Cooler By the Shellac

I gave some thought to writing something significant today. A few poor souls who know no better have been nagging me to comment on some recent events in the book world. Fortunately, I have a job which abounds in minutiae, and I can speak of something alluring but less earth-shattering. Easier on the digestive system.

See, I’ve been tackling those 78s you dropped off. For those of you born in the last two generations, a 78 is what we called a record which played at 78 RPM: they became largely obsolete in the 1950s. A record? Well, that was a flat disc made of shellac, or, later, vinyl, which had grooves cut in it to record and play back sound. Yes, prune milkshake, back when we all had gramaphones in the parlor. Stay after class, and I’ll show you some new uses I’ve found for the old needles.

Anyway, for those of you who are still reading, I have already found some of the usual treasures: Rock Around the Clock, The Great Pretender, The Little White Cloud That Cried, and so forth. Rock and roll on 78s is another one of those things that, as a rule, is worth less than you might think. At that point in history, the question of which format would win out for the single had not been decided. 78s were the established format, and 45s were the strange new one, and more of these rockers sold on 78 than on 45, so for a lot–not all–of them, the 45 version is rarer and more valuable. (Another footnote for the disgustingly young: a single was a record which had only two songs on it. Why wasn’t it called a double? Go home, lambchop flambé; your mother’s calling you.)

But other treasures intrigued me more. Did you know there was a vogue for a while for things like Frankie Carle’s “Rachmaninoff Prelude in C-sharp minor Foxtrot”? Freddie Martin did a lot of that kind of thing. We have somebody’s Ozzie Nelson collection, and some decent country music on 78 for a change, and a lot of records in their origjnal paper sleeves, from which I learn that Brunswick’s slogan used to be “Every artist an ARTIST”. And it just wouldn’t be a Book Fair without a copy of “Gilly Gilly Ossenfeffer Katzenellen Bogen By the Sea.” (Look THAT up on YouTube, cranberry omelet.)

What’s new and exciting, though, are the ethnic records on 78. I refer not only to the rhumba and tango collections, or the Hawaiian music, or even the appalling number of yodeling records this year. We have Kurdish folksongs with Kurdish labels released by Kurdaphone Records, and Armenian folksongs from Armenaphone records (interesting coincidence, that), and Turklish folksongs, and Russian folksongs, and a couple of records with labels in Turkish AND Russian. There’s a Syrian folksong, and some folksongs in Hebrew, and two folksong 78s in Polish. This is Chicago, after all, a salad bowl of tossed ethnic groups and mixed religions and bitter greens. And, at the back of the collection, I found one more tango.

With a label in English and Yiddish. My kinda town. 

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