Vinyl Shenanigans

I’m currently reading anthropologist Daniel Miller’s 2008 study of the ‘stuff’ people in a south London street sample surround themselves with, called The Comfort of Things. With 'Simon’, for example, it’s vinyl (15,000 records 'in storage’) and compact discs (only a modest 2000 items in this format). For Miller, “(Simon) wants to keep it (i.e. this 'exteriority’) at hand, to use it in composing and constructing himself on a regular basis. That’s why its important for him to have the music physically out there, as vinyl and CDs…so that, like a cook’s ingredients, they are all at hand when he needs them…a restless search for signs of himself”. For others, 'Simon’ might merely be a 'size queen’?

Aha! So that’s the ontological causation behind the 'vinyl revival’ then? Motivated by the aesthetic denudation of the streaming media, UK youth are determined to surround themselves with beautiful objets of the 12" x 12" kind? (7-inchers don’t seem to have been similarly celebrated, curiously.) My son seems to have become one of these twenty/thirty-somethings who luxuriate in both old and new vinyl, the prices of which (glimpsed in a nostalgic trip to Sheffield’s HMV the other day) had my eyebrows scraping the shop’s ceiling. Most of the old rock classics cost around £25, and new releases reach up to £30. I’ve also noticed a recent aspect of record company malfeasance, the penny dropping whilst listening to two of Nathan’s latest double-album purchases, Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition and Madlib’s Shades of Blue - Madlib invades Blue Note. (The latter features similar artificially 'aged’ cover designs to those that dominated Elvis Costello’s Get Happy! as far back as 1980, thus demonstrating that postmodernism hasn’t completely died yet. For Costello, it was Stax; for Lib, it’s Blue Note uber-referentiality.)

There currently appears to be a pronounced tendency to release CD - length recordings (i.e. 50-60 minutes) as double vinyl product (i.e. 15 minutes or less per side, EPs by any other name), but retailing at at least £30. Now, readers of my own age, or slightly younger, will remember that vinyl doubles were a relative rarity in the late sixties and seventies. To recall, both Blonde on Blonde and Freak Out! were the first rock doubles, both released in mid-1966. By 1968, the triumvirate of rock’s arguably most celebrated bands each released treasured era-defining doubles of approximately 20 minutes per side, Electric Ladyland, The Beatles and Wheels of Fire. Triple rock albums were even rarer, All Things Must Pass and The Dead’s Europe '72 spring to mind as very early examples. So it seems to me that releasing single CDs in exotic double vinyl guises is an as cynical yet impressive reverse - sleight of hand as putting out compact discs in the mid-eighties, at similarly grossly inflated prices (around £18 for an ECM disc as I recall) as these new new vinyl doubles.

It seems that there will always be those who will shell out for shiny new baubles, streaming be damned, and that record companies will always treat recorded music, even stuff that is more than fifty years old, as the gift that keeps on giving. Of course, there is always the “the shorter the length of the side, the better the sound, especially with dance and bass-heavy music” argument, one that fans of the original Metal Box triple 12" discs used, but, to be frank, “money talks and bullshit walks” as Spinal Tap’s immortal Bobbi Fleckman, “the hostess with the most-ess”, would have it.

By the way, must get Atrocity Exhibition.

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The banner picture is by the late Mal Dean (1941-1974), which featured on the cover of the 1972 Incus Records vinyl release, Live Performances at Verity's Place, by two free improvisation pioneers, the English guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.