Though today is Vinyl Nation, it all began in 1931. That’s when RCA Victor sold the first vinyl long-playing record. They became known as “Program Transcription Discs.” That wasn’t quite the beginning of a love affair with albums because people weren’t interested in buying expensive equipment and those “PTDs” amid the tumult of the Great Depression.
From then to today, musicophiles have enjoyed listening to their favorite genres on some sort of wax. Yet, for the last 15 years, the once-popular flexible plastic discs are in a full-blown renaissance. The love affair from the 1940s through the 1970s has been rekindled, which shows us Vinyl Nation is bursting at the geographical seams.
Be it a passion for music, digging through crates, collecting wax, or fascination with the economic bonanza, co-directors Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone have played a melody to record lovers everywhere.
The Delirious Time Capsule for Vinyl Nation
The exploration into the lives of music lovers everywhere for Smokler and Boone becomes much more than they probably bargained for in the making of the documentary. One of the primary discoveries in the film was what the grooves in that wax represent. The film doesn’t take long to go past the obvious and get into the abstract–the psychology behind this newfound passion for wax.
There is a school of thought behind this classic format. Many believe “the music sounds better on wax.” Others understand the art of record playing or deejaying went away with the rise of the compact disc. An entire radio genre–album-oriented rock–struggled for decades to stick around thanks to the general thought of antiquity.
If you watched Vinyl Nation, you are someone who probably remembers what it was like to visit the utopian marketplace called the Record Store. Walking into one, either an independent brick-and-mortar location or somewhere buried in a mall, may as well blared “Handel’s Messiah” when the doors opened.
It was a magical experience. All the crates welcome you to dive into the various genres like James Cameron digging for the Titanic. What’s hot? What’s not? And what have you never heard of before you got there? If you don’t recall or ever had the experience, these visits are akin to your favorite comic book store, gaming place, or even a Blockbuster video. (#RIP)
Smokler and Boone were on a mission to encapsulate that experience. What does each album cover say to you? What does the name of each song reflect? One wax aficionado of Vinyl Nation defines their voyage perfectly:
The directors didn’t ask the guy if he was the church-going type, but considering he crammed “sacred” twice into a 15-word explanation, the incense was burning in there somewhere. Or, maybe it was something else burning?
Regardless, it was a glorious trip down memory lane because a vinyl record means different things to different people. And, when you’re holding someone else’s original purchase in one of those record stores today, stop to consider what that band, that music, that cover meant to them.
Vinyl Nation forces that on the viewer, and the directors should be thanked, fist-bumped, and high-fived for that.
The Makings of a Memory
Smokler and Boone, for lack of any other suitable term, romanticize the record store and even the record-making process, known as “vinyl pressing.” That process, as the movie stresses, has never been so profitable, even when records were the only medium.
The heartwarming documentary and Variety cited a Recording Industry Association of America report that says 2021 marked the 15th consecutive year for increased sales from Vinyl Nation—61% growth in revenue to $1 billion. It was also the first year since 1986 that albums outsold its younger cousin, the CD.
To prove the trajectory of those sales and the passion of this journey, Vinyl Nation begins on a peculiar holiday. It’s Record Store Day and a serpentine line of album enthusiasts have been at Mills Record Company in Kansas City since the butt crack of dawn.
Why? For an opportunity to buy one of only a few record store day exclusive releases. That’s it. The reason for the line is not signed copies of “Led Zeppelin IV” or The Beatles’ “White Album.” Just an RSD press of Kendrick Lamar, Weezer, or Ed Sheeran. And there’s a line out the door in the heartland of America.
Yes, Vinyl Nation is here and those albums are more than wall decorations these days; they are big business fueled by nostalgia. The moment that feathered needle touches the wax spinning at 33 1/3 RPMs, smiles around the Victrola or the LugaLake show up faster than panties on a stage at a Justin Bieber concert. The soft whisper of that amplified hiss could make your toes curl. It’s magic, and only lovers of this medium could tell that story through film.
There were interviews and images, field trips to record manufacturers. And, you know this documentary to have a ridiculously wonderful soundtrack. It’s the playlist of our lives–yes, it’s dope and yes, I’ve been looking on Spotify for it ever since.
This documentary conveys a cornucopia of emotions–love, joy, happiness, nostalgia, peace, and warmth. All of those feels are visceral as the film rolls on. And a few more may bubble up when you least expect it.
Once the documentary was over, the credits rolled, and the memories faded, Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone made one thing clear in abundant fashion.
The analog disk may not literally sound better but they sure as hell feel better. That’s why Vinyl Nation seems that it is here to stay. And so many of us are here for it, as long as it spins on 78!
Vinyl Nation is currently available to rent or own on Digital platforms.