Vinyl Records Are Suddenly Hip Again

On its new album, the American rock band Pearl Jam urges its fans to ``spin the black circle.''

It may sound subversive, but singer Eddie Vedder is actually celebrating something most parents of Pearl Jam fans can relate to. Remember records?

Vinyl records, which all but disappeared in the lightning transition to compact discs in the late 1980s, are suddenly hip again.

Records never truly went away, particularly in the rap and dance-music communities where turntables are a tool of a disc jockey's art. But a resurgence in vinyl has been led by alternative rockers.

In ``Spin the Black Circle,'' Vedder sings lovingly of the act of pulling a record from its sleeve. Rock band Veruca Salt also celebrates records with the song ``Victrola'' on its debut album.

Pearl Jam made vinyl copies of its new album available in November, two weeks before the compact disc went on sale. Approximately 65,000 of the 2.7 million copies of ``Vitalogy'' sold so far were on record.

``We want all of our records to be available on vinyl,'' Pearl Jam bass player Jeff Ament says. ``Years ago, when the record companies decided that they were going to go with the CD format and phase out vinyl, there were a lot of people that listened to records who were unfairly taken out of the loop. I was one of those people.''

THE gimmick of releasing albums on vinyl before CD may become a full-blown trend: New albums by Siouxsie and the Banshees and the band Cake will be among the vinyl-first new releases this year, according to Ken Barnes, managing editor of Ice, an industry newsletter.

Record companies shipped out 900,000 copies of vinyl albums during the first six months of 1994, compared with 500,000 for the same period a year earlier, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Vinyl junkies say the often intricate album artwork that was an important part of the record-buying experience lost its impact on a tiny CD case. Some record store owners prefer displaying albums.

Many turntable owners insist the sound quality of records is better than CDs. ``There is a sense among certain people out there that the vinyl album represented the epitome of what the recording industry was all about - a touchy-feely, big thing - very personal,'' says Jay Berman, chairman of the RIAA. Still, he calls records a ``nostalgic cottage industry'' and cautions vinyl enthusiasts against hoping that records will ever amount to more than that.

The vast majority of new album releases each year are not available on vinyl.

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