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Vinyl's dirty glamour

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James McLaren James McLaren | 09:42 UK time, Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Vinyl Factory in Middlesex used to manufacture one million slices of shiny black vinyl a week, and had factory visits from The Beatles, Pink Floyd and other major stars in its time as the EMI plant.

These days it produces 25,000 records a week, catering for a tiny proportion of the UK music industry still in love with vinyl. The Guardian has produced a lovely audio slideshow about the factory, its work and its history.

It got me thinking about vinyl. It's a cliché for those of us of a certain vintage to say things like, 'oh yes, I love the romance of vinyl. It's a tactile medium you know' before riding off on a chopper with a Puma-branded satchel. But Nathan Barley-isms aside, clichés sometimes are true.

I listen to most of my music online now, in those compressed, lossy formats that have become the norm for those of us with iTunes and the like. There will be many young people these days who have never bought an uncompressed tune. Neither will they have bought something that has a sleeve.

I think this is a shame. Technology is ever more reductionist in its development. Compare this to the consumption of music just 20 years ago. The main format for records was still vinyl (just) but a couple of years later mass-produced, cheap CD players would start the rapid diminution of vinyl's market share.

But having grown up with my parents' record recollection, and to be honest, stolen it, I carried on buying vinyl alongside CDs. Sometimes bands would put different b-sides on the different formats so I'd buy multiple copies of the same releases.

While new records are pristine and static-stuck to their sleeves, old records have a very particular smell. I can be transported back to the Eighties in an instant by having a good sniff of Jethro Tull's Aqualung. Likewise, there's a sensory aspect to the opening of a tasty gatefold sleeve in full artistic splendour.

Here are six of the vinyl records that I have affection for, as they used their format well. We'd love to hear about the vinyl records you have fondness for too.

Sgt Peppers sleeve

The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
An obvious choice, but I vividly remember opening up the sleeve for the first time, seeing the cut-outs drop out and the Peter Blake collage - a riot of colour with so much to see.

Welcome To The Pleasuredome sleeve

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Welcome To The Pleasuredome
In the inner sleeve of this huge album from 1984 are details of how you could order a range of Frankie clothing and accoutrements - including pants and socks. Genius.

My House sleeve

Terrorvision - My House
The Britrock band had a single from their first album featuring a Magic Eye sleeve of a house that took me at least three days to see.

Sticky Fingers sleeve

Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers
Oh my god! A working zip on a record sleeve. Of course at age eight the whole sexual shenanigans of the sleeve (not to mention Sister Morphine) was lost on me. I think I ruined the vinyl as I played with the zip. Superfuzz Bigmuff sleeve

Mudhoney - Superfuzz Bigmuff
In the 1980s and 1990s on Seattle's Sub Pop label, virtually all the sleeves were photographed by Charles Peterson. In black and white, he captured the sweaty intensity of the burgeoning grunge scene and this is a great example. As soon as I saw it, I knew the music inside would be as exciting.

Aqualung sleeve

Jethro Tull - Aqualung
The aforementioned record featured the grizzled form of the titular character of the album and title track. He's a vagrant of questionable habit. The sleeve was heavy, grainy and dirty - so appropriate to the themes of the album.

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