Albums You Can’t Play on Spotify

by James Wallace Harris, Friday, October 2, 2020

Most of the streaming music services have tens of millions of songs, or millions of albums. That should be plenty enough music for anyone, especially at the bargain price of $10 a month. It’s actually a better deal than Netflix because usually only one music service is all you need. I subscribe to two at the moment. Spotify because it’s the best, easiest to use, and works on the most devices with its Spotify Connect system. And I’m subscribing to Amazon Music HD because I’m testing out high definition music to see if it is worth a few extra dollars a month, plus I have three Amazon Echo devices. (Spotify plays through Echos too, so don’t think owning Echos means having to get Amazon Music.)

If music services offered every album ever produced I’d give up both CDs and LPs. Streaming music just too damn convenient. The Rolling Stone new list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” just came out and I bet most of them are on Spotify. There’s already a playlist created for it with 7,557 songs requiring over 471 hours to hear. (Although, I prefer to play albums one at a time.)

I keep trying to give up LPs, but some aren’t even on CD, much less streaming music. I’m neither enamored with LP’s sound, or nostalgic for the format. I’ve given all my LPs away more than once, but once again I got a hankering to hear some favorite albums and I bought four of them as used LPs. Also my Friends of the Library Bookstore sells LPs for 50 cents a disc, so it’s kind of fun to buy them based on the covers.

But, I really would give up my LPs and CDs, and my turntable and CD drive if I could get everything on Spotify. The future is almost here. The only downside to streaming music is they don’t pay the artists fairly. I hope that will change too.

I assume some albums aren’t available on Spotify for legal reason, otherwise why would all of Nanci Griffith’s albums be available but not Once in a Very Blue Moon – my favorite. There’s always a possibility that Spotify just wants to annoy the crap out of me personally. I’m hoping it will show up one day.

I just notice another album I’ve been waiting for years has appeared on Spotify, Willis Alan Ramsey self-titled debut album, and as far as I know his only album.

Sometimes early albums are left off of Spotify while later albums from the same group are available. I assume they are from different publishers or because of legal squabbles between band members. For example the group Cock Robin. Their early albums aren’t on Spotify, but Spotify offers to link you to places where you can buy them CDs. I recently bought a used LP to hear After Here Through Midland (1987).

Another old favorite album I can’t get on CD or Spotify is Never Goin’ Back to Georgia (1969) by The Blues Magoos. Again, some of their albums are available on Spotify, the early ones, but not the later albums.

An LP I’ve bought three times over the last forty years is Which Way to Main Street (1982) by Wendy Waldman. Some of her albums are on Spotify, but not all, and not this one. Some of her other albums are on Amazon Music, but not this one. This album is her only album from Epic Records, so that might explain why it’s not on streaming music services. Which Way to Main Street is available at Waldman’s website on CD, but I’m trying very hard not to buy any more CDs. I’ve started a tiny collection of used records that aren’t on Spotify. I hope that collection never grows very big because I’m over physical media.

There are groups that have no albums on Spotify. It’s like time just swallowed them up, or maybe they were bands I heard in my dreams. For example the debut double album by Gypsy called Gypsy. They have produced several albums but you wouldn’t know it from streaming music.

Interestingly, they do survive on YouTube. In fact, many of these ghost albums haunt that service. I don’t know if it’s legal or not, but it’s how they live on in our pop culture hivemind. By the way, listen to this album. I think it’s great.

I do like looking through the record bin at the Friends of the Library Bookstore. For fifty cents it’s kind of fun to try something that just looks interesting, for example this Peter Nero album, Tender is the Night. It’s not on Spotify. Most of the albums available on Spotify for Nero are compilations. For a lot of old artists, especially ones that were never big sellers, their individual albums aren’t available.

There is one whole class of albums that are often missing from Spotify and other streaming music services, and that’s soundtracks. I can listen to zillions of Ricky Nelson albums, but not this one:

But even this is changing. I’ve waited years for the GATTACA soundtrack to show up, and I see that it has. (Update – I was wrong, only a playlist that tries to recreate the soundtrack from other Michael Nyman albums.)

I’m still waiting for The Ipcress File. I have a copy on an imported CD, but I want it on Spotify. In the early days of Spotify I hope to hear the early James Bond movie soundtracks but they weren’t available but eventually they showed up. I’m hoping the same thing happens with The Ipcress File. Over the years more and more John Barry albums have shown up.

You might have noticed something by now. There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of any of these albums. There’s a good chance you could subscribe to Spotify and never search for an album you can’t find.

If you’re a music nut like me, there will be albums you hanker to hear but can’t. And patience pays off. My small list of albums not on Spotify seems to be shrinking. Please Mr. Spotify, if you are reading this, put these albums on your service, especially the Nanci Griffith and Wendy Waldman.

JWH

Hoarding Creative Works

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, September 26, 2020

A hoarder of creative work is called a collector, and a collection of creative works is called a library. That’s if we’re using polite terminology. I have stacks and shelves of books, music, TV shows, and movies that I hoard. I don’t know if I’m a librarian of my collections, or a hoarder of my crap.

It’s a strange kind of possessiveness. My problem is I don’t have enough shelves for all my libraries, so me and my piles of stuff is looking a lot more like your garden variety hoarder of junk.

The other day I decided to reduce the number of DVD/BD discs that Susan and I own down to what would fit into the bookcase we designated as our TV/Movie Library. It was either that or buy another bookcase, and getting another bookcase would mean taking wallspace from something else in our junked up house, and that would only cause anguish over giving something else away.

I figure it’s time to be practical about my hoard of creative works. I’ve got too many books, magazines, LPs, CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray discs. And that’s not even considering the thousands of digital items I own. I know that. I’ve always known that – but why can’t I remember that? Especially like this Tuesday when I was at the used bookstore buying seven large hardbacks I felt for sure I must read but know I never will. Jesus, I’m crazy, or what?

What psychological programming makes me want to possess (collect) so much? Many of my friends when they got a Kindle gave their books to the Friends of the Library. And when they embraced iTunes or Spotify gave away their albums to their kids. And when Netflix came along donated their VHS tapes and DVDs to Goodwill. I didn’t. I went to the Friends of Library book sales and Goodwill and bought all their crap.

We often blame our present hangups on our upbringing, and I guess there might be a case for that here too. When I grew up you got two chances at seeing a TV show. When it premiered in the main season and then again as a rerun in the summer. Evidently the trauma of believing I’d never again see a favorite episode again burned something deep inside of me. That childhood trauma caused me to mass consume VHS tapes and DVDs when they were invented.

Movies used come to town, and if you missed them you’d have to wait years to catch it on TV. Music was on the radio and you had to wait a couple hours for that catchy tune come around again. It’s probably why they only had 40 songs in rotation. It was agony on Golden Oldie Weekends hoping to hear an ancient rock ‘n’ roll hit from the 1950s. Books were something you got at the library that you took back in seven days, and magazines were something you threw away on cleaning day. Creative works were fleeting back then.

When I started earning money I bought my favorite books and albums. At first it wasn’t many. When the VCR came on the market it became possible to save TV shows or buy movies. Susan and I spent $800 on our first video recorder at a time when that was way more money than we could afford. Then came DVDs, and even better, Blu-ray discs. For years Blockbuster Video filled that need to watch what we wanted when we wanted – unless it was checked out. Then we realized we had to own our favorite flicks in case the pressure to see a movie immediately took ahold of us. (Actually, I can’t ever remember that happening.)

Over the decades it became possible to own all the creative works I loved. However, it’s taken me decades to realize that the desire to consume creative works immediately is an unhealthy trait I should try to control.

And even owning some creative works would have been fine if I had been selective about what I acquired. A carefully curated collection of all-time best loved works of art that I was most identified with would have been manageable. It wouldn’t be hoarding, just defining my identity. But something inside me wants to keep every creative work I ever had a momentary infatuation. (I think that might be related to my obsession with memory too. It bugs the crap out of me that I forget anything, and owning a creative work is like a physical memory.)

I guess I feel a need to own everything I love in case I want to relive that initial encounter – but is that true? Because of the internet, there’s been a new paradigm of instant access to creative works online. When I was cleaning out my DVDs yesterday I realized that many of the movies I owned are always available, either from a streaming service like Netflix, or by renting them for far less than the cost of buying (even if I rented them 2-4 times). And since I mostly watched old movies on TCM because I actually prefer the randomness of it’s offering, many of my most loved old movies do appear one or more times during the year, giving me plenty of times to re-watch a film. For those movies I don’t have instant access through checking Just Watch, with a little patience they would show up again on TCM.

I was able to cull over a hundred discs I could part with without too much anguish. However, I still had hundreds that I felt the need to own. Where does that psychological drive come from? What kind of anxiety do I have if I’m afraid I won’t be able to see a TV show or movie when get the urge?

Years ago I calculated I’d save tons of money if I bought books at full price on Amazon whenever I actually was ready to read them over the cost of collecting books at bargain prices thinking I’d read them someday. I’ve bought thousands of books I’ve never read simply because I believed I’d read them someday. Some of those books have been waiting forty years to get the attention of my eyes.

I’ve written essays like this one before trying to talk myself out of hoarding creative works. I shouldn’t need a psychiatrist to figure out I have a hoarding gene that I need to manage. At least my bedroom doesn’t look like this:

Luckily I have another gene that battles with my hoarding gene, a Marie Kondo gene. I also like to declutter and give away junk. If I still owned every creative work I once bought everyone room of my house would look like the photo above. I’m not exaggerating.

I have a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality but it’s a battle between my KonMari/Hoarders natural tendencies. I never can come to terms that my need to read books has no relationship to my need to buy books. I write these essays time and time again hoping they will reprogram my brain. They are my way of psychoanalyzing myself but I never get to a behavioral breakthrough. I’m a crappy at self-shrinking, or would that be an auto-analyst?

JWH

Music – Hear More With Less Equipment

by James Wallace Harris,

Weeks ago I got annoyed with my 5.1 surround sound system connected to my television, so I gave it away. Whenever I had a problem I had to fight the complicated configuration menus in the Denon AV receiver and Sony TV, and I was tired of screwing around with them. Plus, my old body has gotten too wimpy for wrestling big and heavy equipment.

For a couple weeks I researched soundbars. They promised to be the ultimate easy-to-use replacement. However, I kept worry about playing music through them. Would they sound good with Spotify? Then I watched “Escape the ‘world of crazy’ with the Bluesound Powernode 2i” on John Darko’s YouTube channel.

The view behind Darko’s stereo rack was just like mine used to be behind my entertainment center. I was sold on the Powernode 2i but spent a week watching more review videos and reading online reviews. I already had simplified my home office/library with a Yamaha WXA-50 and Bose 301 series V speakers and was very happy with its ease of use and sound. The Powernode 2i seemed to offer even more but at twice the price. I took a chance and bought it.

For the past year I’ve been watching speaker reviews on YouTube and have been hankering to try a pair of Klipsch RP-600Ms. I went back and rewatched the reviews and when I saw Steve Guttenberg’s video where he said if you want the RP-600Ms but want a bit more bass get the RP-5000F, and so I did.

Pairing the Powernode 2i with the Klipsch RP-5000F sounded great. I’m very happy. I now understand what all those reviews talked about when they said Klipsch has their own unique sound with their horn tweeters. I was afraid they might be too bright for me, but weren’t. They sound especially wonderful for vocals and orchestra music. The only problem I had with this setup was the HDMI ARC connection to my Sony TV wouldn’t work. I don’t know if I needed a better cable or not, but the HDMI ARC configuration was the source of my configuration problem with the old AV receiver. It had worked for years, and then started acting weird.

I quickly solved the problem with the Powernode 2i by using an optical cable instead and it worked great. However, sound level has to be controlled by the BluOS app, rather than my Sony TV remote which is a feature of HDMI ARC. I might order a HDMI 2.1 cable to see if that fixes the problem, but I’m in no hurry. I’m good to go.

I can call up Spotify or Amazon Music HD on my iPhone and can play whatever I want. Streaming music servers connected to 2.0 speaker setup is all I need. I miss the feel of surround sound some, but both the Klipsch and Bose fill their rooms nicely. By the way, I’m becoming less tempted to chase after audiophile quality gear and High Res music – I’m just not sure my old ears can tell the difference.

That left the bedroom. I have an Audio-Technica AT-LP60 turntable connected to Creative Reference CR-4 active speakers. It’s a nice low-end setup. I really don’t like records much anymore, but all those audiophile guys make me feel nostalgic and guilty for not playing them. Changing records is a pain in the ass, but the act of playing records does bring back wonderful memories. So I’m torn.

Then I watched John Darko’s video about using a Raspberry Pi as a network streamer. Since I had an old Raspberry Pi 3B I got it out and installed the raspotify on it. Darko was right, the Pi by itself doesn’t sound so good. I had unplugged my turntable from the speakers and plugged the Pi instead. Playing music from my iPhone was so much easier. I could imagine laying in my bed at night picking out different albums. With the turntable I’d have to get up twice for each LP.

So I looked at his video about using an ALLO hat for the Pi to get better sound. I just wanted to use RCA connectors out, so I could get by with the ALLO Boss and a case, still a bit less than $100. Not bad.

I was thinking of ordering one when I decided to Google low cost streamers. Several very interesting options came up, including the Amazon Echo Dot. I already had a second generation Echo Dot in my bedroom, so I unplugged the speakers from the Raspberry Pi and plugged them into the Echo Dot.

BAM! The music sounded tremendously better than Raspberry Pi. I tried both Spotify and Amazon Music HD. The good thing about using Amazon Music HD was I could control the volume with the Amazon Music app, but couldn’t with Spotify app. Wow, this was ease-of-use to the max.

Could anything be simpler? What if powered speakers came with Amazon Alexa or Spotify Connect built in? What if they they didn’t need a wire running between the right and left speaker. It would be one cord, two speakers. That’s as minimalistic as I can imagine. Should I give up my turntable and go three for three with streamers?

I suppose I could get some new active speakers with multiple inputs and keep both. I do keep an CD/SACD player hooked up to my Yamaha WXA-50 for playing discs in my man cave. I could designate the bedroom as an LP playing site.

I’ve been doing my testing with Sara Watkins album young in all the wrong ways. I have it on LP. To me it sounds equally great on LP, Spotify, and Amazon HD. It’s a wonderful album I play over and over again.

I feel I hear more with less equipment. Playing music is not about technology, but listening to albums. Now that I have selected my minimalistic equipment I can spend even more time listening to music. I’m tired of messing with technology. I’m tired of worrying if I’m hearing the best audiophile sound quality. I’m almost over messing with CDs and LPs, but not quite. But I’m moving in that direction.

For younger people thinking about trying LPs, don’t get too hung up on the equipment. Most audiophile turntables are manual. I hate them. I spent $300 on one and ended up giving it away. If you want to get into records, get an automatic turntable and powered (active) speakers. They are a very simple to set up. Research getting a turntable that’s mostly configured and adjusted at the factory. That is, unless you’ve been infected with the audiophile virus.

JWH

When We Played Albums

by James Wallace Harris, Thursday, September 10, 2020

Early in my life I listened to songs. Then there was a period of years when I played whole albums. After that, in the 1980s I switched from buying LPs to CDs, which made listening to individual songs practical again. MP3 and streaming music services further conditioned me to focus my time exclusively on songs. Maybe that was bad.

Recently, for some unknown urge, I started playing whole albums again. Album listening is very different from song listening. For a decade now I’ve mainly played my favorite tunes via a Spotify playlist, becoming my own DJ who constantly spun a lifetime of Top 800 hits in random mode. That put me out of the habit of playing albums. Oh, I’d occasionally try a new album as they come out, to see if there was a hit-worthy song to add to my ultimate playlist, but after one play I’d forget all about the album. This went beyond seeking immediate gratification to always wanting to hear songs that tune my emotional settings to 11.

Some fluke of fate I don’t understand has made me tired of my Top 800 playlist. I’ve gone back to playing whole albums after lunch. I’ve wondered if this is an aging thing, or if I finally just worn out all my favorite songs after playing them constantly for years.

The albums I’ve turned to are mostly from the 1940s and 1950s. Because I don’t know the hits of those decades I need to listen to the entire album. This has put me in album mode again. Is this why so many young people have resurrected the LP from extinction? Have they discovered album mode listening? (By the way, it horrifies me they are paying $20-50 for new albums, but it’s reassuring to know that albums are making a comeback.)

In 2019 a total of 18.84 million vinyl LPs were sold. Back in the 1970s some hit albums sold almost that many copies alone. I’m not sure if it’s a significant revival movement. Since the pandemic sales have fallen off — with some people claiming it’s the economic downturn, and others wondering if it’s due to rising costs of new LPs, but I’m curious if album mode listening is also wearing off.

Most of my friends dwell in song play mode, listening to their lifetime of favorite tunes on their phones. It’s possible to create playlists of whole albums on streaming services, but if you listen in random play mode, it ruins the song order, destroying any sense of an album. I think most Baby Boomers I know lost their album mode listening abilities too. I guess we all just got too impatient.

I wonder how many people today call up an album on Spotify, Amazon Music, Qobuz, Tidal, or Apple Music, and let it play through? (And you don’t hit the skip button.) This got me to thinking about how at different times in my life I listened to songs, and other times albums.

Back in the 1950s while riding in a 1955 Pontiac I discovered pop music. I was maybe six, and I had no idea what music was, but certain songs enchanted my little mind. Oh, I’m sure I heard music on television, in the background, but it was the rock ‘n’ roll songs on the car AM radio that caught my attention. My father hated that music though, and seldom let me stay on those stations.

Christmas 1962 was probably the best Christmas ever for me. That’s when I got a AM clock radio and my sister Becky got a small portable record player. We lived on Homestead Air Force Base. Around that time an airman asked my father to keep his console stereo and record collection while he was stationed overseas. So I was introduced to Top 40 hits, 45s, and LPs all at the same time. From 1962 until the beginning of 1966 my main source of music was Top 40 songs from WQAM and WFUN Miami. I was too young to have money to buy my own 45s and LPs.

That was the era of song mode. 1960s hits are burned into my brain. As I got older, started mowing lawns, throwing papers, and babysitting for money, I began buying my albums. That’s when I joined record clubs to get a dozen albums at once. That’s when I progressed from song mode to album mode.

It’s possible to play just one song off an LP, and I did, but it’s much easier to play whole sides at a time. And usually, if you played side A, flipping the disc over to play side B was a habit. Listening to whole albums involves listening to songs you don’t always like on first listening. But eventually, an album becomes an holistic experience, a whole work of art, and I became conditioned to expect each song in its order, even learning to like the minor cuts. Album mode requires a whole different head space to appreciate. It represents a kind of patience, a kind of open state of mind, a kind of willingness to go with the flow.

When CDs came out it became easy to play specific songs from an album, and even program favorite cuts to repeat. CDs allowed me to be impatient with songs that didn’t push my “It’s a Hit” button immediately. I eventually bought a couple thousand CDs. Then several years ago, when I thinned out my collection, I found for many albums, I only remembered one or two songs. I reduced my collection down to about five hundred CDs, keeping only those that had more than a few remembered songs.

After switching to streaming music I seldom played even those CDs, or played whole albums on Spotify. This changed this past couple of weeks when I started playing albums by Doris Day, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Patti Page, Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker. Yesterday I jumped forward in time to play albums by Bette Midler and Michael Murphy, and liked them. Right now I’m listening to After Bathing at Baxter’s by The Jefferson Airplane.

What has given me the patience to go back to album mode? I found it relaxing to just listen to whatever came up. That’s a very different listening experience than what I’ve grown accustomed to in recent decades. Am I experiencing a paradigm shift, or is this only a momentary fling?

For a while, I called my main Spotify playing “Songs Rated 10.” I could play it in random mode and always intensely love every song. I think that ruined me for album listening. Yet, somehow, I’ve broken out of that habit and fell into album mode again. Cool. I’m really digging it for now. I’m avoiding my playlists. I crave albums. It’s disappointing that a lot of early albums no longer exist on Spotify because they’ve been replaced by retrospective compilations.

I’ve also discovered that I like reading about old albums or remembering an old favorite album, and then putting them on. But it depresses me when I discover they no longer exist to play online. I guess that’s why some folks collect old LPs. An example of this is The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink, my favorite album by Janis Ian. It’s included in Society’s Child: The Verve Recordings which I have on CD and can play through Spotify, but psychologically I want it as a separate album.

If you really get into album mode you get accustomed to it being a specific set of songs in an exact order. I still haven’t lost my conditioning to the American versions of the Beatles albums, but the only way to relive those albums would be to buy old copies of the American releases. Luckily, I’m not that anal for recreating all my music memories – yet. It also annoys me that some CDs didn’t perfectly recreate the LP album, either from reordering songs, adding new tunes, dropping cuts, or even including different versions of songs. Extreme audiophiles even get annoyed at reissues that sound different because of new pressings, production runs, or remastering.

I’ve become curious about why I’ve returned to album mode listening. I thought writing this essay might reveal why, but it hasn’t. It all started with Doris Day. I played her first LP from 1949, You’re My Thrill, which Spotify considers an 8-song EP. The whole album was pleasant. I then began playing other albums from the late 1940s and early 1950s and they were all pleasant to just put on and let play. I had no expectations. I knew no cuts to feature. I didn’t favor any style of singing or song over any other. It was a completely new era of music for me, so I just went along for the ride. I found that exceedingly pleasant.

After several days of playing albums from that era I jumped forward to the 1966-1985 years when I played whole albums before and tried some of them. It was still very pleasant to stay in album mode. So it wasn’t just for unknown music.

I don’t know how long I’ll stay in album mode listening, but I’m really digging it at the moment. Eventually, I think I’ll like to try some 21st-century albums. I have a very hard time getting into contemporary music, but maybe being in album mode again will give me more patience to try today’s unknown artists and styles.

JWH

What Was the First Album Cover with Art?

by James Wallace Harris, Saturday, September, 5, 2020

Visually, the world changes very slowly. If you’re young it will appear to have always looked roughly the same. It’s only when you get older that changes are noticeable, even disturbing. Over the decades, the look of homes, neighborhoods, shopping centers, and business districts begin to alter their appearance. The inside look of homes and stores change too. My mother, born 1916, grew up in rural Mississippi, so her childhood looked much different what the world looked like at the time of her death in 2007. My father, born 1920, saw much different world growing up in Miami in the 1920s and 1930s, than that much changed Miami looked when he died 1971.

The Miami I saw growing up in the 1950s and 1960s looked like another world from the photos I saw of my dad’s youth, even though it was just a couple decades later. I moved away from Miami in 1971, but returned periodically, each time to be disturbed by the visual change. I remember coming back one time to find tall Norfolk Island pines filling the sky, something that was empty in my childhood. Another time I was shocked by flocks of loud screeching parakeets careening in the air alienating old memories. The last time I returned, after Hurricane Andrew, all the Norfolk Island pines had been knocked down and the skyline was big and empty again, like I remembered from the 1960s.

I get the weirdest urges to see things that require research to sooth a kind of visual angst. I’ve been going further and further back in time looking for albums to play on Spotify. I know the LP first came out in the late 1940s, and before that music was sold on 78s. The trouble is I’ve seen very few 78 records, and they rarely had covers. Most were just in paper sleeves. I’ve seen a few 78 albums that had a cover with several pages of paper record sleeves, but I think those came out in the 1950s after LPs but before the demise of the 78. This has made me wonder, when did cover art come to albums?

Record stores in the 1960s and 1970s had their look, as did the LP covers, then CDs came in and records stores and album covers morphed into a different look. Then record stores disappeared and I forgot about them for years, and now they are coming back, with LPs again, so now in my 60s record stories look like they did in the 60s. That’s a weird sensation that I don’t often get to feel.

For some reason I ache to see what records stores looked like in the 1940s and early 1950s, and maybe the 1930s. I listen to music from that era on Spotify, but I have no idea what it would have looked like to shop for those songs and albums when they came out. I wish I had thought to ask my parents before they died.

If I collected old records, that might quinch some of my visual thirst, but not completely. I’ve reached an age where I want to downsize everything. I still love exploring old music, which I do with Spotify, but I don’t want to collect old records. Spotify does little to let me virtually visualize collecting records from the past, and I dislike that. It’s one thing to recreate the music digitally, but there was so much more to music than just the music.

I’ve seen photographs of old guys with their 78 collections, with shelves and shelves of discs in boring brown paper covers. I suppose that’s why I generally only see the round record labels in histories of music before the LP. It must have been pretty dull shopping for music back when my parents were growing up in the 1920s and 1930s.

I’m not sure my parents were into music. We never had a radio or record player before Becky and I got one for Christmas in 1962. The only time I heard music before that was when I rode in the car. My father did all the driving and he hated when I’d messed with the radio, but I loved listening to rock n’ roll in the late 1950s. I didn’t even know what music was, but it intrigued me in big way. My parents did like crooners on TV. My father favored Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, and my mother dug Nat King Cole and Perry Como, but they never bothered to buy their records.

Still, as I play the early albums of Sinatra, King Cole Trio, Doris Day, I wonder what it would have been like to shop for their music in the 1940s, in those years before I was born in 1951. My earliest memories of Miami 1955-1960 looked different from Miami of 1960-1965. Partly, because we moved around, partly because the cars and clothes changed enough to really notice, and partly because Miami began to grow — fast. I’ve seen old movies that were set in Miami. I don’t know if they were staged in Hollywood, or actually used exterior shots. But I never saw any films, and few photos of people in record shops. What I have seen suggests people didn’t flip through bins of albums. However, I expected 1945-1955 Miami to have looked very different. I hunger to see that too, like I hunger to see old record stores and albums.

Today and yesterday I’ve been playing Doris Day and King Cole Trio from the late 1940s and early 1950s. I know some of the songs were first published on 78s, but so far I don’t think Spotify presents 78-album collections. What I’m finding are early LPs repacking of 78 recordings. It’s like I’ve reached a geologic layer in music history. Spotify recreates the era of LPs but not the earlier era of 78-albums. As far as I know, Spotify doesn’t try to recreate 78 (or 45?) singles (A-side and B-side) either, but it does have some EP collections.

ca. 1950s, USA — Record Store — Image by © Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis

What Spotify presents is pretty much what’s been sold as CDs for the past several decades. For the most part, all those songs from earlier LPs and 78s have been reissued, remastered or repackaged over and over again.

Sometime in the 1940s, I’m guessing, record companies started adding cover art to albums. This essay was my quest to find out. I assume single discs (singles?) still came in brown paper sleeves. Then in 1948 Columbia introduced the LP, and in 1949 RCA Victor released the 7″ 45 rpm single. Evidently, that was when cover art finally began to catch on in a big way. For some reissues on Spotify, I see the original LP art. Like I said, some 78 rpm albums had cover art, but evidently not many, and I haven’t encountered it on Spotify.

For example, this is Doris Day’s first LP album from 1949, but her discography shows she had many hits before then. Her 1945 breakthrough song was “Sentimental Journey” with Les Brown and His Band of Renown. The flip side was “Twilight Time” and it was on a 78. What did that record look like? All I can find is this:

I’m sure 78 record collectors have a special fondness for labels and see great diversity and beauty in them, but they don’t visually thrill me like 12″ LP covers. I can’t imagine the act of record shopping in that era had the same visual impact I had during all those years of pawing through bins of LPs.

The King Cole Trio 78 album from 1944 had four 10″ discs and did have a cover with art. This proves some 78 records came with covers, but how many? When did the process start?

I’ve tried to find more examples, but it’s work. It’s disappointing that Spotify doesn’t recreate 78 records and albums, and show their original artwork, or a brown sleeve and disc label. I can simulate a 78 album by making a playlist, checking Discogs for the original track listing, and then assembling the songs. A lot of old songs are repackaged over and over again into various LPs collections. It would help if Spotify had a column for date released.

For example, Spotify doesn’t offer The King Cole Trio album above, which was the first Billboard #1 album. There were three followup albums #2-4. It appears Spotify offers some or all of their songs on The Nat King Cole Trio – Complete Capitol Transcription Sessions. So I can enjoy that music from the 1940s, but not in the order it appeared on the four album sets.

I did find The Great 78 Project at Archive.org. And it has The King Cole Trio albums, but with way too many tracks. Mostly different versions with different recording settings, but that confuses the feel of listening to how the album’s songs would have been originally arranged/ordered on the discs.

In my research to find covers from 78 albums I did find Guity Novin’s A History of Graphic Design: The Online Textbook with “Chapter 72: A History of Record Covers.” Novis claims Alex Steinweiss produced the first album cover in 1939 for Columbia Records. From that clue I found, “Alex Steinweiss and the World’s First Record Cover.” And that led me to this:

Persistence pays off. From that article there are numerous clues to pursue to continue my research. There’s even a whole art book devoted to Alex Steinweiss. But this essay is getting too long, so I shall continue it some other time in some other way.

JWH