A Turn of Vinyl
Rick Grech’s violin solo on Sea of Joy is probably the reason why I keep going back to Blind Faith, the eponymous and only album by the 1968 British super-group that Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Grech formed. I am not sure whether they lasted together for a full year but that album has so many of my memories attached to it that I can’t even begin to tell you. I must have been just a bit older than the pubescent girl on that risqué and controversial album cover when I first heard Blind Faith. It came out in 1969. I must’ve heard it in 1973 in my friend Sujoy’s mezzanine den where we used to meet for our nefarious activities. It was a vinyl that we played on a rather robust record player that he had – believe me, it took all kinds of mishandling, including some that I would be embarrassed as hell to tell you.
Years later I bought the BF CD; got an mp3 version of it on my iPod; and frequently selected it in the car or an airplane or any time that I felt the need to hear Winwood’s acid-friendly voice, Clapton’s bluesy lead or Baker’s superlative drum solos. But most of all, I would wait for Sea Of Joy and Grech’s violin.
It was a different kind of experience last weekend with Blind Faith. I was, after more than 20 years, listening to it in its original vinyl version on my new toy, a direct-drive turntable. Blind Faith was one of the few records that I could readily lay my hands on after the impulsive fork-out for the Audio-Technica turntable that has lately made its entry into my home.
I know this column’s called Download Central and I am supposed to write about music that you, well, you know, download and consume digitally. There is not supposed to be any material, leave alone 180-gm vinyl records and large sleeves and record covers and all of that, but here’s the thing, I’m a convert. Records are the thing. First, of course is the very self-indulgent ritual part of playing the record. Taking it out of the sleeve. Wiping it with a record duster – sponge on one side; a soft brush on the other. Checking the stylus to see that there’s no fluff or tiny dust-balls. Then, gently placing the record on the spindle. Followed by the final act of turning it on and placing the needle on the groove. And, of course, cranking up the volume.
You are meant to listen to records in their entirety. Yes, you can skip tracks by raising the stylus and placing it at the beginning of the next track but how often did you do that? You heard the entire side, right? Side. That is something that my bewildered seven-year-old listening companion was amazed by. When I turned the BF record over to play Side 2, she quickly asked whether I was putting it on the wrong way. Since 2004, which is her manufacturing year, she’d never seen a turntable. Nor a record.
But forget all of those mechanical, material things. Records sound better. Just for the sake of comparison, I took out my CD of The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request. I like that much-maligned album. It came out in 1967 and was barracked by Beatles lovers as being a sort of me-too Sgt Peppers (an album that, at least I think, is over-produced and supercilious) but I think it was the Stones’ own unique psychedelic outing. The CD is nice and clean. Sing This All Together begins sharply and by track five when you get the (See What Happens) version of it , all 8:33 minutes of it, even if you aren’t a Stones fan, you will be into the album. I heard the TSMR CD and then switched to the vinyl that I bought recently. Pressed from the original master, the vinyl was clearly better. First, you got the little bits of imperfections. Then, the music sounded full and real and, um, undigital. It wasn’t squeaky clean as the CD had sounded and, on good speakers via a powerful amp, it was as good as being in the recording studio.
Okay, you may say, turntables are all about nostalgia and old geezers who want to spend money to relive their youth or just be snobbish because they can afford to (good turntables cost a bit and albums today retail for much, much more than what CDs would cost you). But that is not true. I heard the Foo Fighters’ latest album, Wasting Light. It’s on a vinyl that was out this April. Much as I like Grohl’s old band, Nirvana, I have not been able to wrap my head around the Foo Fighters, despite checking out most of their albums. But I fell for Wasting Light. Grohl’s growly vocals are great and it’s a muscle-bound rock and roll album that has everything you want a rock band to have: three guitarists, a bassist and drums and percussion. The vinyl sounds real and (I know I’m being clichéd) warm. More than anything else, my turntable’s made me a fan of Foo.