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.

1999: State Songs

State SongsThere is nothing more patriotic than a green record in the shape of the continental United States. John Linnell, of They Might Be Giants fame, showcases his solo abilities on this two-track appetizer from his full-length album by the same name. Actually, side two’s Louisiana is an unreleased track from the album and is only offered on this “Go America!” record, so if you needed any incentive to seek out this record, there you go.

Montana

Told from the perspective of a hospital bed-ridden patient, Montana is a catchy little song about said patient’s electric realization that the shape of Montana resembles that of a leg. I love the esteemed talents of the two Johns and their innate ability to write catchy, whimsical songs about seemingly banal subjects. I mean, we all have these little thoughts throughout our day, like, how I wonder if the birds in the tree outside my porch are secretly planning an all-encompassing war against the squirrel that knocked over their bird bell, but I don’t ever think to write a song about it! Kudos to John Linnell for taking the mundane and making it extraordinary.

USLouisiana

Leave it to my clever girlfriend to figure out that Louisiana is a song about the annoying humidity engulfing the stale air within the imaginary walls that make up the state of Louisiana.  Referring to (the life-sucking demon that is) humidity as a blanket, John Linnell pleads for a break in the weather and asks that Louisiana, the state, to remove its hands from around his neck so he can breathe more clearly. A song about humidity… again, who looks to uncomfortable weather as a subject for a song?

LabelIf I’ve learned something from this green-tinted record in the shape of the contiguous United States, it’s that ANYTHING can be the subject of a song and also, I have no Earthly desire to step foot into the hellish wave of demon-heat known as Louisiana.