Viewpoint: Forget spin-offs; vinyl is better

Jon Platt | Reporter
Jon Platt | Reporter

By Jon Platt

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I’d like to make a statement: Music is better on vinyl.

As I write this, a Mahalia Jackson record spins on my turntable. Her voice echoes through my apartment and I feel something. Truly, I’m feeling something.

Sure, her words, which in this instance are to the old African-American spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead,” have power. However, the medium that projects her words carries just as strong a weight.

It’s not exclusively old gospel songs that vinyl brings to life. In an ironically humorous dichotomy, I took Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” — arguably one of the most famous albums of all time — off in exchange for Mahalia.

Classic rock, sacred gospel, country-western, folk and even classic pop all come alive when played under a needle.

While the analog — a word we often confuse to be synonymous with “useless” — and physical nature of the turntable do give the music a distinct and superior sound, I think it’s in the music’s philosophy as to why the time of vinyl produced such great art.
Sunday, I read an article over Glen Campbell’s recent album, tour and accompanying documentary. Campbell announced in 2011 that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In 2012, he began a final goodbye tour and in September he released his final song “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.”

When I finished reading about the documentary and the final song of Campbell’s historic career, I went to purchase “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” Five songs are on the album, “I’ll Be Me” — Campbell’s last songs that he will be able to produce because of his ailment. I bought three.

What’s wrong with that? Purchasing songs individually is a very common thing to do in the iTunes era.

But what about the other half of the album?

In 1969, music came holistically.

You couldn’t purchase half of The Beatles’ “Abbey Road.” You bought all 17 of Harrison’s, Starr’s, Lennon’s and McCartney’s songs at once, unless you purchased the pre-released 45 single of “Something” and “Come Together.” There was no mix-tape style vinyl. You either bought those two songs or the album as a whole.

“But I don’t like John Lennon,” you’d say. “I only want to listen to what Paul McCartney wrote.”

“Tough luck,” the record store employee would reply.

The only way you could buy half a record in the ’60s was to slice it down the middle. But what good is that?

In previous generations, music was not only purchased holistically, it was produced that way.

When you listen to Pink Floyd’s famous rock opera album “The Wall” in its entirety, you learn that the album actually tells a story. This story is about Pink, a hopeless musician. Pink lives in a time of distrust toward authority. He and his family live in fear of imminent bomb barrage. His father died in World War II. His teachers are tyrannous. And he dreams of breaking out.

Pink’s story was the same as many in the ’60s and ’70s. The album told a story that connected, truly connected, to the hearts of listeners.

Does Taylor Swift’s latest work do that? No. Because the industry is about selling singles, not storied albums.

Doesn’t a story of struggle to escape oppression sound better than another breakup loop?

Don’t get me wrong, I love Swift’s work. I pre-purchased “1989,” her album that released Monday, on iTunes the day she announced it. I’m excited to listen to more of the “new,” pop-centric Swift.

But I’m more excited for Pink Floyd’s new album, which gets its name, “The Endless River,” from the last line of their last album. With more than a 20-year hiatus for the group, there’s much anticipation.

I’ll probably buy “The Endless River” on iTunes, but it will do no justice to the record, which I’ll spin and cherish the rest of my life.

Because vinyl is where true music lives, with all its pops and crackle.

Jon Platt is a junior journalism major from Kilgore. He is a reporter for the Lariat.