In Have A Strange Christmas Part 1, I examined 5 strange holiday CDs. In Part 2 I give equal time to 5 strange holiday records. You’ll find links at the end if you want to add any of these oddities to your holiday music library.
Scrooged: Danny Elfman (Enjoy The Ride ETR096; 2022)
Scrooged, starring Bill Murray, debuted in November of 1988, and is the kind of film that you either liked or didn’t. This Danny Elfman soundtrack, which is completely different from the original motion picture soundtrack, doesn’t feature any strange material, although the music ranges from creepy to full orchestral holiday numbers. Nonetheless, I’m including it in my article because my vinyl pressing itself is strange.
For one thing, it’s the thickest record I’ve ever owned…1/4” thick! This makes 180 gram vinyl look like paper. The thickness is because, sandwiched in between each side of the clear vinyl, is liquid with sparkles. Move the record around and it creates a kind of snow globe effect, perfect for a Christmas soundtrack. It’s the world’s first now globe record. And yes, you can actually play it.
The other odd thing about this liquid-filled record is it’s refillable. If any of the liquid should evaporate over time or change color, I simply ship it back to the record manufacturer and they’ll replace the liquid and sparkles for a small fee. It’s the world’s first refillable liquid record!
This Scrooged variant took 6 months to make and each one was assembled by hand. It was limited to something like 100 pressings and sold out in less than 15 minutes. You’ll blow your entire Christmas gift budget on one of these records now, assuming you can find one.
2. Switched on Santa: Sy Mann (Pickwick SPCX 1007; 1969)
The Moog synthesizer is an electronic, modular instrument invented by Robert Moog in 1964. It has the ability to replicate the sounds of other musical instruments as well as create unique sounds that no other instrument can produce. Early models were large and intimidating and required hours of programming by an electronic engineer. The 27 minutes of music on Switched on Santa must have taken forever to program. The liner notes claim it took 1 hour of Moog programming to yield 30 seconds of usable music!
The Moog wasn’t a musical curiosity. It was used by The Doors, The Beatles, The Monkees, Rolling Stones, The Byrds, Grateful Dead, and Stevie Wonder. But this strange musical monstrosity wasn’t limited to just rock and pop music. The Moog found its way onto jazz and even classical records, too. Switched-On Bach from 1968 was a huge hit that went on to sell over 1 million copies and win 3 Grammy awards. Johan was probably spinning in his grave.
With success like that, it was only a matter of time until another “Switched On” title followed. Enter Switched On Santa from 1969, the logical follow up. Who could resist 13 holiday classics including Angels We Have Heard On High, Silent Night, and White Christmas performed on the Moog? The music sounds like the soundtrack from a low budget 1950’s sci-fi Christmas movie.
Manning the Moog was Sy Mann. Mann served in the army during World War II, mostly conducting army bands. In 1953 he joined CBS-TV and replaced Dick Hyman as pianist and arranger for the Arthur Godfrey Show. He later went on to work with artists like Barbara Streisand, Melanie, Connie Francis, and Tiny Tim.
I doubt this is the record you’d play while trimming your Christmas tree, but you might play it while you burn your real tree in the backyard after the holiday is over. Merry strange Christmas from Mann and the merry Moog.
3. Merry Christmas…Have A Nice Life: Cyndi Lauper (Real Gone Music RGM-0930; 2022 (original released in 1998 on Epic))
That Cyndi Lauper, she’s so unusual. But that’s not the only reason I’ve included her first Christmas album on my list, or because this vinyl variant is festive red and white candy cane swirl color. I’m including this title mainly because she recorded all of her vocal tracks from inside her cedar closet! I’ll refrain from any coming out of the closet jokes.
The music is also unusual, not for Lauper, but for a Christmas album. Eight of the eleven tunes she wrote or co-wrote and they’re all over the place. Some have a tropical vibe like Christmas Conga, or a Cajon flavor like Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree. Still others are folk-inspired with Lauper playing the ukulele, dulcimer, and recorder. Then there’s the wheezing bag pipes on Three Ships. I don’t know what the hell Minnie and Santa is all about. Since she recorded it at home you can hear her young son, born the year before, in the background on New Year’s Baby. Perhaps mommy’s singing upset him.
Admittedly, there are some very sweet tunes like December Child, In The Bleak Midwinter, and Silent Night, featuring New York’s Chatterton Elementary School Choir. Basically what we have here is a very mixed musical bag, which is just fine for celebrating a strange Christmas.
4. Bonanza: Christmas on the Ponderosa (RCA Victor LSP-2757; 1963)
Bonanza holds the title for the second longest-running TV western (Gunsmoke is number 1), lasting 14 years and 430+ episodes. TV Guide included the show in its list of the 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. The series starred Loren Greene as Ben Cartwright and it revolved around the dynamics within the Cartwright family, their interactions with the community, and operating their ranch called “Ponderosa”. A young and relatively unknown Michael Landon played “Little Joe” Cartwright.
You’ll hear Landon, Greene, and the other two Cartwright brothers belting out Jingle Bells, O Come All Ye Faithful, Deck the Halls, and 25 minutes of other holiday classics you’d expect any family from the 1860’s to be singing around the Christmas tree. There are also heartwarming stories about the first Christmas tree and why we light candles on a tree. The songs are presented as if someone recorded the audio from a never-broadcast Bonanza Christmas episode, complete with cast banter and clapping at the end of the songs. If you loved Bonanza, you’ll love this record. Here’s an excerpt from a review someone wrote about the record on Amazon: “I cry when I listen to it. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to such simpler times. I just love Bonanza. What a loss when it was cancelled.”
Speaking of crying, if you’ll allow me to digress a moment, I recently caught the Bonanza episode, A Christmas Story, and it had me in tears. It starred a baby-faced Wayne Newton who played a wannabe singer, and his shifty Uncle who defrauded the town out of thousands of dollars. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but if you have the opportunity to watch it, it’s well worth tracking down even if you’re not a Bonanza fan.
When one thinks Christmas songs, one usually thinks Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Andy Williams, and the like. The cast of Bonanza doesn’t usually come to mind, which puts Christmas on the Ponderosa firmly on my strange Christmas list. Let’s be honest. This album only exists because NBC wanted to milk every last penny they could from this extremely popular TV show, and after all, isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?
5. A Twisted Christmas: Twisted Sister (Rhino 563173; 2017 (originally released 2006))
So far, I’ve explored Christmas records with liquid + glitter inside, music performed on the Moog, songs sung in a cedar closet with a baby gurgling in the background, and songs sung by the cast of Bonanza. I conclude my list of strange Christmas music with this holiday gem by Twisted Sister.
Even if you’re not a heavy metal head banger, you should know the name Twisted Sister and its big hair and makeup-wearing leader, Dee Snider. You should also be familiar with their one big hit, 1984’s We’re Not Gonna Take It.
In this outing from 2006 (reissued on limited edition green vinyl in 2017 for Record Store Day), A Twisted Christmas features heavy metal versions of songs like I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Let It Snow, and The Christmas Song. The band also puts their own twisted take on We Wish You a Twisted Christmas and The Twelve Heavy Metal Days of Christmas. Lita Ford even dropped by to do the honors on I’ll Be Home for Christmas.Oh Come All Ye Faithful is performed in the same style as We’re Not Gonna Take It. The group performed it on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Scanning some of the A Twisted Christmas reviews on Amazon: ”the whole thing is just a bad idea”, “Horrible. Please do an album of your own material”, and “Makes a great joke gift”. You get the idea.
I guess if you’re looking for some completely different holiday music, you should consider this A Twisted Christmas. Just be sure to pick up a bottle of extra-strength Tylenol while you’re in the store in case you get a twisted headache.
Regardless of what music you listen to this holiday, I hope you have a wonderful time and are able to be with the people you love. Happy holidays and I’ll see you next year.
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Last year I wrote an extensive article about strange holiday music. It focused on several vinyl records and one CD. It got a lot of reads and positive comments. I decided to do another, but this year I’m doing a two-part series. This first installment focuses on strange holiday CDs while Part 2 looks at strange holiday records. Whether you still play CDs like I do, or you just fancy the unusual, I think you’ll enjoy reading about these odd discs. I’ve included links at the end should you be brave enough to want to add any of these titles to you holiday music library.
Cocktails with Santa: Richard Cheese (Coverage Records IDTCR27CE; 2013)
If you’ve never experienced Richard Cheese’s music then you’ve been denying yourself a unique listening experience. You have to start somewhere, so why not with this holiday CD, 2013’s Cocktails with Santa?
If you don’t know Cheese (Mark Jonathan Davis), he’s a deliberately cheesy lounge singer from Los Angeles. He writes some original material but is mostly known for taking pop songs and “louge-ifying” them as only Cheese can do. He’s had several songs make it on Billboard’s Comedy Album chart and performed briefly in the movie Barb And Star Go to Vista Del Mar.
On Cocktails with Santa, he transforms (or butchers, as you prefer) Jingle Bells, O Christmas Tree, Deck The Halls, Little Drummer Boy, We Wish You A Merry Christmas, and other classics,into swinging, smoky Vegas lounge songs. If this is cheese then cheese me up, baby. His original Christmas in Las Vegas is my favorite track from this CD:
Christmas in Las Vegas / Decorate your tree with chips / Let’s roll a yo beneath the mistletoe / While that angel strips / Rudolph sold the sled, now he’s betting on red / In a casino made out of gingerbread / Christmas in Las Vegas / It’s a trip!
Having been to Las Vegas many, many times around the holiday season, I can confirm it is indeed a trip, and Cocktails with Santa brings you there.
This music might be strange, but that doesn’t mean it’s not popular. The Cocktails With Santa CD and 2020 limited edition colored vinyl record are both out of print. I bought my used CD for an inflated price on eBay. However, if you’re intent on having a cheesy Christmas, you can buy the digital album download through Bandcamp for just $5. As the Cheese himself would say, please lounge responsibly.
2. Luau in December: King Kukulele and the Friki Tikis (Friki Tiki Records FT-003; Released 2008)
I’ve never been to Hawaii, but without exception, anyone I’ve ever known who visited has described it as paradise. So, what better place to celebrate Christmas than in paradise?
You may not have heard of King Kukulele (Denny Moynahan) and the Friki Tikis, but they’ve played at Disneyland, Universal Studios, Hollywood, and indeed all over the world. Their songs feature the ukulele, marimba, Hawaiian lap steel guitar, and vibraphone, with drums and bass in the rhythm section. The band performs in 1940’s Hapa Haole Hawaiian tradition for a truly authentic listening experience. The King even dresses the part with a bold Hawaiian shirt, straw hat, and a grass skirt.
On Luau in December, the group’s 3rd release, the King and his Frikis apply their exotic island treatment to 14 vocal tracks, including 3 holiday classics. It’s certainly different hearing Hawaiian versions of You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, The Night Before Christmas, and Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer. Some of the originals, besides the title track, include Hooray For Santa Claus, Thirty-two Feet and Eight Little Tails, and Santa’s Menehune. The cool retro cover art was designed by the artist Shag.
If you think of Bing Crosby’s Mele Kalikimaka when you think of Hawaiian holiday music, this isn’t that. Don your hula skirt, pour yourself a Mai Tai, pop this disc into your CD player, and have a Friki Tiki strange Christmas.
3. Tales From The Crypt: Have Yourself A Scary Little Christmas (The Right Stuff T2-31330; 1994)
If you’re a horror geek like me, you’re familiar with the Emmy-nominated Tales From The Crypt series which aired for 7 seasons on HBO between 1989-1996. The host, the Cryptkeeper (voiced by John Kassie), was a wisecracking, animatronic skeleton with a super annoying, high-pitched cackle.
In the fine tradition of record companies, The Right Stuff, a subsidiary of Capitol Records, put out this holiday gem to milk as much money out of the series as possible. These 15 tracks are sure to warm the cockles of your heart with little ditties like Deck The Halls With Parts of Charlie, We Wish You’d Bury The Missus, ‘Twas The Fright Before Christmas, and Should Old Cadavers Be Forgotten. Of course, no album from this period would be complete without a horror rap song. Yes, a rapping decomposing corpse. And you thought you heard it all.
To complete the theme, the included booklet is a “special collector’s comic re-print” of And All Through The House.
I think it goes without saying, this title is long out of print but it can be found on used record sites like eBay where I scored my copy (minus the slime green-colored jewel case). A word of warning that this CD might cost you an arm and a leg (no pun intended).
As a side bar, 6 years later Capitol Records came out with Tales From The Crypt: Monsters of Metal. These were real songs by real metal bands tied together with narration by the Cryptkeeper.
Have Yourself A Scary Little Christmas is a must for horror buffs or anyone looking to have a scary strange Christmas.
4. White Trash Christmas: Bob Rivers (Atlantic 83591-2; 2002)
Having worked in radio, I was familiar with Bob Rivers, but you don’t need to be a former broadcaster to know his work. If you were a regular listener to pop, classic rock, or even some talk radio, then chances are you know Bob Rivers, too.
Rivers was a popular radio host who began writing and performing his own parody songs. His best-known release was his first, 1987’s Twisted Christmas, which went gold. You’ve probably heard the track Twelve Pains of Christmas which received a lot of air play. A Message From the King is another classic from this album that will have you in stitches. Thank you, Mama.
Rivers went on to release six holiday comedy CDs including What Trash Christmas, his last, in 2002. This disc has 13 tracks of humorous holiday-spoofed tunes. Some of the songs include Osama Got Run Over By A Reindeer, The Little Hooters Girl, Shoppin’ Around For A Christmas Tree, and I’ll Be Stoned For Christmas, sung by a dead-on Dean Martin imitator named Scott Burns. I think my favorite from this CD is Me And Mrs. Claus, which isn’t particularly funny, but it’s a great holiday take on Billy Paul’s Me and Mrs. Jones.
Like some of the other CDs on my list, White Trash, along with Rivers’ other holiday CDs, are out of print, but can be had very reasonably on eBay and elsewhere.
Today, Rivers is semi-retired living in Vermont where he makes maple syrup with his wife and often flies out to California to visit his grand kids. How life changes.
You’ll have a merry strange Christmas listening to White Trash Christmas, or pretty much any Bob Rivers Christmas CD. Just be careful not to cough up eggnog through your nose as you laugh out loud.
5. Surfin’ Kitty X-mas: Mark Malibu & The Wasagas (Sharawaji Records SRW 135; Released 2020)
I’m not sure what surfing has to do with Christmas, but I suppose if surfing is your bag, then Mark Malibu’s got a brand-new bag. Surfin’ Kitty X-mas is stacked with 18 tracks, 5 of which are Christmas standards plus a “public domain holiday medley”. All of the songs are instrumentals performed in bold surf music style.
Surfin’ Kitty X-mas is a compilation CD of surf bands like Underwater Bosses, The Breakers, Voodoo Surf Tribe, Urban Surf Kings, and The Terrorsurfs. Mark Malibu organized the project and he and his Wasagas contributed 2 tracks of their own. Mailbu is a self-described Canadian surf-punk instrumentalist and formed his Wasagas in 1979.
Frankly, it’s weird hearing surf versions of sacred classics like O Little Town of Bethlehem, Silent Night, and O Holy Night. Then there are the original songs like Christmas Twist, A Voodoo Xmas, and Cuckoo for Christmas. Try as I might, I just wasn’t able to picture Jesus hanging ten. This is definitely not your father’s Christmas music, unless dear old dad was a surfer dude.
The other odd thing about this CD is it was released to benefit the Pinetree Stables/Cat Sanctuary in Grand Bahamas which spays, neuters, and feeds all the abandoned cats on the island (thus, the origin of “Surfin’ Kitty”in the title). The Sanctuary also benefits from the sales of Surfin’ Kitty Volumes 2 and 3. The Sanctuary’s mission isn’t what’s odd, it’s the location. With the organizer being Canadian, you’d think all the proceeds would benefit a Canadian animal shelter, eh? Well, it all goes to a good cause wherever it is.
If you’re looking for totally different holiday music this season that will knock your Christmas stockings off, Surfin’ Kitty X-mas should just about do it, and it’s only 10 bucks.
In Part 2 of Have A Strange Christmas, I give equal time to 5 strange Christmas records. Remember to come back here in a few days to unwrap it.
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Much like Santa Claus, WALM Radio – Christmas is shrouded in mystery. There’s no information about WALM on its website and no method of contacting them. WALM Radio has other Internet stations under its belt like jazz and old time radio (OTR), and what I take to be their anchor station, a Christian music station. The “Christmas vinyl” playlist is definitely laid back, but it’s just shy of full blown “easy listening”. You’ll hear music from artists like Anne Murray, the Boston Pops, Robert Goulet, Mitch Miller & The Gang, Peggy Lee, Mahalia Jackson, Montovani, Johnny Cash, Lawrence Welk, Celtic holiday music, and, gulp, Jim Nabors. If you can get past the insipid spoken promos (“We’re the home industrial strength, elf-powered turntables…”), you’ll thoroughly enjoy the music. You can even make a song request through their website and the meta data will show “Requested” when the song plays!
Streaming at 320 kbps, this is one of the best-quality, all-holiday streams available on the net, plus there are no commercials. Because it’s streaming at such high quality (“ultra-high fidelity” as WALM Radio calls it), there can be annoying stability issues with their Internet radio stream such as not connecting or connecting but not having any sound. Still, I included WALM Radio in my list since the stream on their website is very stable. That said, I much prefer listening to my Internet radio, not a computer, so I ended up cutting and pasting the Direct URL (shown at the beginning of this segment) into my Internet radio. It’s not perfect but it has better reliability than their Internet radio stream.
The WALM Radio – Christmas mix is mostly calming and peaceful…something we could all use a little of during the holiday rush. And no, WALM Radio is not short for Walmart Radio.
Update: Unfortunately, WALM’s website stream has also become unreliable as well as the direct URL and I can find no way to contact WALM about this. However, my other holiday station suggestions more than make up for this.
I have a soft spot for crooners, especially the legends of the past, and Crooner Radio – Christmas Vintage delivers Christmas crooners and then some. All of our old holiday friends are here…Andy Williams, Mel Torme, Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Della Reese, Wayne Newton, Lena Horne, and even dashes of Elvis and Bobby Darin. Crooner Radio pushes the boundary with artists like The Pointer Sisters, but what the heck, it’s Christmas. Strangely, the stream’s meta data sometimes lags, meaning it continues to show the artist and song title for the previously played song. But with these big-name crooners, it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s singing what.
If you’re not in the mood for sugary holiday pop hits and you have no use for commercials, give Crooner Radio – Christmas Vintage a listen this holiday. You’ll feel so warm and fuzzy inside you just might start crooning some Christmas classics yourself.
I’ve freely admitted it before…I don’t know much about classical music and rarely listen to it, but I often turn to it during this time of year to get a refreshing break from the same old holiday fare. This station reaches deep into Santa’s classical bag and plays harp, brass, voices, and carols, and without a single commercial jingle. Artists include the San Francisco Girls Chorus, the Berlin Philharmonic Brass, the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Cambridge Singers and Orchestra, the Choir of Kings College, and many more. The music is uplifting and creates a wonderful atmosphere day or night. As ACCC states on its website, “Classical Holiday favorites; comfort, joy and peace whenever your spirit needs a lift.” This isn’t a pop-up station or temporary format just for the holiday. They stream this music all year-round. I think I know which station Santa listens to in the off-season.
If you need a little classical Christmas right this very minute, whether you’re in California or wherever, tune in A Classical California Christmas courtesy of Los Angeles’ KUSC.
JIB On The Web was on my holiday station list last year, and it was also one of my Recommended Stations a few years back. Ordinarily, I never repeat a station, but JIB On The Web is such an exceptional station it deserves inclusion again. It’s a beautiful music station, not a dedicated Christmas music station, but starting at noon eastern time on the day before Christmas, the station airs 15 hours of holiday music. For many, “The Beautiful Music of Christmas”, now in its 5th year on JIB On The Web, is an annual tradition that’s not to be missed.
Unlike some other beautiful music Internet radio stations, a great amount of love and care goes into programming this station, and no less effort goes into its musical holiday extravaganza. JIB On The Web is operated by a very talented radio announcer who worked for the original FM station in Massachusetts, so expect nothing but an authentic WJIB beautiful music experience each time you tune in.
There certainly are a lot of radio stations you could listen to on the night before Christmas and the day of, but none are like this one. In fact, you’ll enjoy it so much, I’m willing to bet you’ll still be listening to JIB On The Web long after the holiday is over.
RadioSpinner Fireplace Sounds isn’t a Christmas station or even a music station, but I’m including it anyway because a fireplace always makes for a better Christmas. It’s just as the name says- the station plays fire sounds 24/7. All fire, all the time. You can practically smell the smoke. It creates the perfect ambience for the holiday or for pyromaniacs. Personally, I like to play this station while I have my electric fireplace on. Why electric fireplaces don’t have a digital recording of fire crackling or just a USB jack to connect a thumb drive with a fireplace recording, I don’t understand. But I digress. By the way, I say “fire sounds” because you’ll mostly hear outdoor fires with an abundance of wind, but I guess Radio Spinner Outdoor Fires With Wind didn’t quite have the same appeal.
The station does a much better sell job on its website: “Fireplace Sounds is designed to soothe, relax. Listening to the radio station is as pleasant as wrapping yourself in a warm blanket, hugging a cup of hot mint tea with both hands and quietly watching the ferocious weather through the window. Only a pleasant crackle of firewood, smoldering coals and barely audible sounds of the wind.”
Fireplace Sounds streams out of Russia where they know a thing or two about cold weather. At 97 kbps in the AAC codec, the sound quality is okay, but the wind noise overwhelms the fire sounds. I also didn’t hear any chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but I’ll take what I can get, especially when it’s free.
Maintaining a fire in fireplace, or anywhere, is a lot of work…tending to the fire, hauling and stacking the wood, clearing the ashes, and so on. In this case, just sit back and enjoy, because RadioSpinner Fireplace Sounds is the lazy man’s fireplace. Now, where did I leave my slippers?
Update: As my luck would have it, this station’s stream stopped working about a week after I posted this article.
You now have five free Internet radio stations to enjoy this holiday season! When someone asks you about the station you’re listening to, be sure to tell them you discovered it through RecomendedStations.com.
Trivia:What was the first radio station in the US to play Christmas music this year? Cincinnati’s Star 93.3FM was the first out of the gate. On November 1st, the day after Halloween, Star FM switched over to all Christmas music.
‘Tis the season for giving, so if you enjoy any of these radio stations, please help support my website by becoming a Patreon supporter today for $1. In return, you’ll get my Recommended and Hitchhiker Station every month in your in box as my thank you. This month’s Recommended Station recalls the early days of radio while the upcoming Hitchhiker Station might cause temporary holiday insanity.
Looking for that elusive gift for the record collector who has everything? Before we get into the details of this device that illuminates colored vinyl, a little background is in order.
Records are made with PVC pellets (which are naturally slightly milky-white in color) that have been mixed with black carbon which is gives them their shiny black color. The black carbon also fills in imperfections and adds strength and rigidity which makes the record last longer. This is important because, unlike a CD, cassette tape, or digital music file, a record album degrades each time you play it.
Another thing basic black has going for it is that the quality of black vinyl records tends to be high because it’s the industry standard…they’ve been producing them that way since the advent of the vinyl record. As a result, the quality of black records is remarkably consistent. The black color also makes it easier to spot imperfections during quality control inspections.
Color Me Impressed
Colored vinyl, on the other hand, uses PVC pellets mixed with dyes. In addition to records made using a single, non-black color, there are variations on the colored vinyl theme like multicolored, split color, smoked, marbled, and splattered. Yes, I’m talking about records, not meat or cheese. By the way, don’t confuse any of these variants with picture discs which are a whole other story and tend not to sound as good or last as long as colored or black vinyl.
A Little History
Colored vinyl records didn’t start with the vinyl LP. Some 78 RPM titles dating back to 1917 were colored, starting with a Vocalion Records release that was a reddish-rust colored shellac. Perhaps not the most appealing color choice, but it served its purpose of making their records stand out. I believe the first prolific use of colored vinyl by a major label was RCA Victor’s introduction of the 45 RPM single in 1949. To give the new format a little extra excitement, each genre had its own color. For example, country music used green-colored vinyl, classical used red, children’s recordings used yellow, while pop music stuck with basic black.
The Sound of Color
There’s a school of thought that says not all colored vinyl is created equal. That is to say, certain record colors may not sound as good as others upon playback, or as good as your standard carbon black record. It’s strange to think that color could impact sound, but it can. In fact, one could argue the more colors present in the vinyl, the worse the sound might be because of all of the foreign ingredients. There are even glow-in-the-dark records, though I don’t know anyone who plays their records in total darkness. I’ve read these are noisier than their black and colored brethren, but I can’t personally attest to that since I don’t own any. It would follow, then, that a transparent clear record would sound better than a colored vinyl record (except for black).
Do You Hear What I Hear?
If I played a colored vinyl record for you, immediately followed by the identical recording pressed on black vinyl, would you hear any difference? I suspect most people wouldn’t, but if there was an overt difference, it could just as well be attributed to the manufacturing process rather than the color of the vinyl. If the record plant doesn’t have much experience pressing colored vinyl, that won’t help either. Regardless, most record enthusiasts don’t buy colored vinyl records because they think they sound superior. They buy them for their unique appearance and collectibility, especially since many colored vinyl titles are produced in limited batches.
Speaking of limited quantities, that, along with the cost of the dyed pellets, tend to make colored vinyl titles more expensive. So, you’re paying more for a record that technically probably won’t have the same longevity as less expensive black vinyl and possibly not as good sound quality. Mind you, there are plenty of black vinyl titles that can be quite pricey in their own right.
In Living Color
If you want to add some colored vinyl to your collection you don’t need to search very hard. Some record labels specialize in colored vinyl like Third Man Records, Real Gone Music, Enjoy The Ride Records, Sundazed Music, Wax Mage, and WaxWork Records. Major retailers like Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters, and Newbury Comics sell colored vinyl, some of which are exclusive to them. Even record clubs like Vinyl Me Please and Vinyl Moon release titles on colored vinyl. Yes, Virginia, there are record clubs.
If you want to go off the deep end, you’ll find records that go way beyond colors. Romanus Records, for example, has pressed records with different kinds of material sandwiched between the 2 sides including kitty litter, razor blades, sand, gunpowder, colored liquid, LEDs, and even pieces of Doritos chips! I wonder how some of those records would look with colored lights behind them. I was delaying this article to be able to display my “snow globe variant” Scrooged LP soundtrack I ordered more than 6 months ago. It contains a clear liquid with sparkles inside. I decided to go forward with my article rather than continue to wait. Such special releases require more time since they’re much more complicated to produce.
The Vinyl Verdict
You’ve heard the saying, “Once you go black, you never go back.” Somehow, I don’t think that phrase was about records, but it might be equally applicable. The absence of black carbon likely means colored vinyl records won’t have the same strength and longevity as their black counterparts and may not sound as good. That said, unless they’re abused, most colored vinyl records should last long enough and sound good enough for the average record enthusiast. If sound quality is of the utmost importance, you’re probably better off playing it safe with good old, boring black vinyl. On the other hand, if seeing colors and patterns spin on your turntable puts a smile on your face and you’re enthralled by the art, go for it. After all, records have the potential of being the most visual of all music storage formats.
Colored vinyl is meant to be seen and heard. If you’ve got an album you especially love the color of, why hide it inside a cardboard jacket? Sure, you could frame it, but that’s not very exciting, and it prevents you from being able to easily play it. What if there was a product that allowed you to safely display your colored vinyl, backwash them in light, and easily access them for playback? Well, there is.
Let There Be Light
Vylumi Shine and the Shine Pro do just that. Andrew Boudreau came up with the idea and had his final design completed in 6 months. He hand-assembles each one out of his home in Atlanta, Georgia and sells them on his recently revamped website and on Etsy. The two models backlight a record to make its color(s) pop. Simply place the record over the center nub and turn the light on. Voila! Instant glowing artwork. The record “floats” so you don’t have to worry about it making contact with the surface and getting scratched. And the LED that illuminates the record never gets hot enough to warp the record, so no worries there. The result is beautifully mesmerizing.
I got in touch with Boudreau to ask him some questions about his unique invention:
Peter: What gave you the idea for Vylumi Shine?
Andrew: It all started in late 2021 when I picked up my first picture disk. I was searching online for ways to display it since it’s widely known the audio quality on all of them are notoriously bad and I couldn’t find anything that didn’t have a massive picture frame as part of the display. I knew a good friend of mine had a 3D printer so I ran him through an idea of what I now call the ‘Nub.” It’s a very minimalist design and is simply a rod the size of the record spindle that angles up to safely keep the record in place and that’s attached to a base plate. I was using a simple command strip to test hanging a few on the wall and while I was thumbing through my collection I thought: “I wonder what else would look good hanging on the wall,” so I grabbed a copy of Cowboy Bebop that I knew had a nice colored marble to it and hung that on the wall to see how it looked. It looked okay, but a bit lifeless, so on a whim I brought it over to an outside window to get some light on it and it came to life! That’s when the light bulb(s) went off (dad joke, apologies). It just dawned on me that I had so many of these color variants in my collection, and they were just spending their lives tucked away in their sleeves on the shelf. So, I built my first prototype out of cardboard, a battery powered LED light string, and the nub and just started putting records on it to see how they looked. It was very basic, but the idea worked. 4 prototypes later I had a design I was really proud of and started showing people in February of 2022. Everyone I showed wanted one for themselves so I started making a few. I opened the Etsy store in March of 2022 and my own website in June. So far, I’m at 300 units sold worldwide and I can’t explain how proud and fulfilling it is to see my customers showing off their collections on social media.
Peter: You source the parts and assemble the units by hand in your spare time?
Andrew: The electronics I source through two separate companies and I’m trying to narrow that down to one moving forward. I do that for a few reasons; First, it allows me to be more nimble when new technologies emerge. Secondly, after putting in an inquiry with a product design company, I learned that it would take about $200,000 just to get custom electronics and molds designed and the same, if not more, to actually get them produced. I’m very proud that the structural materials are all made here in Georgia. Very early on I had run this idea by my neighbor, as he likes to tinker and is generally handy. I came to him with the problem of properly diffusing the light to see if he might have any ideas. He operates a company that specializes in large scale vinyl wraps and signage projects for conventions and airports, so I thought he might have some ideas and I recalled that he had a few CNC machines that weren’t getting a lot of use because Covid had really hit their business pretty hard. I drew some designs on some printer paper and he cut those out on the CNC machines, and to this day his company cuts all of the structural parts. As mentioned above, a friend of mine makes the nub on this 3D printer and I’m able to pay him a fair price per batch he prints. But to the other part of your question, after I get my daughter to bed and my wife settles into a book, I head to the basement and assemble these by hand still. I’ve had to make a few tools to speed up assembly and help to standardize the sizes of a few components, but I can’t explain how much I love doing this!
Peter: Does it work with picture discs?
Andrew: You can certainly display a picture disk on a Vylümi, but sadly, picture disks are all opaque and won’t let any light through.
Peter: You have a Patent pending?
Andrew: I do! I have both Trademarks and Patents pending for this as of this last summer.
Peter: Do you own a lot of colored vinyl or records in general? What’s your favorite-colored vinyl title?
Andrew: I’ve been trying to catalogue my collection and I think I have about 1,000 in my collection right now. I’ve been building a vinyl collection since 2008 when I invested in my first Hi-fi setup and started to get into finding color variants 4-5 years ago. Color variants are probably 10% of my collection and I didn’t get into collecting the more boutique pressings from Wax Mage and others until I came up with this idea and found them through my research. My favorite though? That’s like picking your favorite child! My recent favorite is a pressing from Glory or Death Records by Great Electric Quest (which is actually his band). It’s a beautiful party monster and really transforms with the Vylümi to look like a sheet of elegant stained glass…It also glows in the dark as a bonus!
Peter: What’s the rarest or most expensive record you own?
Andrew: This little invention has introduced me to a lot of amazing people in the industry. Pretty early on I contacted the folks at Wax Mage/Gotta Groove, Wax Vessel, SlyVinyl, Heathen HandMade Records, Romanus Records, and Plastikat Deviations to get their feedback on my idea and early products since they make the hand-crafted art my audience is collecting. Recently, Matt Ortt at Plastikat surprised me with one of his liquid-filled records that is a complete one-off. It was made for the owner of Glory or Death Records and is the first liquid filled that has two separate chambers of liquid in it. A portion of that liquid is black, so when it’s on the turn-table spinning, it spreads out pretty evenly with centrifugal force that it just isn’t awesome eye candy like the rest of his stuff. He put it on his Vylümi and it just transformed. He dropped me a note that said this album looks best when lit up, and we (he and Buddy from Glory or Death Records) thought you should be the rightful owner of it. That about made me cry, I am so honored to have it and it is by far the most-rare album I own.
Peter: What brand and model turntable(s) do you use?
Andrew: For my 40th [Birthday] I was able to purchase a Rega P6 and have a Dynavector 10×5 with a ruby cantilever and optimized contour nude contact line diamond tip from Sound-Smith after bending the original cantilever in a cleaning accident 3 months into owning it. That one hurt the soul, but I can’t speak highly enough of the crew at Sound-Smith and their craftsmanship they put into repairs and upgrades.
Peter: What’s your professional background?
Andrew: My day job is and has always been in technology sales. I get to be a nerd all day long and I have to constantly learn about what’s new in the market, and my customers are always bringing me difficult problems to solve. It’s a pretty demanding, high stress job, so sitting down to spin a record at night has always been my way to unwind. I’m certainly not an engineer or someone who is crafty/handy, so the fact I was able to come this far with an idea is a miracle unto itself.
Peter: What kind of music do you usually listen to?
Andrew: My tastes are certainly firmly on the rock side of the spectrum. I can be found listening to your typical classic rock albums, but spend most of my time reliving my high-school days with grunge/Alt music from the 90s.
Peter: Anything else to add about the Vylumi Shine/Pro?
Andrew: I would just like to thank everyone for their kindness and support (!), and thank you Peter for taking the time to talk with me. This has been an unintended and amazing journey. I never thought this idea would take off in the way that it has and all of my customers have been so patient and understanding of the fact that I’m a one-man shop doing this in my spare time. The vinyl community has been very generous to me over the years and I’m so thankful I can provide a little something back. Thank you all for the support and I can’t wait to see where this journey goes!
I found splattered vinyl to look the most impressive with Shine Pro. Colored vinyl that’s all one color looked like a giant-colored spotlight. As it turned out, I only had one splatter-colored record in my small LP collection. Its base color was transparent which meant I could make it whatever color I wanted with the Vylumi Shine Pro’s light, which was very cool. You can see more impressive Shine Pro-worthy pictures on Boudreau’s website, Instagram, tiktok, Etsy, and Facebook (links provided at the end of this article).
If you happen to have a few colored 45 RPM singles or 10″ records in your collection, Boudreau has you covered. For $20 you can get a set of adapters that fit both of those sizes, though the adapters can only be used in conjunction with the “dust cover” which is an additional $30.
Ask The Manager
As a Product Manager, part of my job involves finding problems with a product before it goes into production and coming up with ways to improve it. In the case of the Vylumi Shine Pro, I have a couple of suggestions for improvements and enhancements.
To start with, being able to anchor the base or give it some weight would be great, as the base is very light weight since it’s just a thin, empty plastic case with LEDs. If you use the wired remote instead of the app as I did, you must be very careful not to accidentally yank the base.
Getting my record off of the center nub was rather difficult. I had to pull the record to the point of bending the sides of the LP. Due to the nub being a black or dark brown color, I didn’t notice until later that it’s actually positioned at an upward angle instead of straight so the record doesn’t fall off easily. Had I known to pull upward instead of straight, it would have been a bit easier to remove the LPs. Still, Boudreau has since modified the nub in production to make it a slightly smaller diameter. I’d also suggest putting a radius on the nub. No sharp edges in close proximity to records!
It would be nice if at least the Pro model could be wall mounted. Boudreau told me one can easily glue a saw tooth hanger on the back but the problem is the dangling wires from the combined wired remote control/power supply. His first-generation models were battery powered and could thus be wall mounted. I assume a built-in Li-Ion battery rechargeable version would be too expensive to make.
What I would really like to see the Pro do is what records are supposed to do- spin. Seeing colored vinyl come alive through light is amazing, but having the record actually rotate (not necessarily at 33 1/3) would be very cool and more engaging, especially if the record was liquid-filled. Without a doubt, this would push the cost higher, perhaps to the point of turning most buyers off. If you’re tempted to manually spin your record on this device, Boudreau warns users against this or else the 3D-printed nub will eventually become sawed off.
Don’t Try This At Home
The Shine Lite sells for $60 while the Pro goes for twice that plus shipping (the Pro is on sale as of this writing). Frankly, both models look remarkably simple. Being the cheap and creative guy I am, I tried to think of a less expensive way to accomplish the same thing, which is also part of a Product Manager’s responsibilities. Since I was a kid, I’ve had a bit of MacGyver in me…spontaneously creating things out of duct tape and tampons, although nothing explosive. I remember one Halloween I secured rope from the kitchen window of our second-floor apartment down to a chain link fence adjacent to the sidewalk in front of our house. I cut a small hole in the top of a white pillow case, slipped the top of a metal coat hanger through the hole, and drew two eyes and a mouth with a black maker to make it look like a ghost. I tied a second rope onto the hook of the coat hanger in order to slide it up and down the main rope. As a final touch to my crowning achievement, I hung a flashlight from the coat hanger inside the pillow case to illuminate my ghost, hung it on the rope, and slid it up and down as the trick or treaters made their way in and out of our apartment house. I was quite proud of my creation and the costumed, candy-hungry visitors appeared equally impressed. A few years ago, I saw a very similar contraption in a catalog, albeit much more refined. That guy probably owns his own island now. But as usual, I digress.
Returning to my MacGyver LP light, I took a cheap picture stand that was collecting dust in a drawer and placed one of my colored vinyl records on it. I then backlighted the record with a Remon 25-watt LED spotlight I bought two years ago on Amazon for $29 (which has since been discontinued) to light my vintage aluminum Christmas tree. The light included a remote control that allows the light’s brightness and colors to be adjusted similar to the Vylumi Pro’s remote, although it doesn’t have a built-in microphone to flash to the beat of music like the Pro can. My color contraption created a similar effect as the Pro, but the stand could be seen behind the record, it risked scratching the record, and the spotlight got hot enough to make me concerned about the record possibly warping. It also sent the light all over the place rather than containing it just to the record itself. The Lite and Pro each cost significantly more than my Frankenstein light, but they accomplish the task more effectively, safely, and elegantly.
If you don’t need the additional control the Vylumi Shine Pro provides, like thousands of color options, 100 dim levels, a remote, free app (by a 3rd party), a timer, the ability to group other Pros, and Siri/Alexa compatibility, you can save some dough and stick with the more basic Shine. Either model is a fun and safe way to display and share your beloved-colored vinyl. If you’re looking for a gift this holiday for the vinyl lover who has everything, this should do it.
I didn’t get my review sample for free and I don’t receive any commission if you buy either of these models, so if you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting RecommendedStations.com by becoming a Patreon supporter for just $1. As a thank you, you’ll received my Recommended Station and Hitchhiker Station every month in your in box and you’ll be helping to support articles like this.
Three years ago, I brought JingleMad Radio based in the UK to light. Within seconds of my first listen I knew this was a Hitchhiker Station. JingleMad plays nothing but radio station jingles. You know, the upbeat music that promotes a radio station’s all-important call letters. JingleMad doesn’t play songs or commercials, just jingles…sixty-six jingles per hour to be precise. Even JingleMad Radio has its own jingle. There’s also jingle montages where multiple variations of the same station jingle play back-to-back. The stream also includes each station’s name in the metadata in case you cannot figure it out from the jingle (unlikely). Some of the jingles are quite creative and funny like, “Get your feet on the floor, get your butt out the door.” Having worked in radio broadcasting, I developed a perverse fascination with this station.
Some of the radio jingles on JingleMad Radio are very short while others run surprisingly long. Some are very upbeat and others are more subdued depending on the station’s format. Regardless, most of the jingles you hear on JingleMad were professionally produced by a jingle company like JAM, Pams, ReelWorld, Zone Radio Imaging, Ignite Jingles, S2Blue, David Arnold, Brandy, Bespoke Music, Sharpsell London, or Murfin Media.
Here’s one of JingleMad Radio’s “clock” (a radio term):
:00 Single Jingle News with Stuart Clarkson
:01 Top of hour jingle
:02 JingleMad JingleMix – 66 jingles in a row!
:17 Demonstration time – jingle demo
:30 Another 66 jingles in a row!
:45 JingleMad jingle montages – user created montages
:59 News intro
In addition to the jingles, you’ll also hear “shouts”, but “ShoutMad Radio” doesn’t have quite the same appeal. A “shout” is radio parlance for a recording by a group of singers who “shout” the DJs name usually followed by the station jingle. Shouts are played by stations in between songs or at the end of a commercial break before going back to the music. When I was a DJ at adult contemporary station WLNH-FM in New Hampshire, I had my own shout. It made me feel important even though I wasn’t. I was a little fish in a little pond. I have my shout recorded on my WLNH air check cassette somewhere in a box in my basement. It’s a bit sad that my nearly 7 years in radio are represented on the single side of a cassette tape stored in a box in my basement.
Be that as it may, I reached out to Roy Martin, founder and President of JingleMad Radio, to get the story behind this Hitchhiker Station:
Peter: When did JingleMad Radio first begin streaming?
Roy: The service was conceived at the end of 2011 and went into testing mode in January 2012. 10 years on and we are still officially in Beta mode!
Peter: What was the idea behind JingleMad?
Roy: On the basis that there is a radio station for pretty much any interest or theme these days, I figured it would be fun to see if I could operate a radio station playing nothing but jingles from radio stations. We sought full permission from the main jingle companies, with almost all of them coming on board, giving us the OK to use their musical works.
Peter: How is JMR funded?
Roy: It’s a personal project funded by myself. It has zero running costs and only takes up a small amount of time to keep the jingles up-to-date and scheduled. Technology helps save much time, and we’ve called on favours from playout companies and streaming providers to make it more worthwhile!
Peter: How many station jingles do you have in your library?
Roy: As of today, we have almost 12,000 individual pieces of audio on rotation. We start each hour with 66 jingles in a row, then into a few demos and montages before returning to non-stop jingles taking us through the rest of the hour.
Peter: Where do you source the jingles from?
Roy: The majority have come from the owners of the jingles, either the companies that made them or the radio stations that bought them. We’ve also been sent many by enthusiasts and collectors, along with ‘jingle montages’ from collectors.
Peter: Do you only play jingles from UK and European radio stations?
Roy: 95% of our jingles are in English, so include all English-speaking nations. The majority come from North America and the UK.
Peter: What is the most bizarre station jingle you’ve ever played?
Roy: We’ve got a few jingles with swear words in, which we schedule ‘after the watershed’ at night. We did have one complaint made to Ofcom [UK communications regulatory agency] about one particular jingle sung many years ago which we have since dropped as it doesn’t seem appropriate these days, as with many songs sung during a different era.
Peter: What’s the most obscure jingle you’ve ever played?
Roy: We play all jingles we’re allowed to, so nothing stands out as being obscure.
Peter: Do you also run a music radio station or you just do jingles only?
Roy: JingleMad Radio is totally about the jingles. No music involved. I personally operate a couple of other radio services but these aren’t connected to JingleMad.
Peter: Are the majority of your listeners in the UK?
Roy: It’s split mostly between the UK and North America, although we are popular in Japan.
Peter: Are you working on anything new for JingleMad?
Roy: Being 10 years old we should probably look at officially launching the station! Maybe we’ll do that. But on-air, we’ll just carry on adding jingles and playing them out non-stop.
To slip in a little shameless self-promotion, earlier this year I added a custom jingle to my own Internet radio station, Wind Chime Radio. It was composed, arranged, and sung by several members of the New Randy Van Horne Singers and plays randomly.
I’ve brought you some pretty off-the-wall Hitchhiker Stations over the years, but JingleMad is one of the maddest. If you’ve got a thing for jingles, check out JingleMad Radio and jingle all the way.
Trivia:Wheaties cereal by General Mills was the first consumer product to use a commercial jingle on the radio, broadcast on Christmas Eve in 1926. In 1947, Dallas radio station KLIF-AM was one if the first stations to use a jingle to identify the station’s call letters.
If you enjoyed this article, please help spread the word and support my blog by becoming a Patreon supporter today for just $1 and get my Recommended and Hitchhiker Stations in your in box every month.
Last year around this time I attended Roger Williams Park Zoo’s Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular which celebrated musical artists. This year’s theme was television, paying tribute to 75 years of broadcast entertainment. Being the serious couch potato that I am, and appreciating vintage television as I do, I decided to actually get off the couch, head down to Rhode Island, and see what was on the Zoo’s boob tube.
Like last year, the professionally hand-carved pumpkins by Passion for Pumpkins of Oxford, MA were intricate and exquisite. The 5,000 illuminated pumpkins were sensory overload for my eyes. In the background, soundtracks to various television shows enhanced the effect.
The pumpkin displays were grouped by decade starting from the 1950’s through the 2000’s. As with last year’s musical theme, there were glaring (my opinion) omissions. No Simpsons pumpkin (yet there was a Futurama pumpkin!), no Friends, and no Brady Bunch pumpkin. Pumpkin blasphemy!
Interestingly, Elvis was overtly MIA in last year’s display despite being a major musical icon, yet he was represented in this year’s television theme with an Aloha from Hawaii-carved pumpkin.
Then there were the noggin-scratching pumpkins like the Benny Hill pumpkin. Benny Hill? Really? The Benny Hill Show wasn’t even a US television show! The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Maude,The Bob Newhart Show, The Odd Couple, or Sanford and Son would’ve made more sense.
I’m a big fan of vintage so I especially appreciated The Twilight Zone, The Honeymooners, Bewitched, I Love Lucy, MASH, The Jeffersons, Cheers, Good Times, All In The Family, Batman, Star Trek, Mr. Ed, and The Golden Girls pumpkins (there was also a pumpkin dedicated exclusively to Betty White). There was even a Max Headroom pumpkin.
“…the professionally hand-carved pumpkins by Passion for Pumpkins of Oxford, MA were intricate and exquisite.”
Game shows and public television were also represented like the classy Jeopardy pumpkin and one each for Mr. Rogers and happy little tree painter, Bob Ross. However, I don’t remember seeing one for Wheel of Fortune or Sesame Street.
Not surprisingly, the show with the most carved pumpkins was a show about nothing- Seinfeld. There was one each for Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer, and all very nicely done.
Television wouldn’t be television without commercials. I think it would have been fun if the display had sprinkled in some classic television commercial pumpkins like Coke, Life Cereal, Oscar Mayer Wiener, Alka Seltzer, and StarKist Tuna to name just a few.
I also wouldn’t have minded seeing a couple of “news pumpkins” like one for Walter Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow, or perhaps even Mike Wallace.
If you’re in R.I. or planning a trip this month, The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence continues through the end of October. Tickets can only be purchased on line. For the more adventurous, there’s a zip line ride and illuminated swan boat rides. I’ve included a link to their site below as well as a link to my Instagram page so you can see more of my prodigious pumpkin pics. Happy Halloween.
Trivia: During the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular’s run, Passion for Pumpkins will go through 20,000 pumpkins to keep the displays looking fresh.
September marks 15 years since Randy Van Horne passed away. I can hear many of you imitating an owl. Who? Yet you know Van Horne even if you think you don’t. Did you watch The Flintstones or The Jetsons as a kid? Those theme songs, among others, were sung by the Randy Van Horne Singers. The group also sang in TV and radio commercials.
Van Horne was born in 1924 in El Paso, Texas. He was a World War II veteran, studied music after the war, became a session musician, and started the Van Horne Singers in the late 1950’s following the breakup of his first group, The Encores. Known for their easy listening but uplifting compositions and singing, the group recorded several albums including a collaboration with Esquivel. The group performed on a few national television shows and member Marni Nixon later became a break-out solo artist. Original member Thurl Ravenscroft became the voice of “Tony the Tiger” and was the uncredited singer on You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.
By the early 1970’s the group had dissolved, only to be revived by Van Horne in early 2000. The New Randy Van Horne Singers formed to keep his legacy alive. Earlier this year, some in the group lent their composing and vocal talents to the jingle for my Internet radio station, Wind Chime Radio. I was fortunate enough to connected with several of the members via email to find out more about the group, the music, and the man. Below are their collective answers reported by group member Lynn Keller.
Peter: What made the original Van Horne Singers different from other vocal groups at that time?
Lynn: There were a number of popular quartets and singing groups at the time that Randy’s singers performed. What made his group unique is that he used some of the best session singers in Hollywood and he did his own arranging. Randy’s arrangements were unique as his style was to often write tight, 8-part vocal harmonies that were designed to sound like the different sections of a full 17-piece big band. This means the quality of the vocals often mirrored the trumpets, trombones in tempo, color and dynamics. Singers vocally produce the different sections of the band. Additionally, singers are accustomed to 4-part singing or soprano, alto, tenor, and bass (SATB,) arrangements. Having 8-part singing means the vocal lines are closer together so there is more chance of dissonant harmonies among the sections. Randy used the top session singers who were prolific at reading charts, as his unique style brought often unexpected notes and dynamics to a vocal part.
Peter: What was the appeal of this music back in the day and why did it decline?
Lynn: Randy worked with Hanna Barbera arranging The Flintstones and other cartoon themes; these familiar themes have become part of our collective pop culture. The themes were memorable and were connected to popular TV shows. Randy’s group was also featured on TV variety shows with guest performances on the Nat King Cole Show and Mel Torme’s show for example. When the variety shows became too expensive and challenging to produce there were fewer options for Randy’s music to be heard by a wider audience. However, during these years he continued to product albums with a number of noteworthy artists. Finally, the music itself (the great American Songbook) and much of the music of the 1st [half] of the 20th century became less popular with the advent of rock and other forms of popular music. Here is a list of Randy’s recordings:
The Clef Dwellers, RCA Victor LPM-1751
Sing a Song of Goodman, MGM SE-3720; 1958
Sleighride, Everest SDBR-1112; 1960
Rollin’ West Everest SDBR-1071; 1960
Swingin’ Singin’ RCA LPM-1321
The March of the Regiment, Everest 19399
Moments to Remember, Sunset SUS-5151
Our Magic Moments Everest SDBR-1089; 1961
This list does not include selections from albums produced by other artists with Van Horne’s singers.
Peter: Is it true the original group sang on Bob Thompson’s RCA albums and on Martin Denny’s “Afrodesia” album? And that they were occasional backup singers for Dean Martin and Mel Torme?
Lynn: We often hear that his group was featured on different variety shows. We have verified their appearance on the following shows: Nat King Cole, Mel Torme. I’m not sure about Dean Martin. The members of the group like Marni Nixon, Gene Merlino, Marilyn King, Harry Middlebrooks, Sue Allen and more were back-up singers and overdub singers on many albums. It’s difficult to track down all of their jobs because they didn’t get credits.
Peter: How many singers are in the new group vs. the original group and what is the age range?
Lynn: The original group had a minimum of 8 singers. Randy reformed the group in the early 2000’s. Since that time the number of singers in the group has varied. In the early 2000’s there were about 20 singers then the number went up and down. Since the pandemic, there are somewhere around 8-10 which varies with singer’s comfort with singing in a group.
Peter: I know it changes but I’d like to identify the group’s current line-up.
Lynn: COVID has reduced our ranks for the time being. We have the following folks currently performing with our group:
1st Sopranos Lorelei Finch, Franny McCartney
2nd Soprano Lynn Keller
1st Alto Sara Taylor (Our newest member with an impressive background)
Tenor, Alan Wilson (Also conductor,) John Schroeder
Baritone, Bill Havis
Bass, Steve Grant, Michael Alexander
Piano Accompanist, Marty Rosen
Peter: The group may have changed over the years, but when and how did the new group form?
Lynn: Randy brought the group together and directed it. When he retired from the group, he asked Alan Wilson to conduct. New group members are recruited sometimes from the audience when the group does shows. Often singers ask if they can join the group. Also, occasionally members are recruited from singer’s networks.
Peter: What’s the new group’s mission?
Lynn: We continue to perform Randy’s music and to produce shows that reflect his style. Over time we have added other arrangers- Anita Kerr and Ed Lojeski to name a few. We do themed shows so we often perform music that fits a theme and we add music accordingly. Additionally, our shows include solos, duets, quartets and other songs that require different combinations of singers. We follow our theme, but always include Randy arrangements.
Peter: In general, what’s the background of the members?
Lynn: Singers should have live performance experience and they should be able to read music. One of our strengths is that we care about and respect each other. This comes across when we perform. Audiences often say they appreciate our ability to connect with them and that we demonstrate our love for what we are doing in our shows.
Peter: When you sing live are you typically accompanied with just a piano?
Lynn: Yes, we always use piano accompaniment. This presents a challenge because Randy’s music isn’t that easy to play.
Peter: Have you ever taken any contemporary songs or pop hits and Van Horne-ized them?
Lynn: No, but we use other arranger’s charts. We also strive to stay true to Randy’s musical ideas and don’t make changes to his work. We apply the rule of staying true to whatever arranger’s ideas we select so we don’t modify their music. We perform it as it was intended. For example, recently we used TV theme shows in a performance entitled “We Love To Laugh”. We incorporated themes like “Gilligan’s Island,” and “The Addam’s Family,” replicating the music as the themes were performed in the TV show
Peter: Does the group have a favorite original Van Horne non-Christmas song they like performing?
Lynn: We love a few of them. “The Hucklebuck” is a fun arrangement that bounces around quite a bit. We have typically done it in shows. Additionally, many of Randy’s charts include sections where the vocals sound like different instruments of the orchestra. We practice these sections so we do in fact sound like the different sections of the orchestra. We also regularly perform “My Blue Heaven,” “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” and “My Foolish Heart, (a ballad).” These are all great Randy arrangements.
Peter: Are there members who can speak to what it was like to work with Van Horne?
Lynn: Yes, some of us have stories about Randy and his ways. We share them regularly. 3-4 of us worked with him directly, me included. He was much like many arrangers. They continue to “tinker” with their music. He would make changes to his charts nearly every week and tell stories about his experiences. He loved to hear the recordings of his music so we often sang to them to get the feel and nuance of how they were originally performed. He told us stories about his life. For example, for a period he made his living writing jingles. Sometimes he would have 30 minutes to write a jingle and then hand it to the singers so they could learn it on the spot. It would be recorded at the same time. He spoke of how challenging it was and the pressure he felt.
Randy handed the baton to Alan Wilson a year or so before he passed. Alan is a fabulous tenor and had extensive background in choral groups. Randy had a lot of confidence in Alan’s ability to carry his legacy forward.
Peter: Is the new group active mainly during the holiday season?
Lynn: We are active year-round. Whenever we can do a show, we try to do it more than once. It takes a lot of effort to coordinate the music, the singers, the accompaniment, the sound and other aspects of a fully-produced show. Before the pandemic we were doing 5-6 shows per year. This included 1-2 shows during the holidays. The pay-off for all of us is the joy of doing the music before a live audience. There’s nothing better!
Peter: Do you hope to record an album in the future?
Lynn: Currently, there is no plan to do an album. However, we do videotape our shows and sometimes share them on YouTube.
Peter: Do you think Van Horne would be pleased with your group?
Lynn: Yes, he would be happy that his music lives on. Over the years, he continued to re-invent the group. I believe this is a clear testament to him wanting to keep the music alive. We are also in touch with his son and his son continues to support our efforts.
Peter: What are the individual projects some of you have been/are involved in?
Lynn: We all have prior performance experience. Some of us sing with bands, some have CD’s, some sing in church choirs or other singing groups. Some of us have been background singers with famous performers. In these cases, the singers have been on the road with the popular artists like Bette Midler, Tanya Tucker, Glenn Campbell, Elvis, etc.
Peter: What music have some of you been listening to lately?
Lynn: Our members are familiar with all types of music and often refer to pop music. As a genre, many of us appreciate selections from the Great American songbook so we tend to listen to current and vintage recordings of this music. However, it’s safe to say that we pull music from all types of genres.
Peter: How was it to work on the jingle for Wind Chime Radio?
Lynn: It was challenging and it was fun. We wanted to get the idea of wind chimes in the recordings. We experimented with the accompaniment to increase the authenticity and finally chose the vibes as the accompaniment because they sounded more like chimes than the piano. It was a kick to do original music for the radio.
Peter: Any final thoughts?
Lynn: We are looking forward to rebuilding the group once the pandemic is well behind us. We just added a new member and will do more recruiting when potential members and prior members are more comfortable singing in a group.
Harry Randell Van Horne passed away at the age of 83 on September 26, 2007 in Los Angeles. He was active almost until the end, leading a big band that performed around Los Angeles.
My profound thanks to New Randy Van Horne member Lynn Keller for coordinating the responses to my questions and to her and the group’s superb work on the Wind Chime Radio jingle.
Trivia (provided by the New Randy Van Horne Singers):“A fun fact is that the original singers were each paid $50 at the time for the recording of The Flintstones theme….no other payments or royalties were provided!”
Album Spotlights focus on specific (usually vintage) albums. Album Spotlight articles will pop-up randomly. There might be another Spotlight next month or six months from now. Like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects the Album Spotlight!
My Album Spotlights typically focus on vintage albums. In this Spotlight I focus on Wamono Groove, a compilation album released in January of this year, technically making it a new release. However, its contents are anything but. Like amber containing flesh from prehistoric creatures, the rare recordings Wamono Groove preserves in its polyvinyl chloride are significant. To be more specific, it’s a collection of funky jazz from 1976 with the primary instruments being Japanese. I admit it sounds odd, but would you expect anything less from me?
Honestly, I don’t recall how I became acquainted with this particular title, but I’m very glad I did. The music is a throwback and the Japanese influence gives it a refreshing twist. Wamono Groove features 3 giants of Japanese music: Arranger Kiyoshi Yamaya, koto legend Toshiko Yonekawa, and shakuhachi master, Kifu Mitsuhashi.
Kiyoshi Yamaya started playing baritone sax in local Japanese jazz bands in in 1953. Just a few years later he was arranging and recording Japanese big bands. He became a key figure in Japanese jazz and founded the Contemporary Sound Orchestra in the mid-70’s. With his CSO, Yamaya merged jazz funk with traditional Japanese melodies and instruments. Yamaya passed away in 2002 at age 70.
Koto is the national instrument of Japan and is played by plucking the 13 strings with 3 fingers. The instrument stretches 71” long and has moveable bridges. Toshiko Yonekawa studied koto since age 3. She held her first concert at age 8 and performed on national radio at just 12 years old. According to Wamono Groove’s liner notes, “Her unique style of koto playing is widely recognized due to the extreme accuracy of the intonation and rhythm, as well as the unequaled beauty of the instrument’s sonority. After a life decorated with awards and prizes, Toshiko Yonekawa was named a Living National Treasure in 1996.” Yonekawa died in 2005 at the age of 92.
Kifu Mitsuhashi plays shakuhachi. Shakuhachi is a bamboo flute made in various lengths. It contains a small piece of ivory at the edge of the blowing end to further vary the sound. Mitsuhashi has toured the world performing classical and contemporary compositions with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Berliner Philharmoniker, to name a few. In 2020, Mitsuhashi was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun.
Here’s a list of the other musicians who performed on Wamono Groove’s tracks:
Kazuyoshi Okayama: drums on all tracks
Kiyoshi Sugimoto: guitar on all tracks except A1 by Mitsuo Murakami
Keisuke Egusa: piano on A3, A5, B2 and B4
Minoru Kuribayashi: piano on A4, B3 and B5
Hiromu Hisatomi: piano on A2 and B1
Naoya Matsuoka: piano on A1
Kimio Koizumi: bass on A1, A2, A3, A5, B1, B2 and B4
Kunimitsu Inaba: bass on A4, B3 and B5
Isao Kanayama: vibraphone on A1, A3, A4, A5, B2, B3, B4 and B5
Ryusei Matsuzaki: vibraphone on A2 and B1
Osamu Nakajima: percussion on A4
Hiroo Umezawa: percussion on A5
Tetsuo Fushimi and Takehisa Suzuki: trumpets on B3 and B5
Yoshitsugu Nishimura and Tadataka Nakazawa: trombones on B3 and B5
Jake Concepcion: tenor sax on B3 and B5
“I admit it sounds odd, but would you expect anything less from me?”
The opening track, Nanbu Ushioi-Uta, sounds rather mysterious, and at times, out of space, as if it had been randomly plucked from a Space: 1999 episode. My favorite track, Hohai-Bushi, features some fantastic keyboard, guitar, and flute work. It sounds exactly like a 1976 funky jazz tune should. I wish it had gone on forever. In Otemoyan and Yagi-Bushi, you can practically taste the Japanese flavor. Aizu Bandaisan is more adventurous, taking your ears for a full funky ride. Soma Nagareyama, on the other hand, sounds like a Japanese version of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition from 1972.
Considering these recordings are 46 years old and the word “mono” is part of the title, one might be concerned about the sound quality. Fear not. The tracks on Wamono Groove were originally recorded at the Nippon Columbia Studios in Japan, not some garage studio, and they’re in stereo. The songs were re-mastered in Finland from the original tapes. Moreover, the Japanese are obsessed over sound quality, so you know a lot of attention went into the recording. Rest assured, Wamono Groove will put you in the groove with nary a hint of its age.
You might think I posted this Album Spotlight at this time because Japan has been in the news lately over the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but that isn’t the case. I had actually planned on posting this Spotlight on my Recommended Stations blog earlier this year when the record was released, but it took me almost 6 months to pin down 180g Co-owner and Executive Producer Gregory Gouty and get answers to my questions for this article. Gouty is based in France and has several record projects in the works so he’s a very busy guy these days. I’m grateful he was able to carve out a little time for this special Album Spotlight and it was worth the delay:
Peter: What was your involvement with “Wamono Groove” and how did the Wamono series come about?
Greg: It started with meeting DJ Yoshizawa Dynamite in a bar in Tokyo in 2018. Me and my label-mate Max were listening to his mixes on Soundcloud. He gave some mix CDs to Max, and he also told us that he was working on some Wamono compilations to be released on CD in Japan. We thought the music [was] amazing and discussed about doing some vinyl releases outside of Japan, which are Wamono Volumes 1, 2 and 3. For Wamono Groove, Max and myself did the selection ourselves.
Peter: How would you describe the music on this record for someone who isn’t familiar with the series?
Greg: I would say that Wamono is the perfect mix of western music influences with Japanese instruments and melodies. For example, on this Wamono Groove selection, some great mixture of jazz funk/rare groove music with shakuhachi and koto, which are some traditional Japanese instruments, played by great masters of their art.
Peter: What does “Wamono” mean and why is the music on this record considered rare?
Greg: Technically “Wa” is “Japan/Japanese”, and “mono” is “something”. So Wamono is music made with Japanese sense in my opinion, being instruments, melodies or feeling. A lot of these records are from the 60s-70s and were pressed in small quantities at the time, so original copies for a lot of these records are quite rare.
Peter: What does the Japanese writing on the cover translate to?
Greg: On Wamono Groove, the three vertical lines are the artists names, with their instruments (which you can find in alphabet above the Wamono Groove title).
Peter: Have you been in contact withKifu Mitsuhashi?
Greg: Yes, Mr. Kifu Mitsuhashi (shakuhachi player) is still alive and well. He is still playing as a professional and also a music professor. We have actually contacted him to present the project and he is very happy with the result.
Peter: This is the first time this music has been available outside of Japan?
Greg: Except in some collectors’ circles maybe, yes.
Peter: You had access to the original Columbia master tapes? The re-mastering was done in Finland? The recording is in stereo, right?
Greg: Nippon Columbia [did] the transfer from [the] master tapes (they don’t lend any master tapes; they do the transfer themselves). We work on almost all of our projects with Jukka Sarappa at Timmion Cutting Lab in Helsinki, who are really good and we are very happy with the result. Their cutting skills are phenomenal. And yes, the recording is in stereo.
Peter: Do you have a favorite track on “Wamono Groove”?
Greg: The first one with the long shakuhachi intro, Nanbu Ushioi-Uta. Puts you in the album’s mood. This track is perfect and beautiful.
Peter: The Japanese take this vintage music very seriously, don’t they?
Greg: Oh yes, any music I would say! Killer collectors over there, going super deep. In any musical style. I was living in Tokyo nearby a very small store where the guy was selling only punk music from Eastern Europe on cassette format.
Peter: Is this kind of music still performed in Japan?
Greg: There is still a lot of music today that we could call Wamono, mixing various musical influences from all over the world with a Japanese touch, such as Ajate for example.
Peter: Was this music played on radio stations in Japan in the 70’s or was it mainly intended for record buyers and live performances?
Greg: The music in the Wamono Groove compilation was more featured in some kind of “seasonal” albums about seasons, places (mountains, etc…).
Peter: Tell me a little about your company, 180g. What projects do you have in the works for this year?
Greg: We are just starting a new compilation series called “WaJazz”, exploring Japanese jazz with music selection by world-renowned expert Yusuke Ogawa. And we also have a sub-label called 180g x Disk Union, made in collaboration with Japanese record stores Disk Union, where we release contemporary Brazilian music such as the new Leonardo Marques album to be out in September.
Peter: With COVID supply chain issues, is it a challenge to manufacture records today?
Greg: Yes, all pressing factories are full and we have to book pressing capacities a year in advance even if we don’t know yet what we will press. We have to be very organized and work on releases well in advance.
Peter: Any final thoughts about “Wamono Groove” or the music?
Greg: Thanks to you, Peter, and all people who are interested in this music and are helping us [spread] it. This is just the tip of the iceberg and there is still a lot of great Japanese music, old and new, to be discovered!
What’s In Your Wallet?
Frankly, it isn’t cheap to get your Wamono Groove on. The record will set you back $36 from Amazon where it enjoys a 4.2 star rating. I purchased my copy direct from Bandcamp which cost me about $35 including shipping. As I’ve pointed out before, I don’t get free samples, nor do I earn a commission if you buy something I recommend, which is partly why I ask for your support through Patreon. That said, the unique Japanese jazz funk fusion of Wamono Groove is a delight for the ears and well worth the investment. It’s also pressed on 180g heavy vinyl and includes a reverse board inner jacket. I should mention there’s a less expensive digital download option, as you prefer. Hats off to the musical archeologists at 180g for uncovering this rare, lost music, carefully preserving it, and making it available to the world.
By the way, if you’re into more of a disco vibe, 180g has you covered there as well with Wamono A-Z Vol. III- Japanese Light Mellow Funk, Disco & Boogie 1978-1988.
My personal thanks to Greg Gouty for his time answering my questions.
If you’re like me, you can’t be away from your tunes for too long, especially when you’re outdoors. Whether it’s hosting a backyard cookout, gardening, or just washing the car, having my favorite music playing nearby is always high on my checklist. With the weather improving every day, now’s the time to start thinking about a portable Bluetooth speaker for outside listening or when you’re on the go.
There’s a glut of portable Bluetooth speakers of all shapes, sizes, and price points. Just about any company can make a Bluetooth speaker and it seems just about every company does these days. Bluetooth speakers have come a long way as far as sound quality and battery life are concerned, but making one that sounds good and is fun to use is not easy. For this month’s blog post I undertake my first-ever hardware review…a roundup of four fun portable Bluetooth speakers…some old, some new, all under $160, and all providing musical fun in the summer sun.
Model: M90 Mini Blaster
Brand: New Wave Toys
Fun Factor: 10/10
Playback time: 40 hours
Bluetooth Version: 5.1
Warranty: 100 days
The M90 Mini Blaster by New Wave Toys in North Hollywood, CA is the newest model of my roundup. New Wave is known for their accurate reproductions of classic video arcade games. Their arcade games are considerably smaller than the originals that inspired them, but they look incredibly authentic and they actually work!
Almost 2 years ago, the company threw their miniature-sized hat in the crowded Bluetooth speaker ring, launching a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for their M90 Mini Blaster and M90 Micro Blaster (an even smaller version Bluetooth speaker). I was one of over 2,700 backers to receive my M90 Mini Blaster about 2 months ago and despite some issues, I haven’t been able to put it down.
Back To The Future
Rather than make a ho-hum-looking Bluetooth speaker, New Wave stuck with their 1980’s theme and designed a faithful reproduction of the legendary JVC RC-M90JW (known as “the king of boomboxes”) from 1981, albeit on a considerably smaller scale. I own a couple of working vintage boomboxes including the JVC RC-M90, and I can say with authority the company is to be congratulated on the job they did emulating the original boombox. New Wave must have invested an enormous amount of time studying the RC-M90 (presumably thanks to the boombox museum they reference in the user manual) to achieve such remarkable detail in the M90. The Mini Blaster may be small but it’s a big blast (from the past).
What’s In A Name
Don’t let New Wave Toys’ name fool you. The M90 Mini Blaster is no toy. In addition to Bluetooth 5.1, the 30-watt stereo M90 Mini Blaster houses two 3” full range speakers (the drivers in my version have “limited edition” blue-colored cones), a decent FM tuner with dual telescoping antennae (AM was disabled due to significant reception problems), a 3.5mm analog stereo input, a USB-A for playing music from a thumb drive or charging a smartphone, and a Micro SD card input. Frankly, had I been the Product Manager for this model, I would’ve left off the Micro SD card input and added other features that would’ve been more widely used and appreciated. But I’m not done. With it’s built-in microphone, the M90 Mini can be used as a good quality speaker phone. I tried it and the party on the other end commented that I sounded better than when I use only my phone. You can also pair two M90’s together to achieve true wireless stereo (TWS). A USB-C is on tap for charging the internal 20,000mA battery. That kind of battery capacity is unprecedented for a Bluetooth speaker of this size and price. According to the company, the M90 will play up to 40 hours on a single charge. The M90 Mini Blaster is indeed the Tesla of Bluetooth speakers.
New Wave made the M90 Mini Blaster even more special by including some very sweet accessories. There’s a mini wired remote control that works (also based on the original JVC wired remote), gnarled, aluminum knob expanders to provide a better grip of the very tiny bass, treble, and balance knobs (which actually work), and an adorable faux iconic Memorex cassette tape complete with blank stickers so you can label it “80s Mix Tape” (the cassette deck isn’t functional but the door opens to accommodate the tape). There’s even an optional soft, sleek, black custom carrying case in which to store your M90 Mini Blaster when you’re not using it (which I assure you won’t be very often).
“According to the company, the M90 will play up to 40 hours on a single charge. The M90 Mini Blaster is the Tesla of Bluetooth speakers.”
I’ve Got Issues
When a company that’s not an audio company dares to enter the audio field with their first audio product there are bound to be issues. The M90 is no exception. There’s prominent white noise in the background and the volume control isn’t gradual. The level choices are basically zero, medium, and high and nothing in between. Disappointingly, New Wave never apologized for the problems and actually told users to turn down the treble control if they found the white noise objectionable! They ended up issuing a firmware update in an attempt to improve the volume behavior, though the user feedback I’ve read on their campaign page isn’t favorable, including several units being rendered non-functional after the update, so I’ve refrained from updating mine. New Wave certainly never would’ve shipped their arcade games if they all had problems with their displays. Likewise, the M90 never should’ve shipped with these audio problems. To New Wave’s credit, they’ve voluntarily offered refunds to any Kickstarter backers who are unhappy, which they aren’t required to do. Even with these problems, wild horses couldn’t drag mine away from me.
There are other scalp-scratching decisions New Wave made like omitting a headphone jack, placing the Bluetooth status light on the back instead of the front, omitting a power light, leaving off a Loudness control like the original JVC boombox had (and which the M90 would’ve greatly benefited from), and always defaulting to Bluetooth mode rather than to the last mode used. Oh- and those cute little Vu meters on the front…they’re not load-bearing. I’ve said it already, but it bears repeating…I won’t allow these things to get in the way of me enjoying the M90 Mini Blaster.
One final bone of contention I’ll raise before stepping down from my soap box has to do with New Wave’s 100-day warranty which is standard for their product line. My 2-slice toaster made by a Chinese company I never heard of before, and which cost me a lot less than the M90, came with a 1-year warranty. The other models in my Bluetooth roundup cost quite a bit less than the M90 Mini Blaster, yet they all come with a one-year warranty. New Wave should have enough confidence in their own design and engineering, and respect for their customers’ hard-earned money, to stand behind their products for at least 12 months. I’ve worked for numerous audio companies including two small startups and none of them offered less than a 1-year warranty.
To be perfectly clear, the M90 sounds good, but there are other good sounding Bluetooth speakers on the market without audio issues that cost less. None, however, evoke 80’s boombox nostalgia like the M90 Mini Blaster. You simply won’t find anything else like it because no other company is crazy enough to try to do it. An original, working, vintage JVC RC-M90JW boombox will set you back several thousand dollars, but you can get this incredible smaller simulation for $159.99, whenever New Wave Toys gets them back in stock that is. Summer just got a whole lot funner.
Model: Wild Mini
Fun Factor: 10/10
Playback time: 8 hours
Bluetooth Version: 5.0
Warranty: 1 year
If you require a very small Bluetooth speaker without a lot of bells and whistles but still want acceptable sound quality, here’s a different Mini to consider…the impossibly adorable Wild Mini by Muzen. Muzen makes a number of different Bluetooth speakers, including one resembling a miniature table radio from the 1950’s. The Wild Mini, on the other hand, is designed with a military style in mind. It indeed looks like it could be standard issue for the US Army, including its hard-sided carry case with retro Sergeant stripes. Too bad Muzen didn’t complete the military theme by offering a Wild Mini camouflage version including a dog tag with the unit’s serial number stamped into it.
A Case To Be Made
In addition to its novel size, the metal housing (the only speaker in my round-up sporting a metal case) and horizontally rotating volume thumb wheel make it stand out from the pack, not to mention a delight to use. I find myself always going for the Wild Mini’s clicking volume wheel instead of my smartphone’s boring volume button. A small plastic wheel on the right provides next and previous track control. There’s even a small, integrated, 3 LED flashlight on top that can be switched between a high or low solid beam and flashing S-O-S like a navy signal lamp. I should also mention the convenient built-in bar allowing the Wild Mini’s owner to clip it to a backpack, belt loop, hang inside a tent, etc. The Wild Mini is dope. If you hang it then I guess you could call it dope on a rope. Sorry.
Don’t Add Water
Muzen’s website states the Wild Mini is rated “IPX5 waterproof” and claims if you accidentally drop yours in the pool you shouldn’t fret. It’s the only model in my Bluetooth roundup with such a rating. IPX5-rated products can withstand sustained low pressure water spray but they’re not waterproof. My Wild Mini has gotten wet but I would never submerge it no matter what Muzen says. I also try to avoid leaving it in strong, direct sunlight for any extended period of time to avoid the zinc alloy metal case from potentially heating up.
Firing up the Wild Mini and playing music via its Bluetooth 5.0 never fails to raise my eyebrows. The sound from this diminutive speaker is clear and crisp, and it will get as loud as a Drill Sergeant (keeping with my military theme). According to Muzen’s specifications, the bass response extends down to 80Hz which is more than I would expect from such a compact speaker, but it certainly isn’t going to cause ripples in your glass of water like an escaped cloned dinosaur would. The Wild Mini would produce a more open sound were it not for its restrictive metal speaker grille. Presumably Muzen felt protecting the 36 mm diminutive diameter driver was more important. It would’ve been even more wild to be able to pair two Wild Minis together for true wireless stereo.
“I find myself always going for the Wild Mini’s clicking volume wheel instead of my smartphone’s boring volume button.”
Original Or Extra Crispy?
As with the other models in this roundup, the Wild Mini has a built-in Li-Ion battery…800mA to be more precise. That will get you about 8 hours of playback time which should more than suffice for most trail hikes and campfire singalongs ( or special ops missions). I should point out there’s a more recent version of the Wild Mini that uses a 1,000mA battery and has a few other new features including a multi-colored light and a wheel in front of the driver that rotates (Muzen calls it a “fidget spinner”). I guess it’s the Wild Mini Wheel of Fortune Edition. Frankly, I consider these “features” a step-down and hardly worth the $50 up-charge. I prefer original recipe over extra crispy.
I can’t resist a Bluetooth speaker in uniform. One look at the Wild Mini and I just knew I had to have one even though I already own more Bluetooth speakers than I need. I guess you could say its appearance is disarming. With its rounded edges and measuring just 3” x 2” x 1”, the Wild Mini is easily the cutest Bluetooth speaker on the planet. Whether you have a proclivity for military-styled things or not, you’ll quickly surrender to it. Getting one means you’ll have to drop and give Muzen 109. No, not 109 pushups, but $109, though I’ve seen it on sale for as low as $90 on Amazon. Should you get one? Sir, yes sir.
Model: EP203 Poison
Fun Factor: 8/10
Playback time: 6 hours
Bluetooth Version: 4.2
Warranty: 1 year
Larger than the Wild Mini but smaller than the M90 Mini Blaster is Lofree’s retro-styled Poison. It’s a rather odd name for a portable Bluetooth speaker. Perhaps Lofree named it that because it resembles a giant pill and it’s sound is killer.
Ace Of Bass
Smaller-sized Bluetooth speakers might be cute and convenient, but let’s face it- many of them don’t sound very good. For a plastic speaker measuring 7” x 4” x 2.75” with only 10-watts of power, Poison sounds very good indeed. In fact, it’s the best-sounding speaker in my round-up. Lofree says Poison’s frequency response goes down to 60Hz. No doubt the passive bass radiator that takes up a good portion of its behind is responsible. You can see the woofer in action as the music plays. Baby got back. It’s a good thing Poison has prominent rubber feet to couple it to the surface of whatever it’s playing on, because without them, the speaker would dance all over the place. If I’m looking to impress someone visually, I take out my M90 Mini Blaster or Muzen Wild Mini, but if I’m looking to impress acoustically, I dish out some Poison.
For radio enthusiasts, there’s an FM tuner on board, though reception is so-so and the tiny tuning dial is a challenge for the eyes. Even with my glasses on (which served as the prototype for the Hubble Space Telescope) I couldn’t see what frequency I was tuning. I bought my Poison through a friend in China and its FM dial is lightly back-lighted. Why Lofree left this feature off the US version I have no idea.
The Queen’s English
Some Bluetooth speakers, like the M90 Mini Blaster, use sounds to confirm when the source has been changed. Others, like Poison, use a spoken voice confirmation. The female voice used for Poison’s confirmations speaks with an Asian (Chinese?) accent. The voice Poison uses is pleasant enough but the accent screams “made in China”. It’s a small but important detail. Ordinarily, the manufacturer has the ability to record a different voice instead of whatever comes stock on the Bluetooth chip. A female voice with a British accent would’ve been my choice. A British accent always adds a little sophistication to any occasion.
It’s A Looker
Poison makes just as strong a visual statement as it does with its sound. Retro styling is great, but overdo it and your product risks resembling a cheap plastic toy. In this case, the design is just enough to give it that 50’s retro appearance without making it look goofy or cheap. It’s available in tasteful shiny colors, too, including “Milk Tea”, a kind of very light beige color with just a hint of pink or orange from what I can tell. There’s also a cool chrome dome on the top that changes color depending on the source mode it’s in, though it can be difficult to see the light in bright light conditions.
Make A Wish
On my Poison wish list, I would’ve preferred the top controls and prominent front grille be made of metal instead of plastic. It wouldn’t have added much to the cost and it would’ve given it a more quality look and feel. I also wish Lofree had included an AM band along with the FM, at least for US customers. Alas you can’t have everything.
Poison’s compact size makes it quite comfortable to carry in one hand, though chrome bars are integrated on either side to accommodate a carry strap. My Chinese market version came with a nifty carrying case that resembles a child’s vintage suitcase. Here again, I don’t understand why Muzen failed to include this with the US version.
Li-Ions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My
Playback-wise, expect about 6 hours from the 2,000mA Li-Ion battery. That’s on the short side but it’s probably due to the bass which tends to be power-hungry. As with most of the speakers in my roundup, Poison doesn’t have a user-replaceable battery. When the battery is exhausted (hopefully not until six or more years from now), shipping the dead unit both ways to its China factory for battery replacement and back again will be costly, assuming the factory will even service it. It will probably cost the same or less to just toss it out and buy a new Poison if they’re still being made then. This isn’t the best solution for the environment or your wallet, but it seems to be the inconvenient truth for many lower-cost portable Bluetooth speakers these days.
“…the design is just enough to give it that 50’s retro appearance without making it look goofy or cheap.”
Poison is priced at $119, not quite half way between the $160 M90 Mini Blaster and $109 Wild Mini, though if you sign up on Lofree’s website, you’ll get emailed a discount code to save a few bucks. By the way, in case you’re wondering, Lofree’s name is a combination of the words “Love” and “Free”. Poison isn’t free, but you’ll love it.
Fun Factor: 6.5/10
Playback time: 8 hours
Bluetooth Version: 5.0
Warranty: 1 year
Bumpboxx makes very impressive, full-sized Bluetooth boomboxes sans the cassette deck. I’ve never owned one but I do own their Microboom. Microboom is the smallest and least expensive Bluetooth speaker in my roundup, measuring only 5” x 4” x 2”. It’s a Bluetooth wearable that comes in different shiny colors (including a recently-released, swanky gold-colored version) and includes a 24” stainless steel gold-plated chain to complete the 1980’s image. Bumpboxx also makes a portable Bluetooth speaker that resembles a vintage pager, but I was instantly drawn to the Microboom.
Bumpboxx says Microboom “seamlessly blends fashion and technology.” I say Microboom is the bomb, albeit a very basic bomb. There’s no FM tuner, no auxiliary input, and no headphone output, though a Micro SD card input is included on its backside. As with the M90 Mini Blaster, had been the Product Manager for this model, I would’ve left off that input in favor of something more conventional. There are small push button controls on the front for basic functions like power, Bluetooth pairing, track control, volume, and play/pause. The center “display” features a tiny white Bumpboxx logo which illuminates when the unit is powered on. That’s cool, but what would’ve been way cooler is an actual tiny color display that showed artist/song metadata. Of course, that would’ve used more battery power and raised its price, but it so totally would’ve been worth it. Totally.
The Microboom lives up to its name in more ways than one. It’s a micro boombox and it has very little boom despite Bumpboxx managing to shoehorn a passive bass radiator behind the dual 1.2” diameter full range speakers. Wearing the Microboom definitely makes a statement, and it also reduces its bass since the rear woofer’s meager output gets smothered by your clothing. Perhaps Bumpboxx prefers we all go topless. That said, it sounds better than I expected for a 3.7 oz plastic speaker on a chain. One big thing about the little Microboom is it can get fairly loud. It’s only 10 watts max, but this baby boomer(box) goes to 11, and it’ll crank for about 8 hours until its 500mA Li-Ion battery wants a re-charge.
“…what would’ve been way cooler is an actual tiny color display that showed artist/song metadata.”
Bumpboxx’s website is long on features but short on specs. I couldn’t find out simple details like what version Bluetooth the Microboom used, the frequency response, or even if it was stereo. It took several emails and over a week with their customer support to learn the Microboom uses Bluetooth 5.0. I never got a response to my frequency response or stereo questions, so I used a simple app on my phone to at least verify it’s outputting 2-channel stereo. However, with the speakers being in such close proximity to each other, it’s effectively mono. Perhaps sensing that, Bumpboxx made it possible to pair 2 Microboom’s together for true wireless stereo, with one Microboom being the right channel and the other the left.
You can get your own Microboom on Amazon or from Bumpboxx directly for $99, which strikes me as a bit on the expensive side compared to the prices of the other models I’ve covered in my roundup. Be that as it may, there aren’t many audio devices you can wear that play loud and look wicked cool. Hang a Bumpboxx Microboom around your neck and be prepared to get stopped on the street by impressed strangers wanting to know what it is and where you got it.
You may have noticed the different versions of Bluetooth used by the models in my roundup…5.1, 5.0, and 4.2. What does it mean and why don’t they all use the latest Bluetooth specification? To give a quick comparison, Bluetooth 5.1 and 5.0 include BLE, or Bluetooth Low Energy, which requires less power and thus yields longer playback time than Bluetooth 4.2. Both versions also provide more bandwidth (allows simultaneous connection of 2 different Bluetooth devices) and a much longer range. Bluetooth 5.1 pairs faster than 5.0 and 4.2. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should cross out anything on your list that uses older versions like 4.2. The Poison Bluetooth speaker uses Bluetooth version 4.2 and I’ve never experienced an issue using it.
One major drawback to Bluetooth is that Bluetooth IC’s can’t be updated, meaning whatever Bluetooth version your device has is what it will have forever. If a device has Bluetooth 4.2, there’s no way to update it to something more recent. That’s the nature of the beast, and you can bet Bluetooth technology will continue to evolve as it has over the years. So, even if you buy a Bluetooth speaker with the very latest Bluetooth specification (currently 5.2), it’s only the latest until the next version comes along. The good news is devices with older version Bluetooth chips will still work with sources having newer versions. For example, if you own a Bluetooth speaker with Bluetooth version 4.2, but stream your music from a smartphone that has Bluetooth version 5.1, your speaker will still work and sound fine.
I should also like to point out that none of the Bluetooth speakers in my round-up support aptX, a technology that claims to preserve the quality of the music. I don’t consider that a big negative because portable speakers are often used outdoors, which isn’t the ideal environment for audio reproduction. Moreover, in Apple’s wisdom, the iPhone doesn’t support aptX, so at least half of all users wouldn’t be able to take advantage of it anyway.
Juice Me Up
If you do a lot of streaming from your battery-powered smartphone or laptop to your battery-powered Bluetooth speaker, you don’t want your devices running out of power and ruining the vibe. A portable power bank will give your devices a boost when their tanks are nearing empty. Up until recently, most power banks were nondescript devices that sort of resembled those geeky aluminum wallets you see on late-night TV commercials. Enter Shargeek. They designed a portable charger that gets the job done and looks sexy while doing it. I wish I could say that about myself.
The Storm2 boasts a whopping 25,600 mAh of power from its 8 rechargeable, high-density Lithium-ion batteries. It provides four (count ‘em, four) power outputs (USB-C x 2, USB-A x 1, DC x 1) to fast-charge up to 3 devices at once, from phones to drones. It’s also the first portable charger to use a transparent housing exposing the power plant as well as the electronic components mounted on the PCB. Illuminated output jacks would’ve been extra cool, but now I’m really exposing my geeky side. Anyway, you haven’t heard the best part yet. There’s a small, crisp, color display that shows the input/output power, battery pack voltage/current, battery/PCB temperature, charge-discharge cycles, and DC voltage adjustments! OMG. I think I just experienced arrhythmia.
With great power comes great responsibility, and Shargeek takes safety seriously. They’ve built-in protection against short circuits, high voltage, and extreme temperatures. The transparent plastic chassis is fireproof and the Storm2 is rated safe to legally carry onto airplanes should you wish to take yours with you when you travel.
Roughly 3 months ago, Shargeek came out with a new power bank model called Storm2 Slim since it’s approximately 50% smaller than Storm2. It supports 130W high speed power delivery (vs. Storm2’s 100W) and is lighter weight than its big brother, but only includes 1 x USB-C and 1 x USB-A output. An optional, fold-out solar panel keeps the Slim itself charged when electricity isn’t available. Both models retail for $199, though they’re sometimes discounted on Amazon.
We’re all geared up to get outside and enjoy the summer. It feels like it took forever for it to finally get here. Enhance your summer enjoyment even more by bringing your favorite tunes with you. Whether you invest in one or more of the models in my roundup or decide on a different one, know that a portable Bluetooth speaker that makes listening fun in the summer sun is priceless.
Full disclosure: I don’t make a commission if you buy any of the models I recommended. I purchased all of these devices myself and did not receive any free review samples or special discounts. The advantage of this is I can be honest and not feel beholden to any manufacturer. The drawback is it’s a veryexpensive way of doing reviews! Accordingly, please consider supporting my website blog and Internet radio station by becoming a Patreon supporter (link below) for just $1.
Trivia:According to Wikipedia, a hands-free mobile headset introduced in 1999 was the first consumer Bluetooth device. The Ericson T39 from 2001 was the first Bluetooth mobile phone. Also launched in 2001 was the IBM ThinkPad A30 which was the first notebook with Bluetoooth.
For the last couple of years to compensate for the economic impact of the pandemic on record stores, Record Store Day was celebrated 2-3 times per year. It should have been temporarily renamed Record Store Days. This year, since life is returning to normal (knock on wood), RSD is back to its normal single day, April 23rd, plus Black Friday. That doesn’t mean it’s any less exciting. If anything, RSD 2022 gives us more reasons to get excited.
One reason is Record Store Day is celebrating 15 years of supporting independent record stores around the world. Another is the appointment of Taylor Swift as RSD’s Global Ambassador. Yet another is the over 400 special titles on vinyl released for RSD 2022, including one specifically to benefit women in the music industry. Just the fact that this will be the most “normal” Record Store Day we’ve seen in a couple of years is reason enough to celebrate.
Before I take my shoes and socks off and dive into RSD’s record bins, as I did last year, I called a handful of Record Store Day-participating MA record stores and asked them what platter they were spinning on their turntable at that very moment. Here are the results:
Purchase Street Records, New Bedford, MA: Seemless (self-titled)
Joe’s Albums, Worcester, MA: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Unlimited Love
The Nevermind Shop, Upton, MA: Spiral Staircase, I Love You More Today Than Yesterday
The Record Exchange, Salem, MA: 3 Mustaphas 3, Heart of Uncle
Sunset Records, Somerset, MA: Aquarius, Let the Sunshine In
The Vinyl Vault, Littleton, MA: The Groundhogs, Blues Obituary
Vinyl Index, Somerville, MA: Octahedron, The Mars Volta
The Record Spot, East Bridgewater, MA: The Beatles, Abbey Road (picture disc)
Village Vinyl & Hi-Fi, Brookline, MA: Discharge, Never Again
Inclusion Records, Norwell, MA: North American & Friends, Going Steady (reissue)
Dyno Records, Newburyport, MA: The Police, Synchronicity
Now, back to our regularly scheduled program. I got in contact with Record Store Day Project Manager Rick Johnson to set the stage for Record Store Day 2022.
Peter: 2022 marks the 15th Anniversary of Record Store Day. It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years. What’s happening this year to commemorate the occasion?
Rick: 15 years and things keep getting bigger and better every year. It’s a worldwide celebration of music and independent record stores. This year we are partnering with VANS [shoe and apparel designer] to celebrate women in the music business with a special release Portraits of Her, featuring many diverse female artists. We are also presenting a panel at SXSW [South by South West music/film/tech conference] in March, focusing on women in the music industry. There will also be a celebration at the Grammy Museum in LA of some of the past RSD ambassadors and early supporters. There will also be many, many other smaller celebrations at local independent record stores on and around Record Store Day. It’s going to be a big year for sure.
Peter: Is RSD celebrated worldwide? On the same day?
Rick: Yes, RSD is celebrated on every continent except Antarctica and it is celebrated on the same day by everyone. Adjustments are made for time zones of course, so some countries get a few hours head start, but we all end up at the same place in the end. Sitting at home in front of our turntables with a stack of great music and cellophane all over the place!
Peter: All Record Store Day releases are special, but are there a few titles you are particularly excited about?
Rick: I am excited about a lot of the titles this year. Everyone at RSD has been working very hard to make sure we have great releases and something for everyone. What’s important to remember is that every release on RSD is SOMEONE’S favorite release. Some of my personal favorites are the RSD curated Patti Smith record, the Lou Reed 1971 Demos and the Ramones box set The Sire Albums (1981-1989). Kirk Hammett from Metallica has his first solo record Portals coming out on RSD22.
Peter: For the last 2 years, RSD was celebrated multiple times a year due to the pandemic’s impact on record stores. You’re back to an annual event for 2022?
Rick: We’re back to RSD in April and then RSD Black Friday on the Friday after Thanksgiving. A lot of fans enjoyed the different “drops” that were done for safety, but we are back to two a year.
Peter: Do you have a Record Store Day-related anecdote you can share?
Rick: I still remember the first time I walked into Rough Trade Records on Record Store Day in 2017. There was a line literally around the block of customers waiting their turn to shop. I saw a guy in his 30s with his young child who was maybe 4 years ago, standing in line waiting to buy their favorite release. They were creating an experience together that was unique to them, and one they would never forget. If you have to wait in line for something, let it be music! I also took a photo inside of the Ramones Singles Box Set in the foreground with the rest of the store in the background, with the vinyl seemingly going on forever! It was beautiful.
I also remember in 2019 Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne spending several days at Rough Trade [record store] building a huge interactive installation for his LP The King’s Head. It was in the shape of a king’s head, and you could crawl inside his mouth and hear a song that was not on the record. Wayne spent days on this one installation that was just a cool tribute to Record Store Day.
Mike Peters from the Alarm celebrated RSD a few years ago by playing concerts at local record stores in London, NYC and LA, all on the same day! He started out early in London, hopped a trans-Atlantic flight to New York, played an in store gig there. Then he flew to LA and finished up his long, long day with a final show at a record store there. AMAZING!”
Peter: Why was Taylor Swift chosen as Record Store Day’s Global Ambassador for 2022? What is her RSD offeringthis year?
Rick: Taylor Swift is one of the biggest global superstars and she has built her career from the ground up, doing it the right way. Taylor has reissued almost all her albums for RSD in the past, bringing new vinyl buyers into independent record stores for the first time. She was also very supportive of independent record stores during COVID, even paying the health insurance for workers at her favorite record store in Nashville. She supplied independent stores with signed copies of her releases to sell during the shutdown. Taylor has also contributed a track to the special 2022 RSD release Portraits of Her, celebrating women in music. She is also contributing a 7” single of the lakes for RSD 2022. I couldn’t think of anyone better to select as RSD’s very first GLOBAL ambassador.
Peter: If you could only give 1 reason why people should go to their participating record store on RSD, what would it be?
Rick: Independent small business owners are the life’s blood of any town and community. These small businesses have been hit hard the past few years, yet they are still there every day, working hard and making sure they have what you want when you walk in the door. We HAVE to support our independent record stores and other small businesses in our communities to make our local world a better place. Plus it’s fun! Music is universal and makes people happy.
Peter: How has COVID-19 impacted vinyl record manufacturing and record sales?
Rick: The music industry was not immune to the temporary plant shutdowns everyone experienced. It created bottlenecks of course, and you just have to fight through those like every other business. Record people are very tough though and extremely resourceful. I was amazed by the ingenuity I saw displayed by the record stores. Lots of stores increased their on-line presence, shipping orders to customers’ homes during the crisis. I even saw stores personally DELIVERING orders to their customers by car. Dropping off the vinyl at the doorstep, creating their own version of “touchless transactions.” Many stores reported doing a stronger business than normal as more people stayed home and had time to curate their collections. I know everyone is happy to be getting back to some sense of normalcy, but I believe the resilience and tenacity shown by everyone in the music industry has been nothing short of incredible
Peter: I know you’re not clairvoyant, but how do you see record sales performing over the next few years?
Rick: Actually, I AM clairvoyant. I KNEW you were going to ask that question. Seriously though, I see record sales rising as more and more music enthusiasts buy turntables and youngsters become old enough to buy their own music. It keeps getting bigger every year. Many younger fans who have bought turntables this past year and are buying vinyl and supporting their local shops. It’s great to see. People still stream or listen to the radio, but there is something so satisfying about buying tangible music and playing it at home on your turntable. I think the trend will continue for many, many years.
Peter: What records have you personally been spinning lately?
Rick: When listening for pleasure I tend to go back to the roots of punk rock. The Velvet Underground- Live At Max’s Kansas City is a timeless classic. I’m listening to it right now. Same for the first New York Dolls LP. It turns 50 in 2023. I hope they get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. I’ve also been listening to a stack of old rap 12” records I recently bought. Kool Moe Dee, Doug E. Fresh, Eric B., Count Coolout, Duke Bootee, etc. Lots of amazing music I’ve never heard before. Then some old Ministry, Wire, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. My favorite new group for the past few years has been Starcrawler from LA. Amazing female lead singer, Arrow de Wilde. Great bunch of young kids with two records out and another coming out soon.
Peter: Do you remember the first record you ever bought or listened to?
Rick: One of my very first was Hot Rocks, the double LP compilation by The Rolling Stones. I bought it at our local K-Mart when I was about 10. Loved it! Bought the Beatles Red and Blue albums in 1978 when Capitol re-issued them on colored vinyl. Bought the Beatles White Album on white vinyl and freaked myself out by playing “Revolution #9” backwards! Spooky!!
Peter: Why are you a vinyl geek?
Rick: I’ve always loved the sound and the feel of vinyl. Being able to hold the record carefully in my hands and sliding it on the turntable. Listening to the needle drop and find the groove. Love it! Plus holding the jacket and looking at the cover art while listening completes the experience.
Peter: Any final thoughts?
Rick: Record Store Day has something for everyone. Come out and support your local independent record store on April 23rd for RSD22. Discover your new favorite record and your new favorite local independent record store!
The Flip Side Of The Record
As exciting and profitable as Record Store Day is for store proprietors, it’s not without its critics. It may surprise you to learn that a few of those critics are in the very business RSD was designed to help…independent record stores. Long time UK independent record store owner Rupert Morrison wrote a story in The Guardian in February advising that COVID supply chain issues continue to make obtaining records for his customers very difficult. Morrison said he has customers who are still waiting for records they pre-ordered a year ago. He said adding another 411 new titles in the pipeline this year for RSD will only exacerbate the problem and suggested Record Store Day be postponed until the vinyl backlog gets cleared.
Supply chain issues aside, getting the RSD titles you want in general can be difficult. Two years ago, I called a record store a few days ahead of RSD to ask if they’d be stocking a certain record I wanted. They told me they weren’t allowed to give out that information. Apparently, they’re not allowed to give customers advanced notice of which RSD titles they’ll be carrying. I knew there would’ve been little point in calling the day of because the staff would be too busy, so I drove to the store the morning of Record Store Day, only to be told upon arrival that the record I wanted had already sold out. The clerk suggested I go to another one of their locations, but it was quite a distance away and I didn’t plan on spending the day on a treasure hunt. It’s hard to get excited about a record you really want if your chances of actually getting it are akin to winning the lottery. It also doesn’t help when record some stores hold back certain titles to later sell on eBay or their own website at inflated prices, a practice Record Store Day strictly prohibits. Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to be a widespread problem.
Speaking of record prices, I’m an old enough fossil to remember when CDs first came out. In an effort to win the music buying public over, the record companies promised CDs would cost less than records. With few exceptions, that never happened. Forty years later, it’s finally come true. It isn’t unheard of to drop a hundred bucks or more and emerge from the record store with only a handful of records. I’d be interested to learn what percentage of 12″ albums released for RSD are priced under $20.
Don’t get me wrong. I love records. If I cut myself, I’d probably bleed red liquid vinyl. But if Record Store Day’s price of admission gets too high, it risks alienating music enthusiasts who don’t have that kind of disposable cash. The current economic situation only makes it worse. At the rate things are going, gas to get to the record store and back again might cost almost as much as the records themselves!
Phono what? Phonocut
Speaking of cutting, and this has nothing to do with RSD, but wouldn’t it be cool if you could cut your own records? In October of 2019, the introduction of Phonocut practically gave vinyl enthusiasts an analog orgasm. Phonocut is a fantastic plastic machine that allows you to cut your own 10” vinyl records at home with the mere press of a button. Two and a half years later, the Austrian company that invented it has yet to ship a single Phonocut, and their latest update says not to expect one until the end of 2024 at the earliest. The company’s website states they’re “truly sorry that we have over-promised so profoundly”, and to their credit, are offering refunds to any of their crowdfunding backers who want one. I came very close to becoming a backer myself, but frankly, I was turned off by the fact that Phonocut only supports 10” records and you can only buy the “blanks” from Phonocut. If you failed to get in on the ground floor at the bargain basement Kickstarter starting price of $1,089, be prepared to shell out $8,000-$10,000 for one Phonocut, which is what the company estimates the retail price will be when the vinyl dust finally settles. That’s what I call a deep cut.
The Legend Keeps Spinning
If you’re in the market for a special turntable to play your special Record Store Day acquisitions, you’re in luck. Yesterday, Technics announced a pre-order for its limited-edition version of their legendary SL-1200M7L in recognition of its 50th Anniversary. The Anniversary Edition of this iconic direct drive turntable will come in 7 different colors and include an etched number, an anodized gold-colored tone arm, a custom slip mat, and a couple of Technics stickers. It’s very rare for a consumer electronics model to remain in production for 50 years, so that says a lot. Over its long history, the SL-1200M7L has earned respect from both DJs and audiophiles alike. I used a similar model when I was a DJ at my college radio station over 30 years ago. Many radio stations used them because they were a workhorse and very reliable. But you better hurry. Only 12,000 in total will be made available worldwide. Note the $1,100 sticker price doesn’t include a stylus and it isn’t expected to start shipping until July.
APRIL 23, 2022
Mark April 23rd on your calendar and be prepared to arrive early at your participating record store to get the Record Store Day releases you’re coveting. Before you leave the store, make it a point to stop and take in the moment. Look around you and appreciate the many music lovers of all ages happily exploring the record bins. It just might bring a smile to your unmasked, naked face. It’s one sign that life is gradually returning to normal. It’s time to treat yourself to some special music. After what you’ve been through, you deserve it.
Major thanks to Rick Johnson of Record Store Day for answering my questions and providing me with his exclusive snaps. Thanks also to all of the MA record stores that participated in my informal poll. I’ve listed their links at the end. Please support your local record store.
Trivia (from Wikipedia): “Record Store Day 2020 was scheduled to take place on April 18, but was postponed to June 20 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 29, it was announced that Record Store Day would be postponed again, and spread across three dates called RSD Drops: August 29, September 26, and October 24. A fourth date, RSD Black Friday, occurred on November 27.”
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