August 30, 2019

Vinyl: The Rise & Fall & Rise Again

The original “record” dates back to the late 1800s, but was first made from a shellac resin/wax. It wasn’t until World War II when there was a shortage of shellac materials that true vinyl was born. Made from polyvinyl chloride, a synthetic plastic polymer, the vinyl record became the go-to way to listen to music on demand. The word “vinyl” would emerge as a movement and eventually evolve into its own sort of identity–a community, a civilization, a culture.

The vinyl record not only delivered music in a way that some would say was, is, and always will be the ONLY way to listen to your favorite artist (with the exception of a live show of course), but it also provided a blank canvas for the visual arts as well. Record sleeves and album covers not only contained works of musical art but became works of art themselves.

album covers
Source: Billboard

There is nothing like the sweet sound of when that needle drops and the music begins. But with that thrill of victory, sometimes came the agony of defeat when a careless start or an unsteady hand would scar the record and your heart, as your song would now skip, skip, skip–a sad struggling sound, almost as if gasping for air.

But what memories. Oh, the memories. I can remember around 1980 when my sister owned the vinyl for “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers; I cannot count how many times I asked her if I could borrow it and play it because I loved it so much. To this day, when I hear “Another One Bites The Dust” by Queen, I think of Pick Up Stix, as I played the 45 in the background while carefully mastering my moves with those delicate plastic pieces that Santa had delivered.

And Neil Diamond and “The Jazz Singer.” I had no idea what “The Jazz Singer” meant, or that it was a movie, or that the album was a soundtrack. But I would play my mother’s vinyl record over and over and over and jump around and sing and dance for as long as I could before getting reprimanded for shaking the entire room, making the record skip, and causing some of those sad scarring scratches.

Eventually, there would be the “picture disc,” and I felt like royalty in the late 1980s with my limited edition Def Leppard interview picture disc. Yes, I listened to it, but I spent more time swooning and staring at it as it hung in its clear sleeve on my wall. If I was just a few years older, I wished, perhaps I could win the heart of bass player Rick Savage.

Let’s not forget the vinyl “B-sides,” some of which became as popular as, or more popular than, the featured single itself. Yardbarker reminds us: “Widely regarded as the best ‘double-sided 45 (or vinyl recording) ever, Elvis Presley’s A-side of ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ and B-sided ‘Hound Dog’ is music history in one pressing. ‘Hound Dog’ was a hit before Presley’s version, but it’s arguably the most recognized take on one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time.”

Queen’s “We Will Rock You” was the A-side to “We Are The Champions,” but is often played back to back and flows as if the two were united as one track. It’s almost hard to believe that “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones was originally the B-side of “Honky Tonk Women.”

It’s true that you can’t always get what you want, and while vinyl reigned supreme in the music world until the 1990s, there was a new kid on the block, the CD, and it would soon take hold of the throne. If video killed the radio star, the CD was sucking the life out of the vinyl record. Then came digital music, and there went CDs.

But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, somewhere around 2006, young technophiles became enamored with the world of vinyl. Suddenly, there was a renewed affinity for a very old medium by a whole new generation. After all, history is known to repeat itself. To everything turn, turn, turn…there is a season, right?

Today, that trend continues, and vinyl is alive and well. So is live music, and so is The River Street Jazz Cafe. Come out and support the musical arts with a lineup that has a sound for all seasons!