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Archive for the ‘Records’ Category

I know what you’re thinking… Where has John been all year? Why have we not seen any new posts? Why haven’t we seen any new images? Why haven’t we seen any spectacular new videos? First, thank you for wondering (even if the wondering is really just me typing in italics), and second, I’ve been busy, of course! Busy doing what? You know, busy, which is why I’m writing a post subtitled “a quick 2015 update.” So here goes!

Getting clean and organized!

Looking around my studio as the calendar flipped from the old year to the new I came to the realization that… wow, my studio was a mess!

My messy studio

My messy studio

Boxes and bags, cables and extension cords, crates of records, trash, litter, and dust, dust, dust! How could an artist with a mild case of OCD work under such chaotic conditions?!?! Worse, I was beginning to notice that many of the most cherished toys were just plain dirty after years of handling and open air storage.

The Wind-up Dreams "toy store"

The Wind-up Dreams “toy store”

Sure, it was nice to have all of these fun things on displays, and visitors to my studio loved to browse the visual treats on display in “the toy store,” but this came at a price, and the inevitable question, “How do you dust all of that?” Well, I didn’t. I just sort of dusted off things as they were selected to appear in my photos. Plus, I was completely out of room and it wasn’t always easy to find the figure I was looking for. And so I decided to “close” the toy store, and spend the early part of January organizing and cleaning every single piece of retrograde ephemera on the shelves. Battalions of army men! Jungles of exotic animals! A congress of presidents and a bandstand of Beatles! One by one everything was plucked from its place and carefully scrubbed with soap and a soft toothbrush.

Cleanliness is next to kewpieness

Cleanliness is next to kewpieness

Next, to avoid a similar future fate befalling my kewpie, monks, and finger puppet nuns, every piece was organized and stored in plastic lunch containers. Yes — Jesus, Buddhas, and devils to go! Leftovers of the holiest variety! One bin for astronauts, another for nesting dolls. Hearts, brains and assorted other body parts together in an organic stew, while robots reigned supreme in an air tight container of their very own. Super fragile hand painted pieces — my presidents, football players, and collection of Marx “bathing beauties” — were boxed, labeled, and shelved. The results?

Every good kid put their toys away at the end of the day

Every good kid put their toys away at the end of the day

While perhaps not as visually inviting at my previous “5 Levels of Wind-up Dreams Hell”, the new shelf arrangement is far more efficient for actually creating my art. Plus, I can always crack open a corner and out they all come to play and create mischief before the eye of my camera! Next up was to replace the black milk crates you see in the top photo which I have been using to store all of my cheesy vintage vinyl albums. The crates are actually a really great storage solution for LPs: perfect sizes, stackable, and portable. The emphasis, however, is on “storage” as they are not particularly convenient for browsing album covers.

Quick admonition I don’t actually browse through the albums in my collection, flipping from one to the next in search of the perfect cover art to provide the background for a new piece of art. I long ago digitized all of my album art, so I usually do my browsing from the bright colorful screen of my iMac.

Ikea Kallax shelving for my records

Ikea Kallax shelving for my records

If you’re not going to ever actually use your records, yes, by all means, put them in crates and stack them to your heart’s content. But if you need to find a particular record, and it happens to be buried with crates above, and to the left and right, prepare yourself for torturous pain. A full crate of records is not exactly light, and milk crates tend to enjoy taking a bite out of stray fingers and knuckles as those interlocking jaws of plastic snap with bone crunching force. I replaced my faithful black plastic crates with a pair of much more aesthetically pleasing Kallax storage units from Ikea. They’re just the right size for LPs, and now I can find my alphabetically arranged records by simply browsing the spines. Nice, huh? And that’s going to do it for part one of what will be either a three or four part post on bringing my blog up to the present. In the next installment I’m going to write about how I took seven years of studio experience and tossed it out the window to completely start fresh with how I setup and shoot my images. Sounds scary, don’t it? It was, I assure you! Look for Part Two very soon!

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March already? Far too much time has passed between posts, but I’ve been hard at work on a new photograph and video to share.

Cha Cha Cha Cha Cha Cha — Pedro Garcia, 1958

Cha Cha Cha Cha Cha Cha — Pedro Garcia, 1958

Way back in 2012 I made an attempt at creating a photo built around a super cool album cover that featured a slinky masked dancer cavorting about beneath a cascade of streamers and balloons (seen to the right). After staging and shooting the photo, the images lingered in my computer, and as I prepped for my 2013 summer show at the Pannikin in La Jolla, I simply abandoned what I’d shot. Oh, sure, I could show you the unfinished work here and now, but the OCD in me would probably try to make a diamond from a pigs ear and I’d spend weeks and weeks trying to at least make the failed composition look presentable. Instead, let’s jump right to the brand new photo — which I like!

Madame Paparazzi's wicked danse of seductive transformation

Madame Paparazzi’s wicked danse of seductive transformation

I actually took over 30 shots of this staging, then constructed the final image from the 7 best images, layering portions of each photo one atop the next to achieve deep focus throughout the final piece.

I tend to be easily distracted while working on my creative pursuits, so rather than snap the photos, sort through the candidate images, and plow through with all the necessary image adjustments, I ended up creating a video for the photo before I actually completed the photo (and, yes, that is possible in the world of Wind-up Dreams & Vinyl Nightmares). The frames for the animation were taken while I was deconstructing the stage set, and then reassembled into a free flowing pan’n’scan video using a whole bunch of software: Aperture, GraphicConverter, iDraw, and a new (to me) slideshow package called FotoMagico that allowed me to create deeper zooms than I’d used in previous animations. Nice piece of software worth checking out!

In an ideal world making one of these videos would be really simple: I’d come up with an idea, I’d choose some music, I’d shoot all the frames, and — voila! — there I’d have a finished video! Remember, though, that I begin with the finished photo, and, therefore, the last frame in the animation. The trick, then, is to conceive of the story in reverse, and begin taking things away from the scene in an order that will make some logical narrative sense once everything is reordered to run from start to finish. Oh, and without a sense of the audio that will be used.

This is… tricky.

Ah! But luckily, not impossible, and even when mistakes are made (for instance, removing objects out of order or completely reconsidering the storyboard during post production) software makes nearly anything possible.

Let’s take a look!

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Custom designed DIY album covers

Custom designed DIY album covers

It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my art that I like record albums. I’ve been collecting records since my earliest days of college and they became a natural fit when I began taking photographs of cool things like records, books and toys. I’ve always had it in the back of my mind that one of my many “someday” projects would be a set of limited edition prints packaged in a real album cover. How cool would that be?!?!

(No, sorry, no such print set is being announced in this post. But… someday!)

Future plans aside, I recently did have the opportunity to create my own record album cover, and it came out great! So today I’m sharing my experience in a “how to” tutorial for others who may be so inspired to create their own record album packaging.

The Background

Years ago, I sent out an elaborate Christmas card package, which I dubbed, “It’s a Copyright Infringement Christmas!” The package included an 8 1/2 x 11″ card and a 110 minute cassette mix tape of the coolest Christmas music imaginable — Detroit Junior, James Brown, various Motown greats, etc.  I printed all the cassette labels and inserts on a (rare, for the time) color printer, and filled the envelopes with glitter, broken cassette shells, and tangles of audio tape pulled from the destroyed cassettes. The star, though, was the music, as everyone loved the selections I made (said the former college disc jockey with much modesty).

As the years have passed, with cassette players giving way to CD players and iTunes, fewer and fewer people have been able to listen to their hand-picked Christmas collection, but EVERY year since I’ve been encouraged by family and friends to make a new version. “If you ever copy Copyright Infringement Christmas to CD,” they would hopefully plead, “you’ll never have to give me another thing!”

Promising rewards aside, dubbing the collection to CD has always been something I’ve wanted to do, but year after year the project has been pushed way, way off onto a back burner without the time to do the project right — whatever that meant, as I had no idea how I could better the original package by just dumping the music onto CD.

I then realized that I’d made the original tape in 1992, and 2012 would be the 20th anniversary, so…

I  did it!

Where the original had filled both sides of a 110 minute cassette — 55 minutes per side — in the CD era I’d be able to fit 80 minutes of music per disc. Bonus tracks could be at play!

CDs? Dude. No one uses CDs. It’s all about streaming and downloads.

Well, yes, I thought about producing the 2012 version of my illegal Christmas compilation on a USB flash drive, but:

  1. A couple of the recipients (most notably, my parents) don’t use iTunes, iPhones or iPods, and would not know an MP3 from a hole in the ground.
  2. Handing someone a flash drive and saying “Merry Christmas” seemed like a hollow offering.

My plan, then, was to produce a set of 4 CDs. The first two would reproduce the 55 minute A and B sides of the original cassette, while the last two would be loaded to the digital gills with newly discovered (and equally cool) bonus tracks. The discs would be packaged inside an LP-size album jacket, with the CDs mounted on a full color cardboard insert. Rounding out the package would be a limited edition Christmas-themed print suited to the copyright infringing nature of the music.

Got it? Good! Let’s go to work!

Geography of an album cover

In order to design my album cover I first had to figure out how an album cover is constructed. Those of us who grew up around records have the basics: an LP is about 12″ in diameter and fits into a square cardboard sleeve that’s a little bit large. Easy! Take two pictures, glue ’em together, and — voila! — album cover!

Not so fast!

Careful attention to how an album cover is actually laid out and constructed will provide a guideline for generating a design template that can be used for applying art to the front and back covers, as well as the spine you’ll see on the edge when the album is stored on a shelf. Using this template, the cover can be printed on a single sheet of paper, then cut, folded and glued to produce the final sleeve.

Template of an album cover

Template of an album cover

The template for designing an album cover is shown above. Note that the image to appear on the front of the cover is on the right, while the back cover image is on the left. Designed in this manner, if you were facing the album in a sales bin, the spine would be on the left and the record (or in my case, CD tray) would slide out from the right. Virtually all album covers are designed in this way to be consistent and prevent dust from sifting down into the record jacket.

Note
On occasion you’ll see variations on this design, with the jacket opening on the top, or the position of the front and back covers swapped. Usually, these are design mistakes that are sometimes corrected in later pressings of an LP.

The dimensions you see above are as follows:

  • The front and back covers are typically 12 ¾” tall and wide.
  • The top and bottom tabs you see on the back cover are folded over and affixed to the reverse side of the front cover. I chose to use 1″ high tabs, which seemed like a good size to get a good firm seal between the two covers.
  • Plus… the spine. Read on!

Does a record album have to have a spine? Well, no, not really. Vinyl records aren’t very thick and a 12″ LP will usually fit fairly easily into a simple spine-less (ha, ha ha) 12 ¾” sleeve. But that would be boring! After all, don’t we want to see the sideways title of our album when it sits on a shelf squeezed between other records? Sure we do!

Spine detail

Spine detail

So, between the front and back covers we also need to provide a bit of space for the spine, and the spine needs to be wide enough to accommodate whatever we plan to put inside the jacket. For an album that holds a single vinyl LP, the spine is usually 1/8″, varying slightly higher when the packaging also includes a booklet or other inserts. For my project the album needed to hold a CD tray, a limited edition print, and a very thin sheet of protective bubble wrap. I estimated that a spine of 3/16″ would be sufficient.

The image above and to the right is a detail of the spine measurements for my album cover. It is important to understand that an album cover is actually a box construction. So, if we provide a 3/16″ spine running up and down between the front and back covers, we must also provide a  3/16″ margin between the cover and the tabs, effectively forming the “sides” of the box we’re going to construct. The spine and the top margin are illustrated in the diagram.

Color note!
It’s worth noting that I chose to color the tabs dark gray, even though they were to be glued to the reverse side of the front cover. I used the color change as a visual clue when folding the tabs, and the dark gray color was close enough to the margin color (which in turn matched the front color) so as not to be visually distracting if the construction of the “box” was not precise.

Software note!
I used iDraw on my iMac to layout and design the cover you see above. Nice piece of software!

Printing the cover

Once the cover art had been designed it was time to print. Recall that we’re going to be printing everything — front, back, spine, margins and tabs — on a single sheet of paper. How big does that paper need to be? Adding up all the dimensions…

Height = 12 ¾” + 1″ + 3/16″ + 1″ = 14 15/16″
Width = 12 ¾” + 3/16″ + 12 ¾” = 25 11/16″

20 x 30" prints  on Kodak Endura photographic paper

20 x 30″ prints on Kodak Endura photographic paper

Okay, the total dimensions of a flattened album cover are roughly 15 x 26″, and that means we need to print on a big 20 x 30″ sheet of paper — 16 x 30″ if that odd size is offered by your favorite lab. While I suppose it would have been most preferable to print on lightweight cardboard to mimic the stiffness of commercial record jackets, I didn’t have that option, so instead decided to print my covers as 20 x 30″ glossy enlargements through my regular lab, myphotopipe.com on professional grade Kodak Endura paper.

Whoa! 20 x 30″ photo prints? Isn’t that, uh, kind of expensive?

Yes, it is. Making your own album covers is fun and amazing, but definitely not cheap!

Constructing the record album

Once the prints arrived (and after a few days of allowing them to lay flat), I used an X-acto knife and metal L-square to trim away the excess paper, as illustrated in the photo below.

Trimmed cover ready to be folded

Trimmed cover ready to be folded

On the right is the spine and the front cover, while the back cover, tabs, and top/bottom margins are on the left. Constructing the record album was then simply a matter of making the proper folds and gluing the tabs in place. I found it helpful to make my folds in a set order, with the printed side of the paper face down, and using the edge of the L-square as a sturdy guide to insure that the creases would be straight and square. In all, you’ll need to make 6 sharp, square folds:

  1. Left edge of the front cover where it meets the right side of the spine.
  2. Left edge of the spine where it meets the right edge of the back cover.
  3. Bottom edge of the top tab where it meets the top edge of the top margin.
  4. Bottom edge of the top margin where it meets the top of the back cover.
  5. Top edge of the bottom tab where it meets the bottom edge of the bottom margin.
  6. Top edge of the bottom margin where it meets the bottom of the back cover.

Photo paper is not generally meant to be folded, so — with a ruler or square edge in place along the crease line — go slow, and gently ease the paper up against the edge of your ruler or square edge, using pressure where you want the crease to form. Once a crease is in place along the entire width of where you want to make the fold, remove the straight edge, fold along the crease, and gradually apply pressure until you have a firm, sharp fold that is able to stand up on its own. Remember — photo paper will fight back!

After folds have been made

After folds have been made

Belated trimming tip!
Note in the photo above that the tabs, which were originally designed to be square, have been tapered slightly. This extra bit of trimming is done to allow greater flexibility while gluing, and will prevent any excess paper from from sticking out beyond the edge of the cover.

Ready to be glued!

Ready to be glued!

All that remains is to glue the front cover onto the folded tabs. I used rubber cement for this job, as it doesn’t bubble, provides a good solid bond, and is very forgiving and easily removed should you “over glue.” The tricky part of gluing the tabs is that the tabs are actually inside the cover and sit suspended in air at a height equal to the width of the spine. Yes, this is only an eighth of an inch (or, three 16ths, in my case), but still enough space to prevent a solid seal — especially at the edges — between the tabs and the cover. To workaround this problem I found magazines of the appropriate thickness that could be placed inside the cover and beneath the folded tabs to provide a solid surface upon which the cover and tabs could be glued with sufficient pressure. The magazines also made it easier to “square up” the corners where the cover, spine and top/bottom margins all meet. Once the glue had been applied, and leaving the magazines in place, books were used to weigh down the construction until the rubber cement had completely set.

That’s all there is to it!

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Time moves quickly in the world of Wind-up Dreams, and where I’ve had a host of posts planned around my springtime trip to Los Angeles, it’s suddenly summer and almost July, and does it really make sense to write up a review for a couple of concerts I attended back in April? No, of course not!

Ah! But that now long ago trip north did yield a pair of fairly amazing vintage finds that have found a life together and forever in a brand new photo and video animation. Where some may direct their travels to resorts, tourist destinations, and upscale shopping districts, I’m a bit more adventurous, wandering into odd little shops, swap meets, or tiny indy record stores where (my kind of) treasure surely awaits. One such store is Permanent Records, a fantastic little record store on the main drag in Eagle Rock with an incredibly diverse selection of new and used vinyl, plus a very knowledgeable staff with great taste in all kinds of music.

“Lazy Rhapsody” Lou Busch and his Piano Orchestra, 1957

In the stacks at Permanent Records I found Lazy Rhapsody, an album released by Lou Busch and his Piano Orchestra (imagine the stage required for that!) in the late 1950s. The record had loooooong been included on my Records Want List, a comprehensive spreadsheet I’ve maintained for many years to track the album covers I see on various vintage vinyl websites that have good potential as background subject matter for my photos. The best are those covers with a glamorous gal of the 50’s gazing off into negative space where my devious mind can construct an alternate universe for her to contemplate, and—for obvious reasons (I mean, just look at it!)—Lazy Rhapsody was VERY high on my want list!

Vintage books have made several memorable appearance in my photos, and I’m always on the lookout for old texts with unusual titles or fancy gold lettering on the spine. The day before my trip to Permanent Records I discovered the Cosmopolitan Book Shop, a jam packed used bookstore on Melrose Avenue, east of La Brea. Wow! Inventory, inventory, inventory… Floor to ceiling and wall to wall. It would take days to fully appreciate their stock, and I basically found the store while filling 10 minutes before heading off to  other locales. Luckily, it took only 9 minutes to spot an absolutely incredible vintage book! Crazy title—gold on the spine. Yay!

“The Influence of Women… and its cure” John Erskine, 1936

To the left is The Influence of Women… and its cure by John Erskine, a non-fiction book published in 1936 as a call to attention to men across the land that, basically, this whole business of (gasp!) gender equality could screw up the good deal that men had enjoyed since the beginning of recorded time. Oh, the horror! Inside is a stern text bemoaning the perils of women’s rights, the outlandish notion that women could be teachers, and that men have sadly allowed their wives to control the purse strings of family wealth. I’m convinced that I could leverage the book into a career as a standup comic by merely taking to the stage and, in a serious and knowing tone, recite passages to my delighted and far more liberated audience.

Best, though, is the inscription inside the front cover:

To Roy,
with best wishes,
from Lea — 1936

 What a lovely gift! Doesn’t it make you wonder about Roy and Lea? Was Lea a strong independent woman sending Roy a message? Or was she subserviently giving Roy a gift that in present day would have been on his Amazon wish list? In any case, The Influence of Women seemed like it would be perfect as a treatment in one of my photos.

I ended up combining both of these LA finds in a new photo and video. Behold!

Malcolm was never a popular boy, until he won The Irish Sweepstakes

This was actually a very simple photo, as it involved only a single background image and very few foreground elements, whereas most of my recent work has involved much more elaborate staging. Still, building the narrative and getting the overall composition right took a fair amount of time.

Added bonus… As I’ve done with many of my recent photos, I created a video animation of the photo during deconstruction of the set! For the video I tried to imaging why Tuxedo Guy might be surrounded by all those women, and tried to find music that would sort of carry the story—though from the perspective of the women, rather than the perspective of Tuxedo Guy. Many songs were auditioned; none of them worked. And then I recalled a number one hit from 1970 that ruled the airwaves to such a heavy-rotation extent that, now, decades later, there remain people suffering from the annoying effects of an “earworm” as this invasive slice of bubbly pop drivel continually spins inside their heads. Not daring to use the original and perhaps risk the peril of worldwide audio infection, I chose a harder edge 1991 cover version from Voice Of The Beehive.

Enjoy!

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Last year, in the wake of a very successful and joyous celebration of Record Store Day, I wrote a summary of my adventures and exploits as I cruised around San Diego county in search of RSD exclusives. Once again, it’s time for my review, if for no better reason than to stave off the inevitable onset of Post Record Store Day Depression.

This year, I have two words that perfectly sum up this holiest of vinyl holidays:

Jayne Mansfield

What’s that? You don’t recall seeing Jayne Mansfield’s name on any of the lists of Record Store Day releases? Well, no, there sadly wasn’t a big, buxom, box set of 12″ Jayne Mansfield covers on 180 gram virgin vinyl (though, I challenge any specialty label to produce such a set!), but as I made my way into Record City on 6th Avenue in San Diego, I spotted an enticing sign just inside the door:

Record City — San Diego, CA

Well, well! Record City happens to have an excellent selection of vintage vinyl in pretty much every category you can imagine: Rock, Jazz, Blues, and all those obscure genres that happen to be a goldmine for use in my fine art photos—Vocals, Lounge, and Pop. So, after scooping up a treasure trove of brand new Records Store Day releases (which we’ll survey a bit later), I ventured off to the long aisles of waiting vinyl to begin the hunt.

Music To Remember, 1956, with Jayne Mansfield on the cover

And almost immediately, I spotted a 10″ LP with the unmistakable allure of Jayne Mansfield on the cover. Jayne was regularly featured on album covers during the 50’s and early 60’s—usually leaning forward in an oh-so suggestive way to better… uh…. Well, she leaned forward. A lot. But on this album cover, she was leaning back. And not just leaning back; she was leaning back and COVERED all the way up to her chin! Had I stumbled across a Jayne Mansfield album of Christian hymns?!?! No. Just a simple compilation of sentimental instrumental selections, so you get Jayne relaxing on a sofa wearing a frilly pink nightgown (of course suggestive in its own right).

20% off? Are you kidding? While my other Record Store Day finds and freebies will make my turntable gleefully happy for weeks to come, those slabs of rare vinyl pale in comparison to Music To Remember, which is now safely tucked away into my stacks of vintage vinyl to someday live a second life in the background of a new photograph.

In the next installment I’ll tell you about my Record Store Day shopping experiences at two of San Diego’s finest music stores, and regale you with boastful tales of exclusive new music, sampler CDs, and custom giveaway bags. Until then, enjoy these images of the used vinyl I found at Record City.

And don’t forget… only only 362 days until Record Store Day 2013!!

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I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t post new blog entries anywhere near as frequently as I would like. Ideally, I’d be blogging on a daily basis, sharing news about new photos and videos, art exhibits, great books, cool records, and posting articles that dive deep into my creative process. Trouble is… I have a difficult time churning out prose without laboring over every word, sentence and paragraph. Plus, just to make matters a little worse, I can’t… stop… writing. Simple topics—hey! I like this record!—turn into exhaustive (but still, of course, interesting) accounts worthy of a short chapter in a book.

Yes, it’s a problem, but now… a solution!

RIP Jonathan Frid—the “real” Barnabas Collins!

I now have a super cool Tumblr account where, throughout the day, you can find quick and interesting posts from me and the merry minions at Wind-up Dreams Central. Everything we post is, of course, Super Cool. Take, for instance this scary photo of the recently departed Jonathan Frid. Oh, sure… I could have dedicated a 4,000 or 5,000 word blog post on Dark Shadows (and, come to think of it, I may do that), but I could spend a week or more in Creative Writing Hell in an effort to produce a Pulitzer caliber post on campy daytime horror. Instead, as quickly as a vampire could sink his teeth into an alabaster neck… there it is on:

Vintage Vinyl

My official Tumblr site!

While the Tumblr focuses on cool vinyl records, in recent days we’ve also made posts on awesome art, vintage advertising, weird toys, pulp novels, and outer space.

I hope you enjoy this foray into more frequent sharing of interesting things, and if YOU have a Tumblr, don’t be shy… feel free to reblog any of the images you find on Vintage Vinyl. We’re scouring the universe for cool finds to share with our followers, so let us know about your interesting finds!

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It’s no secret—I’m a collector.

I like filling my house with things I find visually appealing: art, toys, vintage radios, books, record albums, religious artifacts, and more. Before you envision a floor-to-rafters disaster of claustrophobic madness, allow me to interject that all my collections are tastefully displayed throughout my home as part of the natural living environment. So, you don’t walk into The Penguin Room or find walls of glass display cases filled with porcelain frogs.

Full Disclosure
Okay, I do have a whole room of CDs, but that’s more a storage issue than it is an obsessive desire to turn my home into a museum. And, yeah, I do have all my robots crowded together atop a vintage bar, but doesn’t it make sense to display them there when a giclee of Mark Ryden’s Princess Sputnik hangs right above?

My preference for displaying collectables is to instead spread things around so that visitors are greeted with pleasant surprises as they move from room to room. So, in my kitchen you might find a bright red Philco radio from the 1950s, while the bedroom features a vintage Bendix from the decade prior. Each fits the decor of that room and allows individual pieces to standout and shine.

Classic Silvertone circa 1962. This one is in my bedroom.

Amongst my mélange is a collection of vintage record players that dot each room like bass notes on a rock’n’roll score. Reminders, no matter where I choose to spend my time, that music is always close and a very big part of my life. Note, by the way, my rather deliberate use of “record player” as opposed to “turntable,” which otherwise carries far more sophistication and glamor than the nostalgic pieces I choose to collect. The pieces in my collection were never intended to reproduce sophisticated music in lush auditory waves of perfectly balanced tones. No! These were audio workhorses meant to blast horrific sound through gravel-pitched grills that would shake the table, rock the floors and crumble your neighbor’s walls! Equipment that could be grabbed by the handle, hauled into the trunk of a car, and plugged into any waiting outlet for an instant party!

These are RECORD PLAYERS, dammit!

My collection leans heavily towards record players that would have been used by kids and teens—or maybe a renegade DJ on the go. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Decorated on all sides with alphabet block illustrations

To the left is a very early piece made by PAL, probably in the 1940’s, and—from the case illustrations—is obviously intended for very small children. I found this record player ages ago on eBay and it took YEARS to air out the rancid smell of cigarette smoke. If this wonderful piece could talk, I’m sure it would tell caustic tales of emphysema and the dangers of second hand smoke. I imagine a sour faced mom wearing slippers and a dingy bathrobe, angrily beating at a bowl of eggs on a formica counter, as an unfiltered Camel hangs from her lip dangling ash above her child’s breakfast. “Get in here and eat before I smack you!” she hacks. “And quit with that noise! You’ll go deaf!

Tonearm pickup with built-in speaker

This wonderful piece only plays 78 RPM discs and “features” a speaker built right into the tonearm, and a needle that more closely resembles a small finishing nail than it does anything meant to gently coax beautiful music from the delicate grooves of a record. Ah! Music as soft and dulcet as the graceful treble clef embossed on the side. Pretty cool, but let’s take a closer look at that needle…

Close-up of the "stylus" (better suited for excavating vast caverns of bedrock)

Yikes! Something tells me that records didn’t last much longer than a single play before that single groove of glorious music was worn down to a wide gully of scratchy sound. And, remember, that steel-tipped bad boy is part of a “toy” targeted to 4 and 5 year olds. Kids were so much more resilient back in the day! So what if their record player was capable of puncturing flesh? And bone? (Whiny modern day parents…)

Newcomb EDT-12 CP in my library

In most rooms of my house you’ll find a record player on display, somewhere. Some are tucked into corners, some act as doorstops, and others function as pieces of mid-century industrial art. Take, for example, the record player on the right. It’s displayed atop a plant stand beneath a painting by Los Angeles artist Gary Baseman (and beside a shelf of vintage books and curios). I found this record player while on a business trip to San Antonio and knew it had to be mine, because:

  • It’s small
  • It’s portable
  • It’s yellow!

Best of all, there is a serial number and other bits of bureaucratic etching on the top surface identifying the record player as belonging to the San Antonio Independent School District. How cool! Real, authentic elementary school AV equipment! And where better place to display AV equipment than in my library, right?

This is a four-speed player (16, 33, 45, and 78 rpm) with a generously sized speaker built-in beneath the platter and tonearm. Underneath are little springy feet that absorb vibrations and prevent skipping. I believe this dates back to the mid 1970’s and it’s made like a tank, no doubt anticipating the clumsy roughhousing of pimply-face electronics geeks racing AV carts down the corridors of the local elementary school. It has a snap-on cover and I got it back to San Diego as my carry-on luggage on the flight back home.

Yes, it works! (And... it's yellow!)

So, if I have a AV-issue record player in the library, what do I have in the dining room? A jukebox, of course! And not just any jukebox like those fancy Wurlitzers that trend followers drool over because of the name, the bubble lights, and the Cadillac-reputation of the Wurlitzer as an icon of 1950 “cool.” But let’s face it, the Wurlitzer was a “country club” jukebox, made to fill time at the club when the band was on a 15 minute break. It played nice, safe, acceptable music for nice, safe, acceptable people in the community.

Rock-ola Super Rocket — the coolest jukebox ever

My jukebox is a 1951 Rock-Ola Super Rocket, the best jukebox ever because it inspired the design of Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet. You weren’t going to find a Rock-Ola at the country club. Nor were you going to find one in a fine restaurant or the lounge of a respectable hotel. The Rock-Ola lived in pool halls, bars, bowling alleys, and juke joints. Anywhere dangerous music might be heard, there you’d find a Rock-Ola. The jukebox in the basement of the Delta house in Animal House was a Rock-Ola, fer christsake!

I picked up my Rock-Ola in Portland and it plays 78’s using two styluses mounted to the tonearm: one right-side-up to play the A-side, and one upside-down (with the record spinning in the opposite direction) to play the B-side. The machine is in fairly excellent condition, with the exception of two small star-like cracks on the see-through dome, which I suspect (or perhaps hope) are scars from a bar room brawl; punches and pool cues flying through the air as Bobby Fuller Four sings a lament of fighting the law (and, alas, the law won).

The Voice of Music 210 — made in the USA in 1953

Also occupying space in the dining room is the record player you see to the left—a beautiful little portable phonograph manufactured by the Voice of Music Corporation in 1953. I featured this record player in one of my fine art photographs, Red discovers there is more to life than living in a house made of straw, and have twice included it in large installations that demonstrate the three dimensional aspect of my work.

There are a few others scattered around the house. Some that work, and others that could use a bit of an audio tuneup. Click through the slideshow below to see more of these relics that double as accents of vintage home decor!

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