Spinning the Black Circle

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  • I grew up in a family that loves music. When I was a child, I remember my Dad playing his Horner harmonica during special occasions. He would play for us old standards like Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” and “Besame Mucho” while we sat transfixed, listening to every note that came from his cherished reed instrument.

    Dad also loves to collect vinyl long play albums and he would play them for us in his spare time. When we were living in Barbados in the late 1960s, Dad bought a Sony Hi-Fi stereo with built-in turntable, amplifier and speakers. He then began to buy and collect albums by the Sandpipers, Sparrow Power!, Beethoven and the Readers Digest Down Memory Lane Collection – a six-record set of oldies and classic songs of the 20th century.

    The first vinyl record album that I remember hearing in our home was a Christmas Collection album which Dad would always play during the Yuletide season. When we came back to the Philippines in the early 1970s, Dad bought me my first vinyl long play record, the Beatles “A Hard Days’ Night” which I still have in my vinyl LP collection.

    But the first long play record that I bought on my own was in December 1978 when I decided to buy a double album – the movie soundtrack of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band which later turned out to be a lemon. From then on there was no turning back and I began to save my allowance money so that I could indulge in my new passion.

    I became a Beatles fanatic and began to collect their albums, locally pressed records like Abbey Road, Magical Mystery Tour, the White Album, Yellow Submarine and Hey Jude which back then cost P24 for a single album and P40 for a double album. A few months later, I finally got my hands on the original album of the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band when a classmate sold me his locally pressed copy for only P15.

    Fast forward to 2016 and I am still collecting vinyl LP albums. Just recently I finally found two albums that I was searching for years – “Rocks” by Aerosmith and “The Night Fly” by Donald Fagen to add to my record collection of LPs, 45 singles, cassettes, CDs and 8 track cartridges.      What is the vinyl long play album and why are some people still buying and collecting them in this era of the digital download, Spotify and iTunes?

    vinyl-1recordstoryFor the past four years, Manila has seen the return of the vinyl album. Aside from established mall music stores like Astrovision and Odyssey, which have started selling and putting on their shelves the latest vinyl albums of Taylor Swift and the Arctic Monkeys, record stores like Vinyl Dump Thrift Store at General Rumulo St., Cubao Expo, Q.C. and Northwest Estate and Collectibles at 170 K1st Kamuning Rd., Q.C. are sprouting up left and right.

    People working in the local recording and music industry say that the industry is dying in this age of down loading, iTunes and Spotify. But one form of music sales has been rising slowly and steadily: the vinyl long play album. Sales of the vinyl LP have gone up consistently for several years now. In 2014, 13 million vinyl albums were sold and last year the number surpassed 9 million.

    In 2013, PolyEast Records started selling brand new-pressed greatest hits vinyl albums of OPM artists from the 1970s to the present, from the Boyfriends to Bamboo. Then demand for vinyl long play records, which was first introduced in 1948 by Columbia Records and became the standard in the vinyl record industry, disappeared in the late 1980s when newer, innovative formats in the form of cassette tapes and compact discs (CDs) proved to be more convenient.

    Two years ago, with the demand for the so-called “Black Gold” starting to become popular, this convinced PolyEast Records to release Ogie Alcasid’s “All the Classics” best of album and other OPM album titles from its catalog in vinyl LP format, like the Boyfriends “Greatest Hits,” Regine Velasquez’s “Total Recall,” The Youth’s “Ang Plakang Walang Pamagat,” Bamboo’s “The Singles” and the self-titled album of P.O.T.

    Joel Devicais, owner of Vinyl Dump Thrift Store, had gathered together a record collection of around 10,000 long play vinyl albums which he started collecting when he was still a grade six student in Iloilo. He explained that the reason for the return of the vinyl album not just here in the Philippines but in other parts of the world is because the vinyl album has a richer, fuller sound when you compare it to the clinical, clean sound of compact discs and digital downloads.

    Devicais added that the analog format, like in the vinyl album, cassette or even the 8 track cartridge, is a lot more natural-sounding, an unchanged type of recording. All the criteria on sound recording are met and everything is well-balanced. His advice to people who plan to begin a record collection is to expand their musical horizons to all the music genres and not to focus on just one or two genres. Also a lot of research work should be done before starting a vinyl record collection.

    Collectors of vinyl albums never get tired of looking at the album cover art of long playing records, reading the liner notes and other information printed on the album cover and carefully removing the vinyl record from the inner sleeve so as not to get any unwanted stains or fingerprints on it. The vinyl long play album is something physical, something tangible which you can hold in your sweaty hands and look and contemplate for hours, specially the album cover art, the gatefold and the inner sleeve.

    The vinyl album also has surprises lurking inside, added bonuses like booklets filled with photos, songs, lyrics and information about the artist. Also inside are autographed photos, stickers and posters. This is where the art of making the album cover comes in. There are many album covers that are now considered works of art—and are highly sought after by vinyl record collectors. Vinyl albums like Bob Marley and the Wailers’ “Catch a Fire,” Alice Cooper’s “Schools Out” and “Billion Dollar Babies,” Cheech and Chong’s “Big Bambu,” The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” and “Some Girls.”

    Jay Taruc, journalist and avid vinyl collector, said the vinyl long play records, compared with the CD or cassette tape, have better packaging. The album sleeve with the cover art, pictures, graphics, information sheet, liner notes, and other physical and visual elements are a very big plus that allows you to experience and physically hold in your hands the end product of an artist or a band.

    Critically and carefully listening to vinyl records, like reading a novel or short story, can take you to places you never knew existed—and with no need to drink any alcoholic beverage or take mind-altering drugs. No wonder the German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

     

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