December 25, 1942 turned out to be a seminal moment in my life. Under the tree I found a wooden cabinet. When I opened the lid I saw the RCA logo, “Nipper” a small white terrier listening to a phonograph above a 12” turntable with a tone arm holding a steel stylus that read the grooves on shellac records that spun at 78 rpms producing three minutes of music. World War II was raging and the music of the era ran from novelty numbers like Mairzy Doats to somber reminders like Praise The Lord And Pass The Ammunition, both of which were brought to us by the Merry Macs and I was perfectly content to sit by the hour engrossed in magical sounds.
Those recordings not only ignited my lifelong passion, they also gave me a fixed lens through which to observe time’s passage. The end of the War was the first major upheaval ushering in America’s Golden Age when technological advances, increased productivity, affluence and the Baby Boom Generation turned everything topsy turvy. 1948 brought the LP to the world of recorded sounds – vinyl platters that spun at 33 1/3 rpms offering 20 plus minutes of playing time on each side – a much broader palette for artistic expression than the three-minute doses of its predecessors.
That palette attracted a new generation of recording artists to seek more involved and involving forms of expression in the form of albums that represented enduring works – Blonde on Blonde, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Music From Big Pink, Beggar’s Banquet What’s Going On and on and on and on. The Golden Age of Popular Music brought joy to the world.
The dawn of the 21st Century has ushered in the latest technological revolution, the digital age, which is effecting the greatest world change since the industrial revolution moved mankind from an agrarian life to an urban one. Of course, it too is changing the form of musical reproduction. The LP that morphed into the CD 30 odd years ago is now being replaced by the digital download, basically the three-minute single all over again.
Technological progress doesn’t always inspire artistic greatness which for this music junkie isn’t exactly good news – but, then, history shows that no Golden Age lasts forever.