Put the Needle on the Record: Vinyl Is Back

By WGBH News


April 6, 2012


 Mike Wilkins and John Damroth play tunes for Callie on a turntable to illustrate the superior sound of vinyl. (Abbie Ruzicka/WGBH)

BOSTON — Over the decades, the venerable vinyl LP has been threatened by cassette and eight-track tapes. It was nearly killed off when compact discs crowded the music stores, and the mighty mp3 was supposed to deliver the definitive, digital blow. But nothing has been able to stop this whirling wonder. Record sales have been going up — last year they were up by 36 percent. Now it looks like the LP is here to stay. In this digital age, who can can resist the tactile pleasure of placing the needle on that first track? And the snap, crackle and pop that comes with spinning a well-worn, deeply loved disc? 

John Damroth of Planet Records in Cambridge and WGBH's own Mike Wilkins joined Callie Crossley to play some favorite tunes and try to explain the appeal of vinyl today.  

From the afternoon's set list. (Mike Wilkins/WGBH)

Charles Mingus / Solo Dancer
Willie Colón & Ruben Blades / Tiburon
WAR / Cisco Kid
Major Lance / The Monkey Time
Rip Chords / She Thinks I Still Care
Aretha Franklin / Rock Steady
Pavement / Stereo
Tommy Flanagan / Overseas
Arthur Prysock / This Is My Beloved
The Fresh & Onlys / Summer of Love
Earth, Wind & Fire / Got to Get You into My Life
Cream / White Room
Isaac Hayes / Theme from "Shaft"  

Wilkins credited "the ability to include the visual arts along with the audio arts." When he asks his friends what attracts them to records, "One of the big things that everybody says, first thing was the cover art — it was just giant-sized, beautiful," he said.

Closeup of the turntable. (Abbie Ruzicka/WGBH)

Damroth agreed. "Records mean more than just music: It's the cover, it's the experience of holding it and turning it over and reading it and putting it on the player, listening to it, in your comfortable chair," he said. "It is a very different experience."

Ali Nikseresht on Facebook noted the creative possibilities inherent in the format: "I miss the two distinct music arcs you get on old vinyl. A good band could often end side 1 as if it was the end of the album and understood how to use that palate cleanse to its full potential when starting side 2."

And the love's not limited to the baby boom generation. Robert Hertig, a senior at Northeastern, won the university's Prototype Grant in March to create a high-quality but low-cost turntable. "A lot of people my age have their own little record collections," he said. His own is heavy on LCD Soundsystem, Pavement, the Fresh & Onlys and other bands that are releasing vinyl records now.

Long may they play.

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