Column: Listening to music the old-fashioned way

Paul Simon Live Rhymin

As my wife and I sat down for dinner recently, the iconic sounds of Paul Simon played in the background. The live album “Paul Simon in Concert: Live Rhymin’” was recorded in 1973 at the former home of the New York Islanders, Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

As we ate our meal with a glass of wine, we enjoyed Simon & Garfunkel classics like “Homeward Bound” and “The Boxer.”

It’s not uncommon for us to play music during dinner. But rather than stream music via Bluetooth from Apple Music or Amazon Alexa to a soundbar in the living room — like the tech-savvy millennials we are — we listened much like those who bought the album more than four decades ago: on vinyl.

While the vinyl industry peaked in the ’80s before CDs and eventually digital music became the norm, it’s been steadily on the climb in recent years. Last week, Forbes reported vinyl records are projected to sell 40 million units this year. Collective sales from the past seven years will reach $1 billion, according to a recent report.

Consider me part of the group reaching for some nostalgia (after all, I work at a newspaper, so nostalgia is practically a prerequisite for the job). While I do lean toward the convenience of digital music, and the more amplified sound it provides, I admit I have enjoyed my first foray into vinyl.

A few weeks before Christmas, as my wife and I browsed for gifts, she spotted a Victrola turntable. The mahogany set is designed to look like a classic but has modern-day features like Bluetooth. It can also play CDs, cassettes or AM/FM radio (now I just need to find some cassettes). My wife said how much she loved it and I made a quick mental note: Christmas gift!

A few days later I bought a similar model on Amazon and then set out to buy a few records. I had never purchased a record before, and to be honest, it’s probably been years since I’ve purchased any music besides a monthly subscription for a streaming service. I browsed a few records online but, unsure whether they would be shipped on time, decided I needed to do it the old-fashioned way.

The first challenge, of course, was finding a store that actually sold vinyl. A friend recommended one at Smith Haven Mall. I was somewhat surprised to find the collection of records available for sale at the store featured so many new albums. I was expecting to find a bunch of vintage records with faded, torn covers. Instead, I found mostly pristine records that included many recently released albums. I even found one for the movie “Pitch Perfect 2.” Who knew the Barden Bellas were on vinyl?

After Christmas, my wife and I set out to add to our collection with some true classics. We found a small shop in Sayville that had a plentiful collection of $1 and $2 records to help us build a library without breaking the bank (my next stop will be to The Times Vintage in Greenport). We spent nearly an hour flipping through records, picking out an array of Neil Diamond, Bruce Springsteen and Elton John.

Some look at the growing trend of vinyl simply as a fad that will again fade. I laughed at this line in a recent Los Angeles Times article: “Millennials, hipsters or that most-coveted demographic, the millennial hipster, are indulging in a perverse Wes Anderson fantasy.”

I wouldn’t really consider myself a hipster. But as that article goes on to note, there’s more to the story than simply nostalgia.

You feel a deeper connection to music when it’s played on a record. The physical activity of picking out an album and placing it on the turntable makes listening to a song an event rather than background noise of a shuffled playlist on Apple Music. It requires a commitment to listen from start to finish. The music hits all the senses.

One night this week, as my wife and I relaxed on the couch, she suggested we play a record. Sure, I responded, that sounds like a great idea. She told me I could pick out any one I wanted. I countered by telling her she could pick one.

We quickly realized our mutual generosity had more to do with the fact that neither of us wanted to get up. We shared a laugh before I mustered the energy to walk a few feet to the record player.

It’s safe to say I won’t be giving up on streaming music just yet.

The author is the editor of the Riverhead News-Review and The Suffolk Times. He can be reached at 631-354-8049 or [email protected].