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History of Vinyl, Part Two

A History of Vinyl




1961   RCA Victor release the compact single 33 - a 7inch playing at 33 1/3 - it didn't last long

1961   EMI sign The Beatles

1962   Twist Dance Fever originated by Hank Ballard hits the UK

1963   Andrew Loog Oldham manages the Rolling Stones and they sign a recording contract with Decca

1964   Record sales in the UK up 60% on 1960

1964   Pirate radio stations start broadcasting among them Radio Caroline

1966   Brian Wilson produces Pet Sounds

1966   "River Deep Mountain High" by Ike and Tina Turner and produced by Phil Spector with his trademark "Wall of Sound" released

1967    Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band released with cover designed by Peter Blake

1967   Monterey Pop Festival takes place with performers including Jimi Hendrix, The Who & Otis Redding who was killed that December

1967   Birth of Radio 1 using a Pirate Radio format as the offshore broadcasters are forced to withdraw

1967   Height of the Flower Power psychedelic scene particularly in San Francisco paving the way for the Acid Rock scene

1969   500,000 people flock to a soggy field in upstate New York for the Woodstock Festival


1960-1969 Golden Age of Vinyl

By 1960 the golden age of vinyl had arrived. The shellac 78 was, by now, virtually defunct and the LP and single formats, supported by affordable turntables, amplifiers and loudspeakers were working well in the marketplace. The consolidation of dependable sound reproduction in the home and a burgeoning youth market meant that record presses were working overtime to keep up with demand. However the classical market, having led the way in the new binaural stereo market, had begun to decline. It was time for the youth market to take advantage of the technological advances and move them a few steps forward.

As with today’s recording industry with its manufactured boy bands, no one in 1962 saw the youth market as anything but an ephemeral, transient phenomena that would eventually disappear. Elvis was in the army, Buddy Holly was dead and the charts seemed doomed to be filled with pale copyists and banal substitutes such as Adam Faith, Pat Boone and Ricky Nelson. Everyone now knows the story of how an employee of Decca records rejected a young four-piece with the advice that guitar bands were "finished". Unfortunately EMI records had a better ear and on signing The Beatles (for it was they) and pairing them with producer George Martin they prepared the way for the next giant leap in the history of vinyl.

The Small Faces: "Itchycoo Park"; The Beach Boys: "God Only Knows"; The Supremes: "Reflections"; The Animals: "We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place"; The Foundations: "Baby Now That I've Found You"; Dusty Springfield "You Don't Have To Say You Love Me"

Meanwhile in America the importance of the producer as shaper of the sounds that were possible to cram onto a vinyl disc was also being proven. On the East Coast there was Phil Spector’s "wall of sound" productions. Utilising hundreds of musicians, often doubled up on various instruments, the "Tycoon Of Teen" had the US singles charts in his grip. On the West Coast Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was cashing in on the teenage crazes, such as cars and surfing, as a way to craft what he would come to call "teenage symphonies to God". All through the sixties these rivals would compete in pushing the sonic envelope to create the most contemporary sounds.

The songcraft of Lennon and McCartney immediately demanded a more considered approach as to how it would eventually sound on the record players of the masses. Martin was a consummate craftsman who had enough cross-genre experience to provide this technical wizardry. In the space of three years The Beatles conquered the 7 inch singles market and then, by paying as much attention to every track on their long players gave birth to a new market for albums amongst a younger audience. By 1967 Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band had set a whole new standard in the public's audio expectations. A hidden track was even placed on the runout groove at the end of the second side, as if to say that the way in which we listened to music had been changed forever.

A whole book could (and has) been written concerning the new techniques developed during these years at EMI’s Abbey Road studios. Multi-track recording on magnetic tape advanced from two to four and then to eight and sixteen tracks by the end of the decade. The stereo mixing effects this afforded gave the sound of vinyl a whole new dimension only hinted at by classical recordings, where a guitar, cymbal or voice could be placed anywhere in the stereo "picture". Effects such as panning (where sound sweeps from one speaker to the other), ADT phasing (a rushing effect caused by two tapes of the same sound running slightly out of synch with each other) and the use of synthesizers to create new sonic landscapes, all originated in these heady days and were rapidly adopted as the norm by studios around the world. On top of all this, the emergence of solid state electronics to replace valve technology was leading to any technology being drastically reduced in size and cost.

It was not only the sound of the vinyl that was irrevocably altered. The whole package was altering to enhance the notion of the 12 inch album as a coherent concept to be taken as a whole and not just as a collection of tracks gathered together for ease. Again Sgt. Pepper led the way with its gatefold sleeve (a device only previously available to classical albums), lyric sheet and playful cardboard inserts. From this point on the design departments of all major companies expanded and the sleeves in the racks of the stores became more and more colourful and elaborate. Even labels at the centre of the discs took on more inventive hues and logos. The "swinging sixties" with all its visual, musical and cultural upheavals had changed the significance of vinyl from that as either the domain of the snobbish classical audiophile or the throwaway single. By the end of the decade the world was rushing to buy the cheaper stereo systems that allowed them to immerse themselves in a whole new audio experience.