The Bad, Good Old Days - Part I: Vinyl Records

- jim Young

“The great thing about the mind is that it mostly forgets the bad things and only remembers the good things.” - George E. Young

It’s important to remember that not everything about the proverbial “good old days” was good. It’s usually just more fun to remember the good stuff. But there were bad things about the “good old days” as well.

So from time to time, just to keep things in perspective, I’m going to remind you about some of the bad stuff that happened in the “good old days”. A good example of this would be to take a look at today’s attitudes towards Vinyl Records.

By the 1990s, following the introduction of CDs and digital music, the production of vinyl records had pretty much ceased to exist. Then, shortly after the turn of the century vinyl started to make a comeback. Why? Because of a common belief that vinyl recordings are superior to digital recordings.

While that may be true, another truth is, in the “good old days” vinyl records did not deliver the quality of sound that people brag about today for two reasons.

  1. Playback systems were inferior.
  2. The bulk of vinyl records were in less than pristine condition.

While used record stores are thriving today, try taking some of your own records in and see how desirable they are. Unless you kept your records in very good shape, you’ll likely be disappointed to discover that they may not be worth as much as you were led to believe.

There are arguments to be made regarding the advantages of vinyl vs digital on both sides. To level the playing ground one must consider the debate should limit itself to the actual reproduction quality of the music that is or was being played back.

No one can argue that digital music is far more portable and compact than vinyl. Digital music files can be easily and quickly copied without any quality loss.

Conversely, while records can be taped, or transferred to digital files, the time required is equal to the length of time to play the music being taped AND there IS going to be quality loss.

Regardless of the quality of the music recorded on vinyl records in the "good old days" (and let’s not forget that during much of those "good old days", stereo was not even an option) the wear and tear of vinyl quickly became a major factor of the quality you were hearing during playback. And likely the reason your records, unless they are coveted collectibles, are not worth that much today.

Vinyl records are much like driving a brand new car off the lot. Even when taking the utmost care your brand new record will suffer quality loss the very first time it is played. That’s unavoidable.

Most record players of old had a double needle that could be reversed on demand. One side was intended to play 78 rpm records and the other side was for playing 33 ⅓ rpm or 45 rpm records. Few people knew what the difference was and it wasn’t uncommon to use the wrong needle either because you forgot to flip it after playing a 78 or because the needle on the other side was worn out.

Dust collected on the needle was often blown away, but when it stuck to the needle we would wipe the dust off with our finger, passing oil from our hands onto the needle or even bending it.

If the record was dirty, the recommended cleaning method was to wipe it with a lint free clean cloth or a proper record cleaning brush. Too often we might attempt to brush it off with our hand or use anything handy, such as a nearby used napkin or the bottom edge of a dirty t-shirt.

Whenever a record started to skip, the solution was to either apply pressure to the arm with your finger until it passed the skip or move it ahead a little, inevitably scratching it along the way. For future play, a nickel was taped to the arm of the record player to weigh it down, adding damaging weight to the surface of the record.

It wasn’t until near the end of the "good old days" that record player arms could even be balanced to allow minimum pressure of the needle on the surface of the record.

When we were done listening to one record at a party, the record was often carelessly tossed onto the floor on top of earlier played records, none of which were returned to their protective sleeves.

Not every song on an LP was a favourite to be listened to. When we wanted to skip a song there was no fast-forward aside from turning the speed up to 78 and listening to the undesired song performed like Alvin and The Chipmunks. Instead we had to pick the arm of the record player up and move it to the next song. Landing the needle on the space between the two songs was a challenge under the best of circumstances and certainly not likely to be successful in party mode no matter how much you held your breath.

Then, as you withdrew your hand from the record arm a slight twitch would cause the needle to slide across the grooves of the record.

When returned to their sleeves, LPs were often stored by simply stacking them on top of one another. The weight of the other records on top sometimes led to warping as did leaving your LP in the back window of your car on a hot summer day. These were common occurrences of impetuous teens.

People who took great care of their records often unwittingly caused them damage by leaving the protective plastic sleeves on their album covers. While the covers may have benefited from this practice, shrinkage of the plastic would also cause warpage of the record itself.

Playing records meant changing the song every 3 minutes if you were playing 45 rpm records or every 20 minutes if you were playing LPs. To make the music last longer, the record changer was introduced to allow stacking several records to play in sequence. Of course the surface to surface contact from the records landing on top of each other caused even more damage.

It was bad enough that the manufacturers supplied these adapters to their record players, but the record companies themselves actually encouraged their use by numbering the sides of the records One and Four and Two and Three to make it easier to play the songs of a double record set in the order in which they were intended to be played.

My father suggested that as time passes we tend to forget the bad things and only remember the good. I think Nostalgia sometimes goes beyond that and even helps us remember some of the bad things fondly; like listening to an old favourite album that is filled with scratches and ticks.

All things being equal, vinyl may very well produce superior sound, but it didn’t in the “good old days”, unless of course you’re talking about the quality of the bands themselves.

But that’s another whole topic for another day.

Yes, my friends… Those were the days.

- 30 -

Do you have some pictures or memories of the proverbial “good old days” that you would like to share? If so, please send them by clicking on this link, Those Were The Days, My Friend.


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