With almost all the music you’d ever want to listen to available online digitally, the obsessive hunt for scratchy, fragile 78 RPM records may seem anachronistic. But author Amanda Petrusich says that those early records, which hold between two and three minutes of music per side, showcase the sound and spontaneity of a time before second takes were common in record studios.
“There was a red light that could come on in the studio often when a performer was sort of reaching the end of his or her three minutes. So on a lot of these records, you can hear someone sort of start to hurry up and panic when the light came on [indicating] that they had to finish up,” Petrusich tells Fresh Air producer Sam Briger. “Then the record just kind of went out into the world that way.”
In her new book, Do Not Sell At Any Price, Petrusich writes about the extreme measures music collectors take in pursuit of rare 78 RPM records. Some, she says, have been known to take jobs specifically because they allow access to strangers’ basements, where rare records may be collecting dust.
“You would hear stories of collectors getting jobs like census worker or exterminator — jobs that would allow them to wander through rural Southern neighborhoods,” she says. “They could knock on doors and ask people if they had any records in their basements. ‘Do you need to be sprayed for termites, and do you have any records in your basement?'”
[ From NPR’s Fresh Air ]