More than a digitally perfect CD, and way more than a compressed audio file downloaded to a portable device, a vinyl record is a record, if you will, of an artist or genre at a particular moment in time. From the pantheon of 1950s jazz to the Psych records of the 1960s, vinyl records in their original jackets deliver sound as well as sensibility. No wonder contemporary artists like Pearl Jam and Radiohead insist on releasing their new work in a variety of media, with vinyl at the top of the list.

Vinyl records were not the first form of analog sound recordings. Cylinders came first, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877. Edison did a great many things right, but his phonograph cylinders were bulky and expensive to produce, so in 1887, Emile Berliner invented a gramophone that could play flat discs. By 1929, the cylinder was dead.

The earliest records were not even made of vinyl. Some were fashioned of hard rubber but most were pressed out of shellac, which was a mixture of resin and fiber (cotton was commonly used). Shellac records had their drawbacks (they were so brittle that if you dropped one it was likely to crack or shatter), but the format lasted until about 1950 when vinyl finally took over.

The first vinyl records had actually been manufactured by RCA many years before, in 1930. Those discs were 12 inches in diameter and meant to be played at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute, or RPM. Although vinyl records generated a lot less playback noise than shellac, the Great Depression was no time to be introducing a new entertainment product with limited manufacturer support, so vinyl didn’t catch on then.

In 1948, Columbia introduced its trademarked 12-inch, 33 1/3 LP (for Long Play). RCA countered with a 7-inch, 45 RPM EP (for Extended Play) disc. For two years, consumers faced a format choice that caused phonograph manufacturers to equip their devices with both 45 and 33 1/3 playback speeds (many companies also added 78 since that format was still quite popular). As we now know, vinyl 33 1/3 LPs prevailed, while smaller, 7-inch vinyl 45s were used for singles.

Vinyl records had numerous advantages over shellac, with durability and sound quality being the top two. But vinyl was hardly a perfect medium. The discs warped when subjected to high temperatures or improper storage, and they tended to acquiring a static charge, which meant they attracted a lot of dust. You could wipe the dust off the disc, but you had to be careful because the discs were very easy to scratch. In most cases, this use caused hiss; in some cases, a record’s groove would be so damaged that the needle would keep skipping back, providing the source for the phrase "broken record."

So why collect imperfect vinyl records when CDs offer the same music but without the background noise caused by a needle moving through vinyl grooves? Many people believe the sam...

DJs like vinyl, too, because it gives them more control over the music they are playing than if they were spinning CDs—it’s like the difference between driving an automatic versus a car with a 5-speed manual transmission.

Beyond these differences, there is the fun of collecting itself. In some cases, as with early pressing of the second and third Grateful Dead albums, the vinyl versions are the only way to hear what those records sounded like before they were digitally remastered.

Album art is another reason to collect vinyl. For the Rolling Stones’s "Sticky Fingers," artist Andy Warhol created a cover that featured an actual working zipper; some years later, artist Robert Rauschenberg designed a clear plastic cover for the Talking Heads’s "Speaking in Tongues." The Who’s "Tommy" came with a booklet filled with art and lyrics, and if you want a copy of The Beatles’s infamous "butcher" version of "Yesterday and Today," you’ve got to go back to the original vinyl.

Also collectible are the 45s. Motown 45s features artists from Michael Jackson to Stevie Wonder, and few logos in popular music are as iconic as the crowing rooster on the yellow Sun Records label, especially if the name of the recording artist at the bottom of that label is a guy named Elvis Presley. Finally, thanks to their retro-looking labels, 78 records are appealing, regardless of who was recorded.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas

Vinyl Divas pays homage to international female opera singers of the LP era. Chronicling more than 800 singers, the… [read review or visit site]

317X

317X

Despite its mysterious title, 317X is plain and simple—an online gallery of vintage LPs, with a 1950s vintage fee… [read review or visit site]

Mybeatles.net

Mybeatles.net

Jesse Barron's collection of Beatles 45s, picture sleeves, magazines, books, and memorabilia. Browse singles and al… [read review or visit site]

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors

This great site, from the Association of Vogue Picture Record Collectors, offers detailed background information an… [read review or visit site]

The Remington Site

The Remington Site

Since 1999, the Remington Site has offered classical music collectors a glimpse into Remington Records, an independ… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

12" Madonna-erotica Ultra Rare Maverick Uk Og Ltd Picture Disc - Holy Grail Mp3Cressida - Asylum - Uk 1st Issue - Large Vertigo Swirl - ExcellentCongos "heart Of The Congos" Reggae Lp Black Art 1st MixPretty Things - Sf Sorrow - Uk 1st Issue - Stereo - Very Good++Rare Northern Soul Pat Lewis 'no One To Love' Original Solid Hit Label 45 VgNorthern Soul 45 Gerri Granger I Go To Pieces (everytime)/darling Take Me BackThe Stooges - Same 1969 Uk Lp Elektra 1st Orange Eks-74051 Iggy Pop Psych PunkRuben Rivera & His Orchestra El Senor Del Sabor Lp On Rp Vg++Modern Soul Funk Lp Larry Dixon Can't Price Love Lad Productions Chicago OgGravy Train - Gravy Train - Uk 1st Issue - Large Swirl - ExcellentNyhc Together Compilation 7" Youth Of Today Warzone Bold Revelation RecordsJazz Lp John Coltrane Coltrane Prestige 7105 W. 50th St. Deep GrooveHank Mobley - Hank Mobley **sublime Us First Press Blue Note Blp 1568 Rvg Mono**The Snap Shots**hip-hip Hurray**mod**psych**dancer**listen To ItShamek Farrah First Impressions Us Orig Lp Strata East Spiritual Jazz Listen!1970 Majic Ship Bel Ami Records Ba-711 Original Press Psych Rock Lp Record '56 Classic Memphis Rockabilly Charlie Feathers Tongue Tied Jill/get With IthearDr Strangely Strange - Kip Of The Serenes - Uk 1st Issue - ExcellentJerusalem - 1972 Uk Deram 1st Press - Laminated Gf - Press Clipping - Near MintBlues Lp Howlin Wolf Moanin' In The Moonlight Chess Lp 1434 OriginalNucleus - Elastic Rock - Uk 1st Issue - Spiral Vertigo - ExcellentCzar Original Uk Lp Prog Monster Fontana Penny Start No Reserve Rare !!!Black Sabbath S/t 1st Uk Vertigo Swirl Lp *philips* Credit Mega Prog *stunning*Al Campbell "take A Ride" Rare Reggae 12" Studio One Mp3The Beatles Let It Be 1st Press Complete Ex 1g Top Audio 2u Red Apple Box Set~~~Northern Soul 45 The Natural Four - I Thought You Were Mine Abc Orig Demo Ex Mp3Ian Carr - Belladonna - Uk 1st Issue - Vertigo Swirl - Excellent+Black Sabbath - Self Titled - Uk Issue - Large Swirl - Excellent-Hush Extradition LpDub Specialist "zodiac Sounds" Reggae Lp Winro Silk Screened12" Madonna-over And Over/borderline Ultra Rare '85 Sire Italy - Ex+/vg++Sonny Rollins Quartet Saxophone Colossus Lp Orig Press Prestige Lp 7079 Vg++ Michel Sardaby Gail French Orig Lp Richard Davis Billy Hart Jazz Funk GrooveBig Star #1 Record Original Lp W/rare Wraparound Ardent /big Star Press Kit Northern / Deep Soul 45 Noble & Uptights - Lonely Man Action Rare Ex Mp3King Crimson In The Court Of Ex+ 1st Uk Pink Island Press Top Audio Fripp~~~~Edmond Gladstone "untrue Lover" Rare Reggae 12" Survival Mp3King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King - Uk 1st Issue - Excellent-Pink Floyd, A Saucerful Of Secrets, 1968 1st Issue Columbia Records Mono Lp.Rare~the Beatles~white Album~1st.1/1/1/1 Uk Stereo~complete~n'mint Audio~superb!Cressida Uk Orig Lp Swirls ~ Spiral Vertigo Philips Record Product 1st Press NrNorthern Soul 45 Invitations What's Wrong With Me Baby!/why Did My Baby Turn Bad'60 Midwest Rockabilly Blankenship Bros That's Why I'm Blue Skyline 106 M- Hear!Rare Northern Soul The Parliments 'heart Trouble' Golden World Label Dj 45 Vg++Dave Matthews Band Before These Crowded Streets Mint 1998 Orig 2-lp Far East -ripper Slasher Rare Nc Metal 7", Pic Sleeve On Bme Private Near MintModern Soul Boogie Lp Mark Dennard Young Lover Cold Wave Rare Los AngelesMike Rosario Y Su Orquesta La Huralla Lp On Mas NmIan Carr - Solar Plexus - Uk 1st Issue - Large Swirl - Excellent'58 Tenn. Rockabilly Carl Miller Rhythm Guitar/last Song Lu 503 M- Hear Both NowThe Beatles, Yesterday And Today, Butcher Cover "v" StereoCedric Im Brooks "im Flash Forward" Reggae Lp Studio One@sax 2307 *blue/silver* Leonid Kogan* Brahms Violin Cto* Kondrashin* NmBarry Morgan - Ripper / Global Confrontation - Ayeola ( Mega Rare Digi 7 )David Bowie All The Young Dudes 1972 Rca Acetate Demo Only Issue Bob Edmund - I See No Colors 1970 Rabo Lp - Psych Garage Rock - Near Mint - Hear30 Year Anniversary Box Set By Nofx, (mxpx, Bad Religion, Rancid, Green Day)Catapilla Uk Orig Lp Swirls ~ Spiral Vertigo Philips 1st Press Nr Near Mint !!!Led Zeppelin Iv (4) Uk Red/plum Atlantic 1st *inverted Feather Grant Stunning*12" Madonna-vogue Ultra Rare Wea One-sided Promo Only Hong Kong Press - Nm/ex++