One of the best parts of the HBO series “Vinyl” is the opening credits in which the mechanical cutting of grooves and the pressing of wax records are presented in slow motion close-ups worthy of Stanley Kubrick. No matter how often I have watched that or read about the process, I could never quite fathom how sound goes from electronic recording to wax grooves and back to sound waves created by a stylus and a turntable.
Then again I never appreciated how that process had driven the art of making music until I found the coffee table history, VINYL The Art of Making Records by Mike Evans (Sterling Publishing). It is both a labor of love and a thing of beauty created by Evans, who started in Liverpool’s Cavern Club as a musician and has produced more than sixty books on music, movies and fashion.
If this were only a collection of album covers, it would be illuminating. David Bowie’s foreshadowing of his sexual persona on Diamond Dogs. Frank Zappa’s send up of Sgt. Pepper on We’re Only It For The Money. Alice Cooper’s School’s Out as a wooden school desk (with the disc wrapped in panties). Rolling Stones’s Sticky Fingers (they had to unzip the fly because it was scratching the vinyl during shipment).
Evans starts with Marconi and takes us to the gold plated “Sounds of Earth” attached to the Voyager space craft (Mozart and Chuck Berry on the A-side) and into the current vinyl revival symbolized by Jack White. The book is organized by decades with sidebars that include eye-popping Turntable Treasures, segments on live albums and features on major music events.
It is fascinating to learn how the push for long playing discs (33 1/3 with some 40 minutes of playing time) was driven by record companies who wanted to release classical performances on something more convenient than a stack of 78s (about four minutes to a side).
The first concept album? In Evans' view it was from 1955: Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours.
The first double album? Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. The idea of four different canvases ignited a revolution in cover art while giving the musicians twice as much recording time.
Motown’s first chart topping LP? The 12-Year-Old Genius, the first of many hits for Stevie Wonder.
Mixed in with the rich history of blues, rock, rap and punk is an endless supply of trivia. LL Cool J is short for Ladies Love Cool James. Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock, which Decca released in 1954, sold an estimated 25 million copies. Sgt. Pepper took 129 days to make and was one of the first albums to print all the song lyrics.
Opening this volume is like uncorking a bottle of Chateau Margaux. You can’t decide whether to devour it all once or savor it sip by sip.