Storytime

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The 1950 adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ story “Gerald McBoing-Boing” has been entered into the National Film Registry and preserved by the Library of Congress. Animators regard it with reverence as it is one of the first short films to successfully experiment with limited animation, which at the time was more of an aesthetic decision than one driven by financial considerations. Limited animation, which uses as few in-betweens or transitional cells as possible. This became the basis of inexpensively-produced “Saturday morning cartoons” like the ones these record shop owners grew up with (Fat Albert, The Smurfs, etc). Limited animation does not necessarily preclude quality, however, as Gerald McBoing-Boing demonstrated in 1950. At the time this short film was a distinct break from the realism of the Walt Disney features.

Having enjoyed this fun short film, you’re surely wondering why we posted it — it’s because the cartoon was inspired by a record!

gerald mcboinbboingGerald McLoy (ie Gerald McBoing-Boing) first appeared not in one of the good doctor’s forty-six delightful books, but on a record produced the year before by Capitol. Radio personality Harold Peary, known then to listeners as Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve from Fibber McGee and Molly, narrated the story.

The remarkably versatile bandleader Billy May provided the music (his humorous collaborations and swinging arrangements know no bounds: we have previously posted music he produced for comic Stan Freberg, here and here, and singer Peggy Lee, here).

The story was adapted for film by P.D. Eastman (author of Are You My Mother? and the epic Go, Dog, Go! among many other essential reads) and Bill Scott (who we know best as Bullwinkle J. Moose). This little 78rpm record is at the nexus of so much talent!

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Folks come in fairly often looking for a “cheap turntable.” Of course, unless you hit on an awesome thrift store or garage sale find, this isn’t really something which exists anymore. We remember the days when box stores like Best Buy sold a fairly decent Technics or Sony, but that’s nearly as distant as the time Tom Petty fought with MCA Records when they wanted to raise the retail price of Hard Promises to $9.98. A good turntable just isn’t cheap anymore and given their popularity, not on the shelves for long.

Historically, Gen Xers like ourselves acquired turntables without much effort. Our parents’ friends often gave us theirs, since it hadn’t been used in years, or we simple went into Mom and Pop’s basement and stole the one they’d forgotten. When one of us used to commute by bicycle we’d find them on the curbs in nice neighborhoods on garbage day, and strap the new prize to a rack on the back. Yep, the coveted turntable was once like the television is today.

There’s a graveyard of turntables here at Hymie’s, from a vintage Brunswick wind-up (which belonged to a friend and is kept on display in the shop as a little tribute) to a couple of those goddamn Crosleys which poop out within weeks of opening the box. The turntables you see stacked in the back room of the shop all need some love of one kind or another. They’re not simply missing belts or needles — they need to be taken apart and fixed. This, along with the fact we sell them far more quickly than we find the time to fix them, is why there’s never a huge selection of working turntables for sale.

We’ve all become so spoiled by the fact there’s three dozen types of ketchup in the grocery store that we expect the same everywhere else we go. It’s just not so with turntables, especially the elusive “cheap turntable.”

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Consider, for instance, the time which went into a Technics 1900 which came with a large collection we bought last summer. Its tone arm lifter didn’t function, meaning its auto-start also would not function, and more importantly that when it reached the end of the album the auto-return would drag the needle across the surface of the album.

Vrrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooomp! You know the sound.

What happens with a turntable sits for a decade or several is that its lubricants turn to sticky goo, sort of like pine sap. On other machines this freeze the platter in place. This is especially common with the classic BSR “stackers,” which at one time were about the most common record players in the world and when cleaned can be very durable. On these classic direct-drive Technics, which are no longer in production, the sappy gunk most often seizes up that tiny, essential little plastic rest.

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The rest is raised and lowered by a piston inside a metal shaft and a spring, and its connection to the auto-start, auto-return and cue switch functions are controlled by a plastic cam. Cleaning these parts requires a tedious deconstruction of the turntable. First one turns it over and removes the screws which hold the tone arm assembly and basic casing in place. When loosened you can remove the switches and cover plate seen in the first photograph, and you can work the casing carefully around the tone arm, as in the picture just below.

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Now you’ve nearly there You have to remove the remaining screws holding the turntable assembly to the rest of the mechanical parts and lift it up carefully. You must be gentle so you don’t damage the tiny leads which carry the signal from your stylus through the tone arm, and eventually out to your amplifier, your speaker and your ears (otherwise you’ll double your work). You also have to raise the tone arm assembly carefully so it remains properly connected to the levers and gears which control the various automatic functions (auto-start, auto-return, repeat, etc).

While you’ve got the machine disassembled, its a good idea to give everything a quick tidying, too. If you have a can of compressed air its nice to get any junk out of there, and its a good idea to clean the pitch control contacts with a de-oxidizing solution. If this isn’t something you do every week, the ten dollars you’ll spend on those couple cans will be an investment to last you half a lifetime.

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Finally you’re there. The white plastic piece you see below is the lifter cam, and its your culprit. Remember the Vroooooooooooomp! sound? Its all this guy’s fault. In the picture the spring which holds him taut has already been removed, but he was so stuck in place the spring was stretched to its limit. You remove a screw which holds the lifter cam in place and the tiny c-clip holding the spring over the piston. All of these parts, and all of the washers installed with them, need to be scrubbed with rubbing alcohol,using Q-tips and a tiny flathead screwdriver, until they’re free from the sticky lubricant. When this stuff is really stubborn, especially on older players, you may have to use a soldering iron or a hair dryer to heat the area up before you can make any progress. The piece onto which the lifter cam is covered with a tiny metal sheathing, and that has to be scrubbed too. One finally clean and dry they’re all re-lubed, this time with a dry lubricant which can be silicon- or graphite-based (meaning you won’t have to make this repair again for a couple more decades, ideally). Then the entire works needs to be re-assembled without disrupting the other functions, all of which were working when you started.

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Afterwards, the lifter rest needs to be adjusted to the proper height, so it neither disrupts play nor fails to raise the arm high enough to protect the stylus and records during auto-start and auto-return. Once assembled and adjusted, the turntable has to be tested for an afternoon, so you’re sure one of your customers won’t get home and find something else has been damaged in the disassembly and reassembly process. Most turntables have a damaged stylus by the time they make it to the record shop as well, so there’s the job of properly balancing and aligning the replacement.

We have always said we fall in love with most turntables which come through the shop — this is in part because we often spend half an afternoon performing surgery on them. When you think about the intricacy of the interlocking parts of a machine like this Technics 1900, they’re remarkably elegant. The many articles we’ve seen in recent years about the ‘resurgence of vinyl’ often cite the physical appeal of albums and the larger artwork on their jackets as a factor which distinguishes them from digital media, but seldom recognize how much ore enjoyable owning a turntable can be. We have many favorite models, and enjoying the beauty of them isn’t really so different than enjoying a classic car show or building a boat inside a bottle.

But they often require knowledge, patience and skill to repair. There is also often an investment in parts and supplies. This is why there aren’t always “cheap turntables.” When choosing which project to work on next, we try and get at least a couple record players repaired each month which will cost under fifty dollars, but many like this Technics 1900 go for more than that online in ‘as is’ condition. Even at a fair price, it was gone within a day or so, and the customer who brought it home has told us it performs fantastically and sounds great. We have meanwhile moved on to the next project, which yesterday was a Sony linear tracking turntable (what’s this?) which has a problem with the tone-arm motor.

If you enjoy looking at beautiful turntables, or if you’re looking for a fully-restored classic console stereo of quality turntable, you should really visit our friends at Vintage Music Company. They also have the largest selection of 78rpm records you’ll find anywhere, and they are where we most often by needles for our own records players here at Hymie’s.

So there’s an explanation of the turntable graveyard here in the shop. Some may never be fix-able, and others are being kept so they can one day donate a part or two to another. Others are on the ‘donor list,’ waiting patiently for a part. Most are just waiting until the day we have the time and resolve to get in there and fix something like a tone-arm lifter.

There’s no school in Minneapolis today because its too cold. Seems like a great day to stay inside as long as we can and watch Star Wars with the kids. And while we’re at it to revisit one of our favorite posts in the Hymie’s archives. By the way, did you know there are 1,500 posts on this site? It reminds us of the moment near the end of “Alice’s Restaurant” when Arlo says, “I’ve been singing this song now for twenty-five minutes. I could sing it for another twenty five minutes. I’m not proud… or tired.”

Anyway, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was…

Amateur Star Wars

This is a Buena Vista Records production of Star Wars for which the music, sound effects and images were licensed but not the actors’ voices.  The result?  Star Wars performed by a cast of understudies!  To make it even, uh, more exciting they seem to be making up some of their lines.

We would love to see an entire film starring this Han Solo instead.

Here’s three minutes of “highlights”:

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Enjoy Amateur Star Wars? There’s two more episodes here.

We’ll be open this Christmas eve from 1-5pm, if you need to get a last minute album for someone special, or if you just need to get away from that someone special for an hour.

“A Visit from Saint Nick” (or as it is more commonly known, “The Night Before Christmas”) was published anonymously in 1823. There are two claims to the authorship of what is possibly the most widely recited work of American poetry.

The poem has appeared on hundreds of records over the years. Perry Como and Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians produced sophisticated, tasteful renditions in the 50s, around the same time many of the most popular holiday songs were written. Novelty producer Ross Bagdasarian (ie David Seville) produced a fun version featuring Alvin & the Chipmunks in 1963, which was a favorite of ours growing up and which our kids found hilarious.

In 1980, Anthony Daniels (ie C-3PO) recorded the absolutely worst reading of the poem ever, on the worst record in the entire history of the holiday, Christmas in the Stars. We posted his equally horrible “What do you get for a Wookie (When he already owns a Comb)?” yesterday. If you can find a copy of this album it will make the perfect gag gift for the record collector in your life.

Louis Armstrong’s last commercial recording was a reading of the poem produced in his home in Corona, New York. You can visit the Louis Armstrong Museum to stand in the very same room and hear the unedited tape. According to their website, candy canes are provided.

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“The Night Before Christmas” read by Louis Armstrong

The last recording of Louis Armstrong was sold in drug stores and gas stations as a promotion for Kent, True, Old Gold and Newport cigarettes.

There’s a history of jazzy readings of the poem, going back to as early as 1955, when poet and singer Babs Gonzalez wrote his fun interpretation. Our favorite, however, is from 1975, and was read by Northern Calloway, better known as David from Sesame Street. Lets remember David this way, and not from the long and tragic decline of his health. Also presented for your enjoyment are recordings by Ed Byrnes, who you may recall as the dance show host from Grease, and by Wynton Marsalis who seems to us unlikely to be much fun around the holidays but provides a fun performance anyway.

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“Bebop Santa Claus” by Babs Gonzalez

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“The Night Before Christmas” by Wynton Marsalis

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“Yulesville” by Ed “Kookie” Byrnes

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“The Night Before Christmas on Sesame Street” by David (Northern Calloway)

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Ghost stories

hymies halloweenDon’t forget to stop by Hymie’s this week and pick up your copy of our first ever Halloween mix CD — Twenty-five tracks of terror starring vampires, werewolves, zombies and other spooky characters.

There’s also fun bits from story records interspersed throughout. It’s a fun soundtrack for Friday evening, while you’re watching the trick or treaters come and go.

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“The Tell Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe, performed by James Mason

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George Rose reads W.W. Jacobs’ 1902 story, “The Monkey’s Paw.”

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The primordial Muppet Show productions are wonderful, almost-lost gems — not at all as famous as the television series and movies that followed. Some reader younger than ourselves may be surprised to learn how old the Muppets are — that that Rowlf the Dog got his start in a Purina dog food commercial in 1962. Rowlf was also the last Muppet performed by Henson on television, in an appearance on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1990. Always Henson’s favorite Muppet, he made regular appearances on The Jimmy Dean Show in the 1960s, and if you want to spend the next hour of your day laughing at grainy television footage on Youtube, just start here.

The enormous popularity of Sesame Street was instrumental to the steady rise of Henson’s Muppets, but along the way they appeared in other programs, notably a 1971 version of The Frog Prince which stars Kermit the Frog and his nephew Robin, along with actress Trudy Young. This is our daughter’s all-time favorite record — one that sadly, she have worn with the nylon stylus on her Fisher Price record player. The Frog Prince, like the Muppet Show would be a few years later, a magical combination of wit and whimsey.

The Frog Prince was the second in a “Tales from Muppetland” series produced by Henson for CBS and later sold to ABC. Tthe first had been Hey, Cinderella!, a more network-tinkered tale than The Frog Prince and less distinctly Henson-esque, which aired in 1969. The idea of an ongoing series was scrapped by the network in favor of a contract to air college basketball, leading to the sparse appearances of “Muppetland” fairy tales.

The third and final story appeared a year after The Frog Prince, and delved deeper into Henson’s idiosyncrasies than nearly every other Muppet production, especially his taste in music. The Muppet Musicians of Bremen is based on a Brothers Grimm telling of an old German story, and is re-cast in the Louisiana bayou, providing Henson the opportunity to introduce children to dixieland jazz.

Our old copy of this album is like most children’s records fairly destroyed — it also has the misfortune of having once belonged to the St. Paul Public Library, so it’s seen a lot of love in its long life.

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muppets of bremenWhen Henson’s Muppet Show was finally aired (after two pilots rejected by American and British networks) its cornerstone was musical comedy. We’ve already posted some highlights from the Muppet Show cast albums here, but it is just a tiny sample of the hundreds of hilarious numbers the show produced. The fact that the soundtrack albums for The Muppet Show were called “cast albums” hints at their inspiration in musical theater. Jim Henson was undeniably influential in reviving musical comedy in America, along with the amazingly talented musical directors at Sesame Street, Jeffrey Moss and Joe Raposo.

People don’t always understand that this is our Beatles, or Ramones, or Radiohead, or whatever the all-so-very-important foundation in your musical leanings may be. We will take The Muppet Musicians of Bremen or Grover Sings the Blues over the “White Album” any day.

Sesame Street surprised Billboard by periodically creeping up the charts (we posted some examples here) — some of the albums on the Children Television Workshop’s record label (Sesame Street Records, of course) have become cult classics, like My Name is Roosevelt Franklin, for which Matt Robinson (aka Gordon) provided hilarious rants and raps, and Raposo provided funky beats. Others lived up to Sesame Street’s (then) high standards by teaching us about everything from being lonely (Grover Sings the Blues) to basic skills (the also funky Count Counts), all through great musical arrangements.

Henson, Moss and Raposo were all taken from us by illness at tragically young ages, none of them living to sixty years old. There are many reasons this could make your heart heavy, least of all that the three hardly got to see the generation they spoke to grow up filled with so many wonderful musicians and storytellers.

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Presented by KRAFT!

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