For the past few years the vinyl record industry has been making a comeback. But why would younger consumers purchase music on wider, clumsier discs that require a player and a needle that needs replacement over the easy handling of CDs?And why would they prefer the sound of imperfection of the phonograph record over the digitally-mastered sound of a CD?
Surprisingly, music lovers like turntables — which have a superficial beauty — and they like the grooves on the record. The word groovy has been passed down over the decades from early jazz records and the grooves in the record. Furthermore, “the music sounds vivid and real on vinyl.”
The early versions of vinyl recordings came on “78 rpm” platters. Then they came on “33 1/3 rpm” playing records. And then “45 rpm” single records.
The first two, 78s and 33 1/3, were big records with small holes in the middle. The 45 was a smaller record with a big hole in the center. The 78 came out around 1898 and was the mainstay until the late 1950s. It played at a speed of 78 revolutions per minute. Around 1948 recording companies went to 33 1/3, a longer-playing record with smaller groves. Coinciding with long-playing albums was the 45 or single, right around 1948 or 1949.
The early 1950s saw record sales soar — mostly easy listening tunes from artists such as Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Johnny Ray and Frankie Laine. The mid-1950s found a blending of easy listening and rock and roll at the top of record sales with artists such as Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, and many more. The 1960s arrived and American rock n’ roll dominated the charts with strong competition from the British invasion.
I loved playing records. In fact, I had a small addiction to them as a kid. I’d visit grandma’s house where she had a German model oversized record machine which was a combination of record player, radio AM/FM short wave, and large lower compartment for album storage. This thing did everything but cook breakfast.
One day I was visiting and playing the same record over and over when grandma said “Enough! I’m tired of hearing that same record!” Naturally my small brain paid no attention and grandma took drastic action and seized the record from the player. I contested and grabbed at the record and a desperate struggle ensued, with the end result being a broken record. I guess you could say grandma won.
Whenever or wherever there was a teen party in the 1950s, 1960s and beyond, they would bring their records to be played. The kids would pen their names on them so that when it was time to go home they could distinguish who the owner of the records were. Until 1964 the LP sales were largely easy listening music. But artists such as Rick Nelson, the Ventures and the Beach Boys also put a dent in the market.
The rise in sales came with The Beatles, and the meteoric popularity of their first album, “Meet the Beatles.” From there rock artists began to concentrate on LPs, which were around 10 songs rather than just two on 45s — one on side A and one on side B.
By 1967 rock albums contained longer versions of popular cuts with Iron Butterfly’s “In A Gadda Da Vida,” and The Doors’ “Light My Fire,” for example.
As far as purchasing records in Trenton goes, back in the 1950s there was Courtesy Record Shop, which lasted through the 1960s, located at 220 West Road. I recently uncovered an ad from 1953 that said that Courtesy record shop specialized in sales of classical, popular and “hillbilly” records — quite politically incorrect nowadays, wouldn’t you agree? The term “hillbilly” later evolved into country/western, and then to what is now known simply as country.
The most popular place to buy records in the area was the E.J. Korvette store in Southgate on Fort Street at Pennsylvania. The record department on the second floor was the Mecca of record stores. Local baby boomers recall the music surveys of the popular radio stations: WKNR 1310,CKLW 800, WXYZ 1270 and WJBK 1500, in addition EJ Korvette had its own music survey of the most popular records.
Vinyl aficionados have had other outlets other than record stores. They include flea markets, thrift stores, rummage sales and collector events.
Trenton’s Slick Disc has been a musical mainstay on West road since 1990. Its specialty has been CDs, DVDS, posters and rock n’ roll apparel, and has an always expanding vinyl record section. Everything is arranged in easy-to-find order and, the part I like best is, everything is so moderately priced. I’m positive that’s why they’ve stayed in business so long. In addition they always have an influx of newly produced vinyl along with classic clean vinyl being added to their inventory.
The collecting of phonograph records has multiple appeals. They can be appreciated for their artwork on the label or on the record album cover, or they can be appreciated for the music itself.
Neil Young, who’s had a huge solo career as well as with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, found another use of his excess with thousands of unsold albums. He repaired his roof with them. Like I said, records have multiple appeal.
Record companies each were represented by a unique logo on their records. For example, Capitol Records had a portrait of the U.S. Capitol on a purple background. Later they went to multiple swirls in various colors. Apple records featuring the Beatles had a whole Apple and a sliced Apple as its classic signature logo. Liberty records had our girl holding the torch; Roulette had a roulette wheel; White Whale had the mammal on a blue background; and Motown records had a map of Detroit.
The artwork or picture on LPs has been almost as important as the music inside — and was always important to the music industry when it came to marketing the music. Another reason that albums have a distinct advantage over the smallness of CDs is because of their larger size, the details on the cover are more vivid and the print is more legible.
I am pleased to see new music being produced on vinyl and applaud this generation for it, but please don’t ever bring back VHS or Beta. They aren’t welcome.
Tony Mazzella welcomes readers to friend him on Facebook, where he frequently shares recollections about some of the interesting people and businesses in Trenton’s past.