Marcus Berkmann on Travis Elborough’s nostalgia for LP records
There’s a rather wonderful new book out by a man named Travis Elborough, which sounds a bit like one of those dead Dorset villages where every second house is a holiday rental. Mr Elborough’s previous book was a great thundering roar of nostalgia for the Routemaster bus, and The Long-Player Goodbye (Sceptre, £14.99) is a great thundering roar of nostalgia for the LP record, from its origins in the 1940s, through its long heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, to its current rather enfeebled state as a weekly CD giveaway glued to the Mail on Sunday.
Mr Elborough feels, as many of us do, that the 40-minute album is a thing of beauty and its current status as an endangered species is a disgrace. I suspect it has never quite recovered from the arrival of the compact disc. Suddenly, perfectly good 40-minute albums were being bulked out to 50, 60 even 70 minutes, and I defy you to think of a single such record that wouldn’t be better if it were 20 minutes shorter. And as for the reissues of things you had already with extra tracks you will listen to once and never play again, well, more fool us for buying them. I write this knowing — not merely suspecting, but knowing — that in the next week I shall buy the bumper new CD reissue of Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool with a single painless click on Amazon. Voilà! Yet more money I haven’t got down the drain!
Money, though, is at the heart of this story. When the Columbia recording company released its first batch of LPs in 1948, they cost $4.85 each. These were what marketing men would now call ‘premium products’.