Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Record Shopping in 1928 A.D....
Heading down to the record store for all the newest music...

Blogger's Note: I've used quite a few pictures here to illustrate my meager attempts at making a point. If you mouse-click on those photos, they'll get waaaaay big...

The record I'm featuring here is by Miss Lee Morse and Her Bluegrass Boys (no, they didn't play what is now known as 'bluegrass' music); her version of an old Cole Porter tune, "Let's Do It", backed with "If You Want The Rainbow"; these are but two of the over-two-hundred titles she recorded in her long career. Her records were on the charts between 1924 and 1932, and she recorded again in 1938, and long after that, in 1951. Of course, Promotion Is The Name Of The Game, and advertising hucksters were as busy then as now, honing their craft by finding just the right words...here's a couple pictures of this Lee Morse record, on Columbia, using the brand-new Electrical Viva-Tonal Recording Process...one with the copy-laden sleeve it came in...



You might remember the song, "Let's Do It"...'birds...do it, bees...do it...", etc. In this early version, the lyrics approach today's degree of politically-(in)correctness; the original lyrics contained the phrase, "Chinks...do it; Japs...do it..." and I suppose this version was recorded waaay back before anyone thought those references to be of a discriminatory nature; hmmm...maybe those 'Roaring Twenties' were a pretty wild time after all...on the above record sleeve, is contained the following highlighted copy...



Notice how the above promotional copy says that every Viva-Tonal Columbia Record, "is like life itself." That's probably stretching it just a bit, because after all, back then, after positioning Record inside Phonograph, you then turned a crank, in order to provide energy for the Turntable to Turn, and it was fortunate if the Music actually came out louder than the hiss of that old hard-rubber shellac record material whizzing by, the grooves of which were navigated with an ultra-heavy tone-arm with a steel needle that tracked at about 1,000 grams, give or take. So I'm kinda thinking that, no, these records weren't quite like 'life itself', but maybe folks back then were so starved for entertainment that they were more than satisfied with what little sound they could wring out of these records. Below are some of the Columbia phonographs referred to above...



Imagine, if you well, you and your sweetie are sipping lemonade in the parlor, getting ready to listen to the latest Hot Vaudeville Hits on one of these babies...first of all, you'd have to choose the correct Steel Needle for the record you were about to play. (allegedly, some styli-widths were better for symphonies, some were better for upbeat numbers...to me, it sounds like a ploy to get ya to buy more needles...) These vintage phonographs featured huge tone-arms with a great big circular-type swivel joint that enabled you to put the Steel Stylus on the record itself. And from the looks of things, the smallest unit here weighs approximately as much as your average Upright Piano...so if it malfunctioned, you couldn't very well take it to the shop to get it fixed. So, "Choice of Needle" and "Phono Maintenance" were probably why Columbia put these little blurbs on its record sleeves...


"Use each needle only ONCE?" What's THAT about? I know those old arms tracked heavily, but still...does that mean, Change The Needle With Every Record? Ack...Hope not! And, since the lightest of these old phonographs weighed half a ton, it was probably easier back then to go to your dealer and have him send someone to repair your machine. Although, comparatively speaking, technicians in those days were probably as overpaid as they are today, but whaddaya do? But I digress here...I was originally talking about the records. It seems the Columbia Records Promotional Department, at times, lent itself to some fairly fantastic claims...see if you can spot the line in the copy below that absolutely astounded me...again, from the Columbia Record Sleeve:



Perhaps whoever wrote this stuff had maybe been drinking a little too much of that old Cocaine-laden Coca Cola; he's obviously thought of every Strong Selling Point he could think of, and it is here he lays it on the line, describing the High Quality of Columbia Records..."They are the only records without scratch." What does THAT mean? When I first saw this promo copy, written over 80 years ago, I was totally dumbfounded. THERE HAS NEVER BEEN A RECORD MADE WITHOUT SCRATCH! Nowhere, Not At Any Time. Ever. Even the most audiophile-related virgin vinyl has some surface noise and a little 'click' or 'pop' here and there. I have a few of these old Columbia 78's in really great condition, and it STILL sounds like someone in the studio was running one of those old Milkshake Machines in the background while the singer was singing!
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And now, a little brain-teaser...one of the bands pictured below did NOT record in the 1920's. Can you tell which one it is? (Cue 'Jeopardy' theme music here...) Take your time...
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*Since this is a family-oriented blog, I did some fancy editing of band image #2...
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Special Blog Reader's BONUS SECTION:
The TELETYPE that HATED me...
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While posting all the stuff about antiquated equipment above, all of a sudden I remembered something from long ago. Back in the 1970's, when I was working at a radio station, one of my duties was to clear all the old news from the teletype...an old, vibrating, heavy-as-heck automatic machine that pounded out news copy on rolls of cheap newsprint...the doggone machine kept vibrating itself apart on my shift...and in one such case, I unplugged it, went down into the machine's components, extracted garbled-up newsprint, re-threaded the teletype's ribbon, and it STILL wouldn't work...on the floor in front of the teletype, I saw a small spring, maybe 3/4 of an inch long, which had vibrated out of that hulking machine.

So, I began to examine all the places inside this dinosaurish contraption where a spring would fit...and I finally saw a couple of levers deep inside the teletype's belly where there were two small holes, one for each end of the spring. So I popped-in the spring and the machine came back to life! And I went home with teletype ink all over my hands, arms and all over my clothes. I looked like I'd just Changed Someone's Transmission. The next day, the owner of the radio station said, "...had some more teletype trouble last night, huh?" I wanted to hit the guy. So, somewhere, resting on top of a heap of twisted, rusting metal from machines that are no longer used anymore, there's an old teletype out there who had its last laugh at my expense. Ha Ha Haaaa HAAAAAAA!!!!!
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I swear that Teletype Had It In For Me. I could hear it from the broadcast booth, going "chunka-chunka-chunka-chunka", and right before I signed off the station late at night, it would stop working, so I'd spend 2 or 3 hours on my own time, after the shift was over, trying to put Mr. Teletype Back Together Again. Let's just say That Wasn't My Idea Of Fun.

2 Comments:

Blogger MarmiteToasty said...

That piece of equipment looks like its out of the ark lol...

When I think of the technology today and then back to the typewriter that I first learnt to type on, and even my first job at the ministry and the old manuals back then, it makes me smile.... with fond memories.. as Im sure all your old equipment does lol

x

12:16 AM  
Blogger Idaho Escapee said...

Little did I know when I attended my typing class in 1970, that I'd ever be typing something that the whole world could possibly see. Back then, a computer was bigger than the average Dining Room, and it received instructions with a set of Punch Cards. I think, Marmee, that you, me and all our contemporaries have truly seen a whole lot of technological advances, and who knows, in another couple of years, the laptop computer I'm now typing on just might be obsolete. Along with me!

5:02 PM  

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