Between the mid 1960s and the late 1970s, the long-playing record and the albums that graced its grooves changed popular music for ever. For the first time, musicians could escape the confines of the three-minute pop single and express themselves as never before across the expanded artistic canvas of the album. The LP allowed popular music become an art form – from the glorious artwork adorning gatefold sleeves, to the ideas and concepts that bound the songs together, to the unforgettable music itself. Built on stratospheric sales of albums, these were the years when the music industry exploded to become bigger than Hollywood. From pop to rock, from country to soul, from jazz to punk, all of music embraced what ‘the album’ could offer. But with the collapse of vinyl sales at the end of the 70s and the arrival of new technologies and formats, the golden era of the album couldn’t last forever. With contributions from Roger Taylor, Ray Manzarek, Noel Gallagher, Guy Garvey, Nile Rodgers, Grace Slick, Mike Oldfield, Slash and a host of others, this is the story of When Albums Ruled the World.
Last weekend we went to the Fargo Record Fair, an annual event where you can find all sorts of records. We, per our budget, bought a bunch of dollar albums. I was pleasantly surprised: all the vinyl I saw was in really good shape, compared to what I run into at thrift shops and rummage sales. Very few scratches, even on the bargain bin albums, and a lot of contemporary music. I’m tired of flipping through a zillion Ferrante and Teicher and Sing-Along with Mitch before getting to the good stuff.
For over a decade now, when I’ve had a question about records, bands, music history, or just want to discover something cool to listen to, I contact Tom Casetta. This is a continuation of my interview with my music guru.
Tom, you mention the “whole packaging” aspect of vinyl; let’s talk about records as objects… I remember in 7th grade, my art teacher having us design record albums. The lesson was more than the fab art, but the concept of the package. Back then, albums were like books, with each track a chapter in the story; now with MP3s etc, more than a bit of that is lost in terms of the artist telling the story. Yeah, we all tried our own hand at making our own stories with mixed tapes too. (Which ties in quite a bit with the “new” concepts of curation and playlists.) But there is something about the whole package from the artist — even if that includes Management & Marketing. lol
Can you share an example of why certain objects in collection cannot be replaced, i.e.why a digital audio file cannot replace a record album?
Sure, take Freak Out by The Mothers of Invention for example. Frank Zappa thanks a number of people in the liner notes as influences and it is like a map to understanding the music of Zappa and, for me personally, it opened and blurred all these doors or genre. I was exposed to all these 20th Century composers, jazz and folk people… The record album was also two sides. And that is lost if you aren’t playing the LPs. That two-part thing acted like a chapter of sorts. It really makes certain records what they are. The killer opening track on side two doesn’t have that same effect when heard right after the last song on side one without the pause to flip the record.
You have (at least) a whopping 8,000 records — I guess that’s why you have a radio show! Can you tell me the story of your radio show? Was it inspired by your collection — or just a way to rationalize it?
I am currently doing a weekly radio program on the Internet radio station G-Town Radio called Listen Up!. Each week, I guide you through a labyrinth of music shining a beacon on the unsung, should-be-sung, and will-be-sung recordings that clutter the maze’s dusty corridors. The station is based in a Philadelphia neighborhood called Germantown and it offers diverse programming originating from this community in Philadelphia that can be shared through the wide range of the Internet.
The Listen Up! show in some ways does rationalize my record collection as it serves as the library for much of the source material of the show. I love sharing these recordings with the public and exposing them to music perhaps they may not have heard of before. I want to share that excitement, infusing my personality into the show. It’s pretty much you, the listener, hanging out in my music library for two hours.
As a DJ, how liberating is today’s digital world?
I don’t see it that much different. I still approach my shows the same way as before.
Does the digital age come with a cost do you think?
The loss of the record shop as a means to find and discover music is probably the key loss, but there is always a need for gatekeepers to help steer one through the clutter. I also think not being able to see ones music collection on display is sad as those and the books on your book shelves say volumes about who you are to me. If I go to someone’s home and don’t see any books and/or music anywhere. I ask myself, what do you do? What do you talk about? What makes you you?
In my post at Collectors Quest today, I share my disc-overy of WWII voice mail: audio letters sent during the war.
While I encourage you to read that history, I have two other items to share regarding that story.
First, in the January, 1946 issue of Audio Record (published by Audio Devices Inc., a manufacturer of blank discs used by the USO for the voice recordings), there was this cute story:
From a USO club in the South came the story of a man who made a special record for his family. His mother wrote back that when his pet dog heard the boy’s voice he sent up great bays of delight. So the soldier went back to the USO club ad made a whole recording just for his dog, Fido.
Since this is an industry publication, this heartwarming wartime story may be made up, simply propaganda — but it still works!
And that brings me to the very true fact stated by Letters on a Record Home, a documentary directed by John Kurash which focused on these Word War II recordings from the USO, Gem Blades, Pepsi and local radio stations:
At one point, over 25,000 letters on a record were sent home each month. Very few remain but what we have offers us insight into the lives of the soldiers and their families during the second world war. Most soldiers came back home to become part of the Greatest Generation. But not everyone comes home from war, not every soldier was able to keep their promise.
This short film is part of the GI Film Festival, and will be screened on Sunday, May 20, 2012.
Frank Fritz of American Pickers calls it “the bundle” when he groups multiple items into a single sale to negotiate for a lower price. I think as collectors we’ve all done that… You spy a few records you want in the box and decide to make an offer on the whole box so you can flip through all the vintage vinyl more comfortably at home. In fact, there are a number of regular picking places hubby and I buy in volume to get a better deal over all and I swear that on more than one occasion we’ve paid less for a van-load of stuff than we would have paid for just one of the larger items.
Of course, there were times we’ve blown our budget on such “deals” too because we miscalculated just what was all in that box…
Do not be alarmed by the ad! Hip Pocket records measure just 3 7/8 inches in diameter and are made of thin, flexible vinyl–the same material as those thin flexible Eva-Tone Sound Sheets once found in magazines, etc.
In 1967, Philco-Ford introduced their Hip Pocket Record system, which included a portable player.
I don’t collect records by series or any other system, to be honest. Like everything else I collect, I mainly rely on the serendipity of stumbling into something and falling under it’s charm… Then, whether I buy it or not, the obsessive researching begins. So I didn’t know that the old Capitol Records series of Record-Readers were once sold as Looky Talky book and record sets.
Two things that are always plentiful at thrift shoppes…
Partial tidbit trays or plate holders / servers…
And unwanted vinyl records. (And by “unwanted” I mean they are either badly scratched or recordings so common, they are only destined for recycling or worse.)
So why not put them together and make a retro-styled display piece?
I wouldn’t use them for serving food. And unless you firmly attach the records to the frame, there’s the danger of the records, and whatever light objects are placed upon them, sliding off. As I just played at the thrift store (yes, they looked at me oddly) I haven’t experimented with how to attach the pieces… But a glue gun would likely do the trick!
At the very least, this piece can one again hold stacked plates and other items at the buffet table — allowing your guests to talk about how clever and resourceful you are.
The advice regarding magazines is “to have each member of the family initial the cover of a magazine as they finish reading it so you will know when the magazine may be discarded.”
This, my fellow ephemera collectors, might explain the seemingly random multiple initials on vintage magazine covers.
Now for you book collectors; the tip for preventing “library mold” is to sprinkle oil of lavender, sparingly, throughout the book case.
While I doubt the scent would last very long, if persons practiced such things, it might account for oil spots on vintage book covers and pages.
The last tip is regarding records: “Warped phonograph records can be straightened for playing by placing the records on any flat surface in a warm room and weighing them down with heavy books.”
Given the temperature it takes to melt vinyl records — and that this advice was given in the 40s, when records certainly weren’t made of that flimsy vinyl of the 70′ or 80s, I imagine that everyone in the house sat around in their undies sweating while mom or dad un-warped the family’s records. But that’s just me romanticizing the past *wink*
Our whole family collects records, so when we see crates and boxes full of them at rummage sales we’ll often make an offer for a deal on the whole lot. Of course, when you do this, you often end up with records that can’t be enjoyed.
If the records are scratched, or have schmutz on them and cannot be played, we like to do the old melt the old vinyl records into bowls dealio. (Note: This is to be done with vinyl records, not varnished or shellacked records; avoid 78 RPMs. Also, the “more flimsy” the vinyl, the less time required to melt it, so keep an eye on them in the oven.) It’s a great project to do with children; as long as they are supervised and using hot pads, it’s safe.
But after you’ve made some bowls to put odds and ends in, and some planters, you might feel like you’ve exhausted the possibilities — but you’ve still got stacks of damaged records to deal with. What else can you do?
For one, you can simply change the shape.
Instead of only using round glass bowls to melt and mold the vinyl record, try using square and rectangle objects, such as bread pans and small baking dishes. (If you don’t have them, you can use smaller glass bowls and then, using hot pads or oven mitts, shape the heated vinyl into a square with your hands.)
These shapes lend themselves to other uses, such as desk top organizers. (I have several on my desk holding my pens and pencils, vintage postcards and other ephemera I haven’t organized yet, etc.) But one of the more fun things to do is to use these newly-minted from melted-records trays as holders for plastic party ware.
These recycled pieces are a fun way to hold plastic utensils, straws, napkins, etc. at parties. And, because they are vinyl, they are really resistant to breakage from clumsy party attendees, yet light-weight enough to be easily carried where needed.
Plus, you’ve got to do something with the damaged records, right?