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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

1978 Sears Stereo TV Commercial


In your choice of 8-Track or Cassette.....

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"The Ballad of John and Yoko" Percy Faith (1972)


This is the perfect example of an easy listening cover version of a song so wrong, it's actually right. And perhaps the closest Percy Faith ever came to rock n' roll.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Aqua Dots

It seemed like a good idea.....

A kids art toy that made art out of little beads (aka "dots") and it was 2007 Toy of The Year, what could go wrong?

Well, everything.

The beads were manufactured in China and when combined with water, the chemicals did more than make art. When little kids swallowed the colourful dots that looked like candy (as little kids tend to do), and when mixed with water (or saliva) they combined to make what is known as GBH, infamously known as a "date rape" drug. Several kids were hospitalized after ingesting them. Fortunately no fatalities.

They were immediately recalled and parents rightfully began to question toys made in China and to no one's surprise, the vast majority of American toys are manufactured in China. Which is out of the jurisdiction of American regulators and where American toy corporations manufacture most of their toys because of the extremely cheap labour in manufacturing.

The product was reintroduced as Bindeez, Beados and Pixos using a non-toxic formula that was coated with a bitter tasting substance to discourage ingestion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bindeez


Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Thompson Twins Vinyl Video Game


 The Thompson Twins were a 1980's pop group, best known for their hits "In The Name Of Love", "Lies", "Doctor Doctor" and "King For A Day"


(....and just for the record, none of them are twins and neither of them are named or surnamed Thompson....)

They were among a handful of '80s pop groups (including Journey, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Stranglers) that had their own video games. In the case of The Thompson Twins, their game came on a vinyl flexi-disc in Quicksilva magazine for the ZX Spectrum computer in the UK (and the Timex Sinclair ccomputer in the USA) Both were short lived home computers (as most were in the '80s.)


You had to play this record on your turntable and record it onto a cassette tape. Then play it on the external cassette drive of the computer (sold seperately) and wait for it to load up. Which took a good 10 minutes.

And when you were done, you had a playable game.

The graphics were horrible (but this was also 1984.) and it was pretty much a very lousy text-based video game. But in 1984, this was state of the art.




Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The History of Stereo and Quadraphonic Sound

When audio recording began, there was only one sound source (monaural or "mono"). The horn of a cylinder or gramophone record player. And all was well. For most people.

For others, something was missing.

You see, the epitome of a perfect recording is not just an incredibly good performance artistically, but also how lifelike it sounds.

The first is actually easier to achieve than the latter. The most lifelike sounding and the very best artistic recording rarely come together. Even today.

The very first experiments in binaural reproduction (an early form of stereo) go back as early as 1881 (no joke!) At a theater in Paris. The sound was transmitted through two telephone wires to special headsets that received the audio. This was used in hotel rooms and by special subscription service. But it didn't garner much attention, simply because the tinny headsets and 19th century telephone line quality audio was so bad.

An early two-channel playback system, developed and sold in the early 1900s, used a two-channel phonograph cylinder and two mechanical pickups and horns. But it really didn't sound good and the early recordings themselves have been lost to time. To make stereo sound acceptable on a commercial scale, vast improvements in monaural audio fidelity would have to be achieved.

Here's another early attempt at stereo, it's mono, but used a delay effect.



Enter radio.

There were experiments in stereo broadcasting going back to the early '20s. They utilized two radio station frequencies, two radio receivers (VERY rare in most homes of that time) and a special headset that connected into the outputs of both radios and at a time when most earliest commercial radio stations were very competitive, very hard for stations themselves to negotiate (the earliest duopolies of stations didn't happen until the late 1920s.) But again, this was early 1920's AM radio fidelity, while still an enormous leap from the telephone lines of 1881, still had it's own problems. including skywave interference from distant stations, hetrodyne squeal, harmonics from nearby stations and electrical interference.

However, recording had moved from acoustic recording horns to electrical microphones and reproducers. With the dramatic improvements in recording fidelity, the idea of stereo recording was again revisited. In the early 1930s, Bell Labs and RCA Victor made experiments in hi-fi and stereo recording, independent of each other.

Here's an early RCA Victor Mono Hi-Fi recording session with The Paul Whitman Orchestra in 1933.



Here's a VERY early experimental single groove stereo recording made by Bell Labs in 1934



Magnetic tape was also being developed. The first magnetic recordings were made in 1898 on steel wire and the first magnetic tape was invented in 1928. For the most part, they were merely experimental, first because the lengths of wire or tape needed to make reasonable quality recordings were astronomically long. Second, the tapes were made of steel or paper backed magnetic tape, making them prone to breakage. It wasn't until the mid 1930s when German scientists developed the first successful hi-fi tape recordings and it was initially used for Nazi radio broadcasts.

The very first Stereo system offered to consumers was reel to reel tape in the mid 1950s. But they found limited acceptance. Reel tape was awkward, bulky and expensive. Most records however remained monaural - except for a few made by Cook Laboratories. These records were binaural. as mentioned earlier and used headphones instead of speakers for the best reproduction.

They also used two grooves with two cartridges and pickups

  

Single groove full stereo records were finally perfected by 1957 and were sold by 1958. They were an instant sensation. But there were still millions of monaural record players and the heavier tone arms would ruin a stereo record. So record companies made records in both Stereo and Monaural (aka "Mono") versions until 1968.

Stereo radio was also being developed. First using a revival of the AM/AM experiment of the 1920s. When FM was established in the 1950s, AM/FM radio combos experimented with using FM for the left channel and AM for the right.



Yes, there were actually tuner components that allowed you to hear FM on the left channel and AM on the right. This crude form of stereo radio was obsolete by 1961 when multiplex FM Stereo was invented.....
Stereo sound is great. And when it's recorded with care, it can be breathtaking in it's own sense of realism. But you're still only getting what's coming from the front of you. Not the ambiance from the rear as you would in an actual live performance. In the early days of stereo recording, most of the early stereo recordings tried to emphasize the stereo ping-pong, left to right, right to left sound, which is fine if you weren't particular with the realism of sound, just the physical effect of stereo sound. Something to show off your fancy new stereo and what it can basically do to your friends.  

Many early stereo studio recordings (especially those early stereo records from the late '50s and early '60s) were deliberately mixed to highlight these effects. But most pop/rock recordings were originally mixed in mono and later run through a gamut of fake stereo enhancements (echo chamber, reverb, vocals on one channel, instrumentation on the other) instead of going back to the original multitrack studio tapes - if available, and creating a true stereo mix. If it couldn't be done, and in most cases regardless in my opinion, it should have been left alone. It wasn't until the mid '60s when true stereo mixes of pop/rock albums became the norm. The technology and science of stereo recording was improving

And then came Quadraphonic.

Quadraphonic was first used as far back as 1953 (using 4 track tape) in Europe and introduced to the American market by the Vanguard Recording Society in June 1969. Then RCA followed with a Quadraphonic 8-Track tape

In the early 1970s the very first Quadraphonic LPs came out. But there was a problem. There was no uniformly compatible system for making Quad LPs. There were three incompatible systems SQ (developed by CBS Records), CD-4 (developed by RCA, no relation to Compact Discs, which wouldn't be invented for another 10 years) and QS (developed by Sansui).

This created a lot of confusion. And the government wasn't willing to step in and saw this solely as a civil matter beyond their authority (which would be repeated for AM Stereo in the '80s. But what made AM Stereo different was it was a form of radio transmission and that usually automatically falls under government jurisdiction.)

But it was the consumer that suffered the most. Because most labels allied with one system of Quad or the other. For example, if you liked Santana and had an SQ Quad system, you were in luck. Santana was a Columbia artist then and Columbia used SQ exclusively. However, if you also liked The Doors, you were toast. Elektra used the CD-4 Quad system and while those records will play on an SQ system, you won't get Quad sound (and the basic stereo separation of a CD-4 Quad record was not very good on an SQ Quad system. Or even a basic stereo.



Click to enlarge and read


There was no true winning system in the Quad war. But it seemed like SQ had far more advantages than CD-4. SQ used creative phasing, while CD-4 Quad records required a special stylus and since the system was encoded using something very similar to how FM Stereo radio is encoded at a very high inaudible frequency. So there was a serious record wear problem. If the portion of the groove where the frequency was encoded was worn, the Quad separation of the CD-4 Quad record was gone as well.

And what about Sansui's QS system? I don't have any personal experience with QS, but I have heard it said the QS system was very similar to SQ.

And like the early stereo recordings, studio engineers of the time were eager to utilize all four channels sonically in every way possible. Including putting each instrument on it's own channel. They had to. You see, most recording studios are acoustically dead places, so there was no way to capture the ambiance of a live recording. They could add artificial reverb and echo to the rear channels (as with the early fake stereo records), but it would sound AWFUL if played on a conventional stereo. So most didn't. I say most because I have heard some REAL atrocities in Quad.

Usually the very best sounding Quad albums were the classical albums recorded specifically in Quad.. They captured the sense of depth and space far better than most pop or rock albums.


Click to enlarge and read


The Quad fad had pretty much died out by 1978. Mostly out of consumer exasperation with the competing systems. But also the extra baggage of two extra speakers. But multiple-channel sound was revived by Dolby for use in movie theaters in the late 1980s

Today, the children of Quad, the DTS and Dolby Surround systems are used in home theater setups and even as a limited edition CD/DVD series - AGAIN with competing and incompatible systems, SACD and DVD Audio. They were introduced in the early 2000s. But like the Quad LPs of the '70s, they too have largely vanished due to consumer frustration as well as indifference.

Monday, July 22, 2013

World War II Mickey Mouse Gas Masks



On December 7th, 1941, Japanese pilots dropped a bomb on the Pearl Harbor military base, which is one of the main reasons that drove the United States into World War II. After this incident, many Americans feared that the Axis would attack their soil.

To protect its population, the government distributed gas masks to the state of Hawaii. Unfortunately, there were only adult-sized masks. Children had trouble wearing the large gas masks and many were terrified of the safety device’s look.

As a solution, gas masks were created and issued shaped as Mickey Mouse. The masks were designed in mind so that children would wear them at all times and carry them as a game.

That was the intention anyway. Personally these things look scarier than the regular gas masks.

Fortunately, the 1000 Mickey masks that were made never had to be used.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Controversial Magazine Covers


With the controversy this week over the latest Rolling Stone cover featuring Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I thought I'd take a look at shocking magazine covers. While this photo, a self pic taken by Tsarnaev on his cell phone had long been circulating on the internet and even made the front page of the New York Times in May....
....the same, untouched photo on the Rolling Stone cover caused outrage in the media. Prompting many in the media to accuse Rolling Stone of making Tsarnaev appear like a rock star, in spite of the New York Times and other outlets use of this same photo.

Let's take a look at a few other controversial magazine covers.


2012's Time cover of a mom breast feeding her 5 year old son disgusted everyone.




A famous TV star coming out on the cover of Time magazine wouldn't raise an eyebrow today, but 16 years ago in 1997, Ellen DeGeneres was dealt a backlash by several media outlets, many of them dropping her program. But to the horror of social conservatives, there was actually far more public praise for DeGeneres than criticism. Society's attitudes towards the LGBT community were already changing not towards mere tolerance. but full blown acceptance. Rapidly. And there was no turning back.  


 National Lampoon has always been known for it's edgy, often politically incorrect humour. But this 1973 cover crossed the line from edgy to cruel with many people. But since any publicity is good publicity for a humour magazine, they reprised this cover photo on the picture disc version of their 1977 LP That's Not Funny, That's Sick



 In the '60s, there was a book written titled The Death of God by Gabriel Vahanian that explored the objectification of God as a symbolic or cultural artifact. The book was never intended to be a direct death certificate to God, but that's how many people took it. Time explored this and the movement surrounding it and the cover alone caused such a massive uproar amongst religious conservatives, Time's mail room was inundated with angry letters to the editor and the magazine lost thousands of subscribers.


As late as the early '70s, it was still very rare to see African-Americans on the covers of major national magazines (and virtually never in a flattering light.) But Playboy declared black is beautiful with it's October 1971 issue featuring Darine Stern by herself on the cover. Angry white readers in the South were outraged, but Playboy made no apologies.

Stern's cover pose was reprised in 2009, but featuring Marge Simpson.

 
The murder of former Beatle John Lennon stunned the world in December of 1980. Not since the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 had the world lost such a universally beloved icon and into January 1981, people were still recovering from the shock. Rolling Stone published this as the cover photo for their first issue of 1981. It was shot merely hours before Lennon's assassination. It wasn't intended to be offensive and would have made the cover regardless as Lennon had just released his Double Fantasy album. But a nude photo of any sort for a magazine sold on publicly accessible magazine racks at that time was too much - especially for a man that just died. And many stores banned this issue.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Wyler's Drink Mix


Wyler's was once the formidable competitor to the Kool-Aid empire. Often selling for far cheaper than the Kool-Aid brand (and pretty much tasting exactly the same.)

It's still available in most areas.