The record geek can be recognized in his home by the lovingly quick glance he gives the album covers framed on his walls -- next to the original Family Dog, Fillmore and Frank Kozik posters -- a look both swift and penetrating, but thoughtful, as if he was recapturing a fine moment ... or simply undressing them. This is either followed by pained reverential silence or a thought in his head like, “I really wish I could find a Japanese or Thai pressing of that record.” The record geek will stand back from the framed album at a distance, his head slightly cocked to one side, in his hand a Scotch or Irish whiskey, eventually, after a long moment of wishing or searching Ebay, he -- and it is always a he -- will cautiously slink forward to within a millimeter of the frame, study the blur of lines and color in the cover art and remember being fourteen years old again. Then he'll return to his former distant position by the sliding door in the living room, give the framed art piece one last glance, wander over to his stereo system and play the Import CD version of that very record, grimace as he recognizes the inferior digital sound of the classic disc he still can’t believe everybody doesn't own. He sighs exhaustively. But that’s where the Scotch comes in; he pours himself one more drink, collapses in his mid-century arm chair and contemplates a better tomorrow.
The whole brief history of 45’s comes down to about two and a half minutes of heartbreak and a music industry coked up on millions of nickels and dimes from ten year olds spending their allowance. Aaah! But the joy in the weird, seemingly up the arse, off-the-cuff business decisions arbitrarily slung together.
Why seven inches, and not six… phallic compensation? Why a big whole instead of a small one … phallic compensation! There must be some kind of underlying order and logic to all this, I guess. Then again, I'm no expert on logic and order-- I spend most of my thinking time in the absurd, geeky universe of 45's.
The 7” 45 rpm record was introduced in 1949 by RCA as a smaller, more durable and marketable way to sell records to teenagers. In between crashing jalopies and begetting the next generation at lover’s lanes across the nation, all the flattop cats and the dungaree dolls were done playing Dad’s deadsville 78 rpm shellac platters at sock-hops. The Second World War brought new technology into the marketplace, the unbreakable disc was born, changing and dominating the industry for the next 40 years.
The first 45 rpm records were monophonic...and probably should have stayed there in its sepia toned aural perfection. But a few years later technology once again wielded new brawn, cutting a swath through the new middle class’ piggy banks and their want for shiny new electric toys. In the 1950’s and 60’s stereophonic sound looked too fancy to ignore, capturing the imagination by way of graphic designs carving up the backs of entire album covers with a geometry textbook fill of charts, dials and numbers. To starry eyes, this was the conduit to the modern world, chock-full of jetpacks, personal robots, self guided automobiles and scrumptious TV dinners. Except for the occasional monophonic promo record pressed for AM radio play, by the early 1970s almost all 45 rpm records were produced in stereo, though coincidentally, we’re still waiting on everything else promised by those rosy sci-fi prognosticators. I suspect color TV was invented specifically to take the edge off all the disappointments.
Records, like bodies, like the Earth, are not necessarily made to move smoothly on curved orbits by a force called commerce. The cheapest and quickest way for record companies to track the newest new thing in a curved space was always 7” singles. Etched into each side is the shortest distance to a musicians sound, the fastest way to contemplate their muse, value, and the least painful way to navigate the unknown until the slow fade at grooves end has left your head either bopping or shaking. But sometimes the manufactured pre-determined length of a 45 was woefully insufficient. Old school set of natural law insisted three minutes was more than adequate. (Though on occasion editing could be conspicuously delicious, slicing out the unnecessary crap to get to a song’s hook: for example, the original single versions of "American Pie," "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and "Thong Song"...) Eventually 12” 45’s, unhampered by space and time, boogied down the pike and unhinged the pulse, setting off the ballroom floor, teaching matter how to dance and in particular small objects traveling along the straightest possible lines in curved space. Anyway, the cosmos continues to evolve in its typical way; Earth continues to revolve -- though not at 45 revolutions per minute -- and my blather continues to dissolve in its typical way ...
Last weekend I found myself babbling on about rare 45’s at a dinner party. I couldn’t shut-up, though I think someone other than myself was listening ... Anyway, the subject -- as to be expected in these hard economic times -- was what is the most valuable record waiting to be rescued from someone’s garage. It’s not an easy answer; there are a lot of hoaxes and misinformation on valuable vinyl out there in the serious record collecting world. I blame the recent rise of tantalizing yarns on bored muckrakers and conspiracy theorists having outgrown tall tales of Area 51, JFK, the Masons, and the New World Order as a viable entertainment option. Now they have moved on to Ebay auctions and hobbyists.
More often than not, a record which exchanges hands for an astronomical amount of cash sits in the genre known as Northern Soul, a style best described as a mid-tempo to slightly uptempo heavy-beat soul music that was danced to in Discothèques in Northern England from the early 1960’s till about the early to mid 70’s. Many of the recordings were heavily influenced by the Tamla/Motown sound and, if not exactly rare, these 45’s are at least hard to track down. Most of these singles were originally released in limited numbers on smaller labels in the US. Finding their way to UK nightclubs was nothing short of a miracle and usually required luck, perseverance and a round trip ticket to Detroit or Chicago. Clubs like the Twisted Wheel in Manchester, King Mojo in Sheffield, The Catacombs in Wolverhampton and the Golden Torch in Stoke-upon-Trent would go till the wee hours of morn, dancers and DJ’s hopped-up on amphetamines acrobatically cutting the rug in a mad, unhinged style that in some respects resembled later day break dancing.
Last October on Ebay, one of those never seen, legendary, Holy Grail of Northern Soul singles came up for auction -- Junior McCants' "Try Me For Your New Love" / "She Wrote It, I Read It" on King Records #6106 -- and went for an astounding ... wait... wait ... you’d better sit down for this ... $15,099.
That is not a typo, the bidding started at a very humble $9.99 but after 25 bids the price went Fibonacci-like. Most reasonable and fearful people are very suspicious of the authenticity of such a final bid. But if it’s true ... holy mother of friggin’ god!
I could find very little info on Junior McCants other than that he was from Cincinnati and he usually sang in a falsetto. This was his follow-up single to another great King release #6076; "The Boy Needs a Girl / Help My Love” from 1967 which failed to chart but did receive regional air play. On the liner notes to a Kent CD collection called King Northern Soul, it states that McCants died of a brain tumor at the age of 24. But I’ve also read that Junior McCants died in a motorcycle accident when he and King staff songwriter/producer/arranger Charles Spurling went out riding. According to the back story "Try Me for Your New Love" was pulled, in respect for McCants family’s wishes. Only a couple of white label promos saw the light of day, obviously at least one survived.
Inevitably another part of the “how much can a 45 be worth!?” question is always “what does an expensive record sound like?” This time I tried not to come off typically jaded and blasé at the dinner party with the usual reply: “not all that interesting.” The fact is, these McCants records are really pretty great, and besides, my New Year’s resolution was to reduce my cynicism --- actually reduce, reuse, recycle my cynicism ... I’ll save it for another day.
So here it is ... what 15 grand sounds like! So pop a couple of bennies, throw on your brogues or your black suede loafers and now groove to the left...