Hoorah, vinyl is back! Call me a sentimentally nostalgic old git (I’ve been called far worse, so knock yourselves out), but the announcement yesterday (3 January) that the sales of vinyl records are at a 25 year high has left me imbued with a gently throbbing warmth. In this world of instant and mass digital consumption of intellectual property where little regard is given to the ownership and creative process that has nurtured the genesis of the end product, it is heartening to hear that this physical format of digital reproduction is still relevant. True, in the grand scheme of the music industry, vinyl records barely register a footnote: 3.2 million vinyl records were sold in 2016, compared to a total of 123 million albums that were streamed, downloaded or bought in physical format in the same year. And streaming services like Spotify accounted for an incredible 45 billion audio streams in 2016. So hardly a deluge but definitely a gratifying renaissance as it marks the ninth consecutive year that vinyl sales have grown, eclipsing the paltry 200,000 vinyls sold in 2007.
“That’s like a pizza!” exclaimed one genuinely befuddled millennial girl when shown a vinyl by a reporter on the news last night, supported by “oh, it goes in the thing that goes round, the circle, the spinning thing!” by one of her sisters with a certain tone of proud triumphalism as the true gravity of her powers of deduction dawned on her. Leaving aside the braindead absurdity of the reference to a staple Italian foodstuff (it was hard to tell whether she was joking as it seemed clear that all three of the girls being interviewed were agitating use of the same communal brain cell), it is a depressing indictment of today’s yoof that they are so far removed from some of the cultural leitmotivs that earlier generations took for granted and with so much pleasure. That’s called progress apparently. Remember the simple joy of a teenage or student pilgrimage to Our Price or HMV with your hard earned wedge burning a hole in your Levi 501s and carefully thumbing through rack after rack of CDs and tangible music? I do, rapturously. And the contemporary experience of a soulless and instantaneous download from Apple or the subscription based right to effectively lease music from Spotify is emotionally thin gruel by comparison. Regardless of the fact that 48% of vinyl record purchases are never played, but gathered as collectors’ items, music just sounds better on a 12” disc. The yoof don’t know what they’re missing.
It will probably not come as much of a surprise to learn that leading the charge of vinyl sales were the posthumous likes of David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, Prince and Nirvana, in addition to the old school and timeless classicism (and iconic sleeve artwork) of Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, The Smiths, The Stone Roses and Oasis. I don’t see the manufactured misery of too many reality TV “talent” contestants standing this tangible test of time.