CDs didn’t wipe out old-fashioned records by accident
As anyone currently hooked up to an oxygen tank in a rock ’n’ roll rest home will happily confirm, there’s a good reason why modern Main Street hipsters are obsessed with vinyl: they didn’t grow up with vinyl. If they had, they’d realize that 12-inch long-players weren’t nearly as loved in olden times as they are today.
Make no mistake, vinyl is indeed hot, with sales hitting nearly three million units in the U.S. last year, which doesn’t include records sold at concerts or tiny indie stores run by old-school weirdos with names like Mom and Pop. And it’s pretty easy to figure out why tattooed fixie jockeys and soap-dodging facial-hair farmers have flocked to the once-much-maligned format.
Let’s take, as an example, Wild Gift, the trailblazing 1981 sophomore album from Los Angeles–based punk pioneers X. The record has just been reissued by La La Land–based boutique label Porterhouse, and it looks fantastic, from Frank Gargani’s gorgeous boho-glitter cover shot to the four blown-up black-and-white Polaroids highlighting each too-cool-for-school band member on the back.
Inside, though, is where the real goodness begins. Reproducing the original release’s black-ink illustrations and handwritten lyrics, the inner sleeve is not only a legitimate piece of art, it’s also a throwback to a time when you didn’t need an industrial magnifying glass, prescription spectacles, and a fully functioning Klieg light to figure out what Exene Cervenka and John Doe were singing in “We’re Desperate”.
Fittingly, however, this reissue is all about the actual music, with Wild Gift’s 13 lovingly remastered songs pressed onto 180-gram vinyl. And in case 180 grams means nothing to you as a measurement, let’s just say that this particular slab is basically thicker than George W. Bush, Ozzy Osbourne, and Caitlin “the Iraq” Upton.
Cue up the still-devastating “Universal Corner” on a Denon DP-500M turntable, and—once you’ve finished marvelling at the warmth and power—run your compressed iPod version of the track for a quick comparison test. It’s a little like cracking a 2005-vintage Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon and then chasing it with a bottle of piss-warm Lonesome Charlie.
Basically, Wild Gift is primo shit. In other words, it has sweet fuck-all in common with the kind of mass-manufactured albums your grandparents used to snap up at A&B Sound on Seymour.
Difficult as this might be to believe—especially if you’ve just dropped $25 on the double-LP, black-wax version of MGMT’s Congratulations—CDs didn’t wipe out old-fashioned records by accident.
Back in the ’70s and ’80s—the only decades any self-respecting hipster gives a shit about these days—vinyl records weren’t dished in 180 gram servings. Instead, they weighed about as much as a buck-naked Posh Spice during a Karen Carpenter cleanse, which is a polite way of saying they were a little on the thin side.
As a result, they reacted about as well to the sun as pre-Twilight vampires. You wanna know why kids started moving into their parents’ wood-panelled basements? It wasn’t because it made their black-light Rush posters look more bitchin’, although that didn’t hurt. The real reason was that if you accidentally left a copy of AC/DC’s Back in Black or the Clash’s London Calling anywhere near an open, south-facing window at high noon, it ended up more warped than Mel Gibson. Twenty feet below ground, in a basement bunker, it was guaranteed to last longer than a Hostess Twinkie in the Arctic tundra.
While we’re on the subject of warped, if you think “Love Will Tear Us Apart” is depressing, imaging dropping $22 on an import copy of Joy Division’s Closer on a hot summer day in 1980 and then accidentally leaving it in the car while running errands.
And while we’re on the subject of depressing, think about blowing two weeks’ worth of dishwashing money on MDC’s Millions of Dead Cops, and then discovering that the master of the record was evidently cut with a dull knitting needle. Ask your great-grandparents—that’s the sort of shit that used to happen.
Let’s not even get into the fact that vinyl records were—and remain—some sort of weird all-stick magnet for cat hair, budgie dandruff, stray eyelashes, and three-quarters of the dust cloud blowing around your apartment on any given weekday. Or that attempting to navigate your favourite record out of its sleeve and onto a turntable while stoned or drunk inevitably led to said record landing on the floor, rolling halfway across the room, and then skidding under the couch, creating something more scratched up than Samantha Ronson after a scrag fight with Lindsay Lohan.
Say what you will about compact discs, you never had to duct-tape a stack of quarters to a recording arm to make them play properly after that first inevitable scratch, this doing nothing to stop the cracks and pops that became part of any listening experience after a half-dozen spins.
Not that Mom and Pop are going to let you in on that little factoid when they’re selling you the new Dead Weather picture disc on prime, uncut 180-gram vinyl, complete with hand-drawn inner sleeve and a personalized note from Jack White, who no doubt was the first to buy the admittedly essential Porterhouse reissue of Wild Gift.