Bring over some of your old Motown records. We’ll put the speakers in the window ...
— Rod Stewart
Video didn’t, as the Buggles claimed in the first clip that appeared on MTV, kill the radio star. But the Internet has all but succeeded where video came up short.
Only 12 short years ago, the recorded music industry was flush, racking up $15 billion in sales while riding the wave of such big stars making big hits as Santana’s “Supernatural,” Britney Spears’ “... Baby One More Time,” the Backstreet Boys’ “Millennium,” “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and Kid Rock’s “Devil Without a Cause.”
Last year, the ongoing decline of the music industry, whose annual sales have dropped to around $6 billion, slowed its dramatic freefall, actually increasing album sales by 1.4 percent. That includes, however, a 20 percent increase in digital sales. The compact disc format actually fell by 6 percent.
In an industry hungry for any kind of good news, there was one faint ray of hope last year. While sales of CDs continued to decline, sales of vinyl albums increased a whopping 39 percent, an impressive number on the surface.
Before anyone rushes to the attic to break out the old turntable in anticipation of a vinyl revival, though, an important footnote. Even with the dramatic jump in sales, there were actually only 3.9 million vinyl albums sold last year. Or about as many as Elton John used to sell in a good week. The top selling vinyl album — for the third year in a row — was The Beatles’ “Abbey Road” with 41,000 units.
It’s easy to understand why true music connoisseurs would seek the vinyl albums and EPs being released by a small but growing number of artists. The vinyl format is the only one that offers artists’ music the way the artist intended it to be heard.
Certainly the popular digital format is adequate for those interested only in various elements of a song: the beat, the lyrics, the guitar solos, the drums. But so many elements of today’s music — especially on the high and low ends — are completely lost in the digital formats available online or via cellphones or tablets that now rule the market.
Even radio has embraced the digital format, leaving generations of music fans with inferior musical product and denying them the opportunity to appreciate the true quality of pre-’80s classic music that many have discovered.
Even for those who are only casual music fans, though, there are other reasons to celebrate the growth of the vinyl market and the increase in the number of young artists who are utilizing the format after hearing the difference in sound quality. There’s just never been a cooler musical format than the 12-inch vinyl album.
Loping along at 33 1/3 RPMs, sometimes riding an up-and-down wave due to a “warp” in the vinyl, the sound that bursts forth from quality speakers when a diamond-tipped needle is placed on an album and glides across its grooves is as close as a music lover can get to having his favorite artists sitting in the room with him, playing a show for one.
Plus, has there ever been any packaging cooler than the covers of 12-inch vinyl albums?
A top 50 stack of liner notes/inserts for your favorite CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks (ugh, the really ugly stepchild of music formatting) or downloadable publicity photos does not come within miles of the most unforgettable album covers ever made.
Like that suggestive zipper on the Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” ... the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper,” the iconic “Abbey Road” and “Rubber Soul” ... Elton’s “Tumbleweed Connection” ... Led Zeppelin’s debut and “Houses of the Holy” ... Miles Davis’ “B----es Brew” ... Pearl Jam’s “Ten” ... the Who’s “Quadrophenia” ... Tool’s “Lateralus” ... Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” ... Nirvana’s “Nevermind” ... Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and “Born to Run” ... Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” ... and perhaps the two best ever: the Clash’s “London Calling” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
I could go on all day.
So, even if the Internet actually does kill the radio star and renders the CD nothing but a quaint memory, there will be those of us out there spinning our albums. Tell Beck he can keep the microphone ... we’ll make do with the turntables.
Email Metro Editor Carlton Fletcher at firstname.lastname@example.org.