Saturday 13th April was this year’s Record Store Day, the eleventh and the largest yet. If we could stop telling everyone about vinyl…
This year, over 500 exclusives were unleashed in the early hours of Saturday morning, many of them limited runs and hyped enough to have avid collectors queuing over 24 hours in advance.
Leaving a record store after a two-and-a-half hour queue and a frantic dash around the inside, trying to avoid physical injury or dropping an awkward stack of 45s and 33 1/3s, I bumped into a befuddled couple from Toronto. “I’ve spent 10 years trying to get rid of all my vinyl” said the man, around 60 year’s old, decked in a raincoat ideal for the mix of cold breeze and rain I hadn’t accounted for.
During my near three-hour wait, I’d taken my mind off freezing by whittling down a long-list of 25 or so records to something far more manageable and, horribly, affordable. Probably in that order of importance. On the cans was 6Music’s Radcliffe and Maconie and a spate of reports from record stores around the country (200-odd participate in the UK) and punters who’d put in the queue time but still missed out. Not the best for FOMO paranoia.
Leaving the shop, before my chat with the Canadians had turned to the purchase of HMV by Canadian entrepreneur and vinyl-devotee Doug Putman (labelled a record owner” by some publications, so must be a top guy) and the unrelated transformation of the flagship HMV store in Toronto into a Tokyo Smoke pot shop, I’d had just a second to realise which discs I’d forgotten.
Top of my list was the new Bowie releases – not as exciting as last year’s delivery of the post-Thin White Duke era offerings of Bowie Now or (perhaps greatest live album ever) Welcome to the Blackout ’78. I didn’t however, mean to buy every drop of Bowie on glistening blue wax. Second on the list was the neat, and unexpected, 45 release of the cheery double A-side of, wait for it, A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. The exquisite packaging was captivating enough – but owning the single of March from A Clockwork Orange brilliantly and chillingly adapted from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by that Wendy Carlos after years making do with a battered cd copy for 20 years was essential. I knocked Britpop on the head with the luxurious multi-coloured 20th anniversary reissue of Suede’s Head Music and Elastica’s BBC Sessions – the latter a beautiful white vinyl that reminded how great – and simple – they were. Still stand by it: best debut rock album of the 1990s.
I picked up the Raw Studio Mixes of Imagine because I couldn’t resist completing my Lennon collection. I left the sand and oil splatter re-release of Brian May’s Mad Max 2 soundtrack on the shelf to some regret. The Vivian Stanshall 7” Suspicion from Fly records was my major miss, but that’s part of the game.
A cloth vinyl bag heavier, a wallet lighter, my new Canadian friends offered up a twist on the refrain that pops up every RSD – from those of an unlucky age who sold their precious vinyl when they were probably desperate and it was definitely worthless. Of course, that mix of desirability and cost is at the crux of vinyl’s survival. It can be collected at the high value, pristine level or at a low value, character-filled depth of crackle. It’s the worst kind of excess and music snobbery but also the warmest link to popular music that’s open to all. It’s transformative, the physical translating the music in more than one way.
While the current scene can’t touch its early 1980s high – shifting 300 million units in a market of $2bn (today that’s 16 million units against $395 million),
a recent Forbes article highlighted that official records of the thriving vinyl market fail to track the huge trade of used or under-the-counter discs.
No collections complete without either – I wouldn’t be without my gold remastered Rise and Fall of the Spiders from Mars LP as much as my battered original Spanish edition.
Still, the appeal of vinyl still leaves many cold, as does an event like RSD that artificially reduces quantities to a spike of one-day sales while fuelling a heightened market on eBay within a couple of hours.
But as a promotional event, it’s a roaring success. Vinyl’s resurgence is a natural response to the rise of digital. The quality of sound on modern wax may no longer match the analogue quality available before studio production compressed for the CD era (effectively everything after 1982), but that doesn’t mean the experience is similar to a compressed streaming service. There’s a quality, precision and weight to playing vinyl – not least a reevaluation of the concept of the album; a concept lost in a market judged on streaming counts and inflated album track counts.
The wealth of political releases, not least the staggeringly unattractive Wit and Wisdom of Donald Trump from Dirterodeon shows that the world of satire and response to the current political scene is fresher and healthier in wax-pressed music than other media.
As the sign above the entrance to Rough Trade East always says on days like this, and vinyl connoisseurs would all agree, every day is a Record Store Day.
But that said, to save my queue time growing even more next year, perhaps we can stop telling anyone else about vinyl? 😉
Note: Indulgent Bowie Vans not required for a tour of London, or any other city’s, record stores.