Thursday, February 9, 2012

(empo-tymshft) Flexible records and music distribution in the 20th century

Rob Michael was discussing something on Google+ on Wednesday.

Only us Old-Skool guys will remember this.

Soundpages from Guitar Player Magazine. Playable records that were part of the back cover of the magazine.

Remember that back in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, there was no way to download songs. Also during much of this period, the primary way to listen to your own music was via a record player, which would spin discs at 33 1/3 RPM or 45 PM (or sometimes at other speeds). These discs were usually made of vinyl, but why not make them out of other materials? As long as the material was shaped so that a needle could read the data, you could make discs out of all sorts of material - including a piece of plastic or cardboard that was attached to the back of a magazine.

Or a cereal box. As a kid, I vaguely remember owning a copy of Bobby Sherman's smash hit "Little Woman" that I got from a breakfast cereal. I can't remember how robust the record was, but it certainly brought a whole new meaning to "disposable pop."

But the record format could also be used to distribute non-musical material. One thing that I valued much more than the Bobby Sherman record was a recording that I obtained via MAD Magazine. It was an audio version of one of the stories in the magazine, "Gall in the Family Fare." Milk and Cookies describes the piece:

In the early '70s, Mad Magazine did their parody on the show "All in the Family" calling it "Gall in the Family Fare". At one point, they recorded an audio version of this and put it on an old flexi-disc record as a bonus insert in a special issue. This record is a rarity and it hasn't seen the light of day since 1973.

And for those who didn't live during the 1970s, Milk and Cookies had to print a warning:

Archie Bunker's character says a lot of horrible ethnic slurs.

This was also true of the real show. It's quite possible that "All in the Family" couldn't air on one of the broadcast networks today.

If you go to the Milk and Cookies page, you can see a YouTube video that includes both the printed and the audio versions of "Gall in the Family Fare." You'll notice that the two aren't exactly the same. Part of this is because of the distribution media involved (the audio version has to include someone announcing the name of the World War II buddy, while the printed version just shows a picture of the man). I've been wondering about some of the other differences for almost forty years - for example, why was the word "Meathead" changed to "Ding-a-Ling" in the audio recording?

So that's how music professionals like Rob Michael, and music fans like me would get free recordings back in the day. Eventually these became compact discs, and eventually those became downloads...

If you're interested in this topic, be sure to check out The Internet Museum of Flexi / Cardboard / Oddity Records. It covers the MAD magazine records, as well as musical records from the likes of the Dave Clark Five and Guns N' Roses.
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