CD versus Vinyl

by Lisa Nesselson

Rainer Moddemann, the personable German gentleman who started the post-Morrison's-death Doors Fan Club and who edits and publishes its official publication, "The Doors Quarterly Magazine" runs a want ad therein stating that he will "pay any price" for "ANY Italian Doors LPs on the black Vedette label".

I ask Rainer what he really means by "any" price. It turns out that his collection of Doors albums -- in their original pressings -- from the US, France, Germany and several other great nations is complete: every LP, every single. The only country whose domestic releases he lacks is Italy. "If it's in good condition, I'll pay any price up to $300," Rainer explains.

Rainer, a school teacher in Germany who has published books on The Doors, including one with an 18-page discography, speaks perfect English and his search for what he (correctly) describes as "long-playing records" reminds me of an eerie experience I had here in Paris just a few weeks ago. I was standing in front of the famous comic book and music shop Boulinier at the intersection of Boulevard Saint-Michel and Boulevard Saint-Germain. The sidewalk in front of Boulinier features bins stocked with used books, novelty pencil sharpeners, second-hand CDs and audio cassette tapes -- and row upon row of used records ( aka: LPs, vinyl discs, platters).

A group of American youngsters, about 11 or 12 years old, walked past in the company of two long-suffering adult counsellors. One girl stopped in front of a bin, picked up an LP in its thin, colorful cardboard jacket, looked at it quizzically and blurted out "What ARE these things?"

A shiver went down my spine. This modern young lady would probably recognize a Model-T Ford as a car, understand that a steamer trunk fashioned by Louis Vuitton himself was a form of luggage, identify an old-fashioned pair of roller skates with four individual metal wheels on each shoe as a precursor to the in-line skate -- yet she had no idea that for decades people had happily browsed through bins full of black vinyl records with music recorded on both sides. She had probably never seen a real juke box or reel-to-reel tape recorder in operation.

First the vinyl was impressively thick and apt to shatter if one dropped a record the wrong way. Those discs (hence, "disc jockey" and "DJ") spun on turntables at 78 revolutions per minute -- almost too fast to comfortably read the label in the middle with the spindle hole punched through its center). "Singles" -- distinguished by their smaller diameter and a much bigger hole in the center -- ran at 45 rpm and were over in a jiffy. The 12-inch, 33 rpm record or "LP" -- first in "mono", then in stereo -- was the staple of recorded music and the repository of inspired cover art for three generations. The record jacket was the surface of choice for "rolling a joint" -- a sort of early lap top office for the business of getting stoned. Inside the record jacket was a paper "sleeve", which might carry ads urging you to buy other records. And, if you were lucky, on the back cover you'd find an essay praising and/or situating historically the music within: liner notes. Graphic designers had a field day with the broad flat jackets.

Easy-to-scratch vinyl is fragile in a way that Compact Discs are not. Phonograph needles wear out.

Musicians once put enormous thought into which songs would appear on the "A" side and the "B" -- or "flip" -- side. Where singles were concerned, more often than not, the B side was a poor cousin to the real attraction, sort of like B movies, programmed on the bottom half of the bill (don't get me started on double features). Some B sides never made it on to any album.

But this young lady had no knowledge of and no need of any of that.

And Rainer will pay up to $300 for the same recordings he already owns dozens of times over -- if they're wearing their Italian jackets. However much that American girl may grow to love music, what Rainer is looking for is a mystique she will never understand.

"When I put on a vinyl record, it has a warmer sound than a CD. I can hear every pop and crackle and each of those sounds tells a story," says Rainer. "I know how that crackle came to be there."

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