Vinyl Records

For as long as cd’s have been available, I’ve heard audiophile after audiophile bemoan the quality of binary digital hi-fi. I’ve never counted myself amongst this group of audio purists. But I think I understand their plight a little better now.

You see, I’m one of those obsessive mix-tape makers. This past week I sent a Grooveshark playlist to a friend. There was no careful selection of tracks to ensure good song transitions and such.

No, instead this was simply selecting the album Quadrophenia by The Who from 1973 in Grooveshark’s simple browser interface. Once I’d made a playlist of the full album, I “shared” it with my friend via e-mail.

This friend has the fancy-schmancy Grooveshark app on his Google Nexus-One phone (Android FTW). He probably has never so much as dropped a needle on a vinyl record. So I was thinking about how my friend might be enjoying the album on his phone.

The thought occurred to me that he doesn’t have the album cover – and what a great album cover it is.

The Who Quadrophenia Album Cover

This is a double album of original material. As a listening experience, Quadrophenia is an immersive piece with a multi-character storyline. Since the narrative is dominant, the album art serves as a sepia-infused mood enhancer to go with the music. It folds open to more detail from the off-season Brighton beach. (What a great setting for a story like this: anything more depressing than a beach town in winter?)

Does this sound like stoner talk yet? Humor me a bit longer.

As a kid who grew up listening to vinyl records on a taped cassette (I never did buy myself a record-player), album art was the perfect accompaniment to listening to the record. When it was done right, that is: with great care by the artist. album art was glorious. And I submit here that the slow return of vinyl records is more a function of people enjoying the big broad album artwork than it is an audio thing.

I have another friend who sells vinyl records on eBay. As a service to his customers, he will record the album to MP3’s and burn a disc to mail along with the record. This goes to prove my point further: people want the convenience of digital formats but yearn for the artistry that was once the great album cover and sleeve design world of the 60’s & 70’s.

To a certain extent, web design has replaced great album art. I see good website design in that light – as great album art in which to enjoy a recorded experience whether that be embedded audio, video or written work.

All hail the great album cover. Long live rock. The Queen is dead. Long live the vinyl record and good website design.