Vinyl revival: is it back for good?

The Official Charts Company is launching new Top 40s for singles and albums, signalling that the vinyl revival is well under way

Record pressing Germany
This could be the right time to invest in a new record pressing plant Photograph: Christian Jungeblodt

When BBC Music went looking for a TV ident last year, they settled on a needle slowly lowering until it hit the groove of an album with a warm, satisfying thump. Vinyl may still make up only 1.5% of record sales in Britain, but the figure’s up from 0.1% in 2007. If any format is growing in the digital age, it’s the analogue record, something the Official Charts Company has recognised by launching new vinyl charts, with separate countdowns for singles and albums.

It’s been a loudly acclaimed revival, but the new charts will at least cast some light on exactly what is available on vinyl and possibly also who is buying it. Until now, no one has had the facts to back up assumptions about what has nudged up vinyl sales, and it’s widely thought to be hipsters. In Noah Baumbach’s new film While We’re Young, Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts play CD-generationers who befriend Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried, twentysomethings with a wall of vinyl in their apartment. It’s fascinating, then, to see the rather unhip Shout by Lulu (recorded in 1964) at No 5 in the very first chart. It is also intriguing, and slightly alarming, to see that Lulu is pretty much the only woman in the whole Top 40 vinyl singles chart.

Is this because the vinyl being released or reissued at the moment is particularly blokey? You’d have to say, by looking at the bestsellers for the decade so far (High Flying Birds, Arctic Monkeys, Zeppelin, Floyd), that the answer is yes. In stark contrast, this week’s regular Top 40 is topped by Jess Glynne, with Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Sia, Meghan Trainor and other female singers lower down. In a world with no vinyl chart, it would appear releases have been geared towards the fabled “50-quid man”.

The visibility of records on the new chart will hopefully alter this. With fiction, the hardback and paperback charts have existed separately for years. Like hardbacks, vinyl is now seen as more prestigious; hardened collectors may buy only a dozen new albums a year, but they’ll be the ones that will matter most to them. These days records are more than mere product – when music is free to listen to digitally you have to fear for the future of the compact disc in a jewel case, but a vinyl record has the cultural weight of a hardback. Besides, it’s a more enveloping experience than hearing Spotify through your laptop; once you’ve put a record on it dares you to walk away, or even to skip a track. There are added layers of enjoyment.

Record Store Day started in 2007, with well- thought-out, limited edition vinyl records to lure in buyers and remind them that if they didn’t shop there, the shops would all soon disappear. The tangible negativity around the event this year – the notion that fan and labels are being milked by record companies, and not just the major labels – is healthy. It suggests that Record Store Day isn’t necessary any more; the vinyl boom has outgrown it. In the West Riding of Yorkshire alone there are now independent shops in Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, Skipton, Shipley and Holmfirth. Best of the new crop is the Record Cafe in Bradford, a former bookies which sells vinyl by day and real ale by night.

Elsewhere, Urban Outfitters is selling records to young people whose older siblings had probably never seen a record player – across the globe it is now one of the biggest stockists of vinyl. Old heads might be sniffy about the limited selection, but if you’re 14 years old and you pick up a Modern Lovers LP while buying a new pair of jeans, that has got to be healthy for the future of vinyl.

Read more from Bob Stanley at the Guardian.com

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