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The Long-Player Goodbye

I have a whole stack of LPs — long-playing records that once regularly revolved around a metal totem pole at a civilised pace of 33 1/3 revolutions per minute (rpm) irrespective of whether I was playing my 1975 birthday copy of Yadon Ki Baraat or the second hand mint-conditioned Beatles' 'White album' I had bought for Rs 70.

books Updated: Aug 07, 2010 00:42 IST

The Long-Player Goodbye
Travis Elborough
Sceptre

Rs 395, pp 452

I have a whole stack of LPs — long-playing records that once regularly revolved around a metal totem pole at a civilised pace of 33 1/3 revolutions per minute (rpm) irrespective of whether I was playing my 1975 birthday copy of Yadon Ki Baraat or the second hand mint-conditioned Beatles' White album I had bought for Rs 70.

Unlike its school-boyish predecessor, the smaller 45 rpm vinyl, and its ancestor, the larger 75 rpm record with its uninihibited pirouettes, the LP was not only about not having to get up too many times to put on a new song, but also about it being an object of veneration, complete with cover art and liner notes. In the hands of the right artist, the LP became an 'album' — not just a collection of songs, but one organism. Also, it ain't a museum piece like cassettes and the soon-to-be-joined CDs.

In The Long-Player Goodbye: The Album From Vinyl to iPod and Back Again, Travis Elborough charts the history of the LP with dollops of opinionated observations on music and musical tastes. Elborough tells us how the choice of 33 1/3 r.p.m. was far from arbitrary. In 1927, a scientist from Bell Laboratory hit upon this speed while trying to reach a compromise between the size of a record needed to match an 11 minute film and the noise distortion it gave off.

The first LP was the 1948 Mendelssohn's Concerto in E Minor, Opus 64. And rumours of the last one have already been disproven. The album may have been the most unnatural form of listening to popular music — the old 'single' release is the one that's prevalent on iTunes etc — but remember that you can cuddle your vinyl copy of Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse's new album, Dark Night of the Soul. Which you can't with the CD or the downloadable version.