George on Wax
I was originally going to write a review of George Strait’s new album “Honky Tonk Time Machine” but really, what can you say about George Strait other than anything he puts out is going to be good!
It’s been a long time since his last album, “Cold Beer Conversation,” which came out in 2015. That’s when George announced he was retiring from touring. He used to release one album every year.
And yes, his 30th studio album is a winner for those of us who would pay to hear George Strait sing names and addresses in the phone book and still think he’s wonderful. The usual adjectives still apply to all George Strait albums – “reliable”, “consistent,” “satisfying.”
But actually, the framework of my original idea for this column centers around my hunt to find his new album on – are you ready for this? – Vinyl!
Since about 1999, I’ve always made it a point of going to the store to pick up a copy of his newest album the day it is released. It’s kind of like people who line up to go see the newest Star Wars or Harry Potter or Avengers movie on opening day. You just can’t wait.
I’m sure some of you reading this have never bought a vinyl record before or even heard one played. But believe it or not, vinyl records are making a comeback.
What would have thought that a format that was just about extinct in the mid 2000s is now selling like crazy.
In 2018, 16.8 million vinyl LPs were sold – a 14.6 percent increase from 2017, the 13th consecutive year that sales of vinyl albums has increased its market share. New vinyl LPs now account for 12 percent of all album sales in any format. Those 16 million vinyl albums accounted for $395 million in sales. That’s still a long way from the two billion dollars and 30 million vinyl records sold in the early 1980s.
Vinyl records are now on track to surpass two categories of music next year – digital radio and CDs.
CDs or compact discs still account for 70.1 million units sold with digital format right behind with 53.4 million units sold.
I mean think about it.
When is the last time you bough a CD? And honestly, I don’t understand for the life of me why people stream music on Spotify or Apple music. You’re paying for music you don’t own. Doesn’t make sense to me at all. Me personally, I like to hold a CD or album in my hands and read the liner notes, drop it on the turntable, put the needle down, and sit back and relax and enjoy listening to an entire album exactly as the artist meant it to be heard – not cherry picking a song or two.
If the number of new vinyl records sold surprises you, sales of used vinyl records are robust as well.
Discogs, a database of everything vinyl, lists 5.7 million used vinyl records for sale. eBay has 2.3 million used vinyl records, and Amazon has about 900,000 used listings.
(Amazon is also the No. 1 seller of new vinyl records with 300,000 titles.) What is surprising, is that prices for used vinyl records are almost the same as new ones – $23 for used compared to $25 for new.
Hunting for old vinyl records is a lot of fun. I was recently in St. Louis and went to two record stores that sell vinyl – Vintage Vinyl on Delmar Boulevard, and Record Exchange, which is located in an old bank building and is literally stacked floor to ceiling with vinyl records.
I ended up coming home with “Stray Cats” on vinyl which Christina got me.
But I also found a great used copy not too long ago of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” at Shangri-La in Memphis.
Goner Records in Cooper Young in Memphis is another great place to find new and used vinyl.
So why is vinyl making a comeback? Well, part of it may be nostalgia.
Older, un-hipsters like me actually prefer listening to music on vinyl. I remember listening to my sister’s records as a young kid — the soundtrack from Grease, Styx, and Billy Joel “Glass Houses” come to mind. I know that I had “Urban Chipmunk” on vinyl. Some of my new additions to my growing collection include “Jerry Lee Lewis: Live at Third Man Records,” a live show recording from 2011 in Nashville, and Dale Watson’s “Call Me Insane.” If you are a country music fan and don’t know why Dale Watson is, trust me, he’s awesome. (You can even catch him live this Friday at Railgarten in Memphis.) My parents had a stereo in a nice wooden case that took up a whole wall in the living room. It was a piece of furniture back then.
There’s also the hipster factor. Vinyl is trendy, so young hipsters are discovering vinyl for the first time and finding out that they like it.
Older albums are driving sales of new vinyl. The Beatles had four albums that sold a combined sold 321,000 copies. The Top 10 include Pink Floyd (177,000), David Bowie (150,000), Panic at the Disco 148,000, Fleetwood Mac (139,000), Led Zeppelin (138,000), Michael Jackson (131,000), Jimi Hendrix (119,000), Metallica (116,000), and Queen (113,000). A lot of these re-issues are pressed on 180 gram vinyl, which is thicker and gives audiophile quality sound. Be prepared to pay about $10 extra though. I know that I try to get all of mine on 180 gram.
The Top selling vinyl of 2018 was Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1 which sold 84,000 copies. Abbey Road by the Beatles was next with 76,000 copies, followed by Purple Rain by Prince, which sold 71,000 copies.
Overall in 2018, 14 albums sold more than 50,000 copies on vinyl, and 79 titles sold more than 20,000 copies.
Here’s an interesting stat.
Of the 16.8 million vinyl records sold, 41.1 percent were sold by independent record stores who tallied 6.9 million copies – up 15 percent from 2017.
And speaking of independent record stores, for you collectors, Saturday is Record Store Day. It’s a chance to visit your local neighborhood mom and pop record seller and get exclusive new releases that you can only find in these independent record stores. I know that I plan on getting “Elvis Live at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.” It’s a two LP pressing on 180 gram of the King of Rock n’ Roll’s 1969 show that started his exclusive engagement in Las Vegas. Can’t wait!
Which brings me back to George Strait. I looked ev- erywhere for a vinyl copy of “Honky Tonk Time Machine” at Walmart, Target, and Barnes and Noble in Jonesboro to no avail. Heck, Walmart in Trumann was even sold out of the CD! Needless to say, I never did get my copy of the new album on March 29 the day it came out. Christina had to order me one on Ama- zon. I found out later that Cracker Barrel had it on an