Kenneth Burns: This LP lover never stopped collecting

Oct. 05, 2013 @ 11:29 PM

Remember the long-playing record, the quaint audio format that went out as CDs came in?

These days, thanks to mp3 sales and streaming music services, CDs could themselves be on the way out. But LPs have made a remarkable comeback.

Sort of. According to a recent Businessweek article, 2.9 million LPs have been sold in the U.S. this year, an increase of 338 percent since 2006. Even so, that’s only 1.4 percent of total album sales.

I’m glad to see the renewed interest in LPs. I love the format.

And here’s the thing. LP sales may have declined, but I never stopped buying them.

True, I don’t acquire much new music on vinyl. Last year I bought the LP of “Tempest,” Bob Dylan’s latest release. The record came with a CD of the tracks tucked discreetly inside. That’s the way it works nowadays.

“Tempest” was the first new music I’d purchased on vinyl since the early 1990s, when I was in college. Around that time, new LPs basically disappeared from mainstream record stores. The format’s decline had been steady since the mid-1980s, when CDs got popular.

I remember when CDs came in. I was impressed. They sounded great, and they were easier to store than LPs. CD players in cars took a few years to catch on, but it was clear from the beginning that CDs would be an excellent portable format. Record players in cars were never popular, despite the fact that Elvis Presley had one in his Cadillac.

In the 1980s, CDs were disdained by vinyl snobs, who said the digital discs lacked LPs’ warmth, whatever that is. I continued buying new LPs, but not because of their warmth. I bought them because they were cheaper. Because I’m cheap.

Okay, I also just liked LPs. The big, beautiful artwork. The tactile appeal of placing a needle on a disc. Even the crackle and pop have their charms, though I am irked that my copy of Abba’s “Arrival” skips during “Dancing Queen.”

There also is the fun of sides. Artists used to structure albums around the two-sided LP. The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” shattered listeners into oblivion with the chaotic track that ends side one, “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” But then, after they dragged themselves, weeping, to the stereo, to flip the disc over, they were rewarded with “Here Comes the Sun,” the gentle song that begins side two.

I was sorry when new LPs went away in the 1990s. And I bought new music on CDs, like everyone else.

But I remained a serious fan of vintage vinyl. I haunted used record stores, thrift stores, yard sales. I still do.

I have hundreds and hundreds of LPs. Rock, pop, country, jazz, comedy, show tunes. I still own just about every record I have purchased since second grade, when I picked up the then-popular “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. I still have it, along with my Kiss records from those days.

I listened to my “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack just the other day. The music is holding up pretty well, not counting the KC and the Sunshine Band track.

People who know I’m a collector give me their old LPs. My dad handed down a bunch of wonderful Delta blues records. Before he left for mission work overseas, a minister friend unloaded many LPs on me, including an entertaining compilation of Yiddish vaudeville recordings.

I treasure all of my LPs. I have a hard time getting rid of any. I was reminded of that this past summer, when I moved across town. LPs are heavy and bulky and no fun to relocate.

Maybe someday I’ll lose the vinyl habit. In the meantime, I have several enticing Eddy Arnold LPs that I’d like to listen to very soon.

– Kenneth Burns is Community News Editor of The Mountain Press. Call 428-0748, ext. 212, or send e-mail to Twitter: @KennethBurns.