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The Mystery Of Vinyl – Or, Rather, Of Cardboard And Paper

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I still like my record collection, though I’m not one of those who argue that vinyl sounds superior to CDS (really?) or MP3s (my daughter Celia’s remastered high-quality vinyl The Queen Is Dead notwithstanding – hello, Andy Rourke!). But records were more than plastic: they were also dead trees.

Here I know I’m preaching to the choir, because if you haven’t had this experience, it won’t make sense at all.  But there was a time when you would buy a record, peel the cellophane off it, and be faced with something – at least occasionally – genuinely weird, bizarre, sometimes mystical.  I’ll give you a few examples.

Alice Cooper, Muscle of Love

This record came out back when Alice Cooper was still a band’s name rather than just Vincent Furnier’s pseudonym.  It came packaged in the sort of corrugated cardboard box you would now get a record in if you ordered it from Amazon or wherever – but that was the actual record sleeve.  Here’s a picture of it:

The music was great, sure, but the innovative packaging added something intangible to the experience of hearing the album.

Twisted Sister, Come Out and Play

This record came in a very thick cardboard sleeve with a punch-out manhole cover on the front.  Once you’d torn the perforations, Dee Snider himself “stood up” and sneered/glared/snarled at you.  It was the pop-up book of record covers.

The Majestic Zep

Although there are many other examples I could adduce (hello, Floyd!), Led Zeppelin probably provides the supreme example of the “mystical” experience I promised.  You’ve seen “The Object” on Presence?  The spinning wheel on Led Zeppelin III?  The cool make-your-own cover of Physical Graffiti and the paint-with-water inner sleeve of In Through the Out Door?  And yet there was no experience – at least, I had no experience – to compare with tearing the plastic off Led Zeppelin IV and contemplating the pictures and the symbols and the information – and the lack of information – included with it.  I’ll tell you, no MP3 will ever give anybody a comparable thrill – or, I think I’d say, chill.  Yeah, I miss vinyl – but I also miss the cardboard.