During my childhood the long-playing record or L.P. played back on machines called Victrolas or Phonographs. These platters were the format for pre-recorded music.
You could own records for $5.99 a piece back in those days. The culture was different too. Our parents for the most part grew up in the big band era. Rock n Roll was not music for their generation. Music is directly woven into the fabric of the times in which it is recorded.
When I was a kid rock n roll was in its 3rd decade. The be-bop-a-lula of the 50s gave way to the psychedelic haze of the 60s which gave way to the glam of the 70s. Then the 80s smashed all the genres into niches. Heavy metal, New Wave, Dance, Pop, Jazz, Country, Rap, and many other musical forms energized different groups of listeners.
In the 1970s records were sold in department stores like Sears and Korvettes. Where I lived in The Bronx you could walk down to your local record shop. Broadway Records existed for many years as a provider of LP’s and a provider of concert tickets.
My first record was the soundtrack to the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back. On the RSO label, a double album with a gatefold sleeve that meant it opened up like a book to reveal an inner sleeve that contained a full color souvenir booklet of the movie! This record was $12.99. There were very few double albums for this reason during this era. I will never forget that recording.
Then I discovered Tower Records in Greenwich Village on W.4th Street. There were thousands of records. I only cared about Rock. The radio was the transmitter of music. Every kid had one. In New York City WPLJ 95.5 (which just signed off forever) was our station.
Not realizing at the time that we were not drowning in entertainment choices yet or franchises. Rock n Roll disappeared; Rock Music arrived. Rock radio promoted concerts by giving away tickets with contests. Bands appeared on radio to give interviews with local DJ’s.
I heard The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zep, and Queen for the first time this way. The Disc Jockey (DJ) decided what to play. Every new artist had their respective record labels issue a promotional only single to radio across the country. If the song was received well by listeners it became a hit.
The singles issued on miniature vinyl platters with a giant hole in the center were played at 45 r.p.m. (rotations per minute) and required an adapter to play. They cost $1 per unit. The A side was the potential hit; the B side was another track from the album being promoted.
In the record stores The Billboard Chart Hot 100 songs were displayed in order. This was how music listeners bought songs they liked. If they were really into an artist the album would be bought too.
Much pleasure came from physically going out to purchase music from a variety of chains that developed to meet the demand. Record World, Sam Goody, Disc-O-Mat, Tower, and others were fun stores to experience. The internet killed most of it. Independent record shops are still around. You can search for your local shops online.
The music we collect changes throughout our lives. I loved a multitude of artists all my life. I built a strong foundation as a kid. Although Rock was my focus I was exposed to Classical, Jazz, Opera, Folk, and Broadway show tunes thanks to my parents who had records from the 50s and 60s.
Today streaming services have become popular. At the click of a button and a reasonable monthly price the entire ocean of recordings is available to our ears. More listeners today have headphones than at any other time in history!
I have access to every record published over the last 50 years. My mistakes have led me to a musical epiphany. At first I added hundreds of titles all at once. The novelty overwhelmed me. I could have any album.
Now I only keep about 20 titles at a time. Live with them. Then decide if they are worth having on vinyl. Following 3 listens I decide if the selection will be returned to the ether or placed on a wish list for vinyl.
A subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited is $12.99 a month. A vinyl record now costs $19.95 on the low end to upwards of $35 on the high end. The new records are pressed on heavier 180 gram vinyl.
In the USA after the compact disc became the dominant format the recording industry closed many record pressing plants. Only a few exist today. Many of the vinyl records in American stores today are pressed in Europe.
To Stream or not to stream? I have adapted to every change that has developed during my life. I missed having records. The packaging is part of the experience of having music. Like my first record purchase being so memorable because of its physical contents. Digital cannot provide this satisfaction.
A stream cannot include a poster, liner notes (despite some inclusion of digital notes), images made by professional photographers, and gatefolds, pop-up or die-cut covers. There are inserts in physical copies of records.
However, because of the digital revolution I was able to learn directly from other vinyl collectors how to appreciate the contents of records. I never realized in my youth that vinyl should be kept in poly-lined sleeves. This protects them from dust. Outer jackets should be placed in protective plastic too.
Without album cover art music is dropped sometimes by surprise so artists can make an impression. Nowadays, recording artists spend years developing a new record. The streaming option makes it harder to stand out from the constant availability online.
Every rock group now considered classic has at least 3 or 4 memorable album covers. Some commissioned painters or photographers to create a defining image for their recorded works.
Roger Dean’s Yes album covers, Hipgnosis’ Pink Floyd covers, Mick Rock’s photographic covers for Queen, Blondie, and David Bowie are part of the complete package. Digital obscures these contributions.
The comments people leave online are sometimes really long. Everyone has an opinion. I write here for this reason. I feel that this format is good for expressing opinions.
I used iTunes first when it started. Artwork was not always available for each album. The liner notes were absent. After years of usage I was depressed. Music was no longer the fun it had been when the culture existed for record stores. People would share with each other their love for music.
Streaming allows for constant listening. You do not get up to flip a side or pull a record out of its sleeve. You never learn how to take care of your music except creating back up files.
The cloud is the new data storage system. Thousands upon thousands of files can be filed away in this virtual closet. In my opinion, I do not need this much capacity. Streaming has made me question just how much I can ever listen to in my lifetime.
Physical records last a lifetime. If you clean them before each use or after a hundred plays the quality will not diminish. You are forced to decide on a finite range of ownership. Then perhaps you may enjoy what you have more without constant adding.
Flea markets, record shows, and independent shops sell records cheaply. I found 2 Broadway musical film scores at a flea market for a total of $10. Both recordings were from the 50s and 60s. They still played beautifully.
Princeton Record Exchange is one of the largest on the East Coast. They have thousands of records for $1—$3. I spent $30 for 7 records this past Memorial Day. They also buy used records and collections.
The files in your computer’s cloud take up space too. I do not have the same joy from them. They are not tangible things. Who knows where these files will be in the years to come. My physical records have a place on their shelf beneath my stereo.
Discovery is streaming’s strength as a format. Each Friday new music gets released. Scroll through the selections. There is an option to sample the album or any specific song. You don’t have to download anything.
I have developed a taste for alternative artists because of streaming. Record shops have listening stations too. I think it’s much more convenient to find new music on a streaming platform.
Spotify, Pandora, Apple, and Amazon are popular today. This does not mean records are extinct. The LP is now back in vogue with young people. Their parents grew up on rock. They know classic rock. Sales of vinyl albums are way up now. Streaming is dominant but people are collecting records too.
Go on YouTube and search Vinyl Community (VC). You will find many people posting videos about records they own and those discovered at thrift shops and record stores all over the US.
I learned you do not have to choose streaming over records. I use the streaming to find records of new artists. This process leads to more ideas for my blog. I thought a lot about the pleasures of streaming and its drawbacks too.
The music business learned difficult lessons during our cultural upheavals. As a result there is less of an industry today. People seem to want things fast and cheap now. The loss in experience is hard to measure. Streaming is on the go with you everywhere. Records demand your care, attention, and effort.
I think back to 1984 when I saw those orange foam headphones of the Walkman for the first time. It was on the subway. The beginning of people using music on the go to shut out everything and everyone around them.
Today those wireless ear buds are it. Those using them look like aliens to me. I mostly listen to music at home. Sometimes I will listen on the go. Time management is much harder now.
Advanced technology is great but I feel we must strive for some type of balance. Streaming is here to stay. I feel the rise of physical fitness from the 1980s onward made it possible to sell people on portable devices for music. People use music for workouts. Runners love wireless ear buds too.
Alternative or independently made music is great on vinyl. Finding artists has never been easier to do. One of the best things about streaming is access has expanded around the world.
Because of this global reach more artists new and classic are making music using a wider variety of styles. The new Santana record, Africa Speaks, adds African rhythms to his salsa/jazz/rock combo.
Funny how new inventions make us wonder how we ever lived without them. As a person who remembers life without the internet I can attest to the fact you cannot miss what does not yet exist.
Most of us cannot live without our devices. It’s a creature comfort to know we can still rely on our past methods of playback.
For the love of music keep listening whether you stream, collect vinyl or do both. I recognize it’s just a matter of preference for some. May music always be in the air for everyone. I will do a little bit of both.