A Love Letter to Vinyl…

For Christmas this year I received a turntable, some speakers, and a few hand-picked records – I’d been thinking of starting a vinyl collection for a while and had decided to take the plunge.

There was something exciting about opening that first record; about feeling the transparent wrap tearing back beneath my fingers, flexing the cover, sliding out the white paper sleeve, and tipping the solid black disc onto my palm.  It had a surprising weight to it.  It smelled new.  It felt fragile.  It felt precious.  Music as a real and tangible artifact.

I’d like to say it was the first needle drop that brought the quiet revelation, but that came later.  In the moment there was just the pop and hiss of blank space and then, of course, the music.

But something was different.

After I put the first record on, I sat back on my sofa and listened to side A.  When side A finished, I flipped the record over and listened to side B.  When that finished, I put a different record on the turntable, dropped the needle, and started again.  I repeated this ritual as afternoon faded through pink sunset and creeping dusk before coming to rest in the finality of collected darkness; and then still on until the knock of sleep became too insistent to ignore.

It was beautiful.  And what made it beautiful were the two things that were missing.

I had no impulse to do anything other than listen; and I had no urge to change the song to something different.  For that brief time, I was simply content.

It was here that I found my quiet revelation.

Because in our age of fractured acceleration contentment is a revolutionary state of being.

I realized that, as the format of the music had changed – from cassette tape, to CD, to MP3, to streaming service – even though each iteration brought with it greater access and choice, I had paradoxically found myself spending less and less time actually listening to music.

What looks like progress is not always progress – limits can be a beautiful thing.

So I cancelled all my streaming subscriptions.  I haven’t missed them.  Even though I have a grand total of 6 records in my collection I have listened to more hours of uninterrupted music in the last month than I did in the whole of last year.

And with this quietest of revolutions, I am quite content.

Thanks for reading this, I hope it finds you well.

J

(P.S. In case any of you are wondering, I am now looking at ways to put some of my music out as vinylIf you have any info on this feel free to hit me up.)

♦

What did you think of this post?  Did you love it?  Hate it?  Do you have any thoughts, responses, or questions?  I would love to chat with you about them.  The comments box is waiting (just below).

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59 Comments

  1. My 13 yr. old daughter just started collecting vinyls. She thinks they’re great. I still have a lot from when I was younger. Queen, Beatles, Peter Frampton, etc. I’m so glad I saved them! I do remember one important thing from when I was young, don’t leave them in the sun, they warp! Lol I really enjoy your writing! Keep up the great work!!

    Like

    1. Thankyou so much for this very sweet comment – I really appreciate it.
      Your daughter is starting early!
      I thoroughly approve πŸ˜‰
      Have a good one, and thanks for stopping by,
      – J

      Like

  2. Great post! I started re-collecting vinyl just over five years ago. You’ll be amazed at how quickly that collection of 6 turns into 60 records. In addition to the act of active listening, something else that I learned I missed with the advent of the MP3 was the act of flipping through music in brick and mortar record shops.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi James,
    I’ve been buying vinyl since the mid 1970s. I resisted COs until I found it hard to get the latest album I wanted. Then downloads became another big leap for me. I got an iPod but wanted my vinyl records playing on it. Although I played my vinyl often (I can spend hours with no tv, distractions) I wanted my sounds whilst travelling. I got a turntable that converted my vinyl to mp3. I don’t stream. Again another resistance from me. I started to blog about my music, admittedly not as often as I’d like, but it’s made me listen to some records that haven’t seen the light of day for years and which bought back so many memories. Happy listening it’s great folk are going back to vinyl.

    Dave.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi! I really loved the blog!
    ” What looks like progress is not always progress – limits can be a beautiful thing.”
    As a designer, I’m learning the truth in this every day. Beauty lies in the moment one absorbs it, not in the object.
    Thank you for sharing such a wonderful piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there,
      Thankyou very much, I am genuinely glad you found something that resonated.
      I love the way you state this, that the moment itself is a part of beauty. This is a keen insight indeed.
      Thanks for reading it. Be well.
      – J

      Like

  5. This is the first time I happened on this subject and i enjoyed this very much , I am a collector of vinyl records.. I have several boxes of 78 rpm that I have collected over the years. I seldom take them out of their cover but when I play them it is on a vintage Grundig that I brought home with me from Germany. I really treasure these old records, they really take one back to a time forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This was a truly beautiful way of describing the sound of vinyl. I’m hoping to get one this year and have yet to experience the beauty of tangible music. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love this post so much James! I became quite a collector of vinyl since I was teenage after I got my first turntable as Christmas gift from my parents I was 15 since then I listened all the best of music and I started to collect all my favorite bands and artists, historical rock, experimental, alternative music, and much more. A vinyl can give amazing feelings and create atmospheres that are not the same in digital versions. I was sad 15 years ago when I moved to US from my native country Italy I couldn’t take my vinyl with me 😦 but I left them in the care of my younger brother and my parents are there too. As a visual artist I love to listen specific music when I create my paintings and art, I grow up with it all my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “and I had no urge to change the song to something different…” to me that is read as ‘as intended’. To listen as the artist intended you to hear it from start to finish.
    Collecting Vinyl can take up a lot of space when 6 become 16 become 160 but it’s worth it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a great post! There is nothing that sounds as amazing as the needle dropping on a vinyl. It’s soothing and takes me back to a simpler time.

    My turntable came to me when my dad passed away. I also got his record collection – everything from The Beatles and The Who to 45s from the 1950s. I not only think of him when I play them but also feel such a sense of freedom. Freedom from the rush of today’s world and the endless stream of information being thrust at you 24/7.

    It’s the best, really. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankyou so much, really glad you liked it.
      How beautiful to have inherited something so precious that you can enjoy again and again!
      (And I know exactly what you mean about that sense of freedom.)
      Thanks for writing to me, feel free to hit me up anytime, and have a good one,
      – J

      Like

  10. Loved this post! I’ve been reading Nicolas Carr’s “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.” One of the book’s theses is that not just content, but the form in which we absorb that content, matters as both a cause and effect of how we pay attention. Your wise and gentle observation is a great corollary. May you enjoy many hours of contented, single-minded listening, James.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankyou so much, I really appreciate that.
      That book sounds really interesting, I have added it to The List πŸ˜‰
      You are very kind, I wish you all the best. And Thanks again.
      Have a good one,
      – J

      Like

  11. the differences you write about remind me of the Vinyl DJ vs. Digital DJ debate. I always seem to hear people on one side or the other, complaining that a vinyl DJ is antique, or conversely that a digital DJ has it too easy. I got the chance to talk with my turntable hero: Kid Koala at a show he had in Seattle. He agreed that it’s not about the tools you use, the real question is, are you using the medium to the fullest? I choose to enjoy vinyl DJ’ing when I need to confine myself creatively, whereas I choose digital DJ’ing when I want to ride the chaos of infinite possibilities. This relates back to your post, let me explain; vinyl DJ’ing, like vinyl collecting, gives you a much more personal and realistic experience with the music (IMHO). In 2017, you pay for that experience with about 700%-100K% more per song on vinyl vs. digital. So, you’re limited by shipping or record stores, and your budget. Long story short: There is music out there that your ears need, and some of it won’t be on vinyl (sadly). I hope that one day enough people become fascinated like you to create a cultural resurgence for vinyl, since what you said about the experience is spot on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is really interesting. I, also, embrace both mediums, putting out my own music digitally, whilst now using vinyl for most of my listening.
      I love your vision for he future, and I will be doing my absolute best to help it come into fruition.
      Well met, and well said. Thankyou.
      Have a good one,
      – J

      Like

  12. Hi James,
    LOL! I have four three foot long shelves of albums. For me, it is a link to the past. Listening to songs over and over again until they felt imbedded in my genetic DNA. Many albums are not art-forms in and of themselves, but a precious few are. Each song is in order for a reason; the cover art; the cover notes; the lyrics you could read along as you memorized them with the voice intonations and music.

    We gave up our hi-fidelity stereo back in the ’90’s when we changed continents. We replaced it eventually and then lost it again for the reverse trip. But all along, we carried the memories (and the albums). A couple of years ago, we got another turntable. It’s one of those “cute” multifunction boxes which looks like an old radio. The sound is terrible. Very tin-ey, but we still play some records because we have never upgraded most of them to other formats.

    Now, you’ve put me in the mood to buy a decent system and get back into my collection more / again. I won’t be abandoning my iPad for travel and convenience, but I now look forward to returning to “enjoying” music in the moment. Thank you. My life will be better for this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this. You are so welcome!
      If you are on the lookout for a budget, yet awesome turntable I heartily recommend the Audio Technica LP60 – it has a really good sound and is basically bombproof.
      I know exactly what you mean about listening to music until embedded in the DNA – the fact that I am getting back to it is what is giving me so much joy in this whole process.
      Loved getting your message, thanks for reading and for taking the time to respond so kindly.
      Have a good one, all the best,
      – J

      Like

  13. Ahhhhh…..welcome to what my youth was pleasantly occupied with! And now my age begins to reveal itself fully haha. What supreme joy there was in the artwork, layout and design of the dust jacket. The lyrics and dedications…pictures of the band, artist etc. And that wonderful feeling that you were thought of in the creative process… As a teenager my neighbour would painstakingly recreate the albumcover artwork painting and airbrushing them lovingly onto Jean jackets and t-shirts. Anyone wearing one proudly hailed as a serious fan, music lover… And so it was with the glorious life of collecting music. It was physically…inclusive and communal. Somehow our modern obsession with the digital download age we have lost the feel, joy and excitement of collecting and immersing ourselves in the process. Once record collections were proudly displayed…but now it seems more fragile as it is intangible. A list of titles on your phone, laptop or computer. Easy to accidently delete tracks…whole albums without the sense of loss or care. Not to mention them difference in sound and production! This applies even to studio recording as you very well know I’m sure. The last time I was in a studio laying vocal tracks I was told not to worry about my own ability to do a better take as cake walk would correct any anomalies. It made me sad to think we care more and more about producing things quickly than lovingly. But I digress! Welcome to a bygone era James. There is a vinyl movement out there for sure. Would be awesome if in the future we could hold your creations in our hands. I look forward to that.

    Like

    1. Yes. Yes. And Yes.
      I could not agree more – especially about the studio process. I am now firmly entrenched in the vinyl movement, and am looking into making limited pressings of some key tracks – watch this space! And if this happens, I will, of course, save one for you.
      Thankyou for this, and have a great night,
      – J

      Like

  14. This post is divine…the narration, the content, the revelation….I sooooo get it…my first introduction to music was by way of records…then the radio…A Side and B Side….oh, the memories…I love that you’ve found this mindfulness-fuelling context….what a gift…thanks for sharing. I’m “following” you. My name is Truly, and I am really privileged to meet you πŸ™‚

    Like

  15. Reblogged this and commented:
    I could not resist re-blogging this beautiful piece of writing that reminds us to create some sacred space to simply be…jamesradcliffe.com…a blog I return to again and again!

    Like

  16. There is great joy in this piece and your words touched that primal part of self that gets buried beneath all the noise – my dear neighbour has been taking the time to once again listen to her music collection (CD’s) and it’s a lovely ritual I’ve been wanting to get back to as well. Your wonderful post is a timely reminder, James!

    Like

    1. Thankyou so much, both for reading, for sharing, and for taking the time to respond in so kind a way.
      It does seem that as we move towards greater choice it becomes harder for us to maintain unbroken attention. And I am all about the experience. πŸ˜‰
      Really lovely to hear from you, have a great night,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I miss vinyl. I still have all my records (we didn’t call it vinyl in my day, or I didn’t! I have nothing to play them on and must rectify that. Lovely post, James. There’s also something much more real about the quality of the sound.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Please allow me to introduce to you my friend John Mahoney. Here is his website: http://www.ravenpheat.com/Home.html It’s a recording studio that he created himself–down to putting the right battening into ‘pillows’ on the walls so that he could ‘get the sound right.’ There is a tab about conversion to vinyl. I know you are nearly half a world away, but…really…this is 2017! John is one of the most “quality” people I’ve ever met. And, I still have my turntable from the 1970s. It still works and I still have all my vinyl records. This post made that kind of ownership feel fantastic in the week that I also celebrated a 60th birthday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankyou for this, I will check it out.
      Congrats on the birthday, and well done on the collection – you are obviously someone who stays true to who you are and what you like and I applaud you for it.
      Happy 60th!
      – J

      Like

  19. Vinyl is wonderful. From the beautiful album art work and photography, to the sweet sound of acoustic strings which analog can capture with sweetness and sincerity.
    But it is the ritual, a time to select and hold, then clean the album and then yes we listen. Thank you for posting this, as a vinyl guy I am glad to hear of more people enjoying music as a ritual , a time to just listen.
    Now have you considered building your own tube amp……….

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t mean to leave you hanging with that, been out of town. Tube amps are another road to travel down for expanding your enjoyment of music. I have been looking at kits for many years and still have not bought one. Not sure of which is best. My dad built tube amps and the speakers for our home stereo – they were tremendous sound quality and really helped me develop an ear for music. To this day I still love to sit quietly and listen. If you do built a kit let us now!

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        1. I will indeed. It is on the list but, at the moment, waaaaay down toward the bottom – there is so much to do! πŸ˜‰
          That said, if it comes up, I will definitely avail myself of your expertise.
          Thankyou for the offer, and for the timely reply,
          Have a good one,
          – J

          Like

  20. That revelation is very similar to my own experience. In 2015, I received a turntable at Christmas, with two vinyls. The first record was torn open and put on… I was so very excited. By the time I relocated the record player to a place where I keep my books and music and inspiration, the excitement faded and left room for something new. The very revelation you had, I had too. I didn’t feel the need to skip songs and I just sat on the sofa and listened and when side A was done, I got up and listened to side B until that was done too. And just like you, I realised that I was listening to music and hearing it, and not just consuming it. Maybe we need to take steps back to appreciate the beauty of our daily companions? xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think so. I am not sure if more choice is the way forward. Our minds seem to crave it, but at the same time it does not necessarily work so well for us.
      Over the last year or so I have found myself moving back to more analogue ways of experiencing things (real books, now real records) and have found that I am a lot happier for it.
      Thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to write to me – it is most appreciated.
      Have a good one,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

      1. yes… I am back to real books too (the smell of them, the feeling of the paper between your fingertips when you turn a page…) and a different approach to listening to music, too. And yes, it makes me happier too, because I am not as rushed and more in the now. More present and mindful. It’s the little things that make the biggest impacts.
        Have a good one too James πŸ™‚ Cathy

        Liked by 1 person

  21. OH you brought back memories of a time long past. Every part of your experience of opening the record folder I could feel and smell. When I read it to my husband he just smiled. He has a large collection of records and albums from the 60’s and 70’s. We haven’t played them in a long time. Maybe we’ll just have to buy a new neddle for our record player and get them out again.
    Thanks that was an enjoyable post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are most welcome – thanks for reading it.
      I’d really recommend trying it out again. It has made a genuine difference in my life.
      You are the first comment on this post – a distinct honor πŸ˜‰ Thankyou for that.
      Have a good one,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

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