What is The Allure of Records?

By Leah Buist.

For some, it’s a pale blue portable turntable that sits perched on top of a chest of drawers in the corner of the room with a little wooden basket lying on the floor close by, containing a very modest yet adored collection of records. Yet for others, it’s an all-encompassing library built into the foundations of the house itself. A colossal wall of vinyl, arranged into tribes and structured around a state-of-the-art turntable with a separately connecting sound system. A creation that proudly claims its place as the centrepiece of the room. Or perhaps even the house itself.

But for all, it’s the enjoyment found in the tactile nature of thumbing through a multitude of thin, cardboard sleeves. Peering between each of the twelve-inch square albums which lie sandwiched together on the shelf. Pulling them apart ever so slightly to gaze upon the hidden title on the front and then selecting the one that catches your attention, holding it up in front of you with proud admiration.

It’s the feeling of pulling the black, plastic, disc out from the protective sleeve in which it resides in and holding it only by its edge. Placing it down on the turntable with steady hands and lifting the needle before positioning it carefully upon the record.

It’s the excitement and thrill of hearing that first pop and crackle before the music begins to thunder out from the speaker.

Last year vinyl sales reached new heights when 5.5 million records were sold in the UK, marking the highest total since 1990 and the 15th consecutive year of growth, according to statistics from the British Photographic Industry (BPI).

The sale of records also topped CDs for the first time since 1988 as vinyl sales hit £116.8 million last year.

Vinyl albums also represented 31.7% of all physical purchases in 2022, with some of the bestselling albums belonging to Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, and the Arctic Monkeys.

The popularity of vinyl LPs follows a trend that has been steadily developing in the UK over the last decade or so as the increase in the demand for vinyl continues to climb.

The overwhelming resurgence of records is in many ways surprising considering that the continuous development of new technology has meant that music has never been so easily accessible.

Online streaming giants such as Spotify have completely transformed the way we listen to music, and what we now have to work with is a much more convenient technology that feels worlds away from the days of having no choice but to listen to music on clunky vinyl LPs.

When taking this into consideration, the prevalent revival of a more traditional medium can no doubt be a puzzling yet compelling concept for many to begin to understand.

Writer for Reader’s Digest, Maria Vole said: “Given the technological advances in the music industry, vinyl should have been rendered extinct long ago. And yet, vinyl sales have been steadily increasing”.

What is it about vinyl that has encouraged a revival? What is the allure of records?

Maria said: “For a lot of people, putting on a record and listening to it from beginning to end is a deeper, more personal experience than flitting from artist to artist, from song to song on Spotify.

“There’s a ritualistic aspect to vinyl that a lot of people are drawn to, too. The act of putting a record on—carefully removing the record from the sleeve, placing it on the record player and gently dropping the needle on the right groove—is a more assiduous, mindful way of engaging with music”.

Gareth Murphy, an author for music magazine Long Live Vinyl, said: “Of all the formats ever invented, the vinyl record has the biggest personality.

“It’s the artwork you’d proudly hang on your wall. It’s the warm sound of analogue. It’s the way that albums tell better stories when they’ve two sides. It’s the ritual of carefully sliding the record out of its sleeve and hooking up the needle, with its delicious crackle”.

Perhaps then the reason that records have made their return can be explained by their unique charm and the strong sense of pricelessness that listening to albums on vinyl generates.

Records bring to the table something far greater than the simple act of listening to music as they create a unique experience that cannot be matched or replicated by any other media format.

Arguably Scotland’s capital of live music, Glasgow city is home to various popular record shops including Strip Joint Records located in Finnieston.

Owned by one of the most enthusiastic music lovers I’ve ever met, Paul Bright said: “Vinyl is a much more immersive experience. If I buy that Mac Millar album, me and Mac are going home and sitting down together. I don’t have my phone, I’m not cooking, I’m just listening”.

Fellow music enthusiast and owner of Missing Records, Martin Hill said: “If you put a record on, you’re fully engaging with the music and taking part in the full experience. If you just stream stuff, it’s background noise.

“There’s also this physical attachment to what you’re doing, the click of the record, the sleeve, the sound. Listening to music on a record comes with a whole package of engaging with it, you can’t replace that experience”.

Listening to music on a record also forces you to engage with the album in the way that artists intended for it to be enjoyed. Martin said: “There’s a particular structure to what an LP is. There’s a strong opener and a strong finisher and the same again on the other side.

“With streaming, all your doing is picking out certain tracks and ignoring the way it was intended to be listened to. It’s like taking the best bits out of a book. You have to listen to an album as it was made”.

Paul said: “If you have an album on vinyl then that’s top tier, that’s as it was intended. Streaming is channel surfing and buying a record is sitting down and watching a film and I don’t think music should be channel surfed.

“If you have albums on vinyl, it means that you’ve invested something into it. If you love something enough you want to own it. Imagine claiming a band or an album as your favourite thing in the world but not investing in it. That’s like claiming you love piano but not trying it for yourself”.

Yet there’s something more to records even beyond the immersive experience or enhanced appreciation of artists. It’s the memories that latch onto these square, cardboard creations and the fragile plastic discs that are protected inside.

“I bought Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones when I was fourteen in Tower Records on Argyle Street” Paul explained as he reminisced on the first record he ever purchased: “God, I can tell you what I had for dinner on the days I bought a record! I remember where I was with every record too.

“Records are like an old pair of jeans, the older they get the better they look! When I die, there’s not going to be an immaculate record collection left behind, they will be scuffed, chipped, lived in. But that’s how it should be, they say something about me and each one has a sentimental and personal attachment to me and my life”.

For Glasgow student Alice Green, its London Calling by The Clash, one of her dad’s old records, that emits comfort and sentimentality: “That album was one of his favourites and you can really tell, by the time I found it, it had been played so much there were scratches and warps all over the place. It’s part of the listening experience though, it adds to the story of that particular record, and whenever I give it a spin ill always think of my dad”.

The allure of records exists in their multifaceted nature in the many different ways they can be enjoyed and engaged with. Listening to music through a record is more than just about the music, there’s a unique and sentimental experience that comes alongside it.

The age-defying charm of vinyl LPs can be explained by their innate soul and sentimentality and our predominantly virtual society perhaps only enhances our desire for something more tangible that can be physically enjoyed.

Those records that lie in the modest little wooden crate or the ones that sit upright like soldiers, all tightly packed together in the custom wooden bookcase that hugs the wall. Those albums, and the records that you have in your collection too, all contain stories, memories, and personalities that have allowed records to not only live beyond their expected expiration date but to also be enjoyed through countless generations past and undoubtedly many more to come.