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Posts Tagged ‘records

“Every record I put on was like a baptism”*…

The sensation of being “in the groove” is the holy grail of jazz. As the renowned drummer Charli Persip described it, “When you get in that groove, you ride right down that groove with no strain and no pain—you can’t lay back or go forward. That’s why they call it a groove. It’s where the beat is, and we’re always trying to find that.”

This expression from the Roaring Twenties is an allusion to an insect secretion. The close fit between a phonograph needle and the grooves in early shellac 78 rpm records determined the quality of the playback. Shellac—a resinous, amber-colored secretion of the tiny scale insect Kerria lacca—served as the key ingredient in the first generation of phonographic disks. Odd as it may seem, a gummy substance manufactured by bugs and their human hosts in South Asia was the pioneering medium for the transmission of recorded sound.

The curious story of how a sticky discharge from billions of insect bodies became a vehicle for the globalization of audio culture spans millennia and crosses oceans…

The miraculous properties, and fascinating history, of shellac: “Like Jazz, Bowling, and Old Hollywood Hairdos? Thank Insects.

* Questlove, Mo’ Meta Blues

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As we gently lower the needle, we might send tuneful birthday greetings to James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix; he was born (Johnny Allen Hendrix) on this date in 1942. Though his career as a front man lasted only four years, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, and one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century. Indeed, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame describes him as “arguably the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music.”

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Written by LW

November 27, 2020 at 1:01 am

“So sa-a-a-ad that you’re leaving”*…

 

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It happened exactly 36 seconds into the song—a glimpse of the shape of pop to come, a feel of the fabric of the future we now inhabit. The phrase “I can’t break through” turned crystalline, like the singer suddenly disappeared behind frosted glass. That sparkly special effect reappeared in the next verse, but this time a robotic warble wobbled, “So sa-a-a-ad that you’re leaving.”

The song, of course, was Cher’s “Believe,” a worldwide smash on its October 1998 release. And what we were really “leaving” was the 20th century.

The pitch-correction technology Auto-Tune had been on the market for about a year before “Believe” hit the charts, but its previous appearances had been discreet, as its makers, Antares Audio Technologies, intended. “Believe” was the first record where the effect drew attention to itself…

And an era was born.  We’ve looked at Auto-Tune before (see here for an example of the difference the technology can make, here, and here); now, from our friends at Pitchfork, an in-depth history of the most important pop innovation of the last 20 years: “How Auto-Tune Revolutionized the Sound of Popular Music.”

* Cher, “Believe”

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As we pine for authentic imperfection, we might recall that it was on this date in 1901 that the Victor Talking Machine Company was incorporated.  A phonograph manufacturer and record company, it operated on disc record patents that it soon licensed to the Columbia Record Company as well (reinforcing Victor’s position as the leading phonograph manufacturer).  In 1929, Victor was merged into RCA.

 

Written by LW

October 3, 2018 at 1:01 am

“If you start throwing hedgehogs under me, I shall throw a couple of porcupines under you”*…

 

In the fourth volume of Brett’s Miscellany, published in Dublin in 1757, readers could find an entry on a custom called “throwing at cocks.” This was an activity where a rooster was tied to a post while the participants, as if playing darts, threw small weighted and sharpened sticks (called coksteles) at the poor bird until it expired. The article explored the sport’s origin: “When the Danes were masters of England, and used the inhabitants very cruelly,” it began, “the people of a certain great city formed a conspiracy to murder their masters in one night.” The English artfully devised “a stratagem,” but “when they were putting it in execution, the unusual crowing and fluttering of the cocks about the place discovered their design.” The Danes, tipped off by the commotion, “doubled their cruelty” and made the Englishmen suffer as never before. “Upon this,” the entry concluded, “the English made custom of knocking the cocks on the head, on Shrove-Tuesday, the day on which it happened.” Very soon “this barbarous act became at last a natural and common diversion, and has continued every since.” Thus the innate human urge to throw things at things entered the early modern era…

On the human desire to hurl (and hurl things at) animals and other humans: “From Throwing Sticks at Roosters to Dwarf Tossing.”

* Nikita Khrushchev

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As we resist the temptation to toss, we might recall that it was on this date in 1939, in a football match between the Texas Tech Red Raiders and Centenary Gentlemen at Centenary College Stadium in Shreveport, Louisiana, that “one of the weirdest games in NCAA History” was played.  A torrential downpour and resultant muddy field conditions prevented either Texas Tech or Centenary from advancing the ball either running or passing.  To cope with the conditions, both teams resorted to immediate punting, hoping to recover a fumble at the other end of the field.  They combined to punt 77 times; the game ended in a 0-0 tie.

Thirteen records still stand in the NCAA record books:

— Most punts combined both teams: 77 (42 were returned, 19 went out of bounds, 10 were downed, four were blocked, one went for a touchback and another was fair caught; 67 came on first down)

— Most punts by a team: 39, Texas Tech

— Fewest offensive plays: 12, Texas Tech (10 rushes, two passes for a total of minus-1 yard)

— Fewest plays allowed: 12, Centenary

— Fewest yards gained most plays: 30

— Fewest rushing attempts, both teams: 28

— Most punt returns: 22, Texas Tech (for 112 yards)

— Most punt returns, both teams: 42

— Most individual punts: 36, Charlie Calhoun, Texas Tech, for 1,318 yards (36.6 average)

— Punt yardage: 1,318 yards, Calhoun

— Punt returns (and total kick returns): 20, Milton Hill, Texas Tech, 110 yards

The 1939 Texas Tech football team

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Written by LW

November 11, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Time takes it all, whether you want it to or not”*…

 

From the moment Elvis Presley landed, we wanted every piece of him. This turned his old records into vinyl and shellac gold. While the value of discs by other popular mid-century artists such as Cliff Richard and Frank Sinatra dropped as time passed, Elvis’s didn’t. As an omnipresent figure, the prices of the King’s records rose to astronomical levels.

Unearthing an original “That’s All Right” record became a £4,000 lucky strike; a set of five original Sun singles at one time fetched £25,000. This made them a sort of pension for many collectors. They packed items away, hoping one day to exchange them for a caravan in the Dordogne. However, this has all begun to change…

As the King’s fans die of old age, and their collections hit the second-hand market, vintage Elvis records have never been cheaper: “Can’t help falling in price: why Elvis memorabilia is plummeting in value.”

* Stephen King

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As we feel our age, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that Chuck Berry recorded “Rock & Roll Music” at the Chess Studios in Chicago.  (Some websites report a recording date of either May 6 or May 21, but Steve Sullivan’s Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings affirms May 15 as the date of record.)

The tune reached number 6 on Billboard‘s R&B Singles chart and number 8 on its Hot 100.  But its impact continued to grow: it was covered by dozens of artists including Bill Haley & His Comets, the Beatles, the Beach Boys (who had a top ten hit with the song in 1976), Dickie Rock and the Miami Showband, REO Speedwagon, Mental As Anything, Humble Pie, Manic Street Preachers and Bryan Adams.  In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Berry’s version number 128 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”; and the song is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.

 

Written by LW

May 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“American music starts here”*…

 

The story of Paramount Records is a fascinating one—the beginning is set about 100 years ago, in a Wisconsin furniture company that began pressing records in hopes that’d help them sell record players, which in their early years were indeed whoppin’ big ol’ pieces of furniture. The middle sees that furniture company curating and releasing a jaw-dropping and still legendary catalogue of classic early jazz and Delta blues 78s by the likes of Charley Patton, Ma Rainey, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. The end of the story sees the closing of the company and disgruntled employees flinging those now priceless shellac records into the Milwaukee River and melting down the metal masters for scrap. The whole story can be found in greater detail online, or in the books Paramount’s Rise and Fall and Do Not Sell At Any Price.

What concerns us here are the label’s print ads, which ran in The Chicago Defender. I’ve tried mightily to find the names of the artists who drew these. People in a better position to know than I assure me their identities are lost to the years, though they may have been staff illustrators at a Madison ad agency. The loss of that knowledge is a damned shame, because without knowing it, those artists altered the history of underground comix, by serving as an acknowledged influence on that form’s grand pooh-bah, Robert Crumb. Even a superficial glance at some of these ads reveals a precursor to Crumb’s famous signature style (it’s strikingly evident in the slouching posture of some of these characters), and Crumb paid direct homage to these artists in a series of trading card sets that have been compiled into the book R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country—the comix artist’s abiding passion for the music of the early recording era has never been a secret…

Appropriately, this slideshow of Crumb’s blues-inspired works is set to a Paramount record, Charley Patton’s “Down the Dirt Road Blues”:

email readers click here for video

More of the Paramount story– and more examples of the extraordinary ads– at “The Amazing Old Paramount Records Ads that Inspired R. Crumb.”

[TotH to friend Ted Nelson]

* Michael Ventura, in the wonderful essay “Hear That Long Snake Moan

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As we re-track our lives to twelve-bar blues, we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that Richard Wayne Penniman– better known as Little Richard– entered the U.S. pop charts for the first time with “Tutti Frutti,” a song he’d recorded four months earlier.  As History.com reports,

Tutti frutti, good booty…” was the way the version went that Little Richard was accustomed to performing in his club act, and from there it got into lyrical territory that would demand censorship even by today’s standards. It was during a lunch break from his first-ever recording session that Little Richard went to the piano and banged that filthy tune out for producer Bumps Blackwell, who was extremely unhappy with the results of the session so far. As Blackwell would later tell it, “He hits that piano, dididididididididi…and starts to sing, ‘Awop-bop-a-Loo-Mop a-good Goddam…’ and I said ‘Wow! That’s what I want from you Richard. That’s a hit!'” But first, the song’s racy lyrics had to be reworked for there to be any chance of the song being deemed acceptable by the conservative American audience of the 1950s.

An aspiring local songwriter by the name of Dorothy La Bostrie was quickly summoned to the Dew Drop Inn [in New Orleans] to come up with new lyrics for the un-recordable original, and by the time they all returned from lunch, the “Tutti frutti, all rooty” with which we are now familiar was written down alongside lyrics about two gals named Sue and Daisy. In the last 15 minutes of that historic recording session on September 14, 1955, “Tutti Frutti” was recorded, and Little Richard’s claim to have been present at the birth of rock and roll was secured.

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Written by LW

January 14, 2015 at 1:01 am

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