It was the soundtrack for a more innocent time: buying an LP, and dropping it on the record player at home. Then the album lost its romance as life got more complicated, with the advent of cassettes, CDs and the MP3. But now people are hankering for that romance again. Sales of vinyl LPs are at their highest for more than half a decade, with the total number of vinyl albums sold in 2011 exceeding last year's total. Statistics compiled by the Official Charts Company, reveal that vinyl sales are up by 40 per cent, year on year, with nearly a quarter of a million purchases since January alone.
Artists such as Adele, Liam Gallagher's new band Beady Eye, Radiohead and Arctic Monkeys have all helped to drive up sales of a format many thought would be stamped out by CDs and MP3s. But a new generation of consumers, as well as artists such as 21-year-old US country singer Taylor Swift, have spoken of their fondness for the format. "Vinyl is really important to me, because I'm so in love with the concept of an album," said Swift recently, "... a collection of memories from your life that you're giving to people."
While records are still a relatively niche product, industry experts believe a dual market is opening up with the dominant genres of hip-hop and R&B being downloaded, whereas a broader spread of artists are releasing their music on vinyl as well as CDs. HMV spokesman Gennaro Castaldo said: "We found there was a big pick-up in sales from younger consumers, many of whom didn't even have a record player, but thought they were cool. The fans want to associate with it, almost as a badge of honour. As a band it's a proper thing to do: it connects with the 'soul' of music."
Ian McCann, editor of Record Collector, the industry bible for second-hand record consumers, added: "I have had emails from young people asking me if there is somewhere they can play their parents' cast-off rock albums, dragged out of the loft. They didn't seem aware that you can still buy record players."
High street chains are joining inthe craze too. John Lewis is, for the first time, stocking vinyl albums by Nirvana and Massive Attack this Christmas. The appetite for vinyl has also spread to the big screen: the documentary Sound It Out, about the last record shop in the North-east, was opening nationwide this weekend.
A master's voice: 'You went out with an LP, showing off'
"As much as I hate to say it, I stole my first vinyl record at the age of 11. If the shop was still there I would go in with a fiver to make up for it. The song I stole was 'Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town'. Then I bought an old Dansette record player. Being able to play these wonderful records really set my musical occupation off. As a kid, your whole raison d'être is to be able to make your own record. But before that, it was a wonderful thing when you were younger just to walk around with an LP under your arm, showing off how rare your record was. You can't do that with a CD and you certainly can't do it with an MP3. I loved the sense of longing and anticipation before you got the album: examining how the sleeve looked and felt, then taking the record out of the sleeve – then, of course, the music! Putting it on the turntable, the delivery is so much more satisfying than a CD or MP3 has ever been, or ever will be."
Peter Hook, bass player with Joy Division and New Order