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Monday, 28 January 2013

The Renaissance of Vinyl

Some records, yesterday.

For the last couple of years I’ve noticed an increase in not only the amount of people browsing the record shelves at my favourite record stores, but also that there have been more teenagers and twenty-something’s. Also in the last five years shops that had previously only stocked CDs started to restock vinyl. Now some of these shops are also offering quality mid range turntables. Vinyl, it seems, is back.
Last week I stumbled across some stats about vinyl sales in 2012. Apparently in the US vinyl sales increased significantly for the fifth year in a row, and it’s a worldwide trend, with 4.6 million albums on wax sold, up from 3.9 million in 2011. But before we get too excited this figure only represents 1.4% of all album sales and 2.3% of all physical album sales.

In the UK it has been reported by the NME that the value of vinyl sales in 2012 increased by 70% after a steady increase over the last five years. UK band XX's Coexist album was the best-selling vinyl album in the UK in 2012, with Bowie's The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars second and Jack White's Blunderbuss third. In the US Blunderbuss was the highest selling record, with 33,000 copies sold. The Beatles Abbey Road was the second highest seller and Mumford and Sons Babel album was third.

So what about in Australia? Firstly I was pleased to see that Tame Impala’s Lonersim album was the fifth biggest selling release on vinyl in the UK. Looking around on the net I discovered that the number of vinyl albums sold in Australia in 2011 was 65,000, an increase of 18,000 from four years prior – not huge, but not a decline either. Check out this interesting article about vinyl in Australia and the growing trend to re-embrace everything that is great about the format.

This is great news for vinyl enthusiasts, with more quality pressings of new releases being produced, often on coloured vinyl or on 10”, with gatefolds and artwork. There is, however, a downside – it’s becoming harder to choose what to buy (not much to moan about I know…) and there is now more competition for quality second hand albums. All those converts looking for the ultimate physical sound experience are, in some cases, driving prices up and are also making it harder to source rarer albums. Still, if more people are buying new vinyl there will be more records to collect from this era in the decades to come. Speaking of collecting - over at the Dust and Grooves site there’s a feature on a guy who works at Third Man Records – a great example of the joy of collecting. Bought your turntable yet?

A turntable, last week

Sunday, 20 January 2013

David Bowie – Yassassin B/W Repetition 7 inch single (1979)

To celebrate the surprise release of the Where Are We Now? single on Bowie’s birthday, his first in ten years, I flicked through my singles and played a few of my favourite Bowie tunes. I stumbled upon this single, only released in Holland (the copy I have) and Turkey in July 1979. Yassassin is a song off my second favourite Bowie album, Lodger (1979). Yassassin is one of Bowie’s weirdest songs, somehow blending reggae (of sorts) and vague eastern flourishes; it’s a kind of new wave world music. An archetypal album track, it’s hardly single material and who knows how it went in Turkey, let alone Holland.

It is backed by Repetition, a topical song about domestic violence and working class despair. Normally I’m not a fan of topical songs, but Repetition has a warped abstract sound, a meta-lyric and a bass that that sounds like a trombone, all of which helps it transcend mere reportage.

I found this rare single in Melbourne at Greville Records in Prahran for $30. It was one of those great crate-digging days in which all kinds of fantastic finds fell into my vinyl - starved hands. It’s always a thrill to find old picture sleeve singles and this one features a photo from the DJ video, which was my first exposure to Bowie when it was shown on Simon Townsend’s Wonder World – what was Simon thinking! One curious thing though; the ultra useful Bowie site Illustrated DB Discography lists this single as being backed with Fantastic Voyage. The catalogue number is correct, so either I have an ultra rare miss-pressed single or the site is wrong - probably the latter.

Yassassin apparently means “long live” in Turkish, a sentiment I’d like to direct towards Bowie himself, who at 66 seems be entering a long overdue phase of recording albums for his own satisfaction, without any pressure to tour or have chart success. Bowie has nothing to prove and in this context he could produce some of the most interesting music of his career. Bring it on.

On his birthday - alive and brilliant. Photographed by Jimmy King