When word hit the street that John Travolta was coming to town, I couldn’t help but flash on two vivid memories: The first was my obsession, at the time, with the 1977 movie “Saturday Night Fever.” The second was how I wore down the plastic grooves playing (and replaying) the original soundtrack, double vinyl, stereo album. Oh, those Bee Gees!
(Travolta is a special guest at this week’s Napa Valley Film Festival and here both to tout his new film, “Life on the Line” — receiving its world premiere — and to collect a Celebrity Tribute for cinematic achievement.)
To relive my historic attempts trying to disco (picture super-wide, bell bottom jeans), I placed the 38-year-old album on our new turntable and was pleasantly surprised not to hear pops, scratches, skips or static. In fact, to my untrained ear, the sound quality was as good as it played “back in the day.”
It helps to have a “vinyl junkie” in your midst, someone who meticulously cleans, carefully stores and even alphabetizes his lifelong collection of more than 2,500 albums. When I was booking music at the Opera House, it was inevitable that my husband, Morrie, would have the 33 1⁄3 rpm of the artist(s) I was researching — not only seasoned artists, but to my surprise, contemporary singers and musicians as well.
As Buffalo Springfield once sang, on records, “There’s something happening here!”
Our friend Scott Yeager also collects vinyl and is a knowledgeable pro on the current trends, popularity and resurgence of record albums.
In the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, Yeager was the buyer/manager for Cymbaline Records with stores in Capitola and Monterey, as well as working stints at Tower Records and Borders Music (both “big box” stores are now closed).
Today, he is social media manager for City Hall Records/Runt, a San Rafael-based record distribution company whose catalog focuses on independent labels producing/re-issuing rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and world music genres.
“In Santa Cruz, the record store inventory was 90 percent vinyl, 9 percent cassettes and 1 percent CDs,” Yeager shared, “but by the 1990s, it was basically all CDs. There was very little vinyl being put out, and it was pretty much that way until 10 years ago. A small audience for vinyl started building slowly, and then it exploded — right around the time the music industry collapsed!”
Today, iTunes, and sites that stream music — Spotify, Napster, Pandora, Tidal — dominate music buying, according to Lee Barron of Newsweek, and brick-and-mortar stores devoted to vinyl are few and far between.
“But,” Barron claims, “a curious development in music consumption has seen vinyl, the format ostensibly rendered extinct by the compact disc with its ‘perfect’ digital sound, make an unlikely but significant cultural and commercial comeback. In an era in which even digital album sales have fallen, vinyl has bucked the trend. In 2014, record sales grew by more than 50 percent to hit more than a million, the highest since 1996 – and the upward curve has continued in 2015.”
Everything old is new again.
Yeager credits the uptick in vinyl sales to lifestyle and nostalgia. “Parents are turning the younger generation on to the records they grew up with, and they think that’s kind of neat,” he said. “Though vinyl is an imperfect system, some people think the sound is better, warmer, and then there’s the liner notes, photos, cover art, cardboard and now multi-colored vinyl — it’s tangible.”
Just in time for the holiday season, retail stores are jumping on the vinyl bandwagon. Target now sells the newest releases and remastered albums online. Urban Outfitters and Barnes & Noble sell special editions as major labels reissue back catalogs of popular and vintage favorites. Best Buy now offers portable and more sophisticated turntables, small enough for dorm and/or kids’ rooms.
I hear the Bee Gees calling — time to flip the record, carefully, to side two.