Life at 33 1/3

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Somewhere down the line there was this thing called an “album” or even an “LP record” that was supposed to be placed on a “turntable” (or simply a “record player”).  The thing was made of vinyl, had music on both sides, so you had to turn it to investigate its full contents.

Now, this strange invention was quite vulnerable, so it was placed in an “innersleeve” for protection, another word for a square envelope-like creation made of paper, and this again was placed inside an outer sleeve made of cardboard (sometimes glossy cardboard even) and sporting, hopefully, a striking photo or drawing or painting that would stop you dead in your tracks when you came across it shifting through the album sleeves in your local record store.

Is it time for vinyl records to make a comeback? (Photo/Wikipedia/Moehre1992)Is it time for vinyl records to make a comeback? (Photo/Wikipedia/Moehre1992)

The album sleeve was very important indeed, whether it was a single sleeve or a gatefold.  At 12″ plus it was the size of a small painting or a square coffee table book.  You could stick it on your wall, but most people preferred to study it while playing the music.  For some the sleeve had as much importance as the music it contained.  The two were inseparable.

The album was supposed to deliver a full listening experience for somewhere between 30 (early 60’s and even later in the US) and 45 minutes (including a 30 second break for turning the record over).  The program was quite different to that of a single record in that each tune did not necessarily sound like a million dollars.

An album took its time on you, there would be tunes in there that wasn’t that striking on first listen, but eventually they became as important for the complete picture as the more immediate winners.  The format was perfect for the ambitious musician as it wasn’t just aimed for the hit parade, but also had generous room for experiments.

In 2013 the album is but a fading memory.  People are into streaming now.  They don’t know anything about sleeves and overall concepts and stuff like that.  They are into tunes.  Downloaded or streamed, naked digitals of mystery, no sleeves, nothing to hold and study, just the audio ripped out of its context.  Aye, the album is close to extinction and so are all those tracks that never got to be hits or classics.

It might be that the CD did the dirty work as the expanded playing time combined with the fact that the record companies poured titles out as if it was going out of style (which it was), gave lesser talents too much room for dross and too little room for focus.  And what with the sorry excuses for “sleeves”, those miniature booklets that was hard enough to read even for young eyes.  MP3 took care of the CDs.  They are dying big time, and it is an ugly sight.

But against all odds, vinyl is slowly creeping back into the market.  There are shops specializing in vinyl now.  Are we in for a come-back?  Not just yet as the sales figures aren’t that impressive.  But they are growing.  Maybe some youngsters (to quote Ed Sullivan) have stumbled upon the secret of the 12″ delight and the mysteries of the gatefold album sleeve.  Then there is hope for the future.

Me, I will stick it out here in Pattaya Mail, presenting relics from the past, set the controls at 33 1/3, grab the sleeve and blast away at 11.

Look out in next week’s Mail for a review of Black Sabbath’s 1971 album release – “Master Of Reality.”