Generational Cycles – How The LP Saved (Baby Boomer) Lives
Editor | On 14, Sep 2019
I wasn’t sure whether to put this one into the ‘Best Of The Month’ or ‘Wow In Music’ sections of the ezine, but ultimately, this month’s publication of (Baby Boomer) David Hepworth’s homage to the long-playing record could really only fit here. I was born right on the cusp of the Boomer-Nomad transition, and as such could have fallen on either side of the divide. I think, ultimately, I fell on the Nomad side, but in doing so, I didn’t escape the importance of LP records. A Fabulous Creation (spot the lyric, Boomers!) offers up a rip-roaring ride through the glory years of the 12” diameter lump of vinyl, starting with the release of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper album in 1967, and fizzling into irrelevance with the release of Michael Jackson’s album, Thriller. The LP actually came into existence in 1948, but, in archetypal S-Curve terms, it didn’t hit a Tipping Point until Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. Which in turn coincided with the coming of age of the Boomer generation. Suddenly LPs were not just an important cultural statement, but also the glue that held the generation together. It was a time when people sat down in a darkened room with their friends with the sole purpose of listening to an artist’s new record. You might not be able to afford furniture in your dingy, unheated flat, but guaranteed, whatever disposable income you had was going to be spent on a hi-fi and a steady stream of vinyl to play on it. Walking down the street with a bundle of albums under your arm was a de-rigueur sign of how socially valuable you were. 12” badges of honour.
I have no idea whether Hepworth understands the idea of S-Curves or not. I suspect he doesn’t. Which, if it is true serves only to add to the validity of the story he weaves over the course of his 320 pages. Sgt Pepper gives us our Tipping Point; 1977’s album, Rumours, by Fleetwood Mac gives us the peak of the curve; and thereafter we hear about a slow decline that turns into a tailspinning plummet once Sony launched the Walkman in 1980, and a new generation decided that listening to music by yourself was better than with others, and that the mobility (and illegal copy-ability) offered by compact cassettes was the way to go. The end of the story comes, according to Hepworth, with Michael Jackson’s blockbuster album, Thriller. A record that was the first output of what would now call itself an ‘industry’. Moreover, one that was no able to demonstrate a formula for success. After Thriller, nothing was the same ever again. Record companies either sought to repeat the blockbuster formula, or acquiesced to the idea that most LPs contained one or two good songs and a lot of ‘filler’, and that the new generation weren’t going to pay for filler any more. Rather they were going to tape only the good bits.
And, lest there be any doubt that this whole story was about Baby-Boomers, here’s the same picture again, but this time drawn onto a Generations Map:
Baby-Boomers: the last generation to decide, for the next forty minutes, there was nothing better to do in the world than listen to a record. That’s how it was in the golden age of the LP. It seemed as though there was all the time in the world.