Drive about an hour east of Los Angeles County and one can find among the thrift shops a variety of vinyl records cheaply and in very good condition. Towns like Beaumont and Cathedral City are particular favorites for great finds like a deluxe Nat King Cole two-album set, produced by Capital Records circa 1950s, for 50 cents. Decca, RCA, and Columbia also released fine albums, though Capitol is in an audio class of its own. Even now, Judy Garland's "I'm Confessing" sounds as if an entire symphony is right here with me in my living room.
Over the years I've amassed a pretty generous collection of records that takes up most of the wall space in my home office. Vinyls require a lot of care--cleaning, dusting, vertical storage in a temperate place. Most of my records are missing sleeves with many cardboard jackets that require extra scotch tape reinforcements.
There's a nuance of space and texture in vinyl that I can't hear in the digital age. Though wonderful to have millions of songs on demand with a service like Spotify, digital recordings underwhelms when it comes to capturing the full range of a sound wave, missing out on subtle timbral varieties.
The human element of old-fashioned recordings continue to amaze me--of course there were the artists (singers, back up vocals, orchestra, instrumentals, composers), the producers, mixers, A&Rs. Then there were the photographers, the graphics team, printers, the marketing department that made mini replicas of record stores so they could dictate the exact placement of merchandise. On the factory side, there were the fabricators, the testers, the distributors, the people who put stickers on jackets and placed them into boxes for shipping. Craftsmen who made the lacquer masters out of acetate, electroplated the metal master to the metal mother, made metal stampers to transfer onto the biscuit, which were themselves chemical marvels--carnauba wax, red slate, copal gum, keystone white, cotton flack, ethyl cellulose, carbon black, zinc, vinsol resin--this stuff goes over my head. There was an art to it, a kind of human ceremony that now gets replaced with a microphone and GarageBand for Mac. What happened to all those people?
It's late morning on Monday as I type the final few words of this piece--a cup of coffee, a sunny day outside, and a Capitol recording of The Andrew Sisters' "Rum and Coca Cola" to start the week. On the corner of the jacket is an old sticker price for $28.75. I got it for only $1 in a plastic bin in Palm Desert, but I would have paid much more.
Bits & Pieces
A place for experimentation, a place for pieces unpolished and unpublished, a place to work out thoughts and ideas for larger collections. Typos aplenty. Enjoy (or not).