Just for the record: Get into the groove and play it long
Your fortnightly guide to music on vinyl
The long-playing phonograph record — or as we know it, the LP — celebrated its 70th anniversary last week. Developed by New York’s Columbia Records, the company’s first announcements boasted that their new “unbreakable vinylite” discs were capable of giving the punter some 45 minutes of music on a single disc thanks to its new “microgroove” process.
The advantages of the new medium were obvious: apart from the improved sonic quality, the longer playing discs meant that every inch (or 2.5cm) of your record collection shelving could store some three hours of music. Or so Columbia proudly claimed.
Most of the first LP releases, however, were classical music. According to the company’s 1949 catalogue, released in September 1948, the first 12-inch album was Mendelssohn: Concerto in E Minor (ML 4001), performed by the New York Philharmonic with Nathan Milstein on the violin and conducted by Bruno Walter.The first popular music to be released with all this newfangled technology at Columbia was a re-release of a 1946 album, The Voice of Frank Sinatra (CL6001), a single 10-inch disc of an eight-song set which originally appeared on four brittle shellac discs.Over the next decade, however, Sinatra albums would become 12-inch landmarks: 1956’s Songs for Swingin’ Lovers (Capitol, W653), November 1958’s travel-themed Come Fly With Me (Capitol, W920), and the best of his collaborations with arranger Nelson Riddle, December 1958’s near suicidal Sings For Only the Lonely (Capitol, W1053) are particularly recommended.Hit releases by Sinatra, Julie London, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat “King” Cole and others did much to boost vinyl’s fortunes. But it was slow going. By 1952, the old-style 78s, which had been the conventional format since the 1920s, accounted for just more than half the units sold in the US. A little more than 30% of units sold were seven-inch singles, or 45s. LPs were not quite 17% of unit sales. By 1958, this had grown to almost 25%.
The major US labels stopped manufacturing 78s in 1956, with the final US-made 78s pressed in 159s. Canada and the UK continued 78 production into 1960, while India, the Philippines and South Africa produced them until 1965. Argentina, the last territory to produce them, stopped in 1970.
By 1968, however, popular music had been utterly transformed, thanks to the cultural explosion of the 1960s, and there are a number of cracking “50th anniversary” vinyl re-releases to look out for.
1968 was an important year for the Beatles. July that year saw the release of the Yellow Submarine animated movie, a digitally restored version of which will be returning to cinema screens later this year. To mark the occasion, a limited edition seven-inch vinyl single picture disc, housed in a card sleeve with a die-cut hole, will be released next month. It will feature Eleanor Rigby on the flip side, just as the original Beatles single did when it first appeared in August 1966.Meanwhile, a 50th anniversary reissue of The Beatles, the so-called “White Album” originally released in November 1968, has been confirmed by Paul McCartney.
In an interview with DIY Magazine, McCartney said the project was all set to go. “I’ve just got a couple of essays [to sign off on],” he said. “It’s all lined up and it’s really good. Something sparks another memory, but it’s really nice because we were a great little band, I think we can agree on that. The album itself is very cool and it sounds like you’re in the room; that’s the great thing about doing remasters. But we’ve also got some demos of the songs, so you get things stripped right back to just John’s voice and a guitar.”
No release date has been set yet, but the 50th anniversary editions of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band also appeared at the time of the original release anniversary itself last year. I’d start saving now. Meanwhile, Egypt Station, McCartney’s first solo album since 2013, will be released in September.
As part of their ongoing 50th anniversary celebrations, Led Zeppelin will be reissuing The Song Remains the Same, the live soundtrack to their 1976 concert movie of the same name. It’s coming on September 7, the 50th anniversary of their first-ever gig, when the group still appeared as The New Yardbirds. Rolling Stone reports that guitarist Jimmy Page has amended the vinyl reissue to include several songs not included on the original release.
As with previous Led Zeppelin reissues, this one will appear in several formats, including a deluxe box set, which will feature The Song Remains The Same on both CD and vinyl, a DVD of the original concert film featuring the previously omitted performances, a surround-sound DVD with a photo gallery and high-definition download card, a 28-page booklet featuring stills from the movie, an essay by journalist Cameron Crowe and several other goodies in the bells and whistles department.
To mark the 50 years since the break-up of Buffalo Springfield, perhaps the most influential group ever to have been named after a tractor, all three of their albums have been remastered and reissued in a box set, What’s That Sound?, which is out next week. According to reports, Neil Young put it all together but without telling former bandmate and group founder Stephen Stills about the project.It’s a five-disc set, which includes both remastered mono and stereo versions of the group’s self-titled debut and their masterpiece second album, Buffalo Springfield Again, and a single stereo disc of Last Time Round, their jumbled odds and sods dying moments collection. Personally, I’d be happy if they just re-released the debut and Again on mono, and reissued the 1973 compilation, Buffalo Springfield (Atlantic, ATL 70 001), and forgot about the rest.Lastly, the iconic reggae label Trojan Records is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a number of superb reissues, including albums by the Kingstonians, the Upsetters, Ken Boothe and Sly & The Revolutionaries. Highly recommended, however, is Long Shot, the 1969 collection by the Pioneers, one of the first Jamaican groups to achieve international success with their UK hit, Long Shot Kick The Bucket.
In those early days, however, reggae was more a singles-oriented genre, as highlighted by the Duke Reid Rock’s Steady album, which showcases the soulful productions of legendary Treasure Isle Records boss, Arthur “Duke” Reid. It was originally released by Island Records back in 1967.Another one to look out for is What Am I To Do, a groundbreaking collection by the producer Harry Zephaniah Johnson, better known as “Harry J”. Originally released early in 1970, it features a dozen reggae classics, including the title track by Tony Scott, which provided the rhythm of the producer’s classic hit instrumental, Liquidator.
Trojan plan more great 50th anniversary vinyl rereleases later this year, proving once more that reggae didn’t start and end with Bob Marley.