Every now and then I like to browse at antique malls and resale shops, and the record albums are always of particular interest. Though my collection of Sinatra on vinyl isn't extensive, I have picked up some rare gems over the years.
My wife bought me a really nice Crosley phonograph player a few years back that will spin 78s, so I especially love to find those.
For those of you who weren't around during the heyday of vinyl records (and even for some of you who were) it may be surprising to learn that the phrase "record album" was originally much less symbolic than it now seems. In the early days, they were literally collections of several 78 RPM records packaged together in something that looks like a photo album. There were sleeves inside the album to hold perhaps 4 or 5 records which each contained one song per side.
It's often been said that Sinatra invented the "concept album" and obviously the titles and album covers were a compelling contribution to each concept, setting the stage for presentation of the music.
Even in our age of music downloads we still have a desire for (albeit virtual) album art, so it seems almost unimaginable that until the late 1930s recordings were sold in undecorated packaging. Album art was the creation of Columbia Records and their first Art Director, Alex Steinweiss
The image above is the cover of an early (read that "non-concept") Sinatra album - 1947's Songs By Sinatra, Volume I
- from my own collection. When you click on the image, it takes you to a page about the album (with an alternative, perhaps earlier, cover) from John Brown's excellent site
of Sinatra album cover art. John is, by the way, the artist who created The Frank Truth
album art for our MP3 files and this Website.
My phonograph gets sparse use these days since so much of the music from all those years ago is available in digital form (which is hard to beat for convenience if not quality). Still, I can't imagine a home without a record player.
There was, though, a short period in my adult life when I was without a working phonograph. My sons were little at the time. When I finally bought a new turntable, I brought stacks and stacks of albums out to play. The boys noticed them and asked what all of those books were. I said that they weren't books, they were record albums. Pulling one from its sleeve, I explained. "You put this on a thing that spins around and set this arm on it that has a little needle on the end and it makes music."
They were wide eyed and incredulous. "You're kidding, right?"