You would think that with decades of development, we’d be listening to music in a digital form so advanced that it would feel like the musicians are right there in the room with you. And sure, that’s what it’s like if you’re using a very high-end sound system with a lossless medium.
But what we listen to music on bares an interesting parallel to what we actually play it on: A decade and a half into the 21st century we’re still using gear that matured in the 20th century. Whether it’s guitars based on designs from the 1950s or vinyl records (which had been around since the late 1980s but which many feel reached a golden age in the 60s and 70s), we’re sticklers for tradition, not only because it feels comfortable and tactile, but because it still sounds great. There’s just a special magic about removing a record from its jacket, carefully placing it on your turntable, dropping the needle and taking in the album cover art (preferably while seated in a beanbag and illuminated by a blacklight). And with Record Store Day on Saturday April 19, it seems like the ideal time to reflect on this most groovy (pardon the pun - no, y’know what? Let’s celebrate the pun) music delivery system.
Record Store Day is a great time to visit your local record store, meet fellow like-minded denizens of the beanbag and basement, and walk out with an armful of bargains. Record Store Day began in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners and employees who wanted to celebrate the vibrant and unique culture of the 1000 or so independent record stores in the US and the many thousands more internationally. Now there are stores participating in Record Store Day on every continent except Antarctica. And although the absolute greatest thing about Record Store Day is that it shows some love to the independent record stores and the people who celebrate them, it’s also about the special releases - the limited edition albums that you can only get on Record Store Day. You can see a full official list of US releases here, but check out these highlights…
There’s The Allman Brothers’ Selections from: Play All Night: Live at the Beacon on two vinyl 12” records (limited edition of 4,000); The Animals’ The Animals EP (10”, 1800 copies), A David Bowie “1984” 7” picture disc (4,000); Creedence Clearwater Revivial’s The 1969 Singles (10”, 5,000 copies); The Cure/Dinosaur Jr. Side By Side Series (7”, 5,000 copies), Dave Matthews band’s Live Trax Vol. 4 (four 12” records, limited to 1,900), Several DEVO releases (Live At Max’s Kansas City - November 15, 1977; Butch Devo and the Sundance Gig; and aSide By Side Series with The Flaming Lips); The Doors’ Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine (two 12” discs, 2,650 copies); Dream Theater’s epic Illumination Theory on 12” vinyl (2,700 copies); Drive-By Truckers’ The Dragon Pants (10” vinyl, 2,500 copies); a pair of Everly Brothers releases (Songs Our Daddy Daught Us and Roots); Jerry Garcia’s Garcia (12” vinyl, 1,500 copies); Green Day’s Demolicious on cassette, vinyl and CD; Joy Division’s An Ideal For Living (12” vinyl, 7,500 copies); Jorma Kaukonen’s Quah (12”, 2,500); Link Wray’s Slinky/Rendezvous (7”, 2,000); Machine Head’s Killers & Kings (10”, 3,000); Mastodon’s Live at Brixton (two 12”, 2,000 sets); Jimmy Page & The Black Crowes’ Live At The Greek (three 12” discs, 2,000 copies); Soundgarden’s Superunknown: The Singles (five 10” discs, 3,500); Bruce Springsteen’s American Beauty (12”, 7,500); The Yardbirds’ Little Game (12”, 2,500); and Frank Zappa’s Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow/Down In De Dew (7”, 3,500).
There are also all sorts of small-run and regional releases, including a four-disc R.E.M set Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions (1,000 copies); David Lynch’s The Air Is On Fire (12”, 1,000); Korn’s The Paradigm Shift picture disc (900 copies) and many more; and a whole bunch of releases that are exclusive on Record Store Day but will be released to other retailers eventually, including Aerosmith’s Draw The Line, Night In The Ruts, Rocks and Rock In A Hard Place; Johnny Cash’s With His Hot Blue Guitar; Nick Cave & Warren Ellis’s West of Memphis - The Score; Jimi Hendrix Live At Monterey; The Pixies’ Indie Cindy… oh and Ray Parker, Jr’s Ghostbusters on glowing green vinyl.
Of course the very nature of vinyl means there’s a huge, virtually limitless selection of great used records out there and you can find them all over the place, from eBay and used record shops to garage sales and pawnshops. And one music fan’s embarrassing discarded teenage memory is another’s invaluable musical history lesson (big thanks to whoever it was that offloaded that big cache of Shrapnel records to a secondhand record store in my home town when I was about 15). And it’s not just Record Store Day and the fun of the secondhand record store hunt: vinyl is incredibly popular again because music fans are rediscovering - or falling in love with for the first time - the tactile nature and great audio quality of vinyl.