The Mid-Week Beat: Vinyl Rules

big_vinyl_rules_1Today is an important day in history for all lovers of vinyl records. On this day in 1878, Thomas Edison patented the phonograph and unwittingly created the “record business” as we know it today.

Previous inventions had succeeded in recording sound, but Edison’s phonograph was the first device to be able to reproduce sounds. The original phonograph recorded sounds onto a tinfoil cylinder, and could both record and reproduce sounds. In the 1880s, Alexander Graham Bell made improvements on Edison’s original phonograph by introducing the use of wax-coated cardboard cylinders, and a cutting stylus that moved in a “zig zag” pattern across the record. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that Emile Berliner introduced gramophone records: flat, double-sided discs with spiral grooves, the early ancestors to today’s vinyl records.

The vinyl record dominated the market of recorded music until the mid-1960s when 8-track tapes were introduced to the public. These would be followed by cassette tapes and eventually compact discs, which almost succeeded in eradicating vinyl records all together but luckily hip hop DJs and turntable enthusiasts kept the vinyl market alive until today, when we’re seeing a resurgence in vinyl production and consumption. Part may be due to nostalgia but many argue that digital formats like CDs and mp3s are unable to recreate the “warmth” that vinyl gives to a recorded piece of music.

I know for me personally, my favorite songs always sound better on vinyl, pops and hisses aside. I admit that part of this is nostalgia and the fact that putting a piece of vinyl on a turntable somehow makes that music seem more special than something I double-click in iTunes. There’s a ritual involved and a sense of tangibility that will never exist with digital files.

So, in honor of the record, I’m featuring some events that center either around vinyl itself, famous record labels, classic albums that are synonymous with vinyl or styles of music that rely heavily on vinyl.

And, be sure to thank Edison for all the great recorded music we’ve enjoyed for the last 136 years.

52a8fd08967a9.preview-620Friday, February 21 I Respect Yourself Screening and Book Signing with Author Robert Gordon Atlanta, Georgia

Some of my favorite records to spin on a Saturday night are old Stax Records sides like Otis Redding’s Live In Europe or any of the amazing records by Booker T. and the MG’s, Stax’s house band.

At this event in Atlanta, music historian and Memphis native Robert Gordon will be signing copies of his book Respect Yourself after a screening of the documentary with the same name about Stax Records. The book tells the story of a white brother and sister who build a record company that becomes a monument to racial harmony in 1960’s segregated south Memphis. Stax defined an international sound and their story is loaded with epic heroes in a shady industry. It’s about music and musicians–Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, the Staple Singers, and Booker T. and the M.G.’s and the legendary sound that they helped forge.

After the screening Gordon further discusses his work with The Bitter Southerner‘s Editor-in-Chief Chuck Reece and resident “soulologist” Nelson Ross.


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The Mid-Week Beat: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement

Dr.-Martin-Luther-King-Jr-005With Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up this Monday, this week is a chance for us to remember this great man and the incredible struggle that he helped spearhead: the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

And, since this is the Mid-Week Beat, it’s also important to remember what a key role music played for those involved in the struggle. When one thinks of the music of the civil rights era, we largely think of so-called “freedom songs”: African-American gospel hymns like “Go Down Moses” or “We Shall Not Be Moved,” that had deep roots in the African-American churches and socially concious folk songs sung by artists like Julius Lester, Odetta and Pete Seeger. The freedom songs were collaborative in nature and they served as a tool to bring people together in the struggle and to gain strength from one another.

Many younger African Americans involved in the movement, however, sought to separate themselves from the old church tradition and wanted music that was more revolutionary in spirit. Music that could be cranked at parties and was more receptive than participatory. Therefore, it was the soul and r&b that was being produced in Detroit by Motown or in Memphis by Stax, that spoke to this, more militant, generation.
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