I’m New to Vinyl… and I Love It

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For the longest time I’ve been a big proponent of digital media. I use Bandcamp a ton, download songs to a Microsoft Zune HD, and listen at the gym, at work, and in the car. The convenience is hard to beat. But little did I know there exists a whole new world in that of vinyl. You are witnessing a citizen consumer of music make the transition from digital media to physical (or at least a partial transformation thereof).

My parents had records when I was a kid. They exposed me to The Eagles and The Grateful Dead, and it would surprise nobody that I quickly lost interest. Well 36 years of life pass in the blink of an eye and I decided to purchase a turntable, went and stocked up on some not-bad music, and so now I finally GET IT (some of life’s lessons come quicker to those than others, you see.)

My home audio setup is nothing crazy: it’s a $99 entry-level Audio Tecnica turntable from Best Buy but it’s running into a five year old home theater Pioneer receiver which powers some Polk Audio towers and a Definitive Technologies subwoofer. A few watts are being pushed through this system and I won’t be truly happy ’til “Father to Son” by Queen wakes up the neighbors.

(This place was established in 1977, and is still run by the same proprietor!)

Last week my first actual* visit to a record store led to Record Exchange (pictured above) with the intent of finding some good ole’ heavy metal like Iron Maiden or from the greatest rock band of this – or any generation – Van Halen. This place is big, it used to be a library, it couldn’t possibly be a better building to house racks and racks of used audio equipment and countless shelves filled with all forms of physical media (CD, DVD, cassette tape, vinyl). You can spend hours there if you don’t have a plan and stick to it. Last week my plan was averted when I came across some old prog rock albums of bands that I started discovering about 10 years ago, stuff that my parents didn’t listen to when I was young (because it’s good).

I picked up an Electric Light Orchestra (don’t type that name, it’s in the spam filter) album from 1981 and a Jethro Tull album that I’d not heard before, a gamble I was willing to take. An older couple was squeezing past me (the pathways are narrow) when the lady of the pair sees my Jethro Tull and comments something like “do whatever you have to do here, but don’t leave without that record.” I heeded her advice and kept tight grip on the Tull album (Songs From the Wood), and I made two friends in passing. The guy of the pair told me stories of yore, made a few recommendations, and gave me the history of a band whom I’ve never really enjoyed – but one which made for a fascinating story which included the usa of LSD: The Doors. This couple was so badass that I never wanted the encounter to end. Alas, after about 30 minutes it did when his wife started interrupting that it was time for them to go, and so they went. I shook their hands and expressed to them my gratitude for fate bringing us together, that CJ and Tom (if I remember the names correctly).

(Just look at these gems. C’mon, you knew I was a nerd, right?)

I walked away with six old prog-rock vinyls that night, and they sound just fantastic; none cost over $6 but it turns out each are priceless (That should be the tagline of this article, shouldn’t it?). When friends come visit, it’ll be a ritual thing to walk over to the record player and play something that I think will blow their minds (if you’ve never heard Songs From the Wood, it might do that to you). Children is one thing I do not have yet, but I’ll gladly showcase some amazing old records from when music used to be good, to friends and family who stop by.

If your plan is to embark on a similar journey, please heed these words of warning: every band in existence has sold out at some point in their career. If you’ve only heard the Greatest Hits of any given classic band, understand that you can’t just buy any album from their discography, it’s safest to stick with their first three to five releases. ELO, Genesis, even freakin’ Queen were guilty of it. We’ve all lost some of our favorite new bands to straight up ca$h money (Metallica, Gojira, Limp Bizkit) but it’s something that’s been happening in the music industry since its inception. With every exciting new musical discovery you will ever make in your life, the band in question has at some point decided to sell out and bake a few radio biscuits. The best advice that I can give you is to put trust in their first couple of releases and learn to cope with the blow of hearing their later material (That’s a McNulty Life Pro Tip right there.)

(Every soul who enters my house is going to be subject to all 23 minutes of glory.)

Anyways, I plan on meeting so many cool and strange people now that I’ve started collecting vinyl. And it’s going to change the way I experience music altogether, because I’ll be sitting down and relaxing at home to absorb it with a great deal more focus. It seems like a neat hobby. Don’t worry, my collection will include the occasional heavy metal record, but this shit’s mainly going to be classic prog rock like Genesis, Yes, and Rush. Any tips I need to know before heading into this addiction? Should I find a support group to make sure I don’t spend every dollar I make? Will I need to check in on my Zune every now and then to make sure it feels loved? Will you all agree to check in on me if I don’t leave the house for several days at a time?

Turns out you all were right this whole time: physical media sure is neat. Conan recently called me the “Digital Man” by Rush, and he’s not wrong; but more recently I have also discovered the benefits of physical media. And I really hope that by joining the club, I haven’t just ruined a trend that used to be cool. It would make me sad to discover that all your collective gatekeeping efforts were to keep people like me out 🙁 Come listen to Foxtrot, that should ease any wounds I have recently inflicted.

*I had been to several CD stores all my life, and had set foot in record stores… but never with the intent of finding records to take home.

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