This article appeared in the August 2012 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
1. “I Want You Back” (Or: Dust off that turntable, darlin’.)
Oh baby give me one more chance
To show you that I love you
Won’t you please send me back in your heart?
— The Jackson 5
There is a scene in an episode of Freaks and Geeks, the short-lived Judd Apatow TV production about high school nerds and burnouts set in the early 1980s, in which the main character, geek-turned-freak Lindsay Weir, plays her first Grateful Dead album. It’s American Beauty, the album with the rose on the cover encircled by the title. Your dad probably has a copy in the attic.
She pulls the black oversized disc from its sleeve, places it on the turntable in her room and aims the needle at the first groove. When the music starts, Lindsay stares hard at the album cover, flipping it over to look at song titles, running times, credits and other back-cover minutiae — the kinds of must-know details that music fans of a certain age memorized as if by osmosis, the information seeping into the good vibrations of pet sounds. Soon enough, our time-warped character is swaying across the room — with the Dead, you sway, you don’t dance — album cover in hand, only breaking her spell to move the needle back again, to hear that last song one more time. And one more time. And one more time.
That was the experience of listening to music in the pre-CD, pre-digital age. You listened with ears, eyes and mind open — and without distraction, focused wholly on the art of the band by what you held and heard and felt through the physical act of moving that needle onto that spinning disc of vinyl.
Ben Jones remembers. “It takes a little effort to listen to vinyl,” he says. With newer forms,“you lose that effort, you lose part of the sound, part of the soul.” He can still recall the first album he ever heard. It was Jimmy Reed’s Bright Lights, Big City. “My mother played me that when I was in the crib,” says Jones, the 52-year-old owner of Better Days Records in the Highlands and the West End. “She said I would point at the album when I wanted to hear it.” His first purchase? “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5. Jones was in sixth grade.
Now he sees sixth-graders flipping through the bins of vinyl records at his Bardstown Road store. “I think the physical product is re-catching on,” he says.
Charlie Green, another veteran of the music industry in Louisville, has noticed the same thing. “The public seemed to miss what you got with a 33 1/3 record,” says Green, who has owned Magnetic Tape Recorder, selling and servicing sound equipment, including turntables, for 21 years. “More young people are dragging out their parents’ records, finding records at yard sales and finding that the old music sounds pretty good.”
Nationally, sales of vinyl LPs were up 36 percent last year, ahead of even digital album sales (up 19.5 percent). Meanwhile, sales of CDs dropped almost 6 percent. Here in Louisville, the much-mourned closing of ear X-tacy last October has been salved somewhat by the opening of Matt Anthony’s Record Shop in Butchertown, Astro Black Records at Quills Coffee in the Highlands and what amounts to the biggest vinyl record store in town when the Flea Off Market meets the second Saturday of each month. Plus, Jones’ reincarnated Better Days Records celebrates its one-year anniversary Aug. 1 at its Bardstown location, having done well enough to expand by 500 square feet — the better to accommodate, yes, vinyl.
By our count, and we could be missing a record bin or three hiding at the back of a coffee shop or hardware store — vinyl seems to be everywhere these days — 18 shops in the Louisville area sell vinyl records. Not bad for a product that has been pronounced dead more often than Cher’s career.
What’s it all mean? “Oh my God, I miss record stores!” says Matt Anthony, mimicking the comment he says he has heard more than any other since he opened his shop June 1 to a long line of customers waiting to buy stacks of wax.