Recently, I was spinning some wax on my turntable when I got a great chuckle out of the inner sleeve of one of my records.
“Here’s how records give you more of what you want,” reads Columbia Records’ advertisement for itself. “The best for less: Records give you top quality for less money than any other recorded form.”
Judging by the dates on the sleeve, this is from an early 1970s printing of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited,” which I imagine means Columbia was combating the proliferation of 8-track tapes, which started coming installed in cars in the late ’60s.
But I was thinking if you flash forward about 40 years, the language seems oddly topical.
The sleeve continues: “They allow selectivity of songs and tracks. With records, it’s easy to pick out the songs you want to play or to play again a particular song or side. . . . You can’t do this as easily with anything but a phonograph record.”
One music message board I frequent recently said the compact disc’s future is coming to an end soon, but since CDs still make up about three-quarters of all records sold, I doubt discs will disappear anytime before the NBA starts playing hoops again.
“They’re the top quality in sound. . . . Countless refinements and developments have been made to perfect the long-playing record’s technical excellence and insure the best in sound reproduction and quality available in recorded form.”
Though vinyl’s comeback is understandable, one resurgence I cannot fathom is the slow, steady push to resurrect cassette tapes, which again reared its head earlier this week when I heard the announcement that Dinosaur Jr. will re-release its first three albums in a limited-edition cassette box set. Though a friend recently expressed nostalgia for Pocket Rockers, we agreed that all forms of cassette should stay in the ’80s.
“Record albums are never out of place. . . . Because they’re flat and not bulky, you can store hundreds in a minimum of space and still see every title.”
Inevitably, the message board crew agreed that the CD will diminish and become more of a collector’s item. Those truly dedicated fans will shell out for the luxurious box set, which labels seem content to continue making more and more lavish and expensive at a time when wallets are shrinking.
Perhaps the saddest thing that will happen as a corollary will be the decline of the independent record store. Big-time retailers such as Walmart, Target or Best Buy may sell the bulk of the records in this country, but their selections are continually shrinking and lacking for those who want to find much beyond the top 40.
The independent record stores have been hurt the most by the dawning of music’s digital age and it’s a descent that will only continue. While one of the board’s users suggested they’ll go the route of Blockbuster Video stores, I have to imagine a sprinkling of stores will survive, stocking the shelves with the latest releases and bringing in old material for faithful collectors such as me.
“They’ll give you hours of continuous and uninterrupted listening pleasure. Just stack them up on your automatic changer and relax.”
Vinyl died and was reborn and then mysteriously saved, to alter a line from one of my favorite Dylan songs, “Oh, Sister.” Thanks to items I inherited from my father and grandfather, my collection dates from the 1940s through the mid ’80s and then starts again in the early 2000s.
I don’t see the compact disc becoming as obsolete as a pager or a VCR cassette, although Apple has already started to stop putting optical drives in some of its merchandise, a sign some have interpreted as the first step in the disc’s death. They said the same when the same Silicon Valley-based fruit company stopped putting floppy disk drives in its systems, so who knows?
I do see compact discs continuing to become more of a collector’s item, slowly fading into obscurity the same way that vinyl and cassette tapes did for an earlier generation.
But I think it’s a bit premature to be talking about the death of the CD. Besides, you never know how a format will endure and persevere . . .
“And remember, it always happens first on records!”