I’ve been buried in musical nostalgia for the past few days, and it’s been wonderful.

My family is a very musical family — all of my immediate family, and the majority of my closer relatives, have at one time or another in our lives played at least one instrument and sung in choirs — and my parents have a huge vinyl collection. While the majority of my mom’s side of the collection focused on classical and choral music, my dad’s albums, and those that they collected together, skewed more towards the pop music of the time, mostly folk, country, blues, and rock and roll. Understandably, this collection had a huge influence on my and my brother’s musical tastes.

When we got old enough, we had free reign over the music collection and dad’s record player on the family stereo, and we were encouraged to discover which albums grabbed our attention. Music was meant to be appreciated, not just as noise in the background that nobody pays attention to, but as a soundtrack to whatever was going on. I can remember many housecleaning days when mom would head off somewhere, leaving the boys to take care of the house, and dad would tell us to pick something to listen to and put it on, telling us to “turn it up to the threshold of pain” as we worked.

The musical education went both ways, as well, as Kevin and I grew older and started exploring and diversifying our own tastes. Sometimes mom and dad would enjoy what we brought home (a few years ago, I got a kick out of introducing dad to the country-blues-acid house fusion of Alabama 3‘s “Welcome to Coldharbour Lane” album), sometimes our choices fell flat. Even when they didn’t “get it,” though — and this is one of those not-so-little things that I will always be grateful for — they never condemned what we listened to or told us we shouldn’t listen to it, but they’d ask us about it, and we occasionally had some interesting discussions investigating why something worked or didn’t work for us.

One winter day, Mom and I were driving out of Anchorage to Eagle River, and I put Pink Floyd‘s “The Wall” cassette into the car stereo. As we drove along, listening to such lyrically cheerful songs as “The Happiest Days of our Lives” and “Young Lust,” Mom expressed her distaste at the content of the songs, and wondered how in the world I could be interested in such depressing music. The rest of the drive turned into a long discussion of the story and themes present in “The Wall,” what Roger Waters was expressing, how the music and lyrics worked together, the imagery in the film, and why I enjoyed the album. While I don’t think Mom is ever going to be a big fan of “The Wall,” I love that her response was a discussion and examination of why I was listening to such a dark work, rather than simply declaring it “off limits.”

But I digress.

When Kevin and I were younger, and too small to work dad’s record player, we had our own: the classic Fisher-Price phonograph. Not the glorified music box, with brightly colored plastic ‘records’ that tripped music-box teeth in the arm, but a real, working record player. To go with this, Dad gave us a small blue box (well, blue, white, and green, but I’ve always thought of it as blue) with a bunch of old 45s that he and his brother Doug had collected when they were younger.

These 45s were some of the earliest pop music education that we got, and it was an eclectic one indeed. The Beatles, Merv Griffin, The Animals, The Partridge Family, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Four Tops, Fats Domino, and quite a few others. As we grew older, Kevin and I occasionally contributed to the box, adding 45s for AC/DC, Cyndi Lauper, Ozzy Osbourne, and a few other more modern artists. I credit a lot of my current all-over-the-place musical tastes to the eclecticism of this little blue box, and the hours spent playing the treasures inside it on that little old Fisher-Price player (which, as of a few years ago, was still in working order and in Kevin’s possession, though I don’t know its current disposition).

I’d worried for the last few years that the box had disappeared, but I really should have known better (I do, after all, come from a family of pack rats). Earlier this week I got a couple boxes of goodies from my parents, and in one of those boxes was the fabled blue box.

This week’s “when I’m taking a break from schoolwork” project has been reacquainting myself with the blue box and the music of my youth. I’ve scanned the labels for all the discs and added them to my vinyl photoset, I’m almost done recording all the music to my computer, and after a bit longer, will have it all edited, cleaned up, and imported into iTunes. Once I have all the audio archived, I’ll be packing this up and passing the blue box on to Kevin to share his boys, my nephews.

For those who are curious here’s a list of everything that the box contains. To the best of my knowledge, anything pre-1980 comes from mom, dad, and my uncle Doug; anything from 1980 on was added by me or Kevin.

In the midst of recording and digitally archiving some old 78s (and I do mean old, dating back to the early 1900s), I noticed the following language on a disc from the Columbia Phonograph Co. (catalog #3045, “Mamma’s Boy (Marching Song)”, tenor solo with orchestra accompaniment, sung by Byron G. Harlan):

CONDITION OF SALE

This record is sold upon the express condition that it shall not be copied or duplicated and that the full right of property or possession reverts to the Columbia Phonograph Co. upon violation of this condition.

Two things popped into my head:

  1. Wow, copyright lawyers have been rabid for at least a full century!

  2. How in the world would the common consumer have copied or duplicated records in the early 1900’s? For reference, while there’s no definite pressing date on the disc, “Grand Prize Paris 1900”, “Grand Prize St. Louis 1904”, and “Patented December 10, 1901” are printed on the label, and “Patented Nov 25 1902” is pressed into the surface of the inner ring, so it’s reasonable to assume that the disc was pressed sometime after but reasonably close to 1904.

I love being able to listen to this old stuff.

Introducing a new blog: Vinylicious! I’m no hardcore vinyl collector, but I do keep an eye out for fun oddities to add to the collection I do have (which itself owes a large debt of gratitude to my dad), and I’m planning on using Vinylicious to share some of the goodies I’ve found.

The plan is to update weekly on Sundays with another album. We’ll see how long I can stick to that schedule. ;) For now, I have two albums to get started: Discotheque for Polka Lovers and It Happened in Sun Valley.

A couple weeks ago, author, actor, and humorist John Hodgman was the guest on NPR’s “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” As I listened to John and host Peter Sagal, John’s simple, polite, and deadpan delivery of often ludicrous responses to Peter’s questions reminded me very strongly of an old comedy album of my dad’s that I listened to time and time again growing up, where ABC television announcer Ernie Anderson plays straight man to comedian Tim Conway in a series of interviews.

Tim Conway and Ernie Anderson: Are We On?Here, then, is that album, recorded to .mp3 from the very album that I grew up listening to. You can listen to or download the tracks individually or grab the full album as a 47Mb .zip file. Enjoy! The whole album is quite funny and worth downloading, but if you want to sample, my particular favorites are “Do You Fly Much?”, “Boy”, and “The Baseball Coordinator”.

  1. Do You Fly Much? (3.8Mb .mp3)
  2. Boy (5.1Mb .mp3)
  3. Dr. Herford (6.3Mb .mp3)
  4. Matchmaker (5.8Mb .mp3)
  5. Race Car Driver (6.8Mb .mp3)
  6. King Anderson of Parma (4.7Mb .mp3)
  7. The Warden (5.1Mb .mp3)
  8. The Baseball Coordinator (4.7Mb .mp3)
  9. The Swiss Astronaut (4.8Mb .mp3)

As a bonus: this is one of the funniest Tim Conway bits I’ve ever seen. An outtake from the Carol Burnett Show, Tim won’t let the sketch go on until he’s done telling his elephant stories…

Liner notes for the ‘Are We On?’ album after the jump: Continue reading