Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Slurpees and Murder Record Club: Rock Was Out, Good Listening Was In

Good news, folks! Not only am I back from my week-long-ish jaunt out to Oak Lake (y'all remember Oak Lake), but I've also signed on to become one of the volunteer web editors for CM Magazine! Neat, right? Right!

I figure -- what with the columnist gig, weekly radio program, pair of blogs, prospective third site I intend to fix up and relaunch one of these days when I can justify buying my own webhosting, my secretive training to wreck some suckers, and the continued search for gainful employment -- you know, I just don't have enough to do. Gotta keep busy!

I've been lazy as late with this blog, however; most of its recent advancement has been as a content aggregator for everything else I've been doing, a cruel fate for my original internet meal ticket. And by now, if you already know to look here, here (most recently here), here and here, you probably don't need me to go on about my other output on this site too. So! I think it's high time to remedy the problem, get some exclusive content rolling around here, and give you fine folks a reason to drop by that doesn't involve the rest of my usual chicanery.

I think you'll get a kick out of today's big-ticket item, so humour me first as I tie up a quick loose end from this show. (Hey, I can't just give up my plugs cold turkey! Give me time to wean myself off 'em.)

I had mentioned a trip downtown I'd made, not this past Christmas Eve, but the Christmas Eve before that; I had taken a photojourney around Portage Place, CityPlace and The Bay thinking I'd get some pictures of the Christmas rush crowds, only to find an almost complete dearth of people in any of them. All three of these downtown linchpins were deader than pinball, and when I got home I just quietly shelved the entire thing because the sight and story were too depressing even by my standards.

The food sales, however, at least those looked respectable that day. The whole kit and kaboodle of the Bay building basement is a Zellers now, of course, lookin' the same as every other Zellers you've ever entered in your life -- but the supermarket down there was well kept right to the last, and had its own certain quaintness to it:

It was a surprisingly charming little joint, for an underground supermarket in the basement of a struggling store in a struggling neighbourhood. The rest of that basement at the time, though, well...

...well, uh... yeah. I'm glad things are better now down there. And you can still get your groceries there, so it works itself out alright.

Anyway! Enough dwelling on the past; let's talk about a brand new feature I'm introducing to the blog today, one that promises to... er... to dwell on the past. Hear me out, though! This'll be good.

I used to do a lot of music posts back in the day, before I took off to go do a Master's degree, but of course music blogging is a squishy morass of gray areas and copyright claims and pain-in-the-ass DMCA takedowns, so multinational corporations kept trying to nuke my old blog posts while I was away on the very specific business of paying attention to something else. It was all very complicated and quibbly, and consequently I haven't done a lot of it since I got back, but there's always still that music dork drive in me that wants to dig up ground and track down interesting things and spread word of new or forgotten sounds.

Keep in mind, of course, our local bloggin' landscape is way better than it used to be; us fogies back in the olden times didn't have anybody like Mykael Sopher around, so we all used to toss a bit of music around amongst ourselves here and there to try and fill the gap. It didn't really work, but we tried regardless! Times were lean, in those days.

(Incidentally, you can vote for Painting Over Silence once a day in CBC Radio 3's contest to determine Canada's Best Music Website. And you should! It'll be fun.)

So as far as the pursuit of new hotness is concerned, our local music blog market is pretty well served; I'm not saying you shouldn't start up one of your own if you're so inclined (you totally should!), but I'm saying I know I can't compete with an act like that.

So how do I sate the urge to ramble about music and sound while respecting existing copyright holders, avoiding overlap with way better coverage elsewhere, and operating on a budget of tens of dollars? And can I combine all of that with my penchant for rooting out interesting old things and my undisguised glee for local curios?

Well, I think you all know rhetorical questions when you see 'em -- and you've all read the title atop this post already, waiting for me to get on with it -- so we'll cut to the proverbial chase. Today marks the launch of our newest feature -- the Slurpees and Murder Record Club!

I may, uh... I may have a few records ready for just such an idea.

I'm probably not surprising anybody by admitting I'm a crate-digger, one of those record shop nerds on a mission who goes burrowing headfirst into boxes at flea markets and thrift stores to see what manner of wild and wacky material has been lost to the ages. The stack pictured above is all local-, regional- or national-interest material ("interest" may perhaps turn out to be somewhat of a misnomer, but you get the idea), looooong out of print and most of questionable or untraceable rights ownership; I figure, even if half of them turn out to be unplayable or unlistenable or just straight-up awful, that's still a pretty good chunk of material in there.

I'm not promising crystal-clear sound quality, of course. As a rough estimate, I'd say each record in that stack probably averages out to... a buck twenty-five? Maybe? As I'd said, there are a lot of thrift-store, weekend-flea-market rescue missions going on in that picture. Some will be good, some will be hilariously bad, and one or two of them will probably have you questioning our collective sanity as a species.

I've selected as our opening feature a local album whose lineage and ownership are actually quite straightforward, so I hope its original publishers won't mind.

Local radio juggernaut CJOB officially moved into its new headquarters this past Saturday, along a street newly renamed for the founder of the station. Enjoy "Jack Blick Avenue" while it lasts; our fair city has stripped that street of its eponomy once already, so I'll give it maybe twenty years before they change it again to Duncan Keith Drive or whatever.

I was briefly considering putting this off until next month, when CJOB officially turns 65 -- catching up to its listener base, essentially -- but, what the heck, may as well pop it out as an anticipatory anniversary gift instead.

So with the station currently between milestones, let's look back at a milestone of years past:

20 Years with CJOB, [1966]. Those square brackets are library shorthand for information supplied by the cataloguer; the actual item itself bears no date on its label, front cover, or back cover. But then, it's a twenty-year anniversary collectible for a station founded in 1946, so. I'll run the risk.

Gads, it's difficult to photo a record cover, I tell you what. (It doesn't help that the things are way too big to scan with conventional technology.) You can gleam a few interesting details from the back, though, and I wish to note them as follows.

1) CJOB's slogan at the time was apparently "Minutes to Music", which... is pretty funny now, since they don't play anything longer than a news stinger, but wasn't a half-bad slogan when they did have music to play. "Minutes to Music". Yeah, I can dig that.

2) We take a lot of things for granted in the modern world, chief among them the idea of proofreading. Granted, of course, the text for this record was probably written up by a guy who worked exclusively in audio and wasn't supposed to have to worry about checking for spelling or run-on sentences. But the typos range from understandable (dropping the 'a' in "Giselle MacKenzie") to confounding (dropping a 't' from "Bud Abbott", not that Abbott and Costello were household names or anything) to the outright embarrassing:

Cliff Gardner narrates the album's retrospective; he was also, if I have this right, the acting program director of the station at the time. His name is spelled one way on the back cover and another way on the label. So... you kind of figure one of them's wrong. That's an awkward conversation with the boss on Monday morning.

And 3), the third detail of note: see the top-right corner of the back cover? This is a Limited Edition! It's gotta be worth... like four dollars by now!

The cover's damaged, obviously, as you can see, but offsetting that damage is the sheer collector's value of such a rare item -- and here's your chance to listen to it!

CJOB - 20 Years with CJOB (1966)
[publisher, sort of | not only can I not find this item for sale, I can't even find it anywhere else on the internet | not even acknowledged by Google, what is this I don't even ]

When I say "rare item", you see, I ain't kidding. You ever look for a product on Google and get told "no, that doesn't exist"? While you're holding it in your hands? That's only happened to me... maybe four times, counting this one. It's a weird experience.

So let's have a listen, shall we? It's split into its individual tracks, populated with its metadata, and adorned with embedded album art, because... I get carried away.

Side 1 is the spoken-word 20-year retrospective; it opens up with a brief introduction and a super short reenactment vignette of the station's genesis, with air force man and former advertiser Jack Blick hanging around with his military buddies. Blick -- presumably voiced by himself, although when you're rich you can afford to pay folks to impersonate you -- mostly deadpans his part, and then a bunch of old-timey actors ham it up around him.

"Well, I'm thinking of starting a radio station."

And then a year later he's got a radio station, because it was a lot easier back in those days. A clip shortly afterwards mentions that the first transmitter was running at 250 watts, which... what would that be nowadays, a car alarm? We also learn that CJOB launched its FM transmitter in 1948, the first FM station in Western Canada by thirteen years. Remember when CJOB was on FM? Man, I don't!

The record also includes some historical footage from the station's 1950 flood reports; how quaint! Boy, we sure don't have to worry about that kind of thing nowadays, do we? Ha! Ha ha! Ha ha ha ha oh god we're all going to float away in the spring.

We get a variety of clips from all varieties of programs, some mention of the station's extensive charity work, and then some news snippets about the station itself.

"An increase in power to five thousand watts -- then to ten thousand watts! And with it -- a new location on the dial!"

This coincided with the move to 680, the titular "68" that remains today, so that's kind of neat.

"Then in September of 1959, the news was out: ''CJOB bans rock and roll!''"

I... wait. What?

"Rock was out! Good listening was in!"


Wow. There. Right there. I'd never known it until today, but you and I know it now, September of 1959. That is the moment when CJOB definitively became the city's radio station for old people. (If you don't believe me now, wait until we hit Side 2!) Think about the vast universe of musical, cultural and social evolutions that can be traced back directly to the early days of (white people stealing) rock and roll; now think about specifically ignoring them all. That is amazing and hilarious and awful, all at once, and from 1959 onwards CJOB ran with it like they stole it. I don't know when CJOB did finally jettison music from their airwaves, but until they did it must have just been easy listening all the way through.

But, let's not get ourselves too engrossed in the record's brief asides. The album notes that it was put out to support the CJOB Shut-Ins fund, one of the station's main causes over its early years; it makes particular mention of George McCloy, "Mr. Shut-In", who ran a program for twenty years (to that point) reaching out to city shut-ins with the Shut-Ins Show. We also get this line:

"CJOB will continue the program of hope, of companionship, for shut-ins. For they are radio's most loyal listeners."

Uh... huh. Welp -- know your market! (We have the internet nowadays, of course, so it's not as viable a plan as it used to be.)

There's nothing on the album about downer moments like losing their TV station bid, but then, it's not intended to be a critical piece. Not to diminish the station's accomplishments, of course, which are pretty impressive as they read them off to conclude the presentation:

"In our two decades, we've claimed many broadcasting firsts, with 24-hour-a-day service, the first all-night radio show, news on the hour every hour, first fully-staffed on-location election broadcast, the first FM license, first stereo broadcast, exclusive CFL coverage in the Blue Bombers' most exciting football year, and more."

I mean, yeah, that all sounds pretty good. That sounds like a good radio station.

"At this milestone, we at CJOB are mindful of the fact there is no other medium of communication pledged to render a community service, 24 hours a day, three-hundred and days a year, comparable to radio. If we may serve you better, your wish is our command."

Man, that sounds pretty good too! Geez, what happened to radio? My goodness.

So that covers Side 1, but what to do with Side 2? The retrospective part is interesting for somebody listening to it forty-five years after the fact, but for its time I'd have to think -- even with the proceeds going to charity -- that this wasn't particularly compelling a sell on its own. "Anybody want to give us money to listen to us talk about how great we are? Anybody? Guys?"

What to add on Side 2 to drive sales, then? The answer, as it would turn out, is EASY LISTENING FAVOURITES. Yeah! Woo! Culled from a collection of high-profile Canadian artists, or... at least Canada-famous Canadian artists... uh... can I start over?

The selections are a variety of popular standards, some of them already pretty old, performed by some notable Canadian performers of the era. I won't lie to you, I had to look up who most of them were, but they all appear to have been pretty successful types for their day. The volume levels vary dramatically between the different songs, notably between tracks five and six, but given the era I'm sure multi-source copying wasn't really the finely tuned machine we expect now. And I'm sure you're all familiar with my usual gig as Mister INTERNET TOUGHGUY, but... man, I'll tell you what, some of these songs are actually pretty good.

I mean, most of it isn't exceptional, and the Tremblay rendition of "Wouldn't it Be Loverly" in particular sounds like it applied for refugee status after fleeing a Bobby and Cissy routine on the Lawrence Welk show. But the Carl Tapscott Singers' track is really charming in its warbly forgotten-Christmases sort of way, the kind of song people play behind jarring modern footage for shock value because people are jerks who can't enjoy things unironically any more. And Giselle M(a)cKenzie's cheerful performance of "You are My Lucky Star", a song originally written in 1935(!), is great on all fronts -- the kind of thing I like enough that I intend to steal it and play it on street corners for money, that's how much I ended up enjoying this version.

So of course that was also the song with the skip in it, because I can't have nice things.

The song is complete in the album above, through a touch of analog shenanigans -- specifically that I pinpointed where it was skipping and held the needle physically in place, the same way our forefathers did. So if you're listening about two minutes into that track with headphones and you detect a bit of fuzz or warble, that would be why. Be thankful you got a complete song out of it! There were about a half a dozen seconds being leapfrogged when left as it was, and I was pretty ready to be grouchy about it, so I think it worked out well for everybody.

I think I paid -- what does Value Village charge now, two dollars? Value Village has been ramping its prices up huge on pretty much everything and pretending we wouldn't notice, so I think I might have paid two dollars for the album. It was still a pretty good buy, I'd say! If you anticipate the need for some old-timey nostalgia background music, want a good sampler of Canadian popular music (not counting that devil rock music) from the era, or want to crib from the swanky radio stingers on Side 1 ("SIX-tee-EIGHT!! On yaa' DIIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAL~!"), you could do a lot worse than picking up this album if you see it. We here at the Slurpees and Murder Record Club are very serious about our digital reproductions promoting sales of their original items; I mean, the problem will be finding the damn things, but rest assured we'd like you to buy 'em if you see 'em.

In conclusion, congratulations to CJOB on its new home and its upcoming sixty-fifth anniversary; I'm not saying you guys have to put out anything like this album, to celebrate, but I'm sure that if you did it would find its audience easily enough. I could congratulate you guys on dominating the local radio scene for pretty well my entire lifetime, too, but I'm sure you feel pretty good about that already.

I'm not sure what I'll do next, but hopefully it'll be reasonably soon. So until then, true believers!


The View from Seven said...

Now I'm curious: What would a "shut-ins show" consist of?

I did find out that there is a not-for-profit organization here in Winnipeg that "[reaches] out to community shut-ins through friendly phone calls". Maybe it was an inversion of sorts to the talk radio concept: you don't call the host, the host calls you for a nice little chat. That would be very CJOB-ish. Who knows.

I have a little mischief to confess to in regard to CJOB. Back in my early teens, a few years before Caller ID came along, I pulled a little prank on the station. I called in to one of their talk shows -- I think Maureen Scurfield might have been the host -- waited patiently to be put through, and was finally on air.

It was time to put my little plot into action.

"Hi, I just wanted to talk about..."

(Pause to draw some air into my throat)


I then hung up the phone and turned up the radio, just in time to hear my act of coarse teenager conduct come out loud and clear through CJOB's 50-kilowatt transmitter, blasting into homes, offices and cars all over Winnipeg and a 150-mile radius. (This was, of course, followed by a good scolding by the host, and much laughter at my end of the line.)

Maureen, if you're reading this: I'm sorry!

Ben Century said...

Nice find! Here's what I do to photograph an album cover: Take the album into a well-lit room (my downstairs bathroom does it well) and take picture without using the flash.Those high-gloss covers can be a real bitch.

James Brown said...

Slurpees & Murder Record Club?!
Man, you have got to come check out The Vinyl Drip @ The Cavern Club (Toad in the Hole downstairs)!
Every Monday we play the old vinyl classics. There are well over 2000 records to check out & many rare gems! I would welcome other record geeks!

Cheers James!
The Hardest Working Man @ The Cavern Club in Winnipeg,
James Brown

Kobra said...

I just picked up a sealed copy of this album.

Thanks for the cool review.