From the Cylinder to the C
The technology of the recording industry has come a long way since the days of the Edison cylinders during the first ten years of the twentieth century. The 78 revolutions per minute (rpm) disc replaced the cylinders by 1922, and the advent of electric recording (microphones and amplifiers) set the standard by 1928. This format remained the standard for twenty years. With the end of World War II, advancements were being made on two fronts. Columbia Records was developing the long play record (LP) which spun on the turntable at 33 1/3 rpm. At the same time RCA Victor with its "Madame X" project, had developed the 45 single, which spun at 45 rpm and had an enlarged spindle hole in the middle. And thus the battle lines had been drawn, with these companies promoting their format as the coming standard.
RCA in its initial advertising campaign, enticed listeners with a free 45 record player with the purchase of eight records. The player was a strange looking plastic box with the large automatic spindle, that could take up to five records stacked in order. The Columbia LP presented their format as convenience because of the twenty minutes (or more) per side that enhanced the listening experience. Because the 78 rpm format was still widely available, the late forties and early fifties were a bit confusing for record buyers. The 78 with its shellac base was breakable, the one negative factor that had followed its development. And if you left them too close to a heat source (such as a cast iron radiator which I did) you were left with a molten mass of wax, or a record with such a distorted shape that it became unplayable. The answer here was the unbreakable 78, which I first experienced with my original copy of Gene Autry's "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" in 1949. This process called vinylite, or crystallette, or a number of other catchy names, came too late for the 78, as its days were numbered. At this time I had discovered the 12 inch 78 which gave the possibility of five minutes per side as in a Clef recording of "Perdido" parts one and two from Jazz At The Philharmonic.
The 45 was now becoming the format of choice for single recordings. They were smaller, unbreakable, and with the large hole in the middle, much easier to carry. The first 45 I remember buying was "South of the Border" by Frank Sinatra. That was his first Capitol recording, and has remained a favorite of mine ever since. The first rock and roll record I ever bought was THE first rock and roll record - "Crazy Man Crazy" by Bill Haley and The Comets on Essex. I got the bright orange label 45 at a large wholesaler on the lower east side of Manhattan. It was there that I saw the wave of the future. There were a number of Black record buyers there, and they all were buying 78s with a red and black label. I saw the name Atlantic, and I wondered about what kind of music it was. I didn't have to wait very long. During the summer of 1954, I discovered the sound of rhythm & blues and I was immediately hooked. From now on my paper route money would go toward acquiring these sounds. At first their were very few places that you could find these records. I had my list of favorites written down from the nightly Moondog radio show. The one place on Long Island that carried these releases in number was the Archie Bleyer Record Store in Hempstead. Yes it was the same Bleyer from the Arthur Godfrey radio and TV shows, and the man who founded Cadence Records. At the time all the releases were only available on 78, and so I had a new treasure trove of 78s by The Clovers, Drifters, LaVerne Baker, and The Jewels. Soon even the R & B independents went to the 45 as the number of White record buyers increased. It seemed that even the record format was influenced by culture and society.
The first R & B 45 that I remember buying was a purple label Bruce recording of the Harptones "Since I Fell For You" and the Drifters "What 'Cha Gonna Do", which Atlantic differentiated from their 78s by having a yellow label. The last 78 that I ever purchased was the Nutmegs "Whispering Sorrows" because the 45 was nowhere to be found, and I liked the song so much that I had to have it. So now the 45 stood alone as the format of choice. The LP increased in size from the original 10 inch equal to 78s, to the standard 12 inch allowing for six songs on each side. The LP was relegated to adult music - classical, show tunes, and Sinatra type adult pop styles. R & B reigned king of the singles. Soon the microgroove process from RCA made it possible to extend the playing time of the 45, and the mini LP was born. The extended play 45 (EP) allowed for four songs (soon six) total, and they were packaged in a cardboard picture sleeve. The first EP I ever remember buying was Joe Turner on Atlantic with "TV Mama", "Chains Of Love", "Sweet Sixteen" and "Honey Hush" - a sort of greatest hits package. By the late 1950s the record labels were starting to package previous hits in the LP format, either by one artist or by various performers featured on that label. Some of the better ones were "Like 'er Red Hot" (Duke/Peacock), "Pajama Party" (Rama/Gee), "Rock Rock Rock" (Chess/Checker) "Teenage Delights" (Vee-Jay), and "Rumble" (Whirlin Disc). The first original R & B album that I could remember purchasing was a Dot LP of live blasters by Rusty Bryant at the Club Carolyn in Columbus Ohio.
The 45 remained the format of choice until the late 60s with the days of progressive rock. The rebellious nature of the musicians doing away with time constraints revamped the thinking of record producers. (Does anyone remember the three (yes three !) sided LP by Johnny Winter ? By the mid 70s the 45 was relegated to oldies reissues and curiosity items. The tape format appeared, first in the short lived 8 track configuration, which if you had a problem with the tape itself, it was a goner. (did you ever open one of those?). The cassette tape's problems with jamming up in car players was overcome, and that format took hold. The tape cassette became the number one format for close to two decades (which seems to be the normal course of history) and developed the quirky cassingle, the need for which I could never begin to understand. Lastly (up until now) we have the compact disc which is played by laser beam. Clear sound, and durability are the strong points here, and the development has been a boon to those of us who love the vocal group sounds of the 40s and 50s. Here is the format which has made it economically feasible to reissue all those great forgotten masters from years gone by and keep the music available. Small independent producers are back and are releasing tons of worthwhile, and long unavailable songs that were thought lost just a few years ago. The programming can make available 24 or even more songs on one CD, plus some companies produce box sets that are a completist's dream (how about Bear Family from Germany?).
Recently I have purchased CDs by The Mellows, Jewels, Hurricanes, Fi-Tones, Swallows, and Chords to name a few. Plus how about the worth of the DooWop Box issues by Rhino in showcasing this music for a whole new generation of listeners ? These developments are more than I have ever thought would be possible. All those 78s I have stashed away are now expendable in the sense that if something happens to them the sounds will not be lost forever. Except in a few cases like that Cinncinati label record by Inez Washington & The Four Dukes of Rhythm, or Broadway Bill & The Balladeers, or . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
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