July 14, 2008

Book Review: The Long-Player Goodbye: Play Time

By Aidan Smith

THE LONG-PLAYER GOODBYE Travis Elborough Sceptre, GBP 14.99

TELL me you do this, too. You buy an iPod, upload your entire music collection, then store the albums behind the exercise ball in the attic, confident you'll never have any more use for them.

The gizmo reinvigorates your great passion, but rather than downloading individual songs from iTunes, you buy whole CDs in have- and-hold form - enhancing the soundtrack to your youth with all the discs your snobberycompetitivenessignorance denied you first time round.

You feel a bit of a fraud: The Who's Quadrophenia was sufficient to get you through those tricky teenage years; why do you now need The Very Best Of Lieutenant Pigeon as well? Still, you press on, buying more and more in defiance of the credit crunch and the 50p pint of milk, and before you know it you're fingering brand new 180- gram vinyl versions of some of the records you've already owned in four different formats. Where are you headed? All the way back to the womb, it seems. Trouble is, there's this giant mound of music blocking your path.

What do you mean you don't do this? I know it's not just me.I've just read Travis Elborough's The Long-Player Goodbye, a love letter to the LP, and right at the end, after a 60-year chronicle, he finds himself in an oldfashioned record shop scanning the racks of fantastic plastic and quoting from a recent industry report headed: "Vinyl may be final nail in CD's coffin." How did that happen?

Almost 400 pages further back, Elborough - whose previous book was an elegy for the Routemaster bus - admits: "We stand at a pivotal juncture with the LP and what it bequeathed ... its obituary has already been penned." But if that suggests a confused book, it isn't. He retells a familiar story with great gusto and all the infectious enthusiasm of a 14-year-old boy discovering by himself the Hellzapoppin' sound of Van Der Graaf Generator, four decades on.

He's got a happy knack of stuffing sentences with facts, colour and incident, then loading social comment onto the musical info as if it was strawberry jam and he was testing the CD's indestructibility (the BBC's science correspondent actually did this). You can tell a lot about a man from his writing style and I've a hunch that Elborough is adept at hiding beloved but supposedly Oxfambound LPs in secret corners of his flat, out of sight of a wife, a fire safety officer or a structural engineer checking load-bearing levels - maybe all three.

In one very obvious sense, the LP is already potted heid. Like the child who'll turn up his nose at broccoli if he knows that sweets are coming next, the modern music consumer downloads the "things with the big hooks", according to David Byrne, and rejects an album's subtlety and shading. "Life isn't just about parties," says Dumbarton's pre-eminent artrocker..

As an icon, the 12-incher in its sleeve is unbeatable. An old girlfriend of Elborough's lugged her LPs to a kibbutz in Israel knowing they would be useless there. I brought Family, Curved Air and Argent albums into school just so I could march around the quad with them, and all my snotty contemporaries did likewise.

Quad ... hang on, remember quadrophonic sound? Elborcult ough does. The four-speaker fad of the 1970s was short-lived and only really worked in the car; same with the eight-track cartridge. Warren Oates had a fine selection of the latter in the roadrace flick Two-Lane Blacktop; my father made do with Carole King's Tapestry, the eight-track sleeve of which is reproduced here. "Particularly good if you were on quaaludes," says Elborough of the in-car sound. The Smith family preferred the fare at the Arbroath Milk Meadow Bar.

Elborough is no musical snob and dutifully records how Hot Hits LPs of crummy covers outsold serious-minded acts. He collects some cracking quotes (Cliff Richard on a genderbending Bowie: "He upsets me as a man" ... punk-inspired hack Mick Farren's kiss-off to the prog-rockers: "The Titanic sails at dawn").

And best of all, he sends you back to the original albums, or onto Amazon to fill in the gaps in the digital DNA of your very own pop life..

(c) 2008 Scotland on Sunday. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.