LP or CD? Music's pleasure can't be measured by format alone

It's time to get past the idea that the price of music is directly connected to the CD, LP or other format on which it's sold, says collector Gerald Jarvis.
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By Gerald Jarvis
Goldmine reader, Midlothian, Va.

I’ve been collecting music since the ’60s and have a collection that includes a hundred or so 45s, about 700 LPs and 2,200-plus CDs. My tastes are essentially ’60s to ’70s rock with some pop and a dollop of alternative, electronic and jazz thrown in from decades on either side.

While I agree with many of the negative comments made regarding discs, I have a few divergent thoughts, as well. When you’re talking about popular albums from the ’60s and ’70s beyond The Beatles and The Stones, it’s often difficult and expensive to find good vinyl copies. Anyone who’s sought out a good mono copy of “The Monkees” or Stevie Wonder’s “12-Year-Old Genius” knows what I mean. They were enjoyed to an extreme that left only a few rather-expensive unopened or lightly played copies available. Enter Rhino’s Monkees re-releases and even the two-disc deluxe editions. I’m not a fan of the digipaks either, but handing me both mono and stereo mixes plus outtakes is pretty darn attractive for $20. That these exceptions exist is good news, but I do agree that they are exceptions.

Many, many of the 45s that I own (or have wanted to own) barely made it out on vinyl at all — those hits that just brushed the Top 40 were placed on long-forgotten albums that you may not be able to find. I have spent a lot of time searching compilation CDs to pick up songs I enjoy, and I appreciate their existence. Most of them have better than passable sound, and I have never found one that sounded worse than the well-used 45 that they were replacing. Expensive? Yes, but if I shop carefully and look for multiple tracks I desire on a single disc, I can hold down the cost, as well.

Regarding compact discs’ lifespan, I have no complaints. I started buying discs in 1983 and have yet to have a problem with any disc due to any kind of deterioration. I find them wonderfully tolerant of dirt and grime, yet I decided years ago that I would only take copies to play in my car stereo. Regarding their storage, I gave up on jewel cases long ago. I found a product called jewel sleeves (http://jewelsleeve.com/) that provides soft, reliable protection for the disc and every part of the inserts for a low price. I suspect I’ve spent less overall on these sleeves in total than Richard has on his jewel case parts over time, and my sleeves are totally break-, water- and scratch-proof. There are some compromises that need to be made for double-disc sets, digi-paks and the like, but overall, I couldn’t be more pleased.

I think we need to get past the idea that the price of music is directly connected to the price of the media on which it is sold. I’m care more about the music than the media. I collect music — I love “the little discs with the big hole,” and I play them. I love my vinyl, as well, and recently upgraded my turntable to be able to spin platters more frequently. I know many of the LPs I own will never be released on compact disc — although I’ve been surprised more than once by European or Australian labels.

But I enjoy my CDs very much, as well, and there are releases out there exclusive to CD that simply cannot be ignored: the Cameo-Parkway box, even the remastered Beatles boxes. Yes, they often have digipaks — I’m careful with those because I refuse to cut them up or make copies; I want the original package. But I put the discs into a sleeve for protection. The sets sometimes have elaborate packaging; the “One Kiss Leads to Another” Girl Group Sounds box is a fully-functioning hatbox with individual digipaks for each disc made to resemble makeup compacts. I keep the packages and protect the discs so I can play them without worrying.

Beatles CD box set

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for 12-by-12 graphics with big pictures and lyric sheets and such. But I don’t see that coming back anytime soon, and I’m getting too old to wait for the format to be perfect. I don’t look at it as some betrayal by greedy record companies or artists. I have seen too many friends who bootleg and steal and share tracks to think that. What I see is an industry that is trying to meet a demand. Yes, it’s more expensive than I want. And yes, sometimes I have to add additional protection to keep my discs in good shape.

A final note that I think sums it all up for me. I purchased Beatles 45s, then the albums in mono, then the albums in stereo, replaced various albums at least once, owned a few cassettes as well, bought the first round of CDs the day they were released (at $16.99 each as I remember) and then bought the stereo box set on 09-09-09 when it was released (for about $175). My wife likely thinks I’m crazy, but I can honestly say that the pleasure of listening to these, the pleasure of holding them in my hands in these formats and hearing them at various stages of my life again and again ... it’s a bargain. I got the best of this deal, not the record company and not the band. Just because I may not like the way the music I love is presented to me by the marketplace doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it and doesn’t mean I can’t find ways to preserve it for my own future use. It’s well worth the time and expense.