Thirty years ago, in a perfect storm of publicity, Compact Disc burst on to the British music buying scene. Despite being plastered all over the national newspapers, hi-fi magazines and even given a spot on BBC's Tomorrow's World, the little laser disc summarily failed to capture the public's imagination.
With the first machines costing well over £500 and the discs themselves the wrong side of £10 (you can triple that to take inflation into account), it was initially dismissed as a Yuppie plaything - even if people did love the idea of playing records by laser. It was only when machines fell to around £200 and the selection of album titles extended past Beethoven's fifth symphony and Dire Straits 'Love Over Gold' that the great British public's interest was stirred.
Of course, CD went on to become massive, but it took its time; even five years later, it wasn't lasers that knocked the vinyl LP off the top spot in sales charts - it was the magnetic tape of Compact Cassette. It took a good ten years before digital discs really began to clean up in the nation's music stores, but for the record companies, it wasn't a minute too soon. The prospect of replacing a large, twelve-inch format that took up loads of shelf space and didn't have nice margins with a smaller five-inch inch one that made a healthy return on each unit sold was a no-brainer.
And so the early 1990s were not the best of times for analogue addicted, vinyl loving types. There was a sense that their treasured format was not long for this world, and that they would have to take on the 'polycarbonate peril' whether they liked it or not. Gone would be that lovely warm sound, those glorious gatefold sleeves - and some were even addicted to the smell of freshly pressed vinyl. Oh, the sheer cruelty of contemporary consumerism!
Amidst those dark days, feint glimmers of hope momentarily sparkled through the gloom, however. One area where CD just wasn't catching on was the dance music scene. Indeed, the 'DJ' turntables used by the new generation of superstar DJs like Norman Cook and Giles Peterson started to be celebrated as cultural icons. Technics sold just as many SL1200 decks to style-conscious teens as it did to club-bound mastermixers. By 1994, twelve inch vinyl single sales were actually growing, despite the general market for LP records dwindling. Reports came in of EMI re-opening its vinyl pressing plants to cope with the demand for Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Shamen twelve inchers - no Dire Straits albums here!
For the rest of the nineties, the club scene flourished, and the turntable became a style statement to a generation whose Dads has dumped their record collections in a charity shop ten years earlier. Little by little, reissued vinyl albums started to appear - companies such as Simply Vinyl and Classic Records popped up to handle the demand for re-released rock standards on plastic wax. This in turn prompted many of those who'd abandoned their records to return to the fold, for reasons ranging from nostalgia to a hankering for the format's lovely sumptuous sound. Digital, many thought, was especially unkind to jazz music, and soon great labels like Impulse and BlueNote were in on the vinyl reissue revolution.
In the past decade, black plastic has gone from strength to strength - it has never regained the dominance it had in the nineteen seventies of course, when 1975 clocked up some 91.6 million LPs sold. But it has maintained a strong niche following that shows absolutely no sign of abating. Indeed - ironically - it is now the format that set out to replace it which is on the wane. CD is currently being assaulted by digital downloads. According to the British Phonographic Industry, 2012 saw CD sales dropping nearly 20% to 69.4m copies. By contrast, digital album sales rose by 14.8% to 30.5m, meaning downloads accounted for nearly half of all album sales. In the singles market, under 0.4% of the total came on silver disc - everything else was downloaded.
Nowadays, it is digital downloads that are this country's musical equivalent of 'fast food', a quick and easy convenience medium - CD no longer holds that title. That's why mainstream album buyers are moving to online downloads, and leaving CD behind. Meanwhile, those who crave sweet sound quality and a beautiful, 'physical' format are keeping with vinyl. And to reflect the LP's cult credentials, we're now seeing a range of events being held - the next of which is Record Store Day UK.
Held this coming Saturday 20th April, this is the sixth year it has been running, and is the one day that all Britain's independently owned record stores come together with artists to celebrate music. Special vinyl and CD releases and various promotional products are made exclusively for the day and hundreds of artists across the globe make special appearances and performances. Festivities include performances, meet & greets with artists, DJ's, in store quizzes and many other events. If you'd like to rekindle your passion for plastic wax, or discover the attraction of analogue, click on www.recordstoreday.co.uk to find your nearest independent record store and pay them a visit on Saturday and get into the groove. Your ears will love you for it!