Year2004

Alarm clocks

     I’ve had the same alarm clock since I was 14, so I’m in the bad habit of ignoring the alarm completely. My first solution was to have the radio turn on at full volume when the alarm went off, but pretty soon I was able to sleep through this, too. Nowadays, to ensure that I get up on time, I set my alarm clock AND the alarm on my cell-phone, and stagger the snoozes by 5 minutes. The result is a relentless alarm-fest for about a half-hour before I finally drag myself out of bed.

     Similarly, a friend of mine was once in the habit of plugging a shopvac into one of those wall-socket timers because he had grown immune to the sound of his alarm clock. He would set the power switch of the shopvac to ‘on,’ plug it into the timed outlet, and set the timer to turn on whenever he needed to be up. Impossible to ignore.

     Another friend recently alerted me to the existance of ‘Shake Awake:’ a device that goes under your pillow
and vibrates at gradually increasing intensity at a set time. The Shake Awake website says:

     “A Better Way To Greet The Day! This travel-sized alarm clock fits neatly under a pillow or mattress and its gentle vibrations will jar the deepest sleeper from their slumber. Great for: The “Morning Impaired,” Hearing Impaired Sleepmates on Different Schedules, Busy Travelers, College Roommates, Snoozing Commuters, and Sleepy-Headed Teens.”

Yeahhhh Boy.

     The dilligent internet enthusiast has probably already seen the recently released Flavor Flav alarm clock, but I include it here to be thorough. The point of all this is that for some reason, I get the impression that there are some ridiculous alarm clock tales out there. I could be totally wrong, but If you do have something to add, either let me know or post in the comments.

Lock Grooves

     I’ve been writing about interesting vinyl manufacturing anomolies for the past few days. Tuesday I covered Flexo Records and flexidiscs, and yesterday I wrote about parallel grooves. Today’s bit is about ‘Lock grooves:’ grooves that feed back into themselves so that they repeat indefinately. You should probably read all of these entries because I hear that’s what the ladies are looking for these days: men with EXTENSIVE knowledge of obscure vinyl manufacturing practices.

     Records with lockgrooves are cut like any other record until the beginning of the loop is reached. At this point, instead of spiraling inward, the radius of the groove becomes fixed, producing a perfectly circular loop that ends where it began.

     The most familiar example of this amongst record collecter types is Lou Reed’s infamous ‘Metal Machine Music.’ Recorded as a ‘Fuck You’ to Reed’s record label, the album is often described as ‘Unlistenable.’ The AMG review sums up the sentiment nicely:

“One would be hard-pressed to name a major artist who ever released an album as thoroughly alienating as Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music.”

MMM!

     The the end of side four is a lock groove that extends the cacaphony to a length only limited by the listener. Reed himself has said of the album: “Well, anyone who gets to side four is dumber than I am.”

     Given the Monty Python troupe’s previous history with clever vinyl mastering, it should come as no surprise that
they’ve already covered this territory:

     “…on another Monty Python record, the Pirannha Bros. sketch at the end of one side finished with a lockgroove of “Sorry squire, I scratched the record I scratched the record I scratched the record… ad infinitum (or the next power cut). Hours of fun.”

     The album in question appears to be ‘Another Monty Python Record,’ but I haven’t yet confirmed this.

     A few ‘serious’ artists have used a final lockgroove to include jokes, and in the case of English band Heaven 17, a perpetual pun. The final track on their ‘Penthouse & Pavement’ album – ‘We’re Going
to Live for a Very Long Time’ – builds to a never-ending groove repeating the phrase ‘For a very long time.’ The James Gang’s “Yer Album” features messages in the lockgrooves that end each side. At the end of side one, the lockgroove repeats “turn me over, turn me over, turn
me over…”; and on side two it plays “play me again, play me again, play me
again…”.

A LONG TIME!
Yer Album

     Other artists have used the repetition of a lockgroove loop to exaggerate the duration of certain sounds. At the end of side two of Abba’s ‘Super Trouper,’ after the final song – “Like Old Friends Do” – the audience’s applause continues into a locked groove (From a NG posting on the topic: “Wow, must have been a
great performance, they’re giving them a neverending standing ovation…”). Side two of Pink Floyd’s ‘Atom Heart Mother’ ends with ‘Alan’s Psychedelic
Breakfast,’ and the dripping tap continues until you lift the needle.

Abba Old Pink

     Of note to crazy record collector types is
“Loop,” a flexidisc by the Velvet Underground which was included in the December 1966 issue of Aspen Magazine (Edited by Andy Warhol). Details, from a VU discography site:

     “Loop is the B-side. The label says “Guitar and feedback”, “First half of a 15-minute recording made with two monaural tape recorders” and “Final groove purposely left open”. The credits went to John Cale who is supposedly the only person playing on Loop. The flexi has a closed-groove ending so the last groove repeats itself ad infinitum.”

VU

     Moving beyond the novelty of the loop, some artists have creatively used lockgrooves to hide extra tracks, creating a ‘false ending’ to the record before the hidden track’s grooves. The listener could hear the ‘hidden’ music only by manually placing the needle beyond the lock groove. This technique was used on the Pale Saints’ “Half-Life” 12,” which had a lock-groove after the second song on the second side, ‘hiding’ an unlisted third song; and in similar fashion on the split 12″ by Nurse With Wound / Sol Invictus / Current 93.

     The 1968 Moby Grape album ‘WOW’ has a lockgroove that seperates the song “Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot,” which unlike the rest of the album, is mastered at 78 RPM. The track is also said to be ‘mixed to sound like an old 78.’

Moby Grape, dude.

     My interest in lockgrooves has led me to do something I NEVER would have guessed I’d ever do: I got into an eBay bidding war over a Lee Ranaldo record. Ranaldo’s 1987 SST release ‘From Here to Infinity’ consists entirely of songs that end in lock grooves. Each song builds to a perpetual 2-second loop which continues until you get up and advance to the next track manually. In the middle of one side is an etching of a flaming serpent chasing its tail around the record. Apparently SST also released this on CD, which seems to defeat the purpose. At any rate, I lost the auction, so if a vinyl copy pops up on eBay again anytime soon you’re not allowed to bid against me, I hereby decree.

Moby Grape, dude.
FLAMING SERPENT

     A legend amongst lockgroove enthusiasts is Boyd Rice, an avant garde electronic experimentalist who is “notable for being one of the first avant-garde rock artists to use turntables in his work,” according to his AMG bio. He records under the name ‘Non,’ and his most influential work appears to be 1978’s ‘Pagan Muzak.’

Pagan Poetry

     Mute Records reissued ‘Pagan Music’ at some point, and they’ve got a great article on the album here:

     “Pagan Muzak is a 7″ vinyl long playing record housed in a 12″ sleeve. It consists of 17 locked/looped grooves, each of them containing a different noise. A second axis hole drilled off-centre doubles the number of tracks; and as it can be played back at up to four speeds – 16, 33, 45 or 78rpm – working out just how many tracks Pagan Muzak effectively offers the listener involves complicated calculations of all the different playback combinations of axis choice, turntable speeds and the grooves themselves. The mind boggles, yet when it was sold as a long playing record, some buyers thought they’d been short-changed by at least five inches. Boyd recalls, “Because it came out as a 7″ record in an album sleeve, people used to go,[in a whining voice] ‘It says LP on here. . .’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘LP means long player, and this is the longest player you are ever going to find’.”

     “Between the record’s peculiar format and the noises contained in its locked grooves, Pagan Muzak clearly anticipated the sound and shape of many music practices to come. Rice’s radicalisation of vinyl reversed the listener’s usual passive relationship with the record as a sound carrier. To listen to it meant first of all making ‘musical’ choices regarding pitch and tempo, dependent on playback axis and turntable speed. In this sense, putting on Pagan Muzak was a kind of rehearsal of a near future, when DJs and turntablists would play records as a musical instrument.”

     “Getting the idea was the relatively easy part. Getting the record manufactured presented a formidable logistical challenge. Boyd continues, “Well, because they always lock off a groove at the end of a record, it seemed reasonable to me that they would be able to do it at any mastering plant. But everyone I spoke to said, ‘No, you can’t do this, it’s impossible, the technology doesn’t exist’. Then these people in Virginia said, ‘Oh yeah, we should be able to do that, I don’t see why not’. But a couple of months later the tapes came back with a letter saying it is not possible. Finally I went to this mastering plant in LA, and talked to its president, and he said, ‘Well, yeah, I think we could do that’. He kind of took it on as a personal challenge and did it himself. . . Always go to the top!”

     Rice has also released the ‘Rangnock Rune’ 12″, with four locked groves
and and etching on orange/reddish vinyl. Other career highlights include 1984’s ‘Easy Listening for the Hard of Hearing,’ an album of percussion sounds produced by everyday objects. Mute maintains a fairly comprehensive Non page with a discography. It’s worth noting that a history of questionable politics has marred his reputation. The AMG bio touches on some of these unflattering associations:

     “His career moved towards a bizarre mix of a cocktail lounge sounds, avant garde noise, and misanthropic folk music as it went along, bringing him a mild cult audience. But anti-Jewish and anti-Christian statements that sprung from his association with a cult and his friendship with Charlie Manson did severe damage to any momentum his career could have had and left him fairly obscure by the mid-90’s.”

     There are several newsgroup threads discussing his various ambiguous political connections. Most of the information is pretty vague, but there are threads here, here, and here.

     The taj mahals of lockgroove ridiculousness are the RRR 100 and RRR 500 compilations, a 7″ and 12″ consisting of nothing but lock grooves by various artists. RRR 100 was released first and contains, as the title suggests, 100 lock grooves – 50 to a side. The RRR 500 LP features a ridiculous 250 lock grooves per side, each running 1 to 2 seconds. A good thread on the staggering impracticality of the LP is here:

RRR!

Sean Casey: “quick question about these locked groove records:
i assume you have to pick up the needle to get to
the next groove, right? but with 500 people, how
do you tell one groove from the next? are the
grooves spaced out more than on a normal record?”

‘Skincrime': “Let’s see, we’ve got 33 1/3 RPM multiplied by 20 Minutes (say for an average LP
side, could be alot more, or less……) and we get 666 grooves, so, the
grooves are a SLIGHT bit further apart then on a Normal record……
As far as FINDING a particular groove that you want to listen to…….well,
have fun………”

Erik Hoffman: “I have a Technics 1200 turntable and it just so happens that when I lift
the stylus arm and then put it back down it advances one groove. Of
course if I wanted to listen to lock groove # 224 I would have to do
this 223 times!! This was not a problem with the 100 lock groove 7″. I
can’t imagine doing this witht the LP.”

‘Voice & Salt': “A nice side effect of the fact it’s difficult to find a particular groove
is that they’re anonymous — oh well, I guess we’ll just have to listen
(over and over and over again….)

     A second pressing of RRR 500 is available here from forced exposure.

     Blake Edwards, the man behind recording project Vertonen released a 7″ called ‘Lock Up‘ in the early 90’s. The A-side consists of 15 lock grooves. Blake has posted the story of his experience getting the 7″ pressed on his own, and it’s an interesting read if you’re into that end of music production / label business. There are few bits about the nature of manufacturing lock grooves within the epic tale:

Vert

     “…when the lock groove locks, you usually get a click. However, some of the loops I recorded were single pitch loops, so when the groove locked there was a fuzzy pitch shift. Not heinous, but somewhat annoying nonetheless. There was nothing I could do about it anyway, since apparently that’s just the nature of the beast of lock grooves.”

     Also: ‘The Lock Grooves’ is a good name for a funk band.

For fans of 'The State:'

Will Yates writes:

     “I was watching Jimmy Kimmel at home tonight as opposed to having a life, and the comedy act for the end of the show was something like Hertzfeld and Klein. (I forget the exact names.) Kimmel introduced them as a famous long-running comedy duo who were making their first TV appearance. Well, anyway, Klein turned out to be Michael Ian Black. They did a bizarre sketch where the one guy was telling really lame Howard Dean jokes and Michael Ian Black was standing there silent with his arm in a sling, and it turned out that the other guy had caused a car accident earlier in the day that had killed MIB’s wife and broken his arm. Then they “revealed” that MIB’s wife actually didn’t die and it was a huge joke, but then they cut to her and she was in full body cast. Then at the end Jimmy Kimmel said you can catch them at their next gig which was the 82nd birthday party of some old Jewish man at a nursing home. Never were their real names mentioned. This was all done very straight-facedly by all parties involved. Great, but in a weird way where no one really laughed. Thought you’d be interested.”

     Also, from McSweeney’s: Michael Ian Black responds to ‘I Love the 70’s’ Backlash.

Fate as the DJ: Parallel Grooves

     Some of the more interesting variations that can occur during vinyl manufacturing occur while the master plates are being cut. While a normal record’s grooves consist of one continuous spiral, the only strict limitations on how the grooves can be cut lie in the standards imposed by the turntable. One innovation that I’ve discovered in researching unique records is the practice of cutting two or more parallel grooves into the same side of a record. In the case of a two-grooved record, when the needle is dropped you may hear one of two entirely different ‘sides.’

woo!

     This practice cuts the time available per side down by a facter of n (n being the number of parallel grooves). For example, suppose a one grooved record can hold 20 minutes of music. A two-grooved record can in turn hold 10 minutes of music in each groove, which adds up to 20 minutes for the side. Sticklers who want to know exactly how much an LP can hold per side might be interested to learn that it’s variable:

     “Generally speaking, each side of an LP should not exceed around 20 to 25
minutes to maintain an ideal signal to noise ratio. To manufacture longer play times, more grooves must be put on the vinyl, and the overall volume has to be lowered and the dynamics compressed. This allows the groove to be physically smaller, but also lowers the signal to noise ratio.”

     I’ve done a bit of research on this variety of record and have thus far been unable to track down a definitive ‘first’ record to employ the technique. Collectors of 78 RPM records in the newgroups maintain that this was done ‘a lot’ in the 30’s and 40’s. In the limited reading I’ve done on the topic, the most cited example (by far) is Monty Python’s ‘Matching Tie and Handkerchief‘ album.

     I went to Ann Arbor’s vinyl repository, Encore Records to see if I could pick up a copy so I could experience the double groove in question. Sure enough, there amongst the comedy section in the back, I found a copy (Albeit sans ‘Tie and Handkerchief’). I brought the record home and experienced the parallel groove in all its glory. I showed it to friends, sometimes taking up to seven tries to hit the alternate groove. Patience was tried, glory was had.

Tie & Hanky

     In every newsgroup post on the topic, someone mentions this record:

     “I had this album for months before I heard the third side. I never could figure out why the second side seemed so much shorter than the first. Also, the original cover actually came with a tie stuffed into the cover so you could see it on the outside. Unfortunately, due to costs it was cut early on. even worse, at about the same time, they put it into a regular jacket and used only two sides. i have an original though, i NEVER found this out until i bought the Monty Python autobiography, very funny!!!”

     I’ve been unable to confirm the ‘Real tie’ part of the story. Also unconfirmed thus far:

     “This phenomenom appeared on a free Monty Python flexi 7″, which was given away on the cover of NME (if memory serves). On one groove was The lumber jack song, and I think the other was the election results sketch. Forgive me if the facts aren’t entirely accurate but it was a hell of a long time ago.”

     It appears comedy records were the ‘early adopters’ of this technology, as I’ve also found mention of a Henny Youngman record of one-liners that has four seperate grooves (Though I’m not sure which Henny Youngman record…), and a National Lampoon LP, “That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick!” which had parallel grooves on both sides. I’ve also found a few postings mentioning a Cheech and Chong album that used the groove for more then just hidden storage – it was part of the joke:

     “Cheech & Chong did something similar with the “Rip-Off Album”. Each side had two grooves. One groove contained the album, and the other was a groove that went the entire length and simply said “You’ve been ripped off” over and over. This made it entirely possible that no matter where you put the needle, on either side, you could get the second [“You’ve been ripped off”] groove.”

     “If memory serves me right, this was accompanied by a huge advertising and marketing campaign for the album, which consisted mostly of C&C saying not to buy the album, it’s a rip off, etc.”

     …which sounds great in theory, but everyone who mentions this links back to the article quoted above, and I haven’t been able to independently verify its existence.

     Perhaps the ultimate in parallel groove technology was Mad Magazine’s ‘It’s a Super Spectacular Day,’ a flexi-disc included in the 1980 Super Special which featured eight possible parallel-groove endings:

     “Halfway through the disc, after the cheerful intro, the extra grooves took over and the record played a gloomy/funny description of possible disastrous events that totally ruin your day. There were 8 scenarios total and whichever one played depended on which groove the stylus happened to make contact with – totally random! I had to play the thing 25-30 times before I could hear all 8 of ‘em! You can hear all eight endings on the Totally MAD CD 4, ‘Somewhere in the Middle Years’.”

Cheap!

     You can view the lyrics to all the alternate conclusions here, if you’re so inclined.

‘Real’ Music

     The parallel groove technique has also made several appearances in the world of ‘serious’ music, with some using it more creatively than others. I’ve compiled a list of all that I was able to find mention of on the web:

  • LL Cool J – Goin’ Back To Cali / Radio / Jack The Ripper ‘Three sided’ 10″ single.
  • Soft Verdict – 7″ on Belgium’s Collectible Crepuscule label (early 1980s): three parallel groove tracks on the b-side.
  • Kate Bush – “Sensual World” 12″ single. One track contains the standard vocal version and the other an instrumental version.
  • Fine Young Cannibals – “Good Thing” 12″ single (1989). Two different mixes of the same song in parallel grooves.
  • M – “Pop Muzik” European 12″ single. Double grooved with two mixes. “It was highly irritating
    back then in the late 1970’s but now I actually enjoy the randomness…”
  • Sonic Youth – “100%” and “Youth against Fascism”, both 10″ singles from 1992-ish on Geffen. Each side has 2 songs, one in each groove. “Maddingly frustrating if you want to hear a specific song.”
  • I am Spoonbender – Teletwin 12″.
  • Various Artists – The “Music Maniac Gimmick Compilation” (Germany, late 1980’s). A two record set with two or three grooves on every side. “A tribute to the phonograph record and the weirdest LP ever. Cut ‘trick-track’ with 3 parallel grooves on each side, clear vinyl, no labels, spoken introductions, free boardgame and a cover with optical illusions.”
  • “The book “Rare Rock” by Tony Rees mentions a Rush promo from the Seventies that featured six different grooves with six different songs. The name of the record: ‘Rush’n Roulette.'”
  • “You’re the Guy I Want to Share my Money With”, on Giorno Poetry Systems Records. Laurie Anderson, William Burroughs, and John Giorno each take Sides 1 to 3, and on Side 4 there are three tracks (one by each artist) that run as parallel grooves.

Good & Evil / Happy & Sad

     I found two interesting records that use the inherent duality of the parallel grooves in the themes of the recordings contained within them. One is a single by Psychic TV (It looks to be ‘Je T’aime,’ though I’m not positive). Dropping the needle on this parallel groove, one can hear either the Pope or Anton Le Vey reciting their respective credos.

INHERENT DUALITY!

     The other is ‘Brave,’ a 1994 album by prog-rockers Marillion:

     “I don’t know how common it is, but Marillion’s last album ‘Brave’ was released as a double vinyl LP with the final side existing as two grooves – one with a ‘happy’ ending and one with an ‘unhappy’ ending (its a concept album…)”

     Further Details on ‘Brave’ Straight from the band:

     “The 2LP vinyl release of Brave features a double groove on the second side of disc 2. The first groove plays ‘The Great Escape’ as heard on the CD, followed by ‘Made Again'; the second groove plays ‘The Great Escape (Spiral Remake)’ and 20 minutes of water noise. This provides 2 different endings to the album story, depending on where you drop the needle.”

     A bit of research reveals that a full-length movie version of Brave, directed by Richard Stanley, was released in Europe in conjunction with the album. The VHS is currently out of print, but EMI are planning to release a DVD version in the summer of 2004. The only review on the imdb entry for the movie reveals the plot:

     “Brave was Marillion’s seventh studio album, their third with Steve Hogarth. It was that most unfashionable of products, a concept album from a prog-rock outfit in the early 90’s.”

     “The story was complete invention, starting from a real event; the police found a young woman wandering on a motorway bridge. She couldn’t or wouldn’t tell them anything. From this starting point, the group wove a story which covered abuse by her father as a child, moving on into drug abuse and a few other events leading to her being on the bridge, contemplating suicide.”

     “The film is an interpretation of the story, with the co-operation of the band – although they feature only in passing on screen. This film is about as far from MTV video as it’s possible to get!”

     “The story is mostly told via the images and Marillion’s music – there is little dialogue. As such, I feel the film is something of a curate’s egg; some of it works really well, while others need more explanation. The scenes with the Hollow Man (the man in the mask) could do with something extra, since it’s not really clear if this is simply a barrier the girl erects to protect her from people who hurt her, a cipher that means these people are interchangeable, or something else entirely.”

     “Not a bad effort, but not brilliant, either. If you’re unfamiliar with the original album, be prepared to be baffled the first couple of times through.”

Fun & Games

     The novelty of the parallel groove technique seems ideal for use on children’s records, but I found information on only a few. What I did find was vague at best. One poster in the rec.music.collecting.vinyl newsgroup remembers a ‘changing story’ 78, with multiple ‘switching points’ where new parallel grooves would begin:

     “When I was a child in the early ’50s I had a Bugs Bunny 78 that had two grooves per side, with two track regions per side, with a break between them. When the tone arm was put down the needle would fall into one of the two tracks; then at the break in the middle it would again select one of the two tracks of the second region. So the choices at each of the four sections on both sides were 2-2-2-2, for a total of 16 possible
variations in the story being told. It was great fun to keep changing the story. But the record quickly wore a prefered path between the first and second track regions in the middle, which reduced the randomness to 2-1-2-1, or only four variations. So we learned to pick up the tone arm at the middle transition and restore it to regain the lost randomness. Alas, the record has been gone since the mid-’50s. This was a phonograph version of stories that had multiple choices within them as they jumped around different pages. My own children loved those when they were young; they were a favorite from the library.”

     A few other children’s records of this sort that I’ve seen mentioned:

     “I have a few 50s kiddie 45s where they did this sort of thing. The two off the top of my head that I have are “Engineer Bill’s Magic Record” on Mark 56 and “The Chariot Race Game” on RCA from the late 50s.”

“I’m not positive, but I even think that Decca put out at least one of these on their yellow/pink 88000 kiddie series in the early 50s.”

     Another application of parallel grooves was in games. I’ve found a few vague mentions of horse racing games using multiple grooved records:

     “At a garage sale years ago, I saw a bizarre “Horseless Horse Racing” family game. It consisted of fake racing forms and, of course, another of those multi-grooved records. Each groove featured a different victorious horse & bets were placed on them all. The rest is obvious…”

     If you can fill in any of the blanks above, or are aware of any other records that have parallel grooves, let me know either via email or in the comments to this post. I plan on editing this post as I receive / discover new parallel groove records.

Also, ‘Parallel Groove’ is a good name for a funk band. So is ‘Concentric Groove.’

Flexo / Flexi

     In addition to the regular procession of
unrelated entries, I’m going to try and do a sort of ‘theme’ every so often. The point of this is to force myself to post bits of larger topics that my brain usually tries to sit on until I’ve followed up every loose thread (Which never happens). There will probably be no rhyme or reason to the the ‘themes,’ and some will be more exhaustive than others. This time around it’s going to be Vinyl Anomolies. Let me know how it all works out for you.

     Over Christmas, I impulsively bought a
book called Vinyl Junkies, without ever
having heard of it. It’s another ‘fast’ book, with each chapter focusing on the record collector theme from a different angle. Some chapters lay on the ‘old guy romance’ a bit heavy, but there are enough really interesting chapters (The ‘professional record hunter’ chapter in particular) to make it worthwhile.

     One of the sections of the book deals
with R. Crumb and his collection. In the quoted interviews, he
mentions the Flexo record company of California, who manufactured
flexible records:

     “Living in the Bay area at the height of
the psychedelic explosion, Crumb let those records and that movement
pass him by. Why go after those records when you can find something as
exotic as records on the Flexo label – a short-lived San Francisco
outfit that made 78’s that actually bent? “Nobody knows what they’re
made of, because they kept the formula a secret. It was a small
company in the 20’s and 30’s who actually made unb reakable, flexible
records, and they’ve held up pretty well over the years. And there’s
some really excellent music on them – San Francisco jazz and dance
bands who have only been on Flexo. Over the years I lived out there, I
only ever found two or three of them. Terry [Zwigoff] beat me on that
one – he looked in the phonebook and found that one of the band leaders
was still alive. And somehow I never thought of using the phonebook.”

     My interest was piqued, so I did a bit of
internet research on Flexo records. A little searching with google
turned up href=”http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Museum/8764/flexo.htm”>this company
profile, written by director Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Ghost World) in
the liner notes for ‘San Francisco Jazz – The Flexo
Recordings 1930-1932:

     “Flexo Records were the brainchild Of
Jesse J. Warner. Originally manufactured in Kansas City starting in
1925, the “flexible” record that Warner designed and unsuccessfully
tried to patent came in a variety of colors. Used originally for
private custom records in sizes ranging from 3″ to 16″, and playable at
speeds of 78RPM or 33 1/3RPM, the “New Flexo” rcords, as they became
known, also included a handful of commercial sides by the Johnnie
Campbell Orchestra, a black band which recorded tunes including “Tin
Roof Blues” and “Jimtown Blues”.

     By 1929, the Kansas City company had
moved to San Francisco with Warner as recording engineer. “The Pacific
Coast Record Company” was located at 1040 Geary Street. Many West Coast
bands recorded for Flexo…including Jack Coakley’s Tait at the Beach
Orchestra, Lew Reynolds Flexo Recording Orchestra, and George Druck’s
Sweet’s Ballroom Orchestra.

     Jack Coakley served as “musical director”
for Flexo until 1932. His band recorded at least a dozen popular tunes
of the day. Flexo continued to specialize in private recordings as
well.

     None of the musicians present at the
various recording sessions remember how or where “Flexos” were sold.
They don’t recall selling or giving them away at band performances.

     One clue to the marketing of Flexos comes
from a four page Pacific Coast Record Catalog that lists Flexos
#100-134. Numbers 100-122 are ten inches in diameter and play from the
inside out @ .75 each. Numbers 123-134 are eight inches in diameter and
play from the outside in @ .40 each. Here’s how the catalog touts
“unbreakable records”:

     “Phonograph manufacturers have been
searching for years and the record buying public has been looking
forward to obtaining a record that is UNBREAKABLE AND EVERLASTING. The
new FLEXO RECORD meets these requirements. It cannot be BROKEN OR
CRACKED; is of light weight for easy mailing and does not mutilate or
mar easily. The new FLEXO RECORD is constructed of a specially
processed material sufficiently delicate to produce the finest and
natural tone qualities. The new FlEXO RECORDS have been put through the
most trying and extraordinary tests, they have been thrown in the
streets, run over by automobiles and trucks for hours at a time, they
have been layed out under the burning rays of the hot summer sun
without materially affecting their rendition qualities. They will wear
almost indefinitely and are a permanent and lasting record. The PACIFIC
COAST RECORD CORPORATION, in the production of the new FLEXO RECORD,
has also developed the recording of sound waves by an entirely new
process of phongraph recording, giving you a true reproduction of all
sounds from the blare of a brass band to the whispered word. Only use
the ordinary, new steel needle for the reproduction of the FLEXO
RECORD.

     It seems Warner was more the inventor
type than a marketing genius, and by 1934, the Pacific Record Company
declared bankruptcy. Another company started up at the same address
called Titan Productions which continued to produce mostly advertising
records and radio transcriptions –and employed J.J. Warner–until
1939.”

     I also found a great site called The Internet
Museum of Flexi / Cardboard / Oddity Records
that includes images
and sound clips form an original flexo record.

     These pictures are a start, but I’m most
interested in the ‘flexible’ properties of these records. I was unable
to find anything else online about the flexo label. I’ve yet to see a
flexo record come up for auction on eBay, and I’m sure if one ever does
the bidding will be way beyond what I’m willing to pay to satisfy my
curiousity.

     The rest of the Flexi / Cardboard /
Oddity Records site, however, is interesting in its own right. Among
the well-remembered cereal box and other food
related
promotional records are some true anomolies. These include
playable
records that were used as POSTAGE in Bhutan
, a Psychedelic Furs 7″
that had the song pressed onto both the 7″ AND the sleeve itself
, and
a Brian
Wilson-penned flexidisc that was included with certain Barbie
dolls
.

     For the technically inclined reader,
there is a discussion of the flexi (not flexo) manufacturing process here.

Free Money

     Remember about a year ago when everyone was telling you to sign up for the ‘Compact Disc Minimum Advertised Price Antitrust Litigation Settlement?’ Well, I’m not sure if this is old news or not, but I actually got my check yesterday! Watch your mailbox.

Hot damn!

Back from NYC

     Found in emergency info / barfbag pocket, on flight from Laguardia to Metro Airport:

You are Stupid.

Science Corner:

How to record your favorite Radio shows for convenient listening: A narrative tutorial in unnecessarily explicit detail.

     I am obsessed with late night talk radio show ‘Loveline,’ hosted by Adam Carolla and Board Certified Addiction Medicine Specialist Dr. Drew Pinsky. This fact seems to surprise people – I’m not sure why. The show manages to cover a ridiculous range of topics with an uncommon thoroughness, and the unwavering disdain for the callers is always entertaining. Perhaps it’s not for you – that’s not the point of this entry. While enjoying the show over the past few years, I’ve found that listening from 1 – 3 A.M. when the show airs is not generally conducive to ‘getting enough sleep,’ so early in 2003 I started figuring out an ‘easy’ way to record the shows so that I could listen to them on my commute.

Mousecaster.

     Since I don’t have a cassette player in my car, this was going to have to be done via CD. The first solution I found was the Mousecaster. The Mousecaster that I bought was a ball mouse that had a tiny built-in fm radio that plugs into the standard mouse port on the back of your computer. It comes bundled with intuitive software that allows you to easily schedule recordings by time and station. The mouse, however, was borderline unusable. So began the painful process of attempting to remember to swap mouse cables before I went to bed every night. If I wanted to use my computer after 1 am AND record the show, I would have to use the terribly awkward mousecaster mouse. Sure this seems pretty harmless, but I knew there had to be a better, even easier way – I was going for complete automation. [Note that the Mousecaster site currently offers a drastically redesigned optical version, so I can’t comment on the current product.]

Cadet PC radio.

     I could have simply run a cord from the tuner in my stereo to the line-in of my computer, but I wanted the recordings to occur independant of my forgetfulness – I knew I couldn’t be relied on to switch my stereo back to ‘tuner’ every night. I wanted a dedicated radio for the computer, so I searched all the nerdy PC-building sites for an internal solution. What I ended up with is the Cadet PC radio, which is still available from a variety of sources for less than $10. The place I bought mine from contacted me before shipping it because the S&H on my order was more than the total cost of the radio.

     The Cadet Radio is a card that plugs into an open PCI slot in your computer. This one requires a little bit more courage to install, as you’ll be opening up the case of your computer and messing about with bits and pieces, but it’s really not nearly as hard as it might look to someone who’s not used to poking around in there. The Cadet radio comes packaged with a gigantic bundle of unintuitive, unintegrated 1995-looking windows applications. The only piece I ended up using from this bundle was the remote control, a little program that runs in the system tray amd allows you to change the station. The other 8 or 9 are pretty much useless, but it was the hardware I was interested in.

     I now had a way to easily pump the radio signal into my computer AND use the mouse of my choice. What I needed next was a program to automatically schedule recordings. The first program I tried was an intuitive and well-designed piece of freeware called Messer – Memo Session Sound Recorder. Messer seemed like it would be perfect on a fast machine, but the computer I was using to run everything was a 300 MHz Pentium II (ie OLD), so it didn’t do the job for me. I ended up with all sorts of errors, stops and starts in the MP3 encoding, which is understandable, as Messer was encoding 2 hours of MP3 data on the fly.

Messer.

     I tried High Criteria’s Total Recorder next. The setup was a bit more involved, and the interface a bit less intuitive than Messer’s, but it records a wav file and does the conversion afterward, resulting in mp3 recordings of my 2 hour long radio show with no encoding errors. The gigantic wav file is then automatically deleted. Total recorder, unlike messer, is not free, but it’s only 15 bucks. Well worth it.

Total Recorder.

     My next problem was editing the shows to fit onto CD. The raw 2 hour mp3 files (120 minutes) obviously won’t fit onto one 80 minute CD. My first idea was to record two one hour sessions back to back and burn the resulting files to 2 seperate CDR’s. I ended up discarding this idea as it seemed like a waste to go through 2 CDR’s per day when 30- 40 minutes of the 120 were commercials and tracks from the musical guest’s latest CD. I decided that editing out the unessential might be a good idea. Since the commercial breaks on Loveline occur erratically, I couldn’t simply schedule Total recorder to record around the breaks – I would need to actually open up the resultant two-hour file.

     Anyone who has ever edited audio on a computer will tell you that opening a 2 hour stereo sound file for editing in any of the standard audio programs on a 300 MHz computer is insane. The best program I found to work around this is called MP3 direct cut. It only opens the portion of the file in the viewing window at any given time, so you can access any point in a 2 hour mp3 file for visual editing in seconds (vs. roughly 20 minutes of load time in Soundforge), and it’s free. Using this program I could chop each show down to around 80 minutes. The giant volume shifts serve as visual clues as to where the commercial breaks are located in the file.

MP3 Direct Cut.

     With both hardware and software working to my satisfaction, I stuck with this system for a few months before I got sick of chopping out the commercials, so I saved up and bought an ipod, and now I can throw the full 2 hour mp3 files on to the ipod and listen in the car using the iTrip.

     When I recently upgraded from the 300 MHz Pentium 2 to a Mac, I looked into similar programs for OSX and I found Radiolover, a program that records live radio streams to mp3 files. A bit of searching around yielded no stations that stream Loveline, but I’ve started using Radiolover for NPR shows. There’s an exhaustive website called publicradiofan.com that catalogs the schedule of every public radio station that streams content online. You can look up a show by title and see which stations stream it every day of the week. I record This American Life and Car Talk (Avoiding the $10 monthly subscriptions at audible.com).

Radiolover.

     Speaking of ‘This American Life,’ a recent visit to the General Store section of their website revealed that all sorts of Chris Ware design work is available through them, including this giant 3.5 foot by 1.5 foot poster (Which I got for Christmas!). Also of note is the fact that they now offer a CD subsctiption service – each week’s show mailed to you on a CD in fancy packaging specially designed by Mr. Ware. A year’s subscription costs – wait for it – $275. If you’re extremely nerdy and just want the packaging you can order a single episode for $13, but I would never do something like that.

Show Title.

     For those who might actually be interested in Loveline, there’s a good site here with mp3 clips, a message board, etc. Part of the appeal for me is how candid the hosts are about their other pursuits – Drew recently published a book and Adam is involved with all sorts of television production. A few quick examples of the interesting stuff that comes up, from the journal section of the site:

Cop Lights Sticker

Adam: I had a great idea on the ride in. […] Everywhere I go at night, I just stare in the rearview — I don’t even look at the road — and I try to make out the headlights. “That’s a minivan. That could be a cruiser, could be a cop car.” And I just realized: all I need is a sticker. I need a little sticker just a little bigger than a postage stamp to stick onto my rearview mirror that is cop headlights. Because all cars have their sort of “headlight signature”.

Drew: Something to mark it against? To compare it against?

Adam: No; just a sticker to remind… like I can reference… yeah, I can reference it.

Drew: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Adam: Yeah. I mean, you can look up and go, “No, that’s a Ford LTD with a…” You know, cops drive one car, maybe you gotta put two or three, maybe put the bike along the bottom. But you got the reference.

The Treehouse

Adam: Sorry I’m late. Yeah. I was doing “Jimmy Kimmel Live” tonight. Your, uh… Drew’s wife was at the show. She was in the Green Room along with his kids. I got on late; the show kinda ran a little late. Got outta there, it was about ten o’clock; I went running back to the dressing room to grab my wallet and uh… Your wife cut me off. And she’s, “Adam, when are you gonna build that tree house for Paulina?” That’s Drew’s daughter. And I said, “I dunno. I dunno. I’m on the move here. I gotta get to the radio.” And she’s like, “Well, hold on! Hold on, hold on! Someone wants to talk to you.” So then, your daughter Paulina comes running up, she’s, “Where’s my tree house? Daddy says you won’t build my tree house!” You’re mom’s standing… I’m mean, you’re… well, “mom” — little Freudian slip there [Anderson plays the “whip” drop] — but, uh, the dungeon master’s standing there, your wife. I said, “Listen, listen. I’ll get to the tree house when I get to the tree house. I gotta go… I gotta go to the show. I gotta do the radio.” She’s, “Whoa ho ho. Not so fast. Not so fast.” I said, “Are you high, honey? I gotta go do the god damn radio show! Where do you think I’m supposed to be right now?!” She’s like, she follows me into the dressing room. I collect my stuff. I start walking out, trying to go down the hall in a jog. She’s, “Adam! Adam! Adam! Hold up! Hold on! Hold on!” Now, does… she understands the radio show goes on every evening about ten-ish?

Drew: Yeah.

Adam: What’s with forming the human blockade on me and accosting me with the tree house question so I can’t get to this show, Drew?

[Anderson plays the “unacceptable” Drew drop.]

Adam: Yes.

Drew: Sounds like they were planning that for a while before you got off the set.

Adam: She’s really… You gotta get your wife, you gotta get her, like, a watch, and some Valium. I mean, she needs so many things, Drew. Please. I was offended.

I Love Me Some Zombies

     The reviews from the current Zombies tour featuring singer Colin Blunstone and keyboardist Rod Argent are starting to come in. This one was pulled from one of the mailing lists I’m on and sums things up pretty nicely. Naturally they aren’t coming anywhere near Detroit.

     “OK, that was pretty surreal – ‘That’ was tonight’s Zombies show in NYC.

     I suppose I shouldn’t have been too shocked to get an opportunity to see
them. I learned long ago that it ain’t over until all of the band
members are dead. I never expected to see live shows by The Jefferson
Airplane, The Grass Roots, Led Zeppelin (Live Aid), Ron Dante, George
Harrison (Dylan anniversary), but I did; why should the Zombies be any
different?

     Well, for starters, the band was only together for about six years and
broke up when I was two years old. Before the recent reunion, their last
live show anywhere occurred before my second birthday, and their last NYC
show appears to have taken place before I was born. When I was growing
up and getting into music, the only one of their records in print
domestically was a strange Epic compilation, Time of the Zombies — a two
LP set which included, as the second LP, Odessey & Oracle, without
explaining anywhere in the liner notes that the record was presented
intact. (But I’m lucky the thing existed so I was able to get into the
Zombies at the tender age of 16.) Add to all of that the fact that they
managed to remain split up for over 30 years, and the odds certainly
seemed stacked against me.

     Fortunately, in Zombie Heaven, anything can happen. The Zombies (or at
least Rod, Colin and friends and family) put on a tremendous show in
front of an appreciative and frighteningly electic crowd tonight. (There
looked to be at least three generations of fans on hand.) They played
for nearly two hours and performed songs from all across their history —
Zombies, Argent, Colin solo, Rod and Colin’s new record, and even one of
the Alan Parsons Project songs Colin sang lead on.

     The highlight for me was the Zombies songs. They played the biggies —
She’s Not There, I Love You, Tell Her No & Time of the Season, but also
managed to sneak in some less obvious and delightful selections.
Indication, Just Out of Reach, Summertime, and half of O&O. Sure, Care
of Cell 44 and This Will Be Our Year weren’t big surprises. But it was
pretty amazing to hear A Rose For Emily, and recent set addition
Beechwood Park gave me shivers. And nothing in the world could ever have
prepared me for witnessing the first live performance EVER of one of my
absolute favorite Zombies songs, I Want Her She Wants Me. That’s right
— it was recorded 37 years ago but never played live, according to Rod,
until tonight! (And I didn’t even have to show my chest, Harris!)

     The band sounded great — very tight. Vocals were pretty damn solid for
a bunch of old men. Rod’s voice has held together better than Colin’s,
but Colin had some incredible moments (like “and I don’t know what to
say” in I Love You). And Rod has, without a doubt, the best right hand
in the business. He’s on a whole different level from most other
keyboardists — maybe even beyond Wakeman and Emerson. His leads were
blazing! You just don’t see that from rock keyboardists anymore. Rod’s
cousin Jim Rodford looked like somebody’s redneck grandpa but did a fine
job on bass and backing vocals, Jim’s son played decent drums (but made
no attempt to emulate Hugh Grundy), and Keith Airey was on guitar and
probably had a few too many Yngwie moments, considering the material.
Overall, great musicians, great performance. (Crummy venue, though . .
.)

     If you like the Zombies or think you might, you gotta go see this show.
You won’t be disappointed!

Gary Maher”

Three quick bursts of Zombies weirdness:

1.) Imposters!

     The Zombies spawned multiple sets of stateside imposters, who would book shows as the Zombies and play Zombies songs. Read all about it here.

     “On December 13, 1969, I saw a group billed as the Zombies at the Aerodrome in Schenectady, NY. They played all Zombies material in the Zombies style, BUT THEY WEREN’T THE ZOMBIES. The band, I believe now, had broken up at that point. The band members names were John (voc), Terry (guitar), Howie (organ), Eddie (bass), Gary (drums). I met them after the show (thinking they were the original group) and got their autographs and they gave me a mailing address. I have the original ad and picture from the Troy, NY newspaper… [Depicting a band who are clearly not the Zombies.]”

Not the Zombies.

2.) Colin Blunstone, Post-Zombies

     After the Zombies broke up, singer Colin Blunstone became a clerk for Sun insurance company. He reemerged in 1968 with a solo single under the name Neil Macarthur. The single featured a bizarre reinterpretation of the Zombies classic ‘She’s Not There,’ adding an urgent string arrangement over the choruses and weirdly predicting the feel of Santana’s cover’ version in the verses. I’ve posted an mp3 of the Neil MacArthur version here. Blunstone went on to add vocals to a few Alan Parsons Project albums (‘Pyramid and ‘Eye in the Sky’) and the Parsons-produced band Keats. None of these projects are nearly as interesting as his work with the Zombies.

3.) Rod Argent, Post-Zombies

     After the Zombies broke up, keyboardist Rod Argent formed a band bearing his own surname, scoring hits with ‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You’ (Kiss later covered it) and ‘Hold Your Head Up.’ They also revisited some Zombies material, delivering a truly ridiculous live version of ‘Time of the Season’ that appears on ‘Encore: Live in Concert‘ and ‘Anthology: The Best of Argent.’ After Argent split up in 1975, Mr. Argent appeared as a session player on quite a few records, including “all Andrew Lloyd Webber stuff from “Variations” in 1977, up through “Phantom of the Opera” in 1985.

There’s a Zombies fansite here, and an Argent fan site here. Rod Argent’s official site is here.

Vintage Zombies Video Clip

Good Times.

[.wmv format]

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