Teenage dreams so hard to beat: my life with vinyl


It’s said that inside every 50-year-old there’s an 18-year-old wondering what happened. That’s me to a tee. But now I can get in touch with my inner teenager again.

The long-playing vinyl record – the LP – is making a comeback. This year, sales of vinyl LPs are expected to top one million for the first time in almost two decades.

Surprisingly 18 to 24-year-olds are the biggest customers. It’s all new to the generation that never experienced the Troubles, watched Starsky and Hutch on primetime TV, or put eye-liner on to look like Marc Bolan (okay, I didn’t do that either).

Not only are they rediscovering classic albums from the sixties, seventies and eighties when the LP was the gold standard in music, but they are snapping up contemporary artists too. To be credible your new releases must be available on 180gm vinyl.

The cynic in me says it’s just another way of the music industry squeezing even more money out of me. Hands up everyone who dumped their LPs for cassettes, and then CDs? I have bought many favourite albums in multiple formats. I must confess, I’ve even downloaded digital versions of some CDs I was too lazy to copy into iTunes.

But to people who love it, music is more than just a commodity. We don’t pay for the format, but the experience. Music, and the type of music we like, is part of our identity.

Last week, as I was handing over 20 quid for Dark Side of the Moon to a teenager on the till in HMV, my personal cynic was whispering: “Rip-off, you can get that on CD for less than £6, and by the way you don’t even like Pink Floyd.”

But I’d rather be a romantic than a cynic.

The teenager in me (remember I am an 18-year-old trapped inside a 55-year-old’s body) was transported back to Carlin Records in seventies Newry, sifting through the LPs. I was always hunting one that would make me look cool in our sixth-form common room where we had a clapped-out turntable.

With the first LP I’d brought back to college, I had made a mistake – almost fatal. Even in the mid-seventies, “Neil Sedaka’s Greatest Hits” was not cool. I still can’t listen to “O Carol” without wincing. The class bully had a field day.

Last month, a wave of nostalgia led to me parting with a fistful of dollars for the vinyl re-release of Rocket to Russia by punk rockers The Ramones. This was a reminder of my pogo dancing days. I wasn’t really a big Ramones fan, but my mates were cooler than me, and they were into the Ramones – big-time.

So what is it about vinyl? If someone said you could make sweet music by putting one of the hardest materials known to man onto one of the softest, you would tell them where to go. But remarkably, a diamond stylus connecting with the groove in a record can be a stairway to heaven for anyone willing to go there.

It’s all about the music. I don’t have a lot of time for hi-fi fanatics – they tend to be more interested in the kit.

A friend of mine loved his hi-fi. He had a state-of-the-art Linn Sondek LP12 (a new one today starts at £2,700). It was his pride and joy. But one Saturday morning, when I put one of his LPs on the turntable, I noticed – just in time – a splodge of dried-in marmalade on track two. I’d caught him out. He rarely listened to music. It was all about the machine.

But there is something special about an LP. OK, maybe my mind is playing tricks when I think the sound is better (and it is, even with the odd click).

I love the ritual, easing it from its sleeve, holding it like a new-born baby in case it comes to grief, lining up the needle and letting it drop. I love the thump-thump-thump like a beating heart when the stylus reaches the end of a side. I love the fact that I have to get up and turn the record over.

In a world where everything is done for us, there is something satisfying in being part of the process of making the music happen – I could just be picking up the guitar and recapturing my teenage kicks.

* A version of this article appeared in The Irish News on November 4 2014