Barry Saunders

Saunders: Nothing sounds as sweet as crackling vinyl

These days, analog sound born from vinyl-playing vintage turntables is making a comeback, and finding an ear with both young and old music lovers.
These days, analog sound born from vinyl-playing vintage turntables is making a comeback, and finding an ear with both young and old music lovers. ASSOCIATED PRESS

It could’ve been a first date – or perhaps a first double-date – for the four young teens standing in line to get movie tickets at Brier Creek on Sunday.

“Oh, that album is bad,” one of the girls excitedly told her rapt friends. “I listened to the whole thing and every song on it is bad.”

Bad, for the unhip, means good.

I tapped her date on the shoulder, thinking it would seem less creepy for an old man to speak to a young boy that he doesn’t know than to a young girl that he doesn’t know.

When y’all are talking about albums, I said, do you mean those black things that go around on a turntable and you drop a needle onto it?

I was excited to hear someone that young sound so excited about music, especially about albums, and I was fixing to conclude that if kids not even old enough to drive had discovered the magic of music on records, then all hope is not yet lost for civilization.

Alas, such was not the case.

After a few seconds they grasped what I was asking. No, sir, they said, they were talking about CDs and only using the term “album” generically.

Dang. My confusion seems understandable to me. Albums – the real ones - seem to be making a comeback for some people. For others of us, they never went away. There’s a new HBO series called “Vinyl” about the 1970s record industry, and Barnes & Noble – right up the sidewalk from the movie theater – has a big sign on its front door advertising that the store has thousands of records. (Most are online, not – unfortunately – all in the store.)

When Sherri Johnson, manager of the Barnes & Noble at Brier Creek, told me the store has been selling vinyl for two years, I said, “Dang, how’d I miss that?”

When she said albums sell for $20 to $40 each, I said, “Oh, that’s how I missed it.” The last album I bought was a Van Morrison – “Someone Like You” – for which I paid $2 at a store off Franklin Street in Chapel Hill.

Who’s buying them? I asked.

“We’re getting people who grew up with them who are revitalizing their collection, and young people who grew up with CDs who are too young to even remember cassettes,” she said. Albums, she said, are outselling CDs.

Not surprising, since there is nothing about CDs that true audiophiles prefer over albums. Sure, their sound is clearer and they take up less space, but some of us cherish the crackling, popping, scratchy sound that comes from an oft-played 33 and  1/3. The flaws lend authenticity.

Johnson said performers such as Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus now put out all of their new releases on vinyl, and that the most popular Christmas gift in the store was the turntable.

My colleague, Josh Shaffer, wrote a tender column this week about a Raleigh man who owned 10,000 albums. I never met Bill Deaton, habitue of Triangle record stores before he died last week, and I consider that my loss: anyone who collected that much vinyl would’ve been a friend, no doubt.

Perhaps he would’ve let me borrow some, too.

Not, however, if he was anything like me.

Those of us old enough to know what albums are know that loaned albums are like reverse boomerangs – they never come back. That, perhaps, is why Shakespeare wrote, “Neither a borrower nor lender of albums be – because you most assuredly will not receiveth them back.”

There’s a childhood buddy of mine who, every time I see him, I’m tempted to ask, “Say, man. You still got my Parliament Funkadelic “Mothership Connection” album I loaned you in 1976?”

One reason I’ve never asked him for it is because I don’t want to appear petty, bringing up an album from 40 years ago.

The other reason is because he might ask me for the “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” album by Elton John that he loaned me that same year.