“I like the phonograph best.”—Thomas Edison’s response when asked, “Of your thousand-fold patents, which is your favorite invention?”
A trip to the big city chain book store a couple of weeks ago searching for a current record price guide got me to thinking. My first thought was that price guides today are more expensive than many of the records I bought when I first became serious about collecting them almost 40 years ago.
Honestly, that was the second thought. My first was thinking, “It’s time for an updated evaluation of my accumulation,” that had me in the book store to begin with.
I’ve been accumulating records since grade school when I began buying them at White’s Auto store in Mount Pleasant. However, I didn’t consider my accumulation a collection until the late 70s when records began disappearing in favor of the then new format: CDs.
Like many kids in the 50s and 60s, I watched American Bandstand after school. Also like others, I bought records based on who appeared on Dick Clark’s popular TV show, plus what I heard on the radio. A record was the only format available then except reel-to-reel tape, a format typically used only by serious audiophiles and recording musicians like Burton Harris in Mount Pleasant.
It was also the format that lead to 4-track and 8-track cassette tapes in the mid 60s that morphed into cassette tapes in the 80s before CDs replaced tapes, and eliminated records. In recent years, digital downloads and online buying has relegated CDs and music stores to a fraction of their former glory. Time changes everything
And, time often comes full circle just as records have done. Today, whatever your taste in music might be, it’s instantly available. It’s free on YouTube, streamable on Spotify, or buyable on iTunes. So, why is technology that was allocated to history almost three decades ago now making this miraculous comeback?
Partially because at the time when vinyl records began to disappear, I remember serious audiophiles arguing that an LP’s vinyl grooves produced a warmth and depth that digital code could not.
When records started a comeback a few years ago, those sentiments were echoed by one musician born after records were history. Shelby county singer and songwriter, friend and mentor to my guitar-picking efforts, Thomas Morrison said it best. He termed the “unbelievable sound” of some old records his father had given him an “amazing discovery.”
He also discovered something I’ve always said about records. “When you listen to a record,” Thomas said, “It’s like you’re listening to a tangible piece of history—something you don’t feel when you listen to a digital music file.”
What he discovered is the same feeling I get when listening to Elvis Presley on an original Sun label record. For both the quality and the connection Thomas described, I still play records on a regular basis. Plus, there’s just something mesmerizing about watching those labels going around.
What goes around comes around. Or, in my case, it just never went away. And it would appear the same is true as far as vinyl LPs spinning on a turntable are concerned.
In 2017, 14 million LPs were sold in the U.S., up more than 1,000-percent from 10 years earlier. While researching that sales figure, I was disappointed to learn that I missed “Record Store Day” last April celebrated in honor of independently-owned record stores.
Not only did Edison celebrate the phonograph as his favorite invention, but he was also prophetic in stating, “The phonograph will undoubtedly be liberally devoted to music.”
I wonder if he had any idea phonograph records would be enjoying a second hurrah more than 100 years later, or that people like me would spend a lifetime accumulating…make that “collecting” them.
Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers.