If you’re old enough, you remember the excitement of opening a new LP — the latest release from the Doors or Marvin Gaye or Bob Dylan or maybe Johnny Cash.
Slitting open the cellophane wrapper and peeling it off. Sliding out the record, in its paper sleeve, and then taking out the black vinyl disk itself, holding it by the edges, and placing it on the spindle of your turntable. Carefully lifting the needle and gently putting it down on the spinning record.
And then lying on the living room floor, the album cover in your hands, listening to the songs unfold while you followed the lyrics on the liner, checked out who was playing which instrument, gazed at the cover art. You played that album over and over. It wasn’t a collection of individual songs. It was a story. And even today, when you hear one of your favorite songs, your heart expects that the next song to play will be the next song off that album.
Southtown Vinyl, on S. St. Mary's, carries vinyl LPs, both new and used, modern and classic, along with related gear.
We’ve got a representative of the vinyl resurgence right here in the neighborhood.
Southtown Vinyl is a record store. It’s got new releases and classics. It even carries starter equipment — turntables that cost just one hundred dollars and can connect to your existing speakers or earbuds via bluetooth.
Southtown Vinyl got started five years ago on South Flores, but in November, it relocated to Lavaca, at 1112 S. St. Mary’s, just off Pereida.
Owner Tommy Newman got his start with vinyl when he was just six or seven years old and listened to Disney records and Thriller and ‘whatever my parents would buy me.’ Around age ten, he says he started listening to his parents’ music — things like the Beatles and Cat Stevens. ‘Whatever they had, I listened to,’ he says.
In high school, he began deejaying house music, and started collecting records.
Today, he says he listens to all genres of music, ‘as long as it’s good music; as long as it speaks to me and I enjoy it.’ Everything from outlaw country to avant-garde and electronic and jazz.
There’s a lot of music being pressed onto vinyl these days, so there’s a continuous flow of new releases coming into the store. But Tommy also carries older records that he buys from record owners, thrift shops, used book shops, and storage unit auctions. All the used records he sells are checked for quality, he says, and he points to a turntable out on the floor and says that you can play any open album before you buy it, to make sure you’re satisfied with it.
Vinyl being pressed today is often higher-quality, physically, than older records, Tommy says. The albums are pressed into a higher-weight, more durable vinyl disk. Prices of new albums vary quite a bit based on the artist and packaging, but typical prices are twenty to fifty dollars.
Some albums on the shelf at Southtown Vinyl right now give you a feel for the pricing. Adele's new double LP, 30, is available at $38.98; Lana Del Ray's Blue Banisters, another double album, sells for $43.98; a 'picture disk' version of Prince's classic Purple Rain goes for $29.98; and standard LPs Good.Kid.Maad.City by Kendrick Lamar, Sour by Olivia Rodrigo, and because the internet by Childish Gambino are priced at $25.98, $29.98 and $32.98, respectively.
Before you buy a used LP, you're welcome to listen to it on the store's turntable.
Streaming is wonderful. The best part, I think, is the ability to discover and try music from artists you don’t know, whether it’s a new artist in a genre you don’t usually play or a jazz vocalist from decades ago, before you had even discovered jazz. But it lacks the tactile experience of playing a vinyl LP, all the songs in an order defined by the artist and accompanied by art and text that’s designed to be part of the listening experience.
Dating back at least to Sgt. Pepper, vinyl albums have been, in total, works of art.
With the advent of CDs, the experience of vinyl albums gave way to the convenience and portability of CD players. Then came music downloads and finally streaming.
The concept of an album as a work of art isn’t dead, but it’s not as powerful; it’s a virtual concept, but it lacks a physical representation.
But vinyl is making a comeback.
Streaming has just about killed CDs. Their sales have fallen off a cliff. But, at the same time, sales of vinyl recordings have skyrocketed.
No one is under the illusion that vinyl will replace streaming — or even become anything more than a niche — but right now the niche is strong and growing. Last year (2020), sales of vinyl albums jumped almost fifty percent over the prior year. They were up more than 300% since their revival got started in 2006. And about 75,000 LP-playing turntables were sold last year.
And it isn’t just some kind of baby boomer nostalgia. In fact, in recent years, the age group 24 - 35 made up as big a percentage of vinyl buyers as did those 55 years of age and older. They each made up 21 percent of the market, and the current top-selling vinyl albums range from modern (Adele, Billie Eilish, Taylor Swift, and Kendrick Lamar) to classic (the Beatles, Prince, and Bruce Springsteen).
Newly-pressed albums are entering the store every week -- and then flying off the shelves.
‘One artist in particular who's really popular right now is Billie Eilish," Tommy says. "She's doing really well right now. We also sell a lot of metal albums. San Antonio has a really big metal scene, so we sell a lot of death metal and black metal stuff.’
‘Durand Jones and the Indications are really big right now, too. Their second album is really popular. We can’t keep it in the shop.’
‘And then there’s the rappers, Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone, MF Doom and Mac Miller. MF Doom and Mac Miller passed away recently and people would just snatch up their albums as soon as they come into the shop. And they don't last very long here.’
There’s argument over whether vinyl audio quality is better than digital. Some say it is. Some say, at a minimum, it’s acoustically different (in a good way).
‘I think that the human ear is probably not going to be able to perceive any difference,’ Tommy says. ‘but the cool thing is that you get the tactile experience of holding something in your hand, watching it play, looking at the artwork on the album … the whole thing is just an experience rather than finding one song on Spotify and then running into something else.’
Because, as any vinyl lover will tell you, when you hear a song, your heart should know what is playing next.
SOUTHTOWN VINYL DETAILS
1112 S. St. Mary’s San Antonio, TX 78210
Jim Feuerstein is co-editor of LNF Weekly; he also designs and manages the website.
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