It was a lot of money back then, and sampling has evolved to become a lucrative promotional vehicle for advertisers….
….”I really hate the way the money grubbers constantly peck aroudn the edges at things until they can wiggle their way into the good motherload. It’s so fucking American. Were such cheap-ass hustlers in our culture.”…
Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
If you look closely at this 78 rpm shellac record disk, you’ll see that it’s only 25¢! back when this was released, that was still a lot of money. This dates back to around the first decade of the last century and it cost a small fortune. But, you’ll also note that this is actually less than half the cost of a real record (which is indicated on the backside as being normally 65¢). Buying recorded music in the earliest days was very expensive novelty entertainment. In an era where musical entertainment consisted of a couple of folks in the family learning an instrument and the rest of the clan singing along to local favs (and the occasional purchased sheet music), the idea of listening to a machine for musical entertainment must have been bizarre and cool enough to actually spend this sort of money.
But, what I find especially interesting about this disk is that it’s the earliest record company SAMPLER I’ve ever seen. Throughout most of the history of recorded music (basically the last century), record companies constantly released low budget collections of music filled with tunes ‘sampled’ from other releases. They became a sort of ‘mix tape’ advertisement of the music industry. They were sold at extremely low prices (at 25¢, this sampler is how you probably didn’t cover expenses.) and the selections of music you get expose you the larger varied catalogue of music the record company was trying to sell.
In my youth, I relied upon samplers to find out what was going on cheaply. You could read all the Rolling Stone mags you wanted to, but until you heard the actual music, you really never can tell if you actually like the music. Warner Brothers (for instance) sold through mail order a series of sampler LP’s with goofy titles like “the big ball” and “hot platters” and “shlagers” (and covers designed by really great designers of the era like John Van Hammersveld). This effort was called their ‘loss leaders’ (because all these bands lost money ) and they used these these cheap disks (a two-record set for $1) to promote all sorts of odd music that really changed my way of thinking.
For instance, it’s the first place I ever heard Captain Beefheart or Alice Cooper or T.Rex or the GTO’s and even Jethro Tull. I was exposed to stuff as mainstream as Van Morrison’s more jazzy efforts and as outside the mainstream as the electronic experiments of Beaver & Krause. I even memorized the entirety of Ed Sanders’ delightful social commentary song, “The Illiad (the legend of johnny pissoff)”. For a dumb little kid, this was mindbending stuff and I went off on strange musical listening tangents for the rest of my life.
So, the idea that catalog sampling for ad purposes was happening back at the very beginning of recording comes as a surprise, but, really not a surprise. If there’s money to be made, there’s advertising happening. And what better form of advertising is there than letting folks have a little taste, eh?
The front side of this 78 rpm disk is basically a sample of the high quality recordings being done by Columbia – they claim the very best being done anywhere. It’s a tinny tune sung by some pop tenor of the era with orchestration. A snoozer and very soft pablum.
But, like all efforts in the recording history, the best is on the b-side. to begin with, there is an huge oversized label chock full of fascinating sales pitch and technical data. There’s even a long listing of their “top tunes” (and a place reserved to write the new owner’s name – that being YOU!) The actual recording starts out with tinny trumpets announcing an arrival of importance. Then a stentorian voice (complete with rolling ‘rrrrr’s”) begins to TELL you how great the sound is and how wonderful this company is. Then they actually break down the music to SHOW you. They announce that you listen carefully to the piece of music about to play. First you can hear the violins start and then the banjo’s enter, followed by the tympanies and so on. It’s identical to the stereo sampler records released 60 years later, except done in caveman level low-fi technology. I217;s a breakdown sampling process in reverse and with no ‘tape’ to chop up.
This was probably the earliest sort of efforts at taking apart music and then representing it as recorded sound – the magic of the studio recording taken apart. It’s may also be the most primitive effort at what eventually became hip-hop sampling. If you can’t lift little bits of music off of pre-recorded objects (tapes, disks), then you isolate those sounds by removing orchestration intentionally when recording. They did this here in reverse – starting with one instrument and then building a full orchestra. Not all that different than today, just really really primitive.
This sort of brings me around to a phenom i’ve noticed that really annoys me. The geniuses behind tv commercials have found somebody out there who specializes in re-creating the style and sound of hit performers well enough to re-create their music copyright free for use in advertising. Basically, they take apart a hit song, keep a piece of a riff here, a guitar sound there. A little drum style and maybe a orchestration gimmick. Then they make a NEW song that sounds just like that performer – but it’s NOT.
This morning, i was tricked by NOT a T.Rex song in a commercial. It hooked me and my lizard brain thought – “ohhh…. T.Rex! cool. I like.” then I saw the soap advert or whatever and got pissed by the trickery. Yesterday i got snagged by NOT ‘”backstreets” by Bruce Springsteen and NOT ‘Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones.
Over the last few months, i’ve been tricked by NOT the Clash, NOT Abba, NOT the Ramones, NOT Buzzcocks, NOT Stiff Little Fingers. I’ve been fooled by all the NOT the Beatles that you can shake a stick at. Ian, every time it happens it really pisses me off. it makes me HATE that product being sold. It makes me really hate music in general.
This is the latest permutation fo sampling that began way back with ad efforts like this stupid 78 rpm disk I show you. The efforts to take samples of other people’s music to make money without having to pay the performer has come to these generic re-creations that are staggeringly good and convincing – at first. But, not good enough to result in copyright infringement. Whoever is the outfit that figured out to do this trick so well must be one of the hottest companies in the ad industry right now. They’re really good. And I hate their guts.