Flashy new discs and that old cozy sound have got the iPod generation giving LPs a spin.
by Kristina Dell in Time
Like the comeback of Puma sneakers or vintage T-shirts, vinyl's resurgence has benefited rom its retro-rock aura. Many young listeners discovered LP's after they rifled through their parents' collections looking for oldies and found that they liked the warmer sound quality of records, the more elaborate album covers and liner notes that come with them, and the experience of putting one on and sharing it with friends, as opposed to plugging in some earbuds and listening alone. "Bad sound on an iPod has had an impact on a lot of people going back to vinyl," says David MacRunnel, a 15-year-old high school sophomore from Creve Coeur, Mo., who owns more than 1,000 records.
The music industry, hoping to find another revenue source that doesn't easily lend itself to illegal downloads, has happily jumped on the bandwagon. Contemporary artists like the Killers and Ryan Adams have begun issuing their new releases on vinyl in addition to the CD and MP3 formats. As an extra lure, many labels are including coupons for free audio downloads, with their vinyl albums so that Generation Y music fans can get the best of both worlds: high-quality sound at home and iPod portability for the road. Also, vinyl's different shapes (hearts, triangles) and eye-catching designs (bright colors, sparkles) are created to appeal to a younger audience. While new records sell for about $14, used LPs go for as little as a penny -- perfect for a teenager's budget -- or as much as $2,400 for a collectible, autographed copy of Beck's Steve Threw Up.
Vinyl records are just a small scratch on the surface when it comes to total album sales -- only about 0.2%, compared to 10% for digital downloads and 89.7% or CDs, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- but these numbers may underrepresent the vinyl trend since they don't always include sales at smaller indie shops where vinyl does best. Still, 990,000 vinyl albums were sold in 2007, up 15.4% from the 858,000 units bought in 2006. Mike Dreese, CEO of Newbury Comics, a New England chain of independent music retailers that sells LPs and CDs, says his vinyl sales were up 37% last year, and Patrick Amory, general manager of indie label Matador Records, whose artists include Cat Power and the New Pornographers, claims, "We can't keep up with the demand."
Big players are starting to take notice too. "It's not a significant part of our business, but there is enough there for me to take someone and have half their time devoted to making vinyl a real business," says John Esposito, president and CEO of WEA Corp., the U.S. distribution company of WEA Corp., the U.S. distribution company of Warner Music Group, which posted a 30% increase in LP sales in 2006. In October 2007, Amazon.com introduced a vinyl-only store and increased its selection to 150,000 titles across 20 genres. Its biggest sellers? Alternative rock, followed by classic rock albums. "I'm not saying vinyl will become a mainstream format, just like gourmet eating is not going to take over from McDonald's," says Michael Fremer, senior contributing editor at Stereophile. "But there is a growing group of people who are going back to a high-resolution format." Here are some of the reasons they're doing it and why you might want to consider it:
Sound quality LPs generally exhibit a warmer, more nuanced sound than CDs and digital downloads. MP3 files tend to produce tinnier notes, especially if compressed into a lower-resolution format that pares down the sonic information. "Most things sound better on vinyl, even with the crackles and pops and hisses," says MacRunnel, the young Missouri record collector.
Album extras Large album covers with imaginative graphics, pullout photos (some even have full-size posters tucked in the sleeve) and liner notes are a big draw for young fans. "Alternative rock used to have 16-page booklets and album sleeves, but with iTunes there isn't anything collectible to show I own a piece of this artist," says Dreese of Newbury Comics. In a nod to modern technology, albums known as picture discs come with an image of the band or artist printed on the vinyl. "People who are used to CDs see the artwork and the colored vinyl, and they think it's really cool," says Jordan Yates, 15, a Nashville-based vinyl enthusiast. Some LP releases even come with bonus tracks not on the CD version, giving customers added value.
Social experience Crowding around a record player to listen to a new album with friends, discussing the foldout photos, even getting up to flip over a record makes vinyl a more socially interactive way to enjoy music. "As far as a communal experience, like with family and friends, it feels better to listen to vinyl," says Jason Bini, 24, a recent graduate of Fordham University. "It's definitely more social."
A new duets album pairs music legend Anne Murray with a who's-who of top female recording artists.
Anne Murray Duets: Friends & Legends showcases a wide variety of Anne's favorite female vocalists. Among the album's tracks and collaborating artists are "Snowbird" with Sarah Brightman, "You Needed Me" with Shania Twain, "Nobody Loves Me Like You Do" with Anne's daughter Dawn Langstroth, "Danny's Song" with Martina McBride, "Another Pot O' Tea" with Emmylou Harris, "A Little Good News" with Indigo Girls, "Cotton Jenny" with Olivia Newton-John, "Could I Have This Dance" with Amy Grant, "Daydream Believer" with Nelly Furtado, "A Love Song" with k.d. lang, "Time Don't Run Out On Me" with the song's writer, Carole King.
In 1979, Anne and Dusty Springfield each recorded the song "I Just Fall In Love Again." Anne's version became a hit single that garnered her Canada's Juno Award for Single of the Year in 1980. Anne and Dusty remained friends until Dusty's passing in 1999, and for Anne, releasing an album with this type of sisterly theme wouldn't seem complete without Dusty's inclusion. With the blessing of the Springfield family and estate, a new version pairing Dusty's original with Anne's newly recorded vocals is featured on the album.
Anne Murray Duets: Friends & Legends was produced by one of the most respected music producers in the world, Phil Ramone (Tony Bennett, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel), who counts 14 Grammy Awards and 32 Grammy nominations among his many honors. Together, Anne and Phil decided they would treat the songs on their own terms and not adhere rigidly to the arrangements of Anne's classic versions. While Anne had designs on how she imagined the arrangements, she gave Phil free rein to rework the songs.
"We approached the sessions as if we were just handed these songs and told to make this record," explains Ramone. "While arrangements were changed, there are also licks on some songs that I didn't mess with. We stayed true to the song."
Working with Anne for the first time, Ramone adds, was an easy task. "What I love about Anne is there are no words minced about whatever she feels," he says. "This is not a person you have to think, 'Will she tell me the truth?' When we met for a few hours in Michigan before we started, we agreed we wanted to bring some daring ideas and some freshness to this album."
"I said to Phil," joked Anne, "The only reason I asked you was that I'm the only singer left that you haven't worked with!"
"I've done duets throughout my career," Anne says. "I did duets when I started out on (CBC Television's) Singalong Jubilee. I did a duets album in 1971 with Glen Campbell. Growing up I did a lot of group singing at school and sang with my brothers. I've always loved singing harmony."
Since releasing her debut album in 1967, Anne Murray has been honored with a spectacular number of awards. She is the proud recipient of four Grammy Awards, three American Music Awards, three Country Music Association Awards, three Canadian Country Music Awards and twenty-four Juno Awards. Anne has also been honored with the Legacy Award from the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame (2006), the East Coast Music Association Directors' Special Achievement Award (2001), induction into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame (2002), and induction into the Juno Hall of Fame (1993).
Anne will tour several U.S. cities in February and March 2008, starting with a February 9 show at the Providence (R.I.) Performing Arts Center.
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