“Hey Mom, I’m Going To The Record Shop.”

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Turns out we might see more actual "records" in our music retailers soon: Retailers giving vinyl records another spin

It was a fortuitous typo for the Fred Meyer retail chain.

This spring, an employee intending to order a special CD-DVD edition of R.E.M.'s latest release "Accelerate" inadvertently entered the "LP" code instead. Soon boxes of the big, vinyl discs showed up at several stores.

Some sent them back. But a handful put them on the shelves, and 20 LPs sold the first day.

The Portland-based company, owned by The Kroger Co., realized the error might not be so bad after all. Fred Meyer is now testing vinyl sales at 60 of its stores in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. The company says, based on the response so far, it plans to roll out vinyl in July in all its stores that sell music.

Other mainstream retailers are giving vinyl a spin too. Best Buy is testing sales at some stores. And online music giant Amazon.com, which has sold vinyl for most of the 13 years it has been in business online, created a special vinyl-only section last fall.

The best-seller so far at Fred Meyer is The Beatles album "Abbey Road." But musicians from the White Stripes and the Foo Fighters to Metallica and Pink Floyd are selling well, the company says.

"It's not just a nostalgia thing," said Melinda Merrill, spokeswoman for Fred Meyer. "The response from customers has just been that they like it, they feel like it has a better sound."

While I am a devoted music lover, I've never considered myself a geeky audiophile by any stretch of the imagination, but even I can hear a difference between vinyl and digital.  It definitely sounds different, and sometimes those differences equal up "better" sounds.  I always think of a track on the first Bill Bruford's Earthworks album, "Up North."  I got the LP of that first and the bass used to rattle the furniture in my bedroom at even modest volume.  It resonated so much you could feel it.  It was beautiful.

When I got the album on CD I was disheartened to find the bass on "Up North" no longer loosened my fillings.  It sounded clear, but it didn't feel the same.  Others have claimed that analog LP's sound "warmer" when compared to digital formats, and I have to say they have a point.  For much of the music I listen to it wouldn't matter very much – Marshall Crenshaw sounds like Marshall Crenshaw no matter the format – but my classical LP's sound better than my classical CD's.

Like many people I have also picked up a turntable for the first time in years recently.  It has been a joy to rescue my 500+ albums from the cold and dank of my parents basement and hear them again after so long.  (This is true even if the wife isn't happy about the heavy cardboard boxes filled with records lying in the middle of the office floor.  LP storage is still a problem without an obvious solution.)  It is true that part of the enjoyment is the tactile feel of putting the needle down on a groove, or opening a gatefold sleeve to see the large format graphics.  I had forgotten how artistic a great album sleeve could be.  The art direction on The Alan Parsons Project's Eye In The Sky album is spectacular, though you would never know it if you only experienced it on CD.  (The flip side of this is also true.  Yes's Tormato is unworldly ugly at LP size.)      

Audiophiles say they also want the format's overall experience — the sensory experience of putting the needle on the record, the feeling of side A and side B and the joy of lingering over the liner notes.

"I think music products should be more than just music," said Isaac Hudson, a 28-year-old vinyl fan standing outside one of Portland's larger independent music stores.

The interest seems to be catching on. Turntable sales are picking up, and the few remaining record pressers say business is booming.

But the LP isn't going to muscle out CDs or iPod soon.

Nearly 450 million CDs were sold last year, versus just under 1 million LPs, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Based on the first three months of this year, Nielsen says vinyl album sales could reach 1.6 million in 2008.

"I don't think vinyl is for everyone; it's for the die-hard music consumer," said Jay Millar, director of marketing at United Record Pressing, a Nashville based company that is the nation's largest record pressing plant.

It has been awhile since I've picked up a new LP, although I've been eying a couple oldies on Ebay to replace product that has gone missing from my collection over the years.  Now that my snazzy looking Crossley (an art deco styled console no less) is upstairs at my beck and call, I think I will soon enjoy the childhood pleasure of putting on a new record while I flip the sleeve around in my hands to take it all in.  Hell, for old times sake I may even call up my mother to inform her of my trip to the record shop.  Now, if I can only find a late night record shop I'll be in nostalgia heaven. 

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9 Responses to “Hey Mom, I’m Going To The Record Shop.”

  1. Gaius says:

    Drove downtown in the rain nine-thirty on a tuesday night,
    Just to check out the late-night record shop.
    Call it impulsive, call it compulsive, call it insane,
    But when Im surrounded I just cant stop.

    (Steven Page, Brian Wilson)

  2. Bob says:

    The problem that killed LPs was poor sound quality. While LPs are capable of excellent sound quality (better than CDs with their poor sampling rate), in the 60s-80s about a third of all LPs had major defects, resulting in all sorts of popping/scratching noises. This was generally due to the companies practice of recycling the plastic in poorly selling LPs. Very often, the paper labels on the LPs were not fully removed from the old discs and ended up embedded in the new pressings. If LPs become popular once again (OH, for the days of $150 “needles” and $1000 turntables), this problem will be resurrected.

    Back in the 70s, I learned to buy only Deutsche-Gramophone.

  3. Rich Horton says:

    Gaius, yes i had that going through my head when I wrote the line.
    Bob, you sound like you are one of "them." 
    Even buying mostly pop music growing up I noticed a change in the vinyl itself.  My fathers LP’s from the 50’s and 60’s were heavy permanent feeling things, while a lot of the vinyl in the 80’s simply wore out over time.  I went through 3 copies of "Abbey Road" between 1979 and 1989, and I was a careful guy with my albums.  (The upside is that third copy of "Abbey Road" is still in near mint condition.)   

  4. As an interesting side note I have designed two substantial wall storage units/ entertainment centers designed around LPs.  I’m pretty sure that is two more than in the last ten years.

  5. sestamibi says:

    Oh give me a break!  I have about 600 LPs at home that I never play because my turntable is not connected, and besides I have no time to listen to them anyway. 
    When I was a teenaged stereo geek back in the late 60’s I used to go to all the hi-fi shows.  I was up on all the performance measurements (RMS power, harmonic distortion, frequency response, etc. etc.) and read all the reviews of new equipment when it came out.  I wanted the best turntable/cartridge combination with the least tracking pressure, anti-skating, etc. etc. 
    And I was obsessive about taking care of my records, and they’re all still in pretty good condition even to this day, but you know what?  No matter how much you baby them, they’re still gonna wind up with scratches, pops and clicks when you play them. 
    I question the sanity of those who want to turn back the clock to return to an obsolete technology.  Do you really want to store these monstrosities?  Do you really want to add to your carbon footprint by supporting this format (sarcasm on)?  And Bob, what do you mean by CD’s "poor sampling rate"?  Playing at 44,000 bits per second is twice the highest frequency the human ear can perceive.  If that isn’t fast enough for you, try counting from 1 to 44,000 in one second. 

  6. Rich Horton says:

    Then why do so many people who record music for a living prefer to go analog?  Are they all nuts? 
    And I dont know that anyone is seriously considering turning their backs on digital as the primary delivery method…but I dont have an issue with the sound quality of LP’s.  I listened to The Moody Blues’ "Long Distance Voyager" tonight, and I never noticed a pop or a hiss.  (Of course, I’m older now and the human hear goes less sensitive as you age.  Maybe if I was 20 and listening on headphones I’d be less forgiving.)

  7. martian says:

    The problem is, try finding a turntable these days that won’t cost your first born.

  8. sestamibi says:

    I think those turntables that connect to USB ports run about $150. 

  9. Rich Horton says:

    Martian, Pioneer, Sony, Panasonic and something called Audio-Technica all have tables under $150.    Of course you may have higher standards.

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