Vinyl is back in a big, BIG way! And so, to commemorate and document the triumphant return of this cherished medium, BIMM London’s Music Journalism course leader Dr Jennifer Otter Bickerdike has just released her brand new book “Why Vinyl Matters”.
The book is part-history, part future forecast, part nostalgia and all celebration, featuring over 25 interviews, with photos, sidebars, quotes, album covers and more. We caught up with the fandom expert herself, ahead of the official book launch on September 1st, to hear the top 10 reasons why she, like so many music enthusiasts out there, still loves vinyl.
1. The cover art
From one of my all-time favourite record sleeves, Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, with its cover shots taken by Annie Leibowitz, to Joy Division’s Closer, the 12” x 12” space is a gallery all its own, supplying the viewer / listener with a first impression of what the artist and album are all about.
2. The size
This may seem strange, but when I was younger, I would judge a person hugely on what was in their record collection. That part of us has become basically invisible with MP3s and streaming, this previously huge huge part of our personal identity that we would have on show in our living rooms or bedsits. Which brings me to another point: if you are giving up precious space for your vinyl collection to inhabit a part of your house, it shows a quality of music, art and memory that lives within the grooves of each record.
3. The liner notes
They were the Rosetta Stone to fully understanding, appreciating and inhabiting the world of the artist who you were listening to. But to further break it down, I particularly LOVE…
4. The lyrics
There was a time when there was no ‘interwebs’ to google song lyrics. You either guessed them the best you could from repeated plays of a song, or, if you were lucky, the album would have liner notes which included the lyrics. Sadly, Jefferson Starship’s LP, Knee Deep in the Hoopla, did not have the words to their songs, so for years I thought they were singing, ‘With Milk and Cereal’ instead of ‘We Built This City.’ Oops!
5. The credits
When liner notes included who had done what on an album, your mind could be blown. For example, on the She’s So Unusual: the second song is ‘When You Were Mine,’ written by…Prince. WHAT? Cyndi AND Prince in one song? It was like a musical stew of fabness. But even more exciting could be when you started seeing who was on this record you loved, that record you loved, etc.…long before the endless rabbit hole of the web, we had the interconnected producers, studio musicians, songwriters and engineers.
6. The thank yous
. This is where things were really, truly revealed. From me being jealous in the 1990s that the lead singer of one of my then favourite bands, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, had a girlfriend that was referred to throughout this part of the liner notes, to various record label folks who I would later work with myself throughout my career, the thank you portion of the record spelled out who had done what for whom. Kind of like a black book but inside the record sleeve.
7. What a pain in the ass it can be!
I used to DJ weekly back when I lived in California. I could either load up two huge books with hundreds of CDs, throw them into a bag and easily carry it over my shoulder; or I could give myself a minor hernia trudging in with my vinyl bag. While the CDs gave me thousands of songs to choose from, the vinyl, which took up much more space, was extremely unruly and could be unpredictable (if there was dust or if the needles of where you were playing were shit, and the record skipped). I could be five pints of gin and tonics in, and still easily be able to throw in a CD and keep the party going. With vinyl, I had to be focused, I had to accurate, I had to be IN THE MOMENT making choices. I remember once DJing a night when I did all vinyl. As I once again schlepped my vinyl bag off the stage, the DJ following me just smirked at how ‘old fashioned’ I was, as he plugged in his computer, and started running Serato, a program that pretty much automatically mixes the songs for you at the touch of a button. What fun is that? What talent is that? Give me the vinyl with all its peccadillos and skill, hell, even the hernia, every time.
8. The discovery
When I was a kid, there was this one sound track that I desperately wanted. It was from the movie Valley Girl. Apparently, the producers had not gotten permission for all the songs featured in the movie, but had already pressed up about 1,000 copies of promos, which had already been released. I searched my local used record store, Logo’s in Santa Cruz, every Saturday for this record, in the very off chance that they may have it. I never found it there, but I did find a lot of other amazing gems. Being on the hunt, digging through the crates, is a joy like no other. Finding something on eBay is not even close.
9. Yes, I will go there – the sounds
I love the snaps, the pops, the crackles as much as anyone else. But I also love that vinyl is by nature not a perfect format for sound- the flaws reflect the humanity that makes music.
10. The friends and community
Nothing is better than going to the record store and gabbing with other people about what they are into, what is new and fab, or what needs to be purchased, STAT, to complete a record collection.
You can order your copy of “Why Vinyl Matters” here.