piece of art."
Since Simones is also a recording artist, he explained the difference between vinyl and CDs.
"When you listen to vinyl, you are hearing everything, all sounds are transferred onto the record," he said. "In digital recordings, there are pieces missing, like dots on a newspaper, but made so your ear fills in the blanks. It changes the tone; for instance, cymbals will sound too tinny, glassy. Analog is much warmer."
Reflection on society
Simones likens the recording industry to what is happening in U.S. society.
"We are becoming inhuman, robotic, entertained by others' pain, violence. The main word in civilization is 'civil.'" He thinks much of today's music is violent, low vibes.
He also describes a bit of rock history: "Before The Beatles, it wasn't cool to be a musician. After The Beatles were a hit, guitars flew off the shelves. Guys who would normally be putting headers and bigger tires on their cars, now started rock bands in their garages, experimental music, and some genuine talent." He owns a record called Dark, the product of three teenage kids, and only 70 copies were pressed. "It is 'garagy,' psychedelic, intelligent, spiritual, intentionally underproduced. Magnificent."
Then there are some collectors who seek superior sound production, and believe that CDs cannot compare with vinyl. Dave Richardson of New Castle, Pa., is a true audiophile, and eagerly shares his knowledge about the highest quality recordings and equipment. Many of his vinyls are from Mobile Fidelity, half speed masters, the original stamps, recorded at half speed, which gives them a better sound quality.
"They were pressed in Japan by JVC, Japanese Victor Corporation, which bought the rights to RCA Victor. They used high definition virgin vinyl. Japan didn't have stringent air quality control, and vinyl is a pollutant. In the '80s, right before the downfall of records, companies were using old vinyl melted down, and the quality wasn't good." Do Richardson's vinyls have "cracks and pops?" Absolutely not! He tells of listening to a Japanese CD of Miles Davis worth about $35 on a $5,000 CD player. It sounded phenomenal, until he heard the same recording, redone on a 45 speed lp. "The difference was unbelievable," he said. "It sounded like Miles was in the room."
The other group of people who really love their vinyl are DJs, particularly those who do dance clubs. Jonathan Laughlin and Shannon Landess, of Sam Goody's in Alliance explain "scratching."
"The DJ can play two records at once, blend them, mess with the speeds. The equalizer can bring out the guitar, lessen drums. They can enhance and distort various aspects of the recording. It is a way of controlling a pre-recorded sound, and can't really be done with a CD."