Kylie Minogue, banned drugs and sex songs, and 19th century “exotic” dancers…harumph!

In 2007 the Australian National Film & Sound Archive set up a “hall of fame” for recordings that comprise the history of the recorded sound in Australia. They call it “Sounds of Australia” and each year they induct notable recordings into it. This year’s entries have just been announced and its received a lot of publicity because Kylie Minogue’s recording of “I Should Be So Lucky” is one of them. Anything the lovely Kylie touches causes a flurry of internet activity and this is no exception. In many of the internet posts the other 9 inductees are ignored and forgotten. Here are the nominations for three of them:

1. The first recordings of indigineous Australians in 1898 by the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits under Alfred Cort Haddon, who also took the following footage.


“The Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait in 1898, led by Professor AC Haddon, was the first British expedition to use the phonograph for research purposes. These are the first audio recordings of the songs and music of Indigenous Australians. The recordings were transferred to magnetic tape from wax cylinders by the British Institute of Recorded Sound in 1978. The collection features songs and speech from Mer / Murray Island, Mabuiag / Jervis Island, Saibai Island, Tudu Island and Iama / Yam Island. The original wax cylinder recordings are in the collection of the British Library and 38 can be heard on the Library’s Archival Sound Recordings site. Copies are also held by AIATSIS as collection BNA 01.”

2. I’ll Never Find Another You — The Seekers


“After some success in the Melbourne folk clubs and an LP on W&G Records, The Seekers set sail on a cruise ship (employed as entertainers) in early 1964 as a way of getting to the UK. Within a few months they had been signed to Columbia Records and recording at Abbey Road Studios. Their first single for Columbia was I’ll Never Find Another You, written by Tom Springfield (brother of Dusty) released in December 1964. By February it was No. 1 on the British and Australian charts and reached No. 4 on the American charts. They were the first Australian group to have a top five hit on all three charts at the same time, and the single eventually sold 1.75 million copies.”

3. Living in the 70s — Skyhooks


“Skyhooks’ debut album was notable for having six of the ten tracks banned on commercial radio for drug and sex references, however You Just Like Me ‘Cos I’m Good In Bed was the first song broadcast on the ABC’s new youth station 2JJ in January 1975. Regardless of the controversy it was the first successful Australian pop record to set songs in a local, suburban setting — as one writer has put it ‘legitimising Australian songwriting’ with Balwyn, Carlton and Toorak mentioned in three of the song titles. The album entered the charts in October 1974, where it stayed in the top 100 for 54 weeks and was the best selling album in Australia in 1975. The best selling single from the album Horror Movie also reached No. 1 nationally.”

The full list of 2011 inductees is here and the complete list is here

And if you though you were going to get away without hearing the Kylie song….? You should be so lucky.Here it comes:

Trouble in St Louis. How the Victor Company got its name.

This is the third in a series of articles about the great Eldridge Johnson and his Victor companies.

By Carey Fleiner

Ever tried to think up a name for a fledgeling company? It’s more difficult than you think. You can go literal BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) or abstract such as Google or Yahoo. Why did Johnson choose the name Victor for his company? He never explained it himself, but there are a number of theories ranging from logical to silly.

Johnson had great confidence in his company and its product; this can be seen in Victor’s earliest advertising campaigns. For the first few years the company existed, profits were poured back into advertising – much of which was written by Johnson himself. As we’ve seen these advertisements touted the results of the new technology – the cultural, intellectual advantages and rewards of the use and ownership of a Victrola. The advertising art for Victor products – machines, records, and music – is elegant, beautiful, and sophisticated. It also falls into what is described as ‘feminine advertising’ – that is, an emphasis on the aesthetic, domestic, and educational aspects of the product.

Johnson wasn’t all about pleasing the ladies, however; he was in competition with other companies, and this era (late 19th, early 20th centuries) is sometimes called the time of the ‘War of the Patents’ as people rushed to patent new inventions and lay exclusive claim to them and their rights. One needed to pull out the stops to set oneself apart from competitors (and imitators). Victor did this in numerous ways, from lauding the superiority of its wares to the cultural benefits of its records. Another important venue for demonstrating one’s wares was at trade shows and expositions.  In 1904, Victor machines were among those demonstrated in the Palace of Manufacture at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, better known by its unofficial name, St Louis World’s Fair;

shortly thereafter, Johnson took out a number of adverts lauding his company’s superiority over his competitors at the show –

Medals and advertising showing Johnson’s win at St Louis (author’s photos)

even though the actual winner was apparently Berliner’s Columbia Records. Berliner surely wasn’t too pleased with this outcome, and Columbia launched an advertising campaign to set the record straight.

Berliner’s counter advertisement

So much for vying for the ladies and competing with the gentlemen in the cutthroat world of the early recording industry – why is Johnson’scompany called Victor? There are several different explanations; Johnson was as enigmatic on the matter as Don McClean is over the meaning of ‘American Pie’ or Carly Simon about ‘You’re So Vain.’ In fact, no one really thought to investigate the origins of the name until American comedian Steve Allen got tired of lying awake at night wondering, and in 1966 wrote a short article for Cavalier Magazine in which he tried to solve the mystery called ‘Schnock Schnock: The Great RCA-Victor Mystery.’

So Victor is Victor because (in order of likeliness)

1. Johnson’s legal victory over nasty copyright lawsuit and success over his competitors in the patent wars: this is the most likely given that he changed the name of his original company (Consolidated Talking Machine Company, 1900) to the Victor Talking Machine Company in 1901 after this perilous lawsuit. (Johnson’s family, who still live in the Dover area, however, dislike this explanation as the entire incident was stressful and unpleasant, and they argue that Johnson was not that sort of a vindictive man.)

2. ‘Victor’ was simply ‘one of those words’ that one used in business and advertising at the turn of the century, like ‘Acme’ (from Mr Allen’s discussion with ERJ’s son William Johnson…plausible, too, although ERJ didn’t have a son called William…)

3. Johnson’s ‘victory’ over Columbia et al at St Louis: this doesn’t really make much sense, as the St Louis Exposition was in 1904 by which time the company was already three years old.

4. Victor was called after one Alexander Victor, a mysterious man Steve Allen went to some great lengths to track down – among the many claims of Alexander, he was the one who gave Johnson the idea for creating a lighter-weight tone arm for the improved Berliner gramophone, because he just happened to be working in Johnson’s Camden shop as Johnson and Berliner himself sweat over the project…except, as Mr Allen points out, this development occurred some three years before the company was formed. Was ERJ really that grateful? Of course, Alexander Johnson (no relation) also told Mr Allen that he was Nipper’s owner, and also the Victrola was named after him…

5. The company was called after Mrs Leon Douglas, as this good lady, called Victoria, was married to the Victor Company’s first manager. This is also from Mr Allen’s article, but he states the person who told him this also claimed not only to be Nipper’s original owner, but gave the famous painting its name…

6. Because Johnson’s favorite horse was called Victor…er, perhaps quite likely as any, as a lot of these explanations seem to be a case of closing the barn door after the horse escaped…what do you think?

Johnson astride his horse Victor

The History of the Major Record Companies in the UK #4 Aeolian

This is the fourth and final extract from a wonderful book called “The Talking Machine Industry” written by Ogilvie Mitchell in 1924. This section covers the Aeolian Company of America, a frisky new arrival on the record scene in 1924 having started to make Vocalion phonographs and records in 1917.

Ogilvie, our scribe, seems to have drunk deep from the Aeolian PR cup and this extract feels at times more like a puff piece than his earlier pieces on Pathe Freres, The Gramophone Company and The Columbia Phonograph Company. He describes Aeolian as well financed, with a superior business model and delivering top notch products. He even concludes “we feel certain that, as time goes on, they will hold one of the most exalted positions in the talking machine world.” Aeolian would sell Vocalion with the year, so exiting the record business and the Aeolian business unwinding quickly thereafter…..

Two ladies playing on an Aeolian Player Piano in 1906

“The Aeolian Company of America first came into notice as the manufacturers of player-pianos and instruments of that genre. With untold capital behind them they forged ahead with remarkable vigour. A fine hall, with magnificent show-rooms and business premises, was erected on an advantageous site in New York, and as if by magic the great corporation bounded into the forefront of the musical manufacturing world. But this was not achieved without deep thought and careful planning. For a long time there had been active brains at work, considering, devising, scheming, and not until every action of the future had been thoroughly weighed and balanced was a move made. As soon as the company felt itself to be on a sound and solid basis it mentally bridged the Atlantic and set up an English house in Bond Street, London. The Aeolian Hall on this side, with its high-class concerts and musical entertainments, is now one of the most popular features of the West End, and the Aeolian Orchestra, a specially selected body of musicians, is second to none in thekingdom. The spirit of enterprise pervaded the minds of all those who were in any way connected with the firm, and it was this spirit that brought forth the Aeolian-Vocalion, the talking machine which is the company’s special product.

The Aeolian-Vocalion Talking Machine

We are told that, in the late summer of 1912, there arrived in London a Mr. F. J. Empson, a resident of Sydney, Australia. He brought with him a gramophone in which was embodied a wonderful patented device for controlling musical effects. This, in the opinion of its inventor, added so immeasurably to the musical value and charm of the instrument that he thought he had but to show it to manufacturers to secure its immediate adoption. As has been the fate of so many geniuses, mechanical and otherwise, since the world began, Mr. Empson found it impossible to gain a satisfactory audience with those whom he approached. Discouraged and depressed he purchased his passage home and was on the point of sailing, when he accidentally encountered a friend to whom he related his disappointing experiences. This friend was well acquainted with the officials of the Aeolian Company’s London house, and earnestly advised the poor, disheartened inventor to make one more attempt to have his contrivance exploited.

He told him of the company and directed him to their offices. With just one faint ray of hope illuminating the darkness of his mind, the inventor made his way to Bond Street. For the first time since his arrival in England the reception that he met with was satisfactory. The Aeolian officials were so impressed with the value of the new feature that they took an option on the patents, and instead of returning to Australia, he and his instrument were immediately shipped across to the head offices of the company in New York. There the directors and experts at once grasped the possibilities of the invention. Without delay they had the patents investigated, and on finding them sound and inclusive, closed with the inventor on a mutually satisfactory basis. Thus was the Aeolian-Vocalion, with its Graduola attachment, launched upon the world.

Apart from the advance made by the company in the style of their machines and the accuracy of reproduction of all records submitted to the test of the turntable, the Aeolian-Vocalion itself was voiceless, which means the firm manufactured no records of their own. That was to be a big consideration for the future. In the meantime the energies of the concern were concentrated upon the Graduola. This device obviated the use of different toned needles, the muting of horns, the opening and closing of shutters, and all the various methods which had been adopted of altering the tone of the gramophone to suit the ear of the listener. It gave into the hands of the operator a perfect means of controlling the reproduction of the record. Modulation of the voice of a singer could be governed at the will of the gramophone user, and in that way the listener could guide to his ear inflexions and variations which were more agreeable to him than the actual recording.

It may be said that this principle is altogether wrong, and that if you choose to vary the conception of the vocalist you do not get the true value of the voice. This is undoubtedly quite right, but it very often happens that the idea of the listener is at variance with the idea of the singer. We know many persons who have no liking for the forceful tones of Caruso, but by the use of the Graduola these may be so subdued that their beauty can be acknowledged and appreciated. The musical instinct of the listener imperceptibly directs him while he holds the little attachment in his hands.

The simple contrivance of Mr. Empson, like many other inventions, was merely the adaptation of a known fact to a new outlet. Everybody knows that air carries sound and that if the current be reversed the sound becomes fainter. Therein lies the secret of the Graduola. A slender, flexible tube connects the gramophone with the operator. At the end in the fingers of the manipulator is a valve which he pushes in or retracts according to his personal desire. Thus the sound given forth from the machine is regulated at the will of the performer. He, or she, can therefore listen to the record in the manner desired. It is as simple as A, B, C, but it had never been applied to the talking machine before the Aeolian-Vocalion made their arrangement with the inventor.

We have spoken of the Aeolian-Vocalion being voiceless, inasmuch as the company produced no records, but that deficiency has, happily for all gramophone enthusiasts, been adequately made good. After more than two years of unremitting experiment the company have placed upon the market records which will hold their own, if not surpass, any that have previously been brought before the public. To our knowledge they have scrapped thousands which they did not consider up to the mark, and from their well equipped factory at Hayes, nothing but the very best are issued.They have secured good artists, although the field has been somewhat restricted in consequence of other companies having enrolled the greatest of vocalists and instrumentalists, yet they have made a splendid start and we feel certain that, as time goes on, they will hold one of the most exalted positions in the talking machine world.”

Now that’s what I call a record company office. Delmark Records.

We came across this article about Legendary Jazz and Blues label Delmark Records. What we particularly loved was that the original founder Bob Koester, who set up Delmark Records in 1953, is still running the show and that he clearly has not bought into the concept of the paperless office.

There’s an Apple Mac under a pile of paper somewhere round here…

The label was formed in St Louis in 1953 and moved to Chicago in 1958 where it still resides. He recorded great records by Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Bud Powell etc and is still putting out records and DVD’s today. He also continues to run Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart.

Great Logo

Bob at the controls in the studio

Bob, right, helping a customer at the Jazz Record Mart

Bob Koester, Sound Of The Hound salutes you for your contribution to the history of recorded music. Three woofs!!!

Ladies get the horn with nasty big gramophones & consign them to the closet! Victrola explained

By Carey Fleiner


The majority of record buyers at the turn of the twentieth century were women, and the record player, while an interesting, new technology, was also an invader into the tasteful sanctuary, that was, their home. Men’s literature, such as Scientific American or The Gramophone, touted the tech specs of talking machines – which needles to use, what was the latest in tone arm technology, and how, in terms of talking machine horns, size really does matter. But the open-horned, table-top gramophone was an awkward beast perched in a sitting room or parlour – they took up a lot of room, and the horns were vulgar dust-catchers.

Model from the Johnson Victrola Museum; volume control was literally shoving a sock down inside the horn (hence the expression, ‘Put a sock in it’) (author’s photo)

Thus the advent of disguising the gramophone as furniture. It was after all women who made the decisions about what furniture was or was not coming into their home at the turn of the century. The gramophone and its cultural advantages on the one hand and its awkward shape on the other posed a real dilemma for the modern woman: she had aspirations towards creating a charming parlour to serve as a sanctuary and private refuge for her family away from the outside world, but she also wanted to be a part of the new, progressive world.

Johnson spent the first few years of Victor drawing in women buyers with advertisements on the one hand, and the creation of the Victrola on the other – if women didn’t like the sight of the horn, no matter how beautiful or decorated they were

Loads of horns at the Johnson Victrola Museum, Dover, Delaware, USA (author’s photo)

(after all, this is the era where special covers were made to hide the naked legs of pianos), then the horn would have to be tucked away. It wasn’t an entirely new idea to camouflage the phonograph – there’d been, for example, a short-lived fad to disguise gramophones as table lamps!

A brief, interesting experiment in phonographic camouflage

And ladies were already accustomed to utilitarian machines doubling as furniture, especially considering the beauty of Singer Sewing Machine cabinets. Alexander Graham Bell, in fact, had devised a graphophone model that was married to the treadle of a sewing machine, albeit less for aesthetic purposes and more to find a solution to the problem of handcranking the record player.
One of Bell’s treadle-powered graphophones at the Johnson Victrola Museum, Dover, Delaware (author’s photo)

Hence the Victrola: beautiful cabinets which doubled as tasteful pieces of furniture. The model names – the Gothic, Louis XVI, Jacobean, Chinese Chippendale —  conjured up images of old world sophistication; they also hid the horns behind cabinet doors (which might also conceal convenient shelves for record album storage as well.) Victrola is wordplay on the part of Johnson, combing the words Victor and pianola, another middle-class source of entertainment popular at the time.

Victrola models at the Johnson Victrola Museum (author’s photo)

Johnson was no fool, and while any horizontal surface was fair game for the myriad knickknacks beloved by Edwardian women, one will notice that most Victrola cabinets have rounded tops – it’s impossible to pile on top of them the vases, lamps, and assorted essential tchotchkes that would have made accessing the machine an annoyance.

Notice one can still place stuff on the sideboards, but the critical lid to the gramophone is rounded; Johnson did this deliberately as he figured once women started piling stuff on top of the machines, it would be too much trouble to have to clear them to use (author’s photo)

So now the fine lady – or middle or working class lady with aspirations – now had the perfect hostess’ companion.

The Victrola was beautiful and unobtrusive – in some advertisements, it’s barely in the picture.


Notice the Victrola tucked off to onside, and the cosy scene around it

Johnson’s relentless advertising campaign of the new design meant that ‘Victrola’ became a generic term for any sort of wind-up talking machine.

So when is it a Victrola? When it is a Victor machine, of course, but when the horn is concealed in a cabinet.

The record business? Its always been about the technology.

Edison, Berliner, Johnson invented the record business. They brought into being the modern music industry. Capturing sounds from the air so that they could be played back in any place and at any time. Imagine the revolution in thinking that brought about. And what do the three fathers of the music business have in common? They were all techies, not “music guys”. In fact, the more we trawl back through the history of recorded music and the more we look around today’s Apple led world it becomes clearer that all the great surges in music consumption have been driven by technology not necessarily by the prevailing quality of music. Sure there have been exceptions – Sinatra, Presley, The Beatles, Michael Jackson who have shifted game changing volumes and were exceptional in many regards, but ultimately people bought 78′s, 45′s, LP’s and CD’s not Frankie, Elvis, Ringo or Jacko themselves. And what also drove that 50 year upward curve of music sales from 1950 to 2000 was that people sometimes bought the same recording on each of those new formats as they came out. Conversely if it was the quality of music that drove the sales increase for those 50 years, then that must mean in these days of declining sales that our music is of inferior quality?


So why the rant on this site dedicated to the history of recorded sound? Because at the weekend I took the plunge and bought a Spotify Premium package and finally joined the latest music revolution. I’ve been using Spotify for free for a year or so but much as I found it useful as search and listen engine I never enjoyed the experience of listening on the computer and I don’t have space for my computer on my hi-fi rack….so I played about on Spotify and then bought the occasional record I liked on CD to listen to properly.


No longer. With the Spotify Premium account I can still search and listen but now I transfer what I like the sound of to my phone and can listen on headphones as I commute and can easily plug into the high fi and the docking station. So now I have pretty much all the music I could possibly want in the world at my fingertips. To be played anywhere, anytime. Its Edison to the power of Elvis x The Beatles + Berliner. Quite, quite fantastic.

This morning I threw on three new albums, Gruff Rhys, Sbtrkt and Little Dragon. Never heard of them? Neither had I really. I chose them because of reviews I’d seen. Pre-Spotify I would never have explored further as they were not on my top list to check. Boy, they are now. All three albums contain superb work and I’d recommend all of you to try them. Get Spotify. Treat yourself to the Premium model. And start trying the new music once again. Its the greatest music discovery engine ever and so easy to use. Edison, Berliner and Johneson would approve.

Whatever happened to Decca Studios?

When The Beatles couldn’t agree to visit Everest for a photo shoot for their final album which they intended to name after the mountain and instead named it after the studio in which they had recorded much of their wonderful music, they bequeathed upon Abbey Road the greatest marketing gift of all time. Abbey Road Studios is still going strong and approaching its 80th bithday in rude health.

But there was another recording monster on the block in London in the 1960′s. Decca Studios at Broadhurst Gardens was the home of many great recordings and had the equipment and a team of engineers to rival The Beatles Studio. Take a look at this picture of Decca Studio 3 which was forwarded by a former Decca engineer “to prove Abbey Road No.1 (its rival for recording orchestra’s) was nothing special”

But whilst there is much information about Abbey Road, there is little on the web about Decca Studios, other than that it was the venue for The Beatles audition with Decca in 1962 – which they failed. Its Wikipedia entry doesn’t even list opening and closing dates for the studio (the building is now rehearsal space for ENO). I believe Decca owned the studios from 1920 until 1980 which means it predates Abbey Road by 11 years. Can that be right? Does anybody out there have more information, pictures, videos of the great Decca Studios?

I did find this picture of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli recording in Decca Studio 2 in 1938:

Roger Chaput, Naguine, Django, Eugène Vées, Stéphane Grappelli, Louis Vola

Please get in touch with your memories of Decca Studios. And see here for an obituary for former Decca staffer, Kevin Daly.

The Eldridge Johnson Story: Bringing Music To The People!

By Carey Fleiner

In 1984, Eldridge Reeves Johnson received a Grammy Award.This posthumous Grammy, The Trustee Award, was presented to Johnson in recognition of his services to the industry; the inscription reads, ‘Eldridge R Johnson: Industry pioneer whose inventions revealed the true potential of the early Victrola as a home entertainer rather than a scientific toy.’ While in this entry, I’d like to focus on the significance of the inscription, here’s first two bits of trivia: one, the machine that has sat on top of every Grammy since their inception in 1959 is in fact modeled after Johnson’s original improved gramophone. Two, the little machine is not a Victrola, which was a very specific type of Victor machine – but the use of the word shows Johnson’s success as an advertising man.

ERJ’s Grammy award, housed at the Johnson Victrola Museum, Dover, Delaware, USA (author’s photo)

Berliner in the States and the Gramophone Company in the UK saw the potential of the gramophone as a source of entertainment, and Johnson refined this concept. His mission was to promote Victor and its products towards home entertainment, bringing culture and enlightenment to the masses. In the early days of recorded sound, inventors such as Eduard de Martinville, the Bells, and Edison were more interested in the scientific principles behind or business uses of the machines. Outside of toys and the jukeboxes in workmen’s clubs, entertaining the proles was very low on Edison’s, and other inventors,’ list of priorities, and subsequently not taken seriously.

Edison’s list of the possible uses for talking machines

Many advertisements, especially those aimed at a male audience, touted the technological achievement and capabilities (or sometimes, rather exaggerated capabilities) of the machines.

The earliest advertisement for a tin foil machine

Not only were recording machines regarded as toys, their poor playback capabilities ensured that their novelty value wore out fast – and because the early recording machines were so primitive, ‘serious musicians’ would not make recordings as they felt the limitations of the machines and records were an affront to their art. The spring-loaded motor Johnson added to the gramophone changed all of this

The patent diagram for Johnson’s spring-loaded clockwork motor built for Berliner

It was the first of a number of inventions by Johnson to improve the recording and playback capabilities of his machines culminating with the orthophonic Victor models in the late 1920s.

The orthophonic machines were quite loud and frequently used in dancehalls

These machines were still hand-cranked, but the records themselves were recorded on electrically-driven machines, vastly improving the playback sound.

Unlike his peers, Johnson did not regard home entertainment as vulgar; in fact, he saw it as an extension of his own desire to become cultured and self-educated.

Victor machines were deliberately priced across a wide range so that they were just as affordable as they were beautiful. They ranged in price from $25 to thousands of dollars; in 1901, the average weekly take home pay in a working-class family was $2.50 per week (based on data from the 1900 US census); nevertheless, Victor was in the black from the beginning – even the cheapest machines were within reach, because Victor was one of the first companies in the United States to allow purchase on credit. Johnson figured every household could spare a few pennies every week towards a player, and of course, every week when they went to the furniture store or record shop to pay towards their machine, they might also be tempted to buy a new Although Victor had started out simply making machines, they got into the recording business pretty early, and these records were promoted to bring art, culture, and entertainment into anyone’s home. Victor advertising, especially in women’s magazines, emphasised this. Johnson also had a good ear for potential artists in Victor’s stable – not only adding popular artists of the day such as Billy Murray:

and Ada Jones:

They also frequently sang duets together for Victor:
Victor concentrated especially upon recording classical singers and musicians. Fred Gaisberg had already enticed Enrico Caruso to sing for the Gramophone Company in England – this was a huge coup for the nascent recording industry, as opera singers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were the celebrity royalty of the day, traveling in upper class circles and living literally in palaces along the Riviera.

Caruso’s first recording session as sketched by the man himself

Victor and the Gramophone were fiercely in competition with one another, and once Caruso began to record both popular and classical music for Gaisberg and then Victor many others followed suit.

These included Nellie Melba:

and Luisa Tetrazzini

All of the big names were on Victor, and Victor cleaned up by signing these stars to exclusive contracts.

An advertisement showing Victor’s stable of stars

To emphasize the distinction of Victor’s classical line, they introduced a red label for their opera and classical music stars
– except for Dame Melba, who demanded, and received, an exclusive mauve label.
Melba Mauve — one of Dame Nellie’s pink records

Art you can dance to. How the record sleeve was turned into something beautiful.

It seems quite remarkable that it took until 1939 for the music industry to take advantage of the natural advertising real estate of the record sleeve. Until that point record sleeves were plain and drab. In 1939, Columbia Records in New York hired a young 23-year-old to become art director of the company. His name was Alex Steinweiss and he was given the job of creating ad’s for Columbia’s latest recordings.

Never mind the adverts, Steinweiss thought the products themselves needed improving. “The way records were sold was ridiculous,” he said in a later interview. “The covers were brown, tan or green paper. They were not attractive, and lacked sales appeal.” He persuaded the suits to let him loose to design something more attractive. This was his first attempt, not bad, huh!

Steinweiss went on to design over 2,500 record sleeves in his career which extended into the 1970′s, including these ones:

Perhaps a hint of Dark Side Of The Moon?

He set in motion the notion the record sleeves were the perfect home for 12″ x 12″ pieces of art and design. All those wonderful images of swimming Nirvana Babies, Sgt Peppers, Yellow bananas, bulging trouser zips and  light diffracting through a prism started from here, with this man’s great idea.

Sadly Alex Steinweiss died at the weekend, aged 94. He left behind a collection of wonderful images both on record sleeves and beyond. You can learn more about him in this wonderful little video:

The Paris Match: Gaisberg and Clarke make discs and cylinders side by side in 1899

Gaisberg’s first continental recording trip with William Sinkler Darby had begun in Leipzig in May 1899, where Thomas Birnbaum the Managing Director of the German Gramophone Company, joined them to travel to Budapest, Vienna and ultimately the dazzling musical city of Milan. The trip had been a mixed bag; lots of fun, some successses but Gaisberg ultimately left Italy a mite down-hearted at his failure to record any significant artists during their stay in Milan.

Gaisberg (right) and Sinkler Darby (with pipe) share a bottle of wine and write letters home from their hotel room in Vienna that doubled as their studio

Their next stop was Paris. This was where the thrusting Alfred Clark was building a highly successful recording operation. He leveraged his growing local power to deliver a series of great artists to Gaisberg’s recording sessions. Fred later recalled: “Alfred Clarke had all the vision of youthful enthusiasm, and it was not long before he had enticed to his recording studio the great stars of opera and concert halls”

It was also here that Gaisberg remembered making records with Clarke’s assistant so that they would fit both Edison’s cylinder and Berliner’s rival disc: “I recorded the first discs in Paris in 1899 under Alfred Clark’s direction. Cleve Walcott, his assistant, would record simultaneously the same artists on cylinders, as he [Clark] was then building up both a cylinder and disc catalogue….” This explains how Clark managed to reconcile the recording format wars and service both the cylinder and disc part of his Paris based business.