On Christmas morning this year, I woke up to hear one of my favorite Christmas albums, Noel by Joan Baez, playing softly. It took me a minute to figure out that the sound was indeed coming from our house, and Zach’s grin told me that I was hearing his Christmas gift to me. Since I didn’t own that CD yet, I was overjoyed. However, when we got out of bed and stepped into the living room, I was shocked to see that it wasn’t a CD playing— it was a real-life vinyl album, humming and wheeling on a brand-new record player. (Zach had woken up before me and plugged the player into a timer so it would go off right about when I woke up.) I was so happy I broke down crying, and Zach won many points for style.
We had exactly four albums to start our collection: in addition to Noel, the Steely Dan albums The Royal Scam and Gaucho, and the soundtrack for the movie The Sting. We listened to these over the next few days, and I was awed and enchanted by the warm sound of the music, the whirring of the record player, and the soft crackling sound like sparks popping in a fireplace.
In addition to the atmospheric quality of the music, I’ve really enjoyed the idea of owning a physical manifestation of music. This isn’t like a CD, which holds data that translates into the sounds of music— the sound waves are physically molded into the surface of the vinyl, just waiting for a stylus to release them into an amplified sound we can hear. This concept is still pure magic to me.
Albums also invite a different kind of listening experience. I love that you can’t skip songs, that you can’t rush through an album or put it on shuffle— a record player encourages you to listen from start to finish, to view an album as a single unit instead of just a collection of songs. On my iTunes account I have a ton of shuffle playlists, but it’s nice to take a break and focus on just one album at a time.
Assembling an album collection is like hunting for buried treasure. Since Christmas, I’ve been raiding all the local bookstores, Slackers, thrift shops, and record stores, shuffling through stacks of cardboard sleeves in search of my favorite albums. We’ve found quite a stack of treasures already: Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme (one of my all-time favorite albums) and Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Police’s Synchronicity, Rush’s Moving Pictures, more Steely Dan albums, a mixed album of The Who’s old songs, and some classical music. The collection is unique and special to me, and contains some gems that I wouldn’t have listened to otherwise.
Almost every day, I put a record on and listen to it while I’m washing dishes or cleaning the dining room. Sometimes I sing along, belting out my mediocre tone in melody or harmony with Geddy Lee or Roger Daltrey. My vinyl collection fills my life with music in a way I’ve never experienced before, and that’s always a good thing.