For nearly 60 years, plastics and music have gone hand-in-hand, with musicians providing the songs and plastics the medium to capture their recordings and spread the music.
The first hints of plastics being used as a medium for music came in the 1930s when cellulosics were introduced as a potential replacement for shellac records. But everything changed in 1948 when Columbia Records began producing vinyl records, and PVC became the recording medium of choice for everything from jazz to opera.
Then came tapes, with smaller sizes and convenient handling - no needles, no stylus, no problems with warped plastic. But tapes were prone to breaking and wearing out, so vinyl survived.
CDs were expected to change that. Introduced 25 years ago - ABBA was the first pop group to release an album on CD, in 1982, using Bayer's Makrolon polycarbonate. CDs were everything vinyl records were not: small, seemingly indestructible and capable of carrying more music.
MP3 players like the iPod were expected to be the final nail in the coffin for vinyl records. The digital players, after all, can carry thousands of songs in one small package.
Still, vinyl hangs on. It's sold in small numbers to a loyal following of music fans who find it has something other mediums do not.
``Vinyl is still the most romantic manifestation of music that you've got out there,'' said Steve Bergman, who has sold music in nearly every format at the independent Schoolkids Records store in Ann Arbor, Mich., for 31 years. ``It's tangible. It's real. There's a real trend especially of young women buying vinyl because they're taken with the imagination of it. You can hang onto it. You can't do that with digital downloads.
``They tell me that they even love the pops and cracks when they play it, because it's something real.''
Vinyl records are being produced at places like United Record Pressing Inc. of Nashville, Tenn., and sold by mainstream artists such as Dave Mathews, because there is still a demand for them. And demand is not coming solely from audiophiles with high-end sound systems, Bergman said.
Many buyers are playing their vinyl on inexpensive turntables. They're connecting to the music through the experience of taking an LP out of its paper sleeve, putting it on the turntable, placing the needle in the groove.
``In a way, it's like a Japanese tea ceremony,'' Bergman said. ``When you're listening on vinyl, there's a whole ritual.''
Bergman said he would not be surprised if vinyl albums outlast CDs, as consumers adapt to purely digital downloads for the most part while vinyl continues as a niche, boutique product.
Vinyl is even outlasting Bergman's business. With downloads, legal and illegal, gaining strength in the industry, and margins already stretched thin by ``big box'' retailers that drove down prices, independent shops like Schoolkids are finding it impossible to stay in business - like so many other small businesses in so many industries, Bergman said. He closed his shop at the end of July, and will sell the rest of his stock online through his Web site, www.schoolkids.com.
``I'm sad, but I understand it,'' he said. ``I've adapted to stay in business. I've adapted to everything, but what I've never changed is that it was always about the music. To me, it's not about the format; it's about the music.''