A short personal history and view of technology: 45s, 78s and stuff in between
This is not going to be one of those posts by a greying audiophile about the merits of vinyl versus digital. I love digital audio. Or at least the concept of digital formats. There is an argument to be had about moving to formats other than the inferior mp3 now that storage is so cheap. Yeah. But, how many punters can tell the difference between FLAC, mp3 or even wav?
Let me take you back to my formative days. Back when the Beatles dominated the charts my shilling a week pocket money wouldn’t stretch to even one brand new single 45. Instead, my first record purchases were what I guess were remaindered discs from Hitchin market. “Sun arise” by Rolf Harris I’m fairly sure was the first I bought with my own money. My older brother, sister and I regularly bought all sorts of oddities and covers on cheapo labels. We played them until the grooves ran out.
My dad travelled Europe and further afield on business, quite unique for the mid-60s. We loved those trips because it meant the parent responsible for corporal punishment was away. But, better than that he’d always come back with great presents. My first Lego was from Denmark. My brother and I got Zulu shields from South Africa and boomerangs from down under.
Dad most likely bought the gifts at the airport shop on the way home. But, it didn’t matter to us.
Apart from toys and tourist trinkets he usually came back with a record of two. I devoured, amongst other gems:
- 60s euro-pop by bronzed Italian singers, uncanny Silvio Berlusconi look-a-likes
- bizarro Swedish novelty records
- “Moscow Nights”, a song I still love, on the famous soviet Melodyia label (bought in Paris!)
- a Kiwi Beatles tribute band singing “I wanna cut your hair” to the tune of “I wanna hold your hand”
The most novel novelty record was a postcard of some Dutch or Danish church. Yep, a picture disc. Only it was a postcard. Better still, it was a recording of the church bells actually playing a proper tune.
Some of these nuggets were binned long ago, but I have a sneaking suspicion that one or two might turn up at my sister’s.
This was a time not far removed from 78s pressed on shellac. We had dozens of these beasts that were incredibly fragile and there were strict instructions that the children were not allowed to touch let alone play. Inevitably, I got a hiding for accidentally smashing the Goons “I’m walking backwards for Christmas”.
Aside from 78s, there were “singles”, 7 inchers played at 45 revolutions per minute (rpm). A long player (LP) was usually a 12 inch, 33rpm. But, you could get all sorts of formats in between. My dad belonged to a record club which was often the cheapest way to buy discs. They produced 33s of 7 inch and 10 inch in addition to standard LPS. My favourite 10 inch was Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” with Borodin’s “In the Steppes of central Asia” tacked on to the end.
Most record players back then also had a 16rpm setting as well as 33 and 45. I think 16rpms was the standard for spoken recordings. Turntables had difficulty in maintaining a constant low speed so that you’d get a lot of wow and flutter.
I haven’t mentioned what “devices” we played our records on. That’s because until I was in my early teens there was only one “device”. I have trouble recalling exactly what our first hi-fi looked like, but I do remember it was mounted in something like a coffee table. The sound was probably awful, but thanks to my dad’s record club, trips to foreign parts and Hitchin market my early upbringing contributed to my eclectic musical tastes.
We moved to the ‘States when I was 8 and within a few months we were proud owners of a stereo system! More about that in a future technology post.