The history of the LP: what goes around...
There's a slight problem with the title of Travis Elborough's new homage to the vinyl LP, published to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the format.
You see, as the blurb on the back of The Long-Player Goodbye puts it, this is "The history of the album from the invention of vinyl and the LP to its revival in our iPod age".
Not much sign of a goodbye there, then.
But that's just about the only thing wrong with this affectionate and informative look back over six decades of the album, written from a personal and sometimes iconoclastic viewpoint - I'm sure not everyone will agree with his choice of the greatest album ever made - but also packed with little pub-expert nuggets of musical history you'll no doubt trot out again and again.
Some of them you will know if you're seriously into your LPs, some of them you'll half-know, and some will be completely new - and that's the delight of this book. It manages to be a supremely easy read, totally gripping even when the pace slackens a bit as Elborough wanders off down a diversionary route or two, and hugely informative.
Despite the sideways glances in the office when I said I was reading a history of the LP, and the slight feeling that my geeky reputation was being reinforced by doing so, The Long-Player Goodbye is anything but dry and geeky. Elborough previously brought alive the history of the London Routemaster bus - and there's another subject guaranteed to have friends giving you a wide berth - in his book The Bus We Loved, and through a mixture of fact, anecdote and extensive references, now does the same for the LP.
It's a good story, winningly told, and complete with extensive footnotes for those wishing to delve a little deeper. The original audio format war - 'The Battle of the Speeds' between Columbia and RCA - seems just as daft as more recent system-clashes, and closer to home it's interesting to read how the founder of The Gramophone first denounced, then later embraced, the new LPs.
You'll also discover how the LP 'made' Vivaldi's Four Seasons, discover the wonderful world of easy-listening discs - including the seduction tool Music To Change Her Mind, released in 1956 - and canter through the jazz greats, the prog-rock epics, the famous discs of the 1960s and the role of Sinatra as the great album artist.
Could have done without some of the more tortuous chapter headings - To Be Perfectly Frank and Beat Less are just two of the milder examples - but then given the title chosen for the book, I guess someone got just a bit too caught up in their wordplay somewhere along the line.
For all that, however, Elborough remains entertaining, quirky at times and able to keep up a constant procession of little-known facts. Just beware of those strange looks when you tell people what you're reading...
The Long-Player Goodbye by Travis Elborough is published by Sceptre on July 10.