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In defense of record players

LPs are not only an important source of pleasure but also edification

September 13, 2019

5:40 PM

13 September 2019

5:40 PM

Oh, dear. Joe Biden is being dinged, or needled, as it were, about his stray remark last night that every American household should boast a record player to help educate young children in the evening. But seldom has there been a bummer rap. It would be hard to think of a more salutary suggestion.

It’s no secret that black gold, as it is known among its aficionados, has made a comeback over the past decade or so, even outselling CDs. The Beatles sold more than 300,000 albums in 2018. Once you start buying LPs, it’s hard to stop. Just this morning I myself was tidying up my basement lair, restocking a few Tchaikovsky as well as a wonderful Oscar Peterson LP. As someone who has amassed a collection numbering in the thousands, primarily classical and jazz, I felt a warm burst of pride as Biden touted the glories of vinyl.

Fundamentally, Biden’s message was one that conservatives should welcome. The medium itself, after all, is a form of conservation — LPs are more hardy than the master tapes that are originally used to produce them and there’s a lot of actual history behind them. On a recent trip to Montreal, for example, I headed to the Emil Berliner museum with my 14-year-old son to learn more about the origins of the medium. Berliner, who emigrated to America from Germany, was the inventor of the phonograph disc and had a factory on the National Mall here in Washington, DC. Today, Deutsche Grammophon has named its recording studios after him.

Nor is this all. LPs have a number of benefits that promote steadfast habits among the youth. They have to be handled carefully as it’s easy to impregnate them with finger oils. It’s also a good idea to clean them carefully to ensure that the stylus doesn’t become gummed up with dust. Then there is the fact that much of the music extant on LPs by definition hails from the past.

LPs also tend to work against the ADD culture. Plopping down an LP on a platter, maneuvering a tonearm into place and lowering the stylus into the lead-in groove requires forethought and care. It’s a commitment. I’ve regularly found that I listen more attentively to an LP than a CD. Don’t get me wrong: CDs have some great attributes such as convenience and dead-quiet backgrounds. But LPs have gotten something of a bum rap in the past. With the refinement of LP reproduction technology and the emergence of new pressing plants in American and Europe, it’s possible to enjoy very quiet and dynamic vinyl playback, coupled with a certain warmth that records seem to possess. Plus there is something enticing about the magnanimity of an LP cover. They look much snazzier than the diminutive plastic CD case and often contain a wealth of information on the back jacket that’s easily readable.

Biden’s recommendation should be earning him laurels, not brickbats. LPs are not only an important source of pleasure but also edification. His comments further reveal that, far from being a radical, he is a man who appreciates the importance of the past for the present.


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