Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fun with Records…….


    This month I’m breaking from critiquing music for a minute to pass along some interesting junk you can do with records. No, I’m not going to give instructions on how to turn those Perry Como LPs into soup bowls. I did manage to stumble upon some neat-o stuff that has the potential to entertain and / or improve a person’s enjoyment from messing around with those glorious plastic waffles.

     Long before digital music revolutionized how people access music, vinyl records were the most popular format for music lovers to have their favorite music at their personal disposal. No matter what kind of equipment you had the software was the same. Or was it? United States residents who found domestically produced records lacking in quality (especially in the late 60s to the late 70s) would go out of their way to track down imported copies of albums – from the UK, Germany, Japan and other countries. The number one reason had to do with higher quality pressings from these countries. By the late 60s, American companies started cost-cutting measures at the pressing plants rendering some pretty noisy vinyl albums. Some practices involved recycling vinyl – you’d think it was a good idea, but not with the old paper labels thrown into the same mixture. This was known as the “Capitol re-grind” and resulted in records with extra surface noise. I’ve even found large paper chunks floating in records – take a look at this :
See what looks like a piece of fuzz on top of the record? Sorry - that's a piece of paper embedded into the grooves. No, it doesn't sound good at all. How'd I miss this? I even bought this record used. Need to be more careful in the future.........

     RCA, on the other hand, invented Dyna-Flex. Some of these records were so thin and wobbly you’d be afraid that looking at them the wrong way would damage ‘em. See what I mean?
     Actually, these records can withstand this kind of abuse because they are so thin. It popped right back into shape. Some Dyna-Flex pressings don't sound bad, really. It's a hit or miss thing. This Elvis album is the thinnest I've seen. Why did companies start doing this? To save money. Vinyl is a byproduct of petroleum. And we all know what OPEC started in the 1970s. Bingo!

     By the late 70s, word had gotten around that some overseas companies were using superior vinyl pressing practices than the US-based companies were using. In West Germany, the Telefunken-Decca label was known for using a higher percentage of “virgin vinyl” in their pressings. One way to literally see the difference was to hold one of these up to a bright light. What the eye would behold under normal light as a black disc became translucent – of varying colors and intensities – when held to a bright light source. Theoretically, this would show the degree of virgin vinyl used in the process and reveal the reason why those records had a much lower surface noise than domestically produced albums. I have a few of these Tel-Dec records. Here’s a reissue of early Genesis from this company:
     Domestically-produced vinyl albums had come under enough criticism that boutique labels started to emerge claiming to produce better pressings. Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs was one of the earliest examples. Their LPs were manufactured in Japan and featured translucent pressings. Here’s Steely Dan’s “Aja”:
The MFSL records were pricy, yet big enough sellers to attract the attention of the major companies. As the 70s turned to the 80s, record companies decided to compete with the smaller, specialty labels and made their own versions of super-vinyl. Here are a few examples.........
A&M were one of the more enthusiastic companies. Here is a reissue of the first Police album "Outlandos D'Amour". This, along with all the other records shown here (and many not shown), were believed by me to be regular, black vinyl up until about a month ago. I bought this when I was in junior high school......D'OH! Most A&M vinyl from the 80s was translucent. Now you know.
     This Arista LP is almost clear above a bright light. This is one LP from the Grateful Dead's "Dead Set" double live album. I think I bought this in 1986 from Crazy Eddie's. Remember that guy? Heh heh. I'll resist the urge to post a video of a Crazy Eddie commercial here. You can dig them up on u-toob for yourself.
You say you're a Beatles fan? Well, Capitol Records got on board with translucent vinyl in the 80s too. You'll have to look for Beatles LPs on the 80s colorband label if you want translucent pressings. And not all of those records with the colorband label were pressed with this stuff, but quite a few were. Keep your eyes peeled...............
Many smaller labels from the 80s used translucent vinyl for their LPs. From the top, Husker Du on SST; The Dead Milkmen on Enigma and They Might Be Giants on Bar None Records.
Here's a cloudy/clear copy of Phil Spector's Christmas Album from the 80s. The Rolling Stones early albums from parent company ABCKO were also pressed on translucent vinyl.
     Here's the same LP from a few different angles. Another Christmas LP from RCA. The pictures don't really show just how near-transparent this record really is above a bright light. RCA used translucent vinyl in this era too. There really weren't many major labels that used this stuff. I only found one Warner Brothers LP in my collection (though it was barely noticeable - not too translucent) and one Reprise LP (same deal). So far absolutely no Atlantic, Elektra, Asylum, Columbia, Epic records have this type of vinyl - at least none in my collection!

     All of this might not seem too amazing for younger collectors who are currently besieged with LPs made from every color combination imaginable nowadays. Just remember - even though I'm a longtime collector - I never suspected these records to be anything more than regular black vinyl for all these years. Imagine my surprise!

    Here's some more "Fun for Fools"..................

I'd been reading about advanced record cleaning methods for awhile now. I always used the good-old dry-brush for pre-spin cleaning to remove basic dust. For extreme cases, lukewarm water and soap in the kitchen sink was always the next step to revive mistreated records. Then I heard about.............GLUE. That's right! More specifically - WOOD GLUE. I had read that spreading glue like Titebond II onto the record surface and letting it dry THEN peeling the glue off the record can dramatically reduce bad surface noise problems and even reduce the effects of scratches.

So, I took the plunge...................using some Gorilla Wood Glue I used my old Henry Cow LP for the test.
 I bought this album years ago and could never listen to side one due to really distracting noise that never was diminished no matter how many baths I gave it. Whatever got onto the record was stuck in the grooves for good, or so I thought.

Using a liberal amount of glue, I spread it over the surface of the LP and left it to dry for about 24 hours. Then I slowly started to peel the glue away from the surface and eventually got this:
I also finally got to hear the music for the first time! Success! Now I have a bunch more LPs lined up ready for the same treatment. Yes, this hobby can be an adventure indeed.

Things are going to get a bit more interesting in the next segment with new advances on the horizon relating to my obsession with QUADRAPHONIC vinyl LPs. So stay tuned.........until next time! Happy gluing!

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