Good morning all and welcome back to The Clash Blog on a Monday morning. Not the worst sort of Monday as it’s a holiday weekend although I’ll be at my desk today simply because I love it so much. Hoping your weekend was a good one wherever you reside.
I know a good number of you are pretty serious record/music collectors and it probably hasn’t escaped your attention that vinyl is making a slow but steady resurgence. In fact last year marked the seventh consecutive year that record (vinyl) sales improved, and by an impressive 16% in 2012. Remarkably vinyl sales last year were more than four times higher than they were back in 1992 which you will probably remember was a period in time where you couldn’t typically get a new release on the format. The revival began about a decade ago with some independent artists releasing limited edition vinyl of new titles, although priced higher than CDs the momentum grew. Ten years later you can get many (yet far from all) new albums on vinyl, certainly almost any titles from independent labels. Coupled with that many great albums are seeing vinyl anniversary reissues. What astounds me is people are happily paying 50-80% more for vinyl than CDs, a complete reversal of the 198o’s.
Naturally annual sales are still hundreds of millions per year below the peak of the LP on vinyl in 1978 and it will never reach those levels again, but the market for the serious vinyl collector now looks healthier than it has at any time since the late 1980′s. I can see a time coming where vinyl outsells compact discs and possibly as soon as the next five years. When compact disc was king before the advent of downloads and file-sharing such a future was inconceivable but it shows that record collecting has never gone away which I find encouraging.
As for The Clash, they straddled a time within an industry that was going through tremendous changes. In 1977 when their debut was released punk artists had only a small percentage of a giant market and even less so outside of the UK, but a robust market overall saw the most albums sold in a single year ever. This was eclipsed the following year in 1978 during which The Clash contributed ‘Give ‘em Enough Rope’, a historic year for vinyl which again set a new global record for sales. This however was the summit as 1979 saw a large drop in vinyl sales in part due to struggling economies around the world plus growth in the cassette, growth that would eat away as vinyl sales for the next 12 years. Funnily enough I think 1979 was the best year ever for music, a case I’ll put into writing one of these days. By the time the 1980′s came to an end most record buyers were converting to compact discs and a whole generation had grown up collecting cassettes instead of records. Having music that was mobile was the priority during the decade and popularity of tapes, despite lesser audio quality, grew by leaps and bounds. By the time the CD grabbed the largest slice of the market it was cassettes that were pushed into the shadows with vinyl already being (wrongly) pronounced dead.
I’ve been a keen collector now for over thirty years, a period of time so long that it leaves me in a state of shock. You can tell the exact year and almost month when I converted over to compact disc and the CD now represents more than 70% of my overall collection. Like many of you I’ve found myself replacing my vinyl over the years which is more frustrating than rewarding. I wish I never switched but bought into the theory that vinyl would fade away, essentially it did for over a decade.
As for The Clash, Mick and Joe in particular were huge music fans and vinyl addicts during their youth which was spent during the evolution of the long player over the format of the single and of course Bernie Rhodes felt the art form still had much potential. I’d wager he put more stock in the importance of the single (as did the label, strangely) over the album back in 1977 which was perhaps missing a beat. What was most apparent was the apparent passion for providing value for money for fans, chiefly from Strummer/Jones as pricing was a key issue for the band for records as well as tickets and never was that more demonstrated than during the battles with CBS/Epic over the pricing of the double and triple albums that the band released. I’d find it interesting to see the ratio Clash albums sold on vinyl versus cassette but I’d guess you’d see something like 85% in favour of records with the possible exception of Combat Rock as by 1982 the tape had become a serious part of the market. I found it interesting to note that cassette sales peaked in 1990 which was the point where vinyl was being pushed into the cemetery and not everyone had yet transitioned to compact discs. If you have a spare hour you might enjoy the documentary below ‘When albums ruled the world’ it might be over-ambitious trying to cover the history of the LP in one broadcast but still has some good moments.
When did you stop buying records (if you did) and have you returned to them since? Do you think record shops will last another decade by relying on vinyl sales?
‘When Albums Ruled the World’ – BBC Documentary February 2013