The Wisdom of Charlotte: For the Love of Vinyl

Middleearthbarbie, Going Postal
“vinyl album cover collage” by nikitasphoto is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I have recently finished reading David Hepworth’s “A Fabulous Creation: How the LP Saved Our Lives”. It was a very fascinating read as to how the long playing record influenced our lives as teenagers and young adults, especially in 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I believe I read an article several years ago that stated that the music we listen to when we are thirteen is the music that stays with us for the rest of our lives. I can certainly fall into that category, as that is when I discovered Kate Bush and XTC, two of the major influences on my life and listening pleasures.

The book speaks about the LP as much as an indicator of individual taste and style as the clothes, makeup and shoes we wore in those days. In a way, it was a badge to the outside world stating “this is me, this is my music and sod you if you don’t like it”. It was a tribal thing too. I remember at school in the late 70’s and you would see the “headbangers” walking around with copies of “Led Zeppelin II” or “Highway to Hell”, the punks with their copies of albums by The Damned and The Stranglers and the intellectual set (the types who read the Guardian and were going to university) strolling around with the LP version of “The Hitchhikers Guide To the Galaxy” tucked underneath their arm.

I remember hanging out at the local “rec” and some of the lads bringing copies of XTC’s “Drums and Wires”, The Jam’s “Setting Sons”, The Police’s “Outlandos D’Amour” and Elvis Costello’s “Armed Forces” tucked under their arm. Borrowing an LP was under strict conditions, like looking after a much loved pet or book. If you scratched the record or damaged the cover, you were blacklisted forever. As with books, you listened intently to the songs, learned them and could sing the entire album in your sleep as you’d listened to it a million times over.  If you were lucky, you could persuade your parents to give you the money to buy the album or get it for Christmas or your birthday.

To have the pleasure of listening to records, you needed a decent or top notch stereo system. The act of buying a new LP, getting home, taking it out of the sleeve and putting it on the stereo was akin to a holy ritual. You waited with bated breath to see if this album was really up to the reviews or a pile of doggy doo. It was an adventure and an escape from reality at the same time.

They were conversation starters too. I was lucky enough to be friends with a girl at youth club whose Mum had an original copy of “Headquarters” by The Monkees. I was a massive fan of the band but had never listened to any of their original albums, not being able to find any in the usual places. I cannot describe the utter excitement and joy at listening to the needle hit the record and ease into “You Told Me”. It was like the Hallelujah chorus to me and I listened to that album over and over again until I knew every chord and syllable. It wasn’t until I moved to Croydon in the late 80’s and discovered “Beanos”, the second hand record shop, that I acquired a good few Monkees albums and a million other things besides.

Walking into Beano’s was like going through the Pearly Gates of record heaven. I spent hours in there buying up albums that I never purchased the first time round as a kid and a good few singles as well. I found a copy of ELO’s “Out of the Blue” with the original fold up spaceship inside that I remembered from visiting a neighbour’s house in 1978. He was a a bit of a music buff and liked similar things to me. He had LP’s by Kate Bush, The Police, ELO, Judy Tzuke and early Japan.

I dread to think how much money I spent in Beano’s over the years but I regret it not. My vinyl collection is still with me (with a few bits missing sans divorce). I have nothing to play them on at the moment but I am sure helpful Puffins with stereo knowledge could give me a few pointers.

The LP was the all-encompassing “thing of beauty” as it wasn’t just the music inside, it was also the artwork on the sleeve that often amazed or disgusted you. I remember the beautiful artwork of the Yes albums, to the gaudy cover of “Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols”.  Many of those covers are remembered because, even if the album was utter crap, the artwork was utterly stunning or controversial. I think in particular of the album by Blind Faith that shows a pre-pubescent girl naked on the cover, which was incredibly controversial at the time.

With the advent of CD and now downloaded music, the LP faded into the background and towards extinction.  I realise that vinyl has, in recent years, made a comeback as people have realised that they want the “all-encompassing experience” of vinyl to the clinical DVD.

In a way, I feel privileged to have been brought up during a time when vinyl was king. Rushing out to Woolworths, WH Smiths or local record shops to buy a favourite top 40 single or the joy of going out to buy a new album by your favourite band on the day of release.  The LP became like an old friend. You knew every jump, scratch, crackle and hiss of the record and, to this day, there are records I have on CD that, in my head, I still think “records going to jump now”, even though it doesn’t.  Somehow I don’t think new, digital music is going to be remembered with such fondness or nostalgia.


© Middleearthbarbie 2020