It’s sad that some beautiful things last but a short time. That does mean you don’t have to wait around for them to finish, though.
I like old records. I’ve pontificated at length before. This particular wonderful ol’ dusty gem is an ephemeral release designed to promote—of all the things to promote on a record—a new way of recording records. Yes, it is a Demonstration Record for Phase 4 Stereo. That’s it’s name, pretty much. Inside the folding cover there’s a lengthy explanation as to what “Phase 4 Stereo” is, and how it differs from the previous three phases. It goes on and on about how great the Phase 4 is, and the compilers seemed to have gone out of their way to find music that’s dynamic and at times dare-I-say-it “zany.” However, I choose to keep this explanation brief; partly because it fits the title and partly because the record itself isn’t that long (all of 25 minutes : 38 seconds). Moving on: samples!
You Are My Lucky Star
Pretty neat, if you ask me. But you might be asking: Why the demonstration? Why now? That Winterhalter nonsense he blogged about last month was justified for four paragraphs before a name even got dropped… Well, there is good reason. Two days ago a little late Christmas present slipped through and I’m now the proud owner of a pristinely aftermarket Zoom H2 Handy Recorder. The thing is simple, and amazing, and simply amazing. If I could leave that as my review I would. But as a sort of placeholder—and a fine demonstration of it’s ease of use—here are the 10 tracks from this ephemeral and exotic throwback sensation beautifully presented in convenient downloadable ID3-tagged MP3 (all recorded, transferred, cleaned up, and encoded in little more than an hour).
I think I have good taste. In epic thrift store excavations, I’ve gone through hundreds of used records—probably thousands. More than I wanna think about it. There are a lot of bad ones. Mostly, one hopes that one may find something funny to share with one’s friends. Old stuff is weird (admit it). But oh, there are some gems, and usually they don’t fall out of the cracked wooden bin and yell “I’m worth buying off Ebay for $50! Here I am for ¢50!” It takes a trained eye to efficiently sift through the absolute junk at most places.
Or a trained ear. Finding an incredible record has a lot to do with knowing what you like in the first place—although for those wanting to take up the hobby, it’s perfectly reasonable to make it up as you go along. A good place to start? By all means, judge by their covers. Me, I happen to know that I like gypsy music. I pick up many records simply because they contain in their titles one of these: Gypsy, Roma, klezmer, or Bulgaria. In general I also recommend looking out for: home recording, demonstration, spectacular, incredible, “_____ and the [word intensifier]s,” Moog, olde tyme, fart, and dinosaur. It’s a wide net, a rough algorithm, but it get’s results.
Which is what brings me back to “gem.” I got one. I wasn’t able to actually play it until I found a new record player on the street (thank you, city of cannibals). Even after I discovered its magnificence I didn’t pick up the phone on the ol’ Share-The-Love hotline until a roommate suggested it. And then I had to fiddle with knobs and buttons and wires and other esoteric equipment, only to discover that no matter what I did, the digital transfers just didn’t measure up to my high standards. I’m a wizard with audio software… but there’s no way to get pristine audio from salvaged parts. Get what you pay for, I guess.
But wait, what was this musical masterpiece, I hear you say? Let’s listen to the first track:
Even through my peasant’s needle, you can hear the tambourine sparkle… the horns shimmer… the tubas thump… the piano tinkle… the flutes shriek. It’s exciting! It’s powerful! We’ve heard this song before, but not like this. Easy listening and exotica both seem to apply, but can’t measure the appeal of the real nifty fifties, big bang band, swank-ocracy. Mostly the album is made up of low-key low-tempo stuff, soothing music that might be played without irony on KWXY, which might very well bore you. The poppy ones sure do pop though. On all of them, the arrangement is top-notch and the production values are beyond reproach.
This makes sense considering that the arranger was none other than Hugo Winterhalter, musical director at RCA for more than a decade. This album is dated 1960. For the time, I’m sure, it was somewhat standard. It’s a formula: take a bunch of songs people know, ones that you can tie together with a theme, write them for ensemble, make it modern and “now!”; you have yourself an easy sell. It’s a formula, and it worked. Still does.
Some say stuff like this is more craftsmanship that artistry. It’s the carpenter’s work, not the sculptor’s. I had a music teacher who made the same comparison between Bach and Mozart. He said that while Mozart was a genius, transcended forms and gave the world beautiful music heard neither before nor since (etc., etc.), Bach was simply working within established convention—and when you wanted a fugue, he made the best. They were differently brilliant. Both men became immortal through their music. If you’re like me, though, you have to respect Bach a little bit more. It’s a clever mind that can conjure immortality working with someone else’s rules. I’m thinking that Mr. Winterhalter was a Bach fan.
Now I’m getting a little antsy thinking about how poor my equipment is, and how enjoyable some of the actual songs are, and how there’s hardly any CDs of Winterhalter available, and how it might be up to me to handle this guy’s continued existence. Then I remember the long tail, realize I’ve been praising the guy for seven paragraphs, and things are probably gonna be ok. I’m hesitant about uploading the good stuff (hand-restored LAME V2 mp3s) because I understand perfection, and I understand pragmatism, and I understand that they aren’t the best of friends. Let it be known across the land that I sadly consider these songs as “orphan works,” and hereby claim stewardship of them until someone better steps up. For goodness’ sake, even if you have a better record player step up. Here are the songs from “Hugo Winterhalter Goes… Gypsy!” that will thank you if you do:
Hungarian Dance No. 5 (2:53)
The Back of Her Head (3:08)
Hora Staccato (3:12)
Golden Earrings (3:46)
When a Gypsy Makes his Violin Cry (3:08)
Gypsy Don’t You Cry (3:53)
Gypsy Love Song (2:58)
Total playing time – 34:05
Without further ado, I give you the imperfect recording of my favorite thrift store record in the past year: