Still Spinning at 33 1/3


I miss vinyl. Vinyl records. Not CDs packaged in the cold, hard 4 3/4″ by 4 3/4″ plastic jewel cases but the 12″ by 12″ black vinyl record albums that came to life spinning at 33 1/3 rpm (that is, revolutions per minute). The same albums that have been relegated to boxes reeking of mold and mildew at flea markets and in the back rooms of antique shops selling for $1 apiece. To my wife’s chagrin I still have all of my vinyl records from the 1960s through the late 1980s—a thousand or more of them. I also still have a collection of 45s from the 1960s. For those of you born since Reagan was President, 45s are small two-sided vinyl records that were very popular in the 1960s when artists released “singles”—potential hit songs that climbed their way up the Billboard charts and lived in Top 40 radio and jukeboxes spinning at 45 rpm.

When I was coming of age in the 1960s, my friends and I couldn’t wait until Tuesdays. That’s the day when new records were released. We literally hung around Mr. Muck’s, the local music shop—this was not a website but an actual brick and mortar building with people, a dog and tons of records inside—waiting for the delivery of fresh vinyl. And we were never disappointed. Not only did we pore over the liner notes but we were equally engrossed with the cover art. And if the album opened up with a gatefold or came with a poster, forget about it! It wasn’t just the music that fed our souls, it was the whole enchilada.

I recently brought a stack of some of my favorite albums to work for “show and tell.” Since our department focuses exclusively on packaging, I thought I would share—and hopefully inspire—some of my colleagues who may not be aware that this stuff exists. And it was a treasure trove: Cat Stevens’ “Teaser and the Firecat,” with its rough texture and cover painting by the musician himself; Jethro Tull’s “Thick as a Brick,” with its intricately folded newspaper complete with full articles; Steely Dan’s ultra varnished “Aja”—how slick!; The Doors’ “L.A. Woman,” not the reprint but the original with the die-cut acetate and yellow sleeve; the old encyclopedia-textured cover of CSN&Y’s “Déjà Vu” with the hot-glued cover photo; the gorgeous calligraphy of Neil Young’s “Harvest”; “Close to the Edge” by Yes, with its airbrushed hues of green and iconic logo by Roger Dean. And let’s not forget Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” with its gatefold opening up to a circus-like poster that reveals another fold and more photos from the tour. Sorry, but you’re just not going to have this experience with your plastic CD jewel case and enclosed booklet with 5 point type.

Although I still have a turntable (ask your parents), I have to admit I don’t play my records as often as I’d like. But I do occasionally take them out and hold them, running my hands over the covers, studying the artwork and liner notes. I’m not just being nostalgic here, but paying homage to an artifact that was an integral part of our culture and provided a forum for not only musical expression but for artistic expression as well. So before you bury those old LPs (long players) in the basement, take ’em out for a spin, sit back and absorb the sublime intersection of music and art suitable for framing.


One thought on “Still Spinning at 33 1/3

  1. Kevin

    Another great post Glenn. Some of my favorites (from an album packaging standpoint were Led Zeppelin III, with its rotating images that revealed through die-cut holes; Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake by Small Faces which was a circular sleeve with beautiful Victorian lettering; and the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers, with a real zipper.

    But the thing I miss the most from my LP youth is the sense of community that came with the acquisition of a new album. Listening to a new album was a social event. You invited your friends over and together you pored over the cover art and debated the meanings of the lyrics. I compare that to my daughter’s current method of a silent and solitary download, listened to privately with ear buds, and with no more extension of the content than a thumbnail of the CD cover. I can’t help but think that she’s missing out on an experience that I once took for granted.