The venerable LP just keeps on playing

I posted this photo on Facebook showing my copy of the new Rolling Stones album, Hackney Diamonds, and with the caption, “Oh yes, music reproduced the way it is supposed to be.”

A friend challenged that statement, saying she’s never been able tell any difference in audio quality between vinyl long-playing records and CDs, for example. That made me realize that my love for the LP is not necessarily just its ability to preserve good music, at which it of course excels.

I began my response, “I hear you, but somehow the vinyl album I bought in 1968 has survived and plays just fine 55 years later.” 

The music industry has tried to replace the LP with cassette tapes, which can be accidentally erased or get tangled or just wear out, and more quickly than LPs, especially if you take good care of them. Then came CDs, which can malfunction out of the blue, and iPods, which aren’t supported anymore, and now streaming services — but we’ve seen that a streaming service can decide not to carry what we want anymore.

I thought about one of my favorite rock and roll songs, “Devil With a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly” by Mitch Ryder, which has an awkward edit toward the end of its stereo version that eliminates the first half of the last verse. I hate it! The only way I can listen to the original song as I heard it on the radio is to put the old 45 rpm disc on my turntable.

One of the albums that frequently occupies that turntable is Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal, a 1959 two-record set featuring the jazz pianist’s trio in performance. I have played the album so many times that the gatefold cover recently disintegrated, but treated properly, the records reproduce those performances almost flawlessly after 64 years.

In recent days I’ve been playing new records by the Stones, Daisy Jones and the Six, Merry Clayton, and a very talented pair of sisters from Sweden who record as First Aid Kit. I’ve also listened to the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band that I got for Christmas in 1967 and the three-record set Will the Circle Be Unbroken that I bought in 1972. Except for the occasional, barely discernible ticks accumulated over a half-century of wear, you can’t really tell which recordings are brand new and which are decades old.

That’s why I concluded my defense of vinyl, “The quality of the audio is only part of it — as a music storage medium, it’s unparalleled.” The evidence of the last few decades can’t be disputed: As alternate formats have come and gone, the LP is still standing and, if anything, is seeing a renaissance.

The main disadvantage my beloved turntable has to the other formats is the inconvenience of getting up from my easy chair every 15 to 20 minutes — or 3 to 5 minutes if I’m listening to singles — to change records. But at 70 years and six months old, getting up from my chair on a fairly frequent basis is good for my health anyway.

Leave a Reply