Bring Back Those Rock-A-Bye Baby Days

PerfectA recent acquisition from the local thrifty, this copy of Harl Smith’s rendition of Bring Back Those Rock-A-Bye Baby Days on murky, burgundy shellac plays perfectly at 78 revolutions per minute, and is yet another dime store reminder that I desperately need another (or two) handy-dandy 78 books. I had the opportunity about a year ago to snatch up a few more, but balked at the $10 price tag. I’m kicking myself as I type this. Happy Saturday, kids!

A Split in the Swivel, A Warp in the Whirl

Pay no attention to the crack at 11 o'clock.

Pay no attention to the crack at 11 o’clock.

Cracked grooves break my heart… especially Oscar nominated cuts from the 1940s. The 1940 film, Second Chorus, featured both this shellac track, Love of My Life, as well as a clarinet-yielding Artie Shaw, masterfully (I assume) portraying himself up on the big, flickering dream-screen. Never saw it, but with a score and on-screen performance provided by Mr. Shaw himself, this little entertainment blip just spun onto my radar.

Chalk this oversight up to adrenaline, heat, or simple fatigue, all of which were raging through my withered carcass at the initial moment of this record’s discovery. Unplayable, but never-the-less pretty to look at, I’m thumbing my creative button to figure out what the hell to do with this glaring example of deplorable sadness. She’ll rest, having had her last 78rpm go around until I can figure out a decent and respectable way to upcycle her.

Dead records are never easy to stomach.

Magic Brain: A VERY Brief History

Magic BrainStarting around 1934, the term Magic Brain was given to high end, and often-expensive (especially for the time) radio receivers manufactured by RCA Victor. This new, futuristic, prewar technological improvement to the widely used radio receiver, allowed the heavy-pocketed user to 1) enjoy their favorite radio programs with new, higher fidelity tone performance, 2) tune in to more stations, 3) get exclusive access the RCA Victor’s “X” band, the same station aviators heard for up-to-the-minute, U.S. Government weather reports, and 4) the apparent alleviation of physical pressure when tuning into specific frequencies. (Citation)

Paralleling the start of the Second World War, RCA Victor released the Magic Brain RCA Victrola. This new, music listening wizard provided the same, groundbreaking, and industry redefining, features of the Magic Brain radio receiver, in a state-of-the-art radio-phonograph. The Magic Brain RCA Victrola offered a 180-degree shift in the way records were played, and how phonographs were manufactured. This model offered a tandem tone arm, which allowed the unit to play both sides of a record without having to flip it (there is something romantic about manually flipping a record, but there are certainly times when I’d love the ease and convenience of the Magic Brain). In addition to the tandem tone arm, the Magic Brain RCA Victrola allowed for up to two full hours of continuous, uninterrupted listening pleasure by the oversimplified ease of a single, pushed button. Mechanical noise was eliminated, the need to lift a lid was done away with, and the overall capacity was increased, housing up to 15, 10” records, or 12, 12” records.

Certainly an interactive jukebox for the family living room, this ingenious machine would unfortunately live an exceptionally short life. Due to the U.S. Government’s need for shellac, the material in 78rpm records as well as the main ingredient in U.S. made bombshells, it obtained nearly 70% of the nation’s supply, forcing two revolutionary music listening necessities. 1) With nearly no shellac to make new records, record companies began buying back out dated and/or unwanted records from the public (paying 2-3¢ per disc, equaling close to 500,000 lbs of shellac), to grind down in order to make new records. 2) With the short supply of shellac, and the high demand for consumable and obtainable mediums of portable music, the experimentation, and eventually the manufacturing of the vinyl record was introduced, and the rest is record collecting history. (Citation 1, citation 2)

With a new format, the Magic Brain RCA Victrola was rendered obsolete, and therefore was swiftly removed from production. A video of this monster in action can be found here.