It is over 35 years ago that CDs came along and we were told they were the future of leisurely listening to music. The vinyl LP was dead, or at least dying. And we believed. Sure, there were those who would swear emphatically that the vinyl version of Dire Straits’ Money for Nothing (from their 1985 album, Brothers in Arms) produced a way superior sound to that found on a compact disc, but it was futile to stand in the way of progress. And yet. And yet. In 2022, for the first year since 1987, the sale of vinyl records generated more revenue for the music industry than CD sales. (I am not going to get drawn on to the topic of downloads or streaming.)
The primary single source of this, as with many money-making elements of the modern music business, is Taylor Swift. Her 2022 album, Midnights, shifted 80,000 copies in vinyl, making it the biggest-selling vinyl record this century. That’s pretty remarkable, but surely more astonishing is the fact that the seventh best-selling vinyl record of 2022 was one which was initially released before CDs had likely even been imagined in some techno-boffin’s brain. That album was Rumours by the British/American group, Fleetwood Mac, which first found its way on to the turntables of the general public in 1977.
The band comprised Mick Fleetwood on drums; John McVie on bass (you will gather that the band’s name comes from their two names); Lindsey Buckingham on guitar and vocals; Stevie Nicks on vocals; and Christine McVie, the keyboards’ player, also the wife of John McVie between 1968 and 1976. (Her photo is on the home page.) She died last November aged 79, but the album to which she contributed several songs is evidently still going strong. It contains 11 tracks, perhaps most famously Don’t Stop, Go Your Own Way and The Chain, which used to be the theme music that introduced Formula 1 Grand Prix programmes back in the days when the sport was on the BBC.
When I bought my stereo system (it was so long ago I can’t remember when) I recall the guy who sold it telling me to buy a decent turntable as well as a good CD player. “If you don’t,” he said, “you’ll never want to play your LPs again, and I’m guessing you are not intending to replace every one you’ve got with a CD of the same record.” He was right, I wasn’t, and his advice was sound. (Apologies for the pun.)
Getting out my copy of Rumours the other day for the photo above brought back few memories. One was the sleeve. I think not only because it’s much larger, there is something inherently more tactile about handling the sleeve of a 12″ record than a CD casing. This is my fault, I acknowledge, but in the days of yore I could state with certainty and without looking that such-and-such song was the second track on side 2 of an LP. These days I may not even know its title; just that it’s track 10. (This could in part be because my memory is now comparatively shot.) And while this particular album is not an example of the genre, some old LPs came with spectacular gatefold sleeves, opening out to reveal lyrics and/or assorted artworks.
So congratulations to vinyl…although I’m not holding my breath for a similar renaissance in 8-track cartridges!