‘Sounds in Space’: Ken Nordine Revels in Stereo’s Wonder

This early stereo demonstration record by the fine folks at RCA Victor features spoken word parts by Ken Nordine (the maestro of “word jazz” – check out this ‘kinetic type’ animation clip for “Green” from Nordine’s Colors album) as between-song stereo banter.  The recordings, which feature mainly orchestral works (pop, swing & classical) are all from RCA’s catalog, naturally.

Sounds in Space LP

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A stereophonic sound demonstration record for use on stereo orthophonic high fidelity ‘victrolas’

One fun track shows Nordine reveling in stereo’s wonder before showing the listener the pop science behind “Rag Mop” – the new stereo version by Ralph Flanagan’s Orchestra:

Rag Mop – Ralph Flanagan Orchestra

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play “Rag Mop” by Ralph Flanagan’s Orchestra.]

This 1958 album was produced in cooperation with Robert Oakes Jordan Associates, who also released that same year, Concert-Disc Stereo Demo with Exclusive “Bouncing Ball” Balance Control Signal Plus Excerpts from The Outstanding Concert-Disc Stereo Library.

Ken Nordine - Word JazzKen Nordine - Colors

“Leopard Skin Phones”: Stereo Demonstration Pop Art

With the aid of producer, Bob Dorough (“Schoolhouse Rock”), Spanky & Our Gang put together an ambitious song cycle – 1969’s Without Rhyme or Reason – where all the songs are interlinked for continuous sound from start to finish. Spanky & Our Gang LP

Album opener, “Leopard Skin Phones,” also ended up as the B-side of “And She’s Mine” (#97), the group’s final charting single:

Sonically speaking, this song would seem to be poking fun at stereo demonstration albums, as National Lampoon would go on to do to hilarious effect five years later.

Leopard Skin Phones b-side

Frequency Response Test – A Public Service from Zero to 180

I would love to know just how many hi-fi enthusiasts back in vinyl’s heyday relied on stereo demonstration recordings to test the performance caliber of their stereo sound system.

Stereo Demonstration - 1

I get the sense that National Lampoon’s Ed Subitzky found this whole business of scrutinizing the quality of your stereo output across the 20-20,000 Hz audio spectrum to be a little dubious, as well as a rich source for mockery, and in 1974 – with assistance from John Belushi and Chevy Chase (among others) – released The Official National Lampoon Stereo Test and Demonstration Record.

One of the album tracks – “Frequency Response” – humorously incorporates audio test tones (e.g., 50 Hz) into a 70s “hippy rock” pastiche that proclaims “Stereo Demonstration” to be the “brand new rock sensation”:

Stereo Demo – Frequency Response = National Lampoon

[Test: Click on the triangle above to test the playback quality of your stereo sound system.]

National Lampoon Stereo Demonstration

Cincinnati: Hard Rock Capital of the World?

I have an album of repackaged material from the Buddah label – a compilation entitled Heavy Mix – that is one of the odder releases from everyone’s favorite reissue label, Pickwick.   I love that the cover art has a cement theme:

Heavy Mix - Pickwick

Even more intriguing than the kitschy cover concept is the cryptic bit of text at the bottom of the label of “Heavy Mix” cement:Hard Rock Cement Co

First is an unattributed quote that proclaims in classic 1969-speak, “Gettting It Together,” followed by the name of a fictitious business – Hard Rock Cement Co. – that is allegedly located in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Not sure I follow, but okay, why not.   Now, it is true that The Sacred Mushroom came from Cincinnati, and it would be fair to call them “hard rock” – as this track from 1969 would clearly indicate.

Or perhaps Pickwick was making reference to the Ludlow Garage – Cincinnati’s closest approximation to Bill Graham’s famous Fillmore rock venues – whose proprietor in 1969 was Jim Tarbell, the one responsible for bringing in such “hard rock” acts as Neil Young, The Allman Brothers, and The Grateful Dead (and who would later become a Cincinnati City Council Member and hold the title – by mayoral proclamation – “Mr. Cincinnati” for life).

My favorite track on this motley mix is a surprisingly supple cover of the theme from the 1969 Oscar-winning film (Film; Director; Adapted Screenplay) – “Midnight Cowboy” – by John & Yoko’s one-time backing band, Elephant’s Memory:

Midnight Cowboy – Elephant’s Memory

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to hear “Midnight Cowboy” by Elephant’s Memory.]

There’s a nice little drum break starting around the 1:18 mark where the drumming alternates between speakers – consider using this track in the event you need to test the stereo directionality of your computer’s speakers.