The Aspirational Living and Jet-Setting of Midcentury Vinyl LPs

AdSense

<em>Music to Paint By</em> (RCA Victor PRM 208, prepared expressly for Celanese Coating) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1075″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook07-1080×1075.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook07-720×717.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook07-360×358.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook07-200×200.jpg 200w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook07.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Music to Paint By (RCA Victor PRM 208, prepared expressly for Celanese Coating) (courtesy the MIT Press)

In rotation with the Frank Sinatra and Miles Davis albums, a midcentury American household likely had vinyl records like Songs for an Evening at Home or Holiday Abroad in London. These LPs were more about aspirations than music, presenting an idealized vision of postwar home life in the United States, and the culture and travel that should accompany that lifestyle. In Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury Americarecently released by the MIT Press, authors Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder delve beneath the kitschy album art to explore how this genre of mood music reflected an era of shifting desires.

Borgerson and Schroeder have collected records together for over 20 years. They write in the Designed for Hi-Fi Living preface:

Over time we discovered a couple of kinds of albums that particularly attracted us — those LPs that fit into what we now call the home and away genres, often focused on making the most of your new kitchen and entertaining friends and also leaving home, and traveling, say, to Hawaii. After looking at, playing, and living with thousands of vintage albums, we began to reflect on how midcentury records like those in Columbia Records’ Music for Gracious Living series and many other wonderful examples, fit in. What were they for? Why were they made? Who bought them?

Cover of <em>Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America</em> (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”360″ height=”360″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/designedforhificover-360×360.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/designedforhificover-720×719.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/designedforhificover-1080×1079.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/designedforhificover-200×200.jpg 200w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/designedforhificover.jpg 1200w” sizes=”(max-width: 360px) 100vw, 360px”/><figcaption class=Cover of Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America (courtesy the MIT Press)

The book is divided into sections on “home” and “away,” with themes such as “Honeymoon” and “Modern Art and Design.” That now iconic midcentury interior design was reinforced by its presence in album art, where it was frequently paired with jazz. For instance, Ahmad Jamal sits on George Nelson’s Herman Miller MAA office chair on the cover of All of You, showing he and his music are both centered in American modernism. Relaxing with Perry Como has the Harry Bertoia Bird Chair in the album art listed in the liner notes (although no mention of the woman in a pink chiffon negligee modeling on it). Similarly, a Franz Kline painting appears on Countdown: Time in Outer Space, and a Jackson Pollock on Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. Each presented a unified guide to good taste.

Often, the name of the musician was secondary to the lifestyle depicted on the LP, whether that was the art to be appreciated, or the international locales to dream of visiting. Some of these LPs were even sponsored by airlines, an industry which saw a resurgence of civil aviation that had been curtailed by World War II. It’s Alaska features a “Broadway-type musical production” about touring Alaska, with a fuchsia cover including a husky dog, indigenous art, and a woman in a fur jacket sitting on a grizzly bear rug, her legs seductively bare.

However, the excitement over Alaska, which became a state in 1959, was far exceed by the consumer frenzy for Hawaii, named a state that same year. Hawaiian Music from the Kodak Hulu Show, which simultaneously promoted photographic film and tourism, Hukilau Hulas with drawings of and step-by-step notations for hula dancing, and Destination Honolulu featuring the Pan Am airline logo, all tantalized consumers with exotic, yet accessible, honeymoons and holidays.

“We probably come closer to understanding why these album covers matter if we see them more as part of the history of consumer culture and advertising than of music, as, after all, that was their point: they promoted their contents in a lifestyle context,” Daniel Miller, an anthropologist of material culture, writes in a forward to Designed for Hi-Fi Living. Indeed, whether Music to Paint By, “prepared expressly for Celanese Coating,” Dancing at the Habana Hilton soundtracking a pre-Cuban Revolution trip to the Havana Hilton, or Music for a Backyard Barbecue, these LPs promised a sophisticated American identity that could be purchased. And if Cairo, Beirut, or the beaches of Hawaii were out of reach, you could still journey to these distant destinations through your home Hi-Fi stereo. Music for a Chinese Dinner at Home, or Music of the African Zulus!, brought the world to the midcentury living room.

<em>Ramsey Lewis: Goin’ Latin</em> (Cadet LPS 790) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1084″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook10-1080×1084.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook10-720×723.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook10-360×361.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook10-200×200.jpg 200w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook10.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Ramsey Lewis: Goin’ Latin (Cadet LPS 790) (courtesy the MIT Press)
Designed for Hi-Fi Living
Mark Monte and the Continentals: Dancing at the Habana Hilton (Jubilee JGM 1072, cover design by Si Leichman) (courtesy the MIT Press)
<em>Hawaiian Islanders: Enchantment from Hawaii</em> (Cameo C 1035, photo courtesy Pan American Airlines) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1039″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook03-1080×1039.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook03-720×693.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook03-360×346.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook03.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Hawaiian Islanders: Enchantment from Hawaii (Cameo C 1035, photo courtesy Pan American Airlines) (courtesy the MIT Press)
<em>Japan Its Sounds and People</em> (Capitol, ST 10230) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1060″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook04-1080×1060.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook04-720×707.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook04-360×353.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook04.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Japan Its Sounds and People (Capitol, ST 10230) (courtesy the MIT Press)
<em>The Ornette Coleman Double Quartet: Free Jazz A Collective Improvisation</em> (Atlantic 1364, cover cutout painting: “White Light” by Jackson Pollock) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1055″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook01-1080×1055.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook01-720×703.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook01-360×352.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook01.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=The Ornette Coleman Double Quartet: Free Jazz A Collective Improvisation (Atlantic 1364, cover cutout painting: “White Light” by Jackson Pollock) (courtesy the MIT Press)
<em>Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops: A Frenchman in New York<me> (RCA Victor LSC 2702) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1051″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook02-1080×1051.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook02-720×700.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook02-360×350.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook02.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops: A Frenchman in New York (RCA Victor LSC 2702) (courtesy the MIT Press)
Pages from <em>Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America</em> (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)” width=”1080″ height=”619″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook15-1080×619.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook15-720×413.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook15-360×206.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook15.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Pages from Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
<em>Peter Barclay and His Orchestra: Barbecue</em> (Columbia CL 695, photo by Hedrich Blessing) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1059″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook05-1080×1059.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook05-720×706.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook05-360×353.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook05.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Peter Barclay and His Orchestra: Barbecue (Columbia CL 695, photo by Hedrich Blessing) (courtesy the MIT Press)
<em>Harry Arnold and His Orchestra: Let’s Listen</em> (Mercury MG 20106) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1078″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook06-1080×1078.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook06-720×718.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook06-360×359.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook06-200×200.jpg 200w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook06.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Harry Arnold and His Orchestra: Let’s Listen (Mercury MG 20106) (courtesy the MIT Press)
Pages from <em>Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America</em> (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)” width=”1080″ height=”607″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook16-1080×607.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook16-720×405.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook16-360×202.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook16.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Pages from Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
<em>Kodak: Sound 8: Background Music for your Personal Movies, Volume 1</em> (Eastman Kodak C 6195) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1084″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook08-1080×1084.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook08-720×723.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook08-360×361.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook08-200×200.jpg 200w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook08.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Kodak: Sound 8: Background Music for your Personal Movies, Volume 1 (Eastman Kodak C 6195) (courtesy the MIT Press)
<em>The New World Theatre Orchestra: Honeymoon in Manhattan</em> (Stereo-Fidelity Records SF 3000, photo by Frank Zimmerman, cover art by Joe Krush) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1068″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook09-1080×1068.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook09-720×712.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook09-360×356.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook09.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=The New World Theatre Orchestra: Honeymoon in Manhattan (Stereo-Fidelity Records SF 3000, photo by Frank Zimmerman, cover art by Joe Krush) (courtesy the MIT Press)
<em>An Evening in Beirut</em> (Capitol T 10189, photo by Manoug) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1061″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook12-1080×1061.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook12-720×708.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook12-360×354.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook12.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=An Evening in Beirut (Capitol T 10189, photo by Manoug) (courtesy the MIT Press)
<em>Reg Owen and His Orchestra: The War Years: Memory-Making Songs by Eve Boswell</em> (Capitol T 10140) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1048″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook13-1080×1048.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook13-720×698.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook13-360×349.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook13.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Reg Owen and His Orchestra: The War Years: Memory-Making Songs by Eve Boswell (Capitol T 10140) (courtesy the MIT Press)
<em>Bobby Christian and His Orchestra: Strings for a Space Age</em> (Audio Fidelity AFLP 1959) (courtesy the MIT Press)” width=”1080″ height=”1044″ srcset=”http://originalart.xyz/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/hifibook14-1080×1044.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook14-720×696.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook14-360×348.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/hifibook14.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 1080px) 100vw, 1080px”/><figcaption class=Bobby Christian and His Orchestra: Strings for a Space Age (Audio Fidelity AFLP 1959) (courtesy the MIT Press)

Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America by Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder is out now from the MIT Press.

Powered by WPeMatico

eBay