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You spin me ‘round : Record revival introduces new generation to the sound of vinyl
by Corbin Crable
Vinyl Record’s Time to Shine
If media formats are cyclical, the early 21st century is the vinyl record’s time to shine once again.
Since the early 2000s, records have once again found favor to the music-listening public; for Baby Boomers and early Gen X-ers, its appeal never diminished, with many individuals proudly displaying their coveted record collection over the years. In 2020, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, records outsold CDs for the first time since 1986.
The record is likely a lot older than you may think, and their beginnings can be traced back to that great American inventor you learned about in elementary school, Thomas Edison. He invented the phonograph in 1877; that device had the capability of both recording and playing sound. A stylus (or needle) would rotate around a metal cylinder with grooves carved into it.
The cylinder contained the recorded noise. These cylinders were made of tin foil and, in the later years of the 19th century, they were made of wax.
Birth of the disc
Record discs didn’t come along until 1889, when an American inventor named Emile Berliner patented the gramophone, a close cousin to the record player we know today. Discs were produced to be played on the gramophone with the same general features as the previous generation’s wax cylinders. This time, the grooves could be found on the surface of the disc, and a hand-crank rotated the disc as a needle played the sound they contained. Early records were made of a thick shellac that was brittle and heavy; toward the dawn of the 20th century, vinyl was used, as it proved to be more durable.
According to magnoliarecord.com, disc sizes were determined by how many revolutions per minute (RPMs) the disc would spin at on the record player to create the desired speed. The first records were pressed at 78 RPMs, then 33 ½ RPM, and finally, at 45, the current format of singles pressed in vinyl.
Kansas Record Show in Lenexa
A vendor displays his handmade art at the annual Kansas Record Show in Lenexa. Photo by Corbin Crable
Kool Kat Music Exchange
Kool Kat Music Exchange, a music store inside St Joseph auction Antique Market in St. Joseph, MO., has an amazing collection of records, band and concert posters, and other music related items (photo courtsey of Facebook)
Enjoyed by young and old alike
Locally, merchants who sell records say that, unlike other music formats, they’ve seen vinyl’s appeal transcend generations.
“I’ll see great-grandparents come in with their children, who will come in with their children,” says Jeff Todd, owner of Vinyl Heaven, based in Overland Park, KS.
Todd says that more and more contemporary musical artists are releasing albums digitally and on vinyl, too, making the medium more appealing to younger generations. Syl uch youths also are digging into their parents’ cherished vinyl collections and discovering artists ranging from The Beatles to Pink Floyd to The Who.
“When you see the teens come in here, they’re listening to new music and their parents’ music,” Todd says. “You also see more couples come in together.”
Overland Park resident and vinyl collector Tom Gryska says that he and his wife are one of those couples; throughout the COVID pandemic, they began collecting movie soundtracks onj vinyl, then watching the film itself as a followup. Gryska’s collection numbers more than 2,500 vinyl albums, as well as seven turntables.
“The first album I purchased was Elton John’s ‘Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road,’” Gryska recalls of the first album he ever bought himself (he was 7 years old). “I‘d saved nickels and dimes.”
Gryska says “Yellow Brick Road” holds a special place in his heart because it reminds him of his father, who died last year.
“My dad was a music lover – he was into classical music and didn’t like rock, but he loved that Elton John album,” Gryska says.
Vinyl Heaven in Overland Park, KS, has been open since 2018. Photo courtesy of Jeff Todd
A place for vinyl lovers
Jeff Todd’s Vinyl Heaven has been in business since 2018, the same year that Todd founded the annual Kansas Record Show. The event takes place every fall at the VFW in Lenexa.
“My major motivation in opening my store was that I wanted to give people choice,” Todd says. “There are only two record stores in Overland Park.”
The record show, which started around the same time, began with a modest 70 attendees. Now, several hundred vinyl enthusiasts convene on the VFW every year to browse used and new vinyls, vintage record players, posters and other ephemera related to records. Todd says that the power of social media has helped boost the show’s attendance numbers tremendously.
“A lot of it was social media with some Facebook and radio advertising,” he says.
Todd says the couples he sees come in to both his store and the annual record show display a great passion for the format, and that they bond over that experience.
“I think it relates to couples doing things together they enjoy and they have in common,” he says. “You have people who listen to vinyl before they met.”
Stay home and tune in
That passion has only grown throughout the last year and a half, Todd observes, due to mandated quarantines that have been put into place with the spread of COVID-19.
It could all come back to staying home and listening ot vinyl together. “Our business increased 100 percent last year due to COVID,” Todd shares. “It could all come back to staying at home and listening to vinyl together.”
Todd says he thinks fans of vinyl records are loyal to the format for a multitude of reasons.
“There’s a group of vinyl users who have never really did stop listening to music on records,” he notes. “There are a number of CDs being released for younger groups, and they’re even being released as albums instead of CDs. They’re doing a lot of color albums now to attract younger folks.”
Those purists who prefer to listen to their music in a physical format can best be compared to book lovers who wish to hold a book in their hands instead of a Kindle or other electronic reading device.
“They want to touch it, feel it, hold it, have it in their hands. The artwork on the albums cannot be reproduced in the CD format,” Todd says. “The other part of the equation is that you’re seeing record players being given as gifts. Some (recipients) will keep them forever, or they’ll buy a stereo.”
Gryska counts himself among those vinyl fans who adore the feel of a record in his hands.
“The reason for vinyl’s staying power is because you have that physical item you can hold and look at,” Gryska says. “And people come over and they want to see how my turntable works.”
In addition to records, other items such as vintage turntables were up for sale at the Kansas Record Show this year. Photo by Corbin Crable
Offerings Like Beatles' albums
Offerings at the Kansas Record Show include more commonly released Beatle albums, as well as a few rare surprises. Photo by Corbin Crable
“A richer, warmer sound”
Many fans of vinyl will even go so far as to say that they enjoy the sound that vinyl records provide over digital music or compact disc.
“It’s a richer, warmer sound,” he says, “and CDs are too sterile.”
Gryska says he agrees with Todd’s opinion about sound quality.
“There’s a warmness to vinyl,” he observes. “CDs may not have that feeling. I love the sound of that needle hitting the vinyl.”
As for his own personal collection, Todd says he is most proud to own the Beatles’ 1968 White Album on vinyl. Copy 0000001 of The White Album, owned by Ringo Starr, sold at auction in December for $790,000.
On the other side of the Kansas/Missouri state line is the Kool Kat Music Exchange in St. Joseph, MO. Specializing in all kinds of vinyls from classic rock to classic country, Kool Kat is a vinyl collector’s paradise, offering an eclectic mix of music to satisfy just about any taste. In addition to the Kool Kat’s massive vinyl inventory, music equipment, band promos, band t-shirts, and posters line the walls of the store, beckoning to both its loyal customers and to novice collectors.
It’s your day
The popularity of vinyl has even lent itself to its own holiday – Record Store Day, celebrated every April since 2008. The day is just as much a celebration of the spirit and importance of small businesses as it is of record stores in particular.
“This is a day for the people who make up the world of the record store—the staff, the customers, and the artists—to come together and celebrate the unique culture of a record store and the special role these independently owned stores play in their communities,” according to www.recordstoreday.com. “Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day. Festivities include performances, cook-outs, body painting, meet & greets with artists, parades, DJs spinning records, and on and on. In 2008 a small list of titles was released on Record Store Day and that list has grown to include artists and labels both large and small, in every genre and price point. For several years, 60% or more of the Record Store Day Official Release List came from independent labels and distributors. The list continues to include a wide range of artists, covering the diverse taste of record stores and their customers.”
Todd says the holiday brings vinyl lovers together with sales, promotions and specials at participating stores across the country and around the world.
“Indie owners have the support of Record Store Day when we have exclusive limited releases out by artists,” he explains. “It’s an internationally celebrated holiday. You can’t get those releases at Walmart. It’s a real trip. People line up for that stuff.”
The power of nostalgia
At Vinyl Heaven, in addition to the records that keep flying off the shelves, Todd’s store is adding more cassettes and even 8-Tracks to its inventory, as both formats are growing in popularity once again. Still, he predicts, vinyl is here to stay for quite a while.
“I think it will continue to stay strong,” he says.
To Todd, the overall popularity of vinyl is fueled by nostalgia. Music captures a special place, a feeling, a time in the memories of its listeners that lives on with them forever.
“Nostalgia plays a big role in all of this,” he says.
For Gryska, vinyls provide an everyday escapism that helps him unwind after a long day.
“I love to come home, pick out jazz or RB, and it’s very calming,” he says. “It’s my way of relaxing when I come home. It’s my getaway from the world.”
Relax and Listen
The main record collection of long time record collector, Tom Gryska of Overland Park, KS. (photo by Tom Gryska)