For the Love of Vinyl

On a warm summer morning, I rode past the red storefront of the Sound Central covered in vinyl records at 4486 Coloniale. It was closed at the time, but as I looked through the front window, I noticed that it had a type of coffee counter with vintage stools at the back. From the street, it looked like every inch of wall space was covered with rock posters, stickers, album covers and records. The store immediately reminded me of John Cusack and Jack Black in High Infidelity, and I wondered if I would be thrown out if I asked for a Barbara Streisand record.

I dropped by yesterday, but I only made it a few steps past the door when I felt overwhelmed. As everyone knows, music is intimately tied to memories, and in my field of vision, I saw posters, album covers and fonts that all transported me back to different decades simultaneously. Adding to this stimulus overload was loud music, which I erroneously assumed to be speed metal. I later learned from owner Shawn that this was post-rock sludge metal. Playing every bit the deaf auntie, I had to ask him if he'd said "sledge or sludge." A slight musty smell hung in the air, reminiscent of unfinished basements everywhere.

The first thing to catch my eye was a box of 45s, which were on sale for 10 cents each. I flipped my way to a Diana Ross single with a Motown label--something that seemed so familiar, even though I hadn't seen one in 30 years. I noticed for the first time that the label background was actually a map of Michigan with a big star marking Detroit. Next, I turned to look at the albums, and the first one I picked up was Elton John's greatest hits from the 70s and laughed at his hideous white shades. This was back in the day when we still thought he was straight. Then I spotted a few of my parents' records on the wall--Patsy Cline, Emmylou Harris with just a few strands of grey hair and Henry Mancini with one undignified comb-over.

As I've said in a previous post, music still seems to be dominated by men in terms of producers, agents, promoters, managers and performers. Although there are a lot more women in music today, men still predominate and make the most money. This store definitely had a hip urban male feel to it, but the owner assured me that he had a lot of women customers too.

I continued walking to the back of the store where I saw some old turntables, stereo equipment, 8-tracks and of course, CDs and DVDs. All the store was missing was a reel-to-reel. I was happily strolling down memory lane, looking at Hot Wheels still in their packages, books and other rock collectibles when it dawned on me. Other than collectors, who would still be buying vinyl?

A lot of people apparently. In fact, according to the New York Times, today's stars Norah Jones, Lady Gaga, Diddy and 50 Cent have all issued vinyl versions of their latest releases, and rock classics have all been reissued in vinyl. In addition, more than 2.1 million vinyl records were sold in 2009, up 35% from the previous year.

So why the resurgence in vinyl records?

It was simple according to Shawn's coworker Kostas, "Vinyl sounds better."

Albums were also nicer than CDs with their liner notes, and besides, albums provided greater advertising space. Some of you may also recall that falsehood that CDs never scratched and, thus, were superior to records.

But I still had one pressing question. If vinyl had been phased out in 1988, wouldn't it be hard to find turntables, I asked, momentarily forgetting that a record store was still in the realm of cool, while my question was anything but.

Turntables, I learned, were relatively easy to find, and Sound Central actually refurbishes them and can even outfit them with a USB port.

As I sat at the counter enjoying an ice coffee, I looked up at the ceiling papered in album covers from days of yore. I saw the Bay City Rollers, Doris Day, a darn slim Ginette Reno and Tom Jones with a perfectly round afro. I'd caught my second wind and was ready to look around some more. I wanted to buy some 45s and send them to friends. On my way back, I picked up a vintage book about Vietnam in Vietnamese with an Australian High Commission stamp on it. I had just pulled out Bonnie Tyler's single "Total Eclipse of the Heart" when Kostas came over and told me that "I would have to pay for my coffee."

Somewhat flummoxed, I made my way to the counter to pay for my coffee and four singles. In the end, I hadn't been thrown out of the store for an uncool request, but I had been profiled as a potential Dine and Dash culprit.

PS: Vinyl collectors, you can find the Sound Central Record Store online at www.soundcentralstore.com

Related posts:
So Glad I'm not 18
Death of World Music Star Lhasa de Sela

Further reading:
NYT, Vinyl Record Albums and Turntables Are Gaining Sales
USB turntables raise vinyl from the dead

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7 comments:

Anonymous | July 29, 2010 at 4:26 AM

Heather, Dolly Parton is a multi millionaire and she never ever let a man rule her - she turned down letting Elvis sing one of her songs because the Colonel wanted her to sign over the rights which she never did. Dolly World brings in the bucks as do her records. Thanks for the look at the shop.
Billy Willbond, you Dad's old Army Buddy.

AKAmamma | July 29, 2010 at 8:24 AM

Well, thanks for the anecdote. I didn't know that she refused the Colonel. Good for her! But, uh, that's just one example, which in no way invalidates my statement: men still predominate and make the most money in the music industry.

Dolly Parton is quite an exceptional person, and she's living proof that there is life after Burt Reynolds. Other less fortunate women ended up fighting over the towels in the linen cupboard with him.

Anonymous | July 29, 2010 at 8:51 PM

Hmm, I kinda like the image of women fighting in a linen closet with Burt Reynolds.

AKAmamma | July 29, 2010 at 9:19 PM

I think that the actual fight (Loni v. Burt) transpired outside the linen closet.

C.McKane | August 7, 2010 at 7:29 PM

Heather I loved this post... I felt like I was there too. My sister has a working turntable and on top of confiscating my mum's 70's records there are a few places that have stacks of them for free. Now I want to go back for a visit.

Plus, the comments on this one really killed me. :)

AKAmamma | August 7, 2010 at 9:25 PM

This was a kind of place where you could spend days immersed in all kinds of different bits of culture, and it's always funny how you remember things. They're never quite the same when you're older.

Lora | August 25, 2010 at 8:02 AM

ahhh, very cool. My boyfriend loves vinyl and has awakened my interest in it...but I don't think I'll ever quite understand his love affair with it. It's something he and his dad share...and that's fine. Perhaps I'll come back to this post to remind myself :)

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