The Love of Vinyl
It was obvious that musicians took their album art seriously. More and more, I find myself scanning shared iTunes playlists and hoping just a picture shows up in the lower left corner.
Yesterday, I started cleaning up my office at home and rediscovered a huge crate of vinyl records. Not only did I practically forget I had them, but I very much forgot some of the gems—records I played over and over years ago, but have since left to collect dust.
(History: years ago when I lived in Philadelphia, I was very much into electronic music and DJ culture. Not so much the fluffy house stuff or the rave scene, but the darker stuff like industrial/ebm, tech step and goa. I was an aspiring DJ who had a fair number of gigs, but grew tired of that drama long before I had any kind of recognition. The vinyl is mostly leftover from this disc jockey era.)
For as long as I can remember, I have been a rabid music collector. What I couldn’t get on CD I bought on vinyl, and sometimes I bought both versions just because. Even though I am the first one to stand up and proclaim digital downloading as the future of music acquisition (and I don’t even own an iPod—!), I feel there is something lost when a folder of blank MP3s arrives without packaging.
Maybe it’s the designer and artist in me, but there’s just something physical and tangible about a 12” record with full-color artwork. For instance, I own Frontline Assembly’s Implode album on both CD and vinyl. Dave McKean’s artwork is gorgeous, but it’s far more breathtaking when you’re holding a heavy, foot-square double album rather than a 5” piece of plastic.
This has been said before, I know, and there’s really no stopping the ever-quickening drive toward consumer convenience, but I find it just a bit sad that one of the most appealing parts of music collecting is slowly being lost. I used to hang around the record store for hours, listening to obsessive collectors discuss cover variations of the same album. I often bought music based on artwork alone. I liked the experimentation. I loved studying the design work. It was obvious that musicians took their album art seriously—full-blown art directing, expensive photoshoots, hiring well-known illustrators—and it was obvious that fans treasured the results. More and more, I find myself scanning shared iTunes playlists and hoping just a picture shows up in the lower left corner.
This is not a discussion on the superior audio format, because everyone knows vinyl is better. But looking through the records, I suddenly understood where some of my very first interests in design as art grew from. These were canvases drafted by a graphic designer, not just a painter or photographer. The illustration was important, but equally so was the typography, color choices (colored vinyl anyone?) and the Big Concept.
Currently, my ridiculously expensive Vestax turntable languishes in storage, so I can’t even play these records. (Including my copy of Speedy J’s Public Energy No. 1, of which I only own on vinyl and know no one who has a CD copy I can borrow.) Guess I’ll just have to get some of these so I can enjoy the pretty pictures.