"His Master's Voice," Francis Barraud, 1898

In a post on May 14, I mentioned a song written in 1920 by Harry Ruby and Bert Kalmar: “So Long, Oolong, (How Long Ya Gonna Be Gone?”) I didn’t mention that I happen to have a recording of that song, sung by Frank Crumit on the Columbia label. Crumit was a popular singer and radio personality who also wrote about 50 songs, including “Buckeye Battle Cry” which is played at Ohio State University football games.

Victrola, the Victor Talking Machine Co.

My recording of the Ruby-Kalmar song is a 78 rpm shellac disk. I could play it on the electric turntable that we use to listen to our 33 rpm LPs, but I don’t. I play it on our 1927 model wind-up Victrola. I have an odd assortment of records stored in the cabinet of that phonograph. Most of them are 10-inch disks, but there are a few of the 12-inch disks. Some of these are recorded on only one side – including a 12-inch Victor record of Giovanni Martinelli singing “Celeste Aida” from the Verdi opera. By the mid 1920s, Crumit was recording for Victor, so the recording I have has to date from before that. The Martinelli recording was made at the Victor studios in Camden on Nov. 25, 1914. I was able to determine that at THIS LINK, which is a complete catalog of Victor recordings. An interesting detail is that the Martinelli recording – one side only – sold for $1.50 and the Crumit record sold for a buck.

45 rpm record

I got on this subject because of a story I read today HERE, on the Boston Globe web site.  The nut of this story by Sarah Rodman is as follows:

As consumers buy fewer and fewer CDs, an interesting phenomenon is occurring — artists who appeal to older listeners are showing up surprisingly high on the charts.

The reason: Adults are largely the ones buying CDs these days. Younger people tend to download in general and focus on singles.

The story makes it clear that while this isn’t universally true, it’s a clear trend. It’s also interesting to note that “surprisingly high on the charts” is a relative concept. Rodman points out that a reissue of a Rolling Stones album recently hit the charts in second place on the strength of about 76,000 sales. In the “early 2000s,” the writer explains, a recording had to achieve six figures just to be in the Top 10. The early 2000s are already “the old days.”


The acts the story cites as appealing to “older listeners” are an eclectic group that includes Sarah McLachlan, Sade, Barbra Streisand, Michael Buble, and Susan Boyle.

There is a lot of discussion about the changes that have taken place in the recording industry. Like some other fields affected by rapidly evolving digital technology, this one presents a variety of challenges to everyone involved. And the challenged include people like me, who have lived through all of the developments in recording except wax cylinders — and who have accumulated evidence of every stage.

Besides the heavy shellac records and the acoustic talking machine, we have boxes of 45 rpm records in the garage — including a duet by Connie Francis and Marvin Rainwater — hundreds of LPs in the living room — dozens of cassette tapes (and several cassette players, including the one in my Beetle), CDs all over the house, and a couple of MP3 players. The only stage we skipped was 8-track.


There’s an episode of “Seinfeld” in which George Costanza, having seen “Les Miserables” on Broadway, can’t get the song “Master of the House” out of his head. We’ve all had a similar experience, and it can be annoying. I read a book by the neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks in which he discusses the possible causes of this phenomenon. Pay attention. I think the next step in sound technology will be a chip implanted in the listener’s head and songs transmitted directly into the brain.

Meanwhile, is  there a market for all these jewel cases?



Many years ago, I wrote a story about a group of college students who were fans of the “Honeymooners” television series. These students hadn’t been born in the 1950s when the show had its initial run, but they couldn’t get enough of it. Although I do the same thing with “The  Honeymooners” and some other vintage shows,  I asked them why they watched the episodes so often that they could recite most of the dialog, and they told me that the way the writers and actors used language  was one of the things that fascinated them.

Fast forward to “Seinfeld,” which still holds my interest partly because of the way the writers and actors used language — for instance, a particular device, very New York to my ear, used to evoke comparisons. This phraseology was used seven times in the series — five times by Jerry speaking to George or Elaine, once by Helen Seinfeld speaking to Jerry, her son, and once by George, speaking to Elaine.


The one instance in which Jerry wasn’t the speaker occurred in the series premiere, “The Stakeout,” in which Jerry tries to flirt with a woman he meets at a dinner party, annoying Elaine, who is, in effect, his date at the party. The next day, when Jerry’s visiting mother tells Jerry that Elaine called while he was out, he asks, “What was the tone of her voice? How did she sound?” To which Helen replies: “Who am I — Rich Little?”

In the episode known as “The Jacket,” Jerry makes a reference to composer Robert Schumann, but mispronounces the name, putting the accent on the first syllable. George says, “Artie Schumann, from Camp Hatchapee?” To which Jerry answers, “No, you idiot!” And George says, “Who are you — Bud Abbott? Why are you calling me an idiot?”


In “The Trip,” in which Jerry invites George to accompany him on a trip to Los Angeles, George arrives at Jerry’s apartment with a big pile of luggage. Jerry looks at the bags and says: “It’s a three-day trip. Who are you — Diana Ross?”

In “The Revenge,” George plans to  get back at the boss who fired him from a real estate firm by slipping the boss a “mickey” at the firm’s anniversary party. When George reveals this plan, the incredulous Jerry says: “Who are you — Peter Lorre?”

In “The Wink,” Elaine tells Jerry that she has agreed to go on a date with the man who calls from her wake-up service. Jerry says: “I still can’t believe you’re going out on a blind date.” Elaine answers: “I’m not worried. It sounds like he’s really good-looking.” To which Jerry answers: “You’re going by sound? What are we — whales?”


And in “The Limo,” Jerry and George find themselves in a limousine with two neo-Nazis who think George is their leader. George suggests that they extricate themselves by jumping out of the moving car. “We’re doing sixty miles an hour!” Jerry says. “So we jump and roll,” George explains. “You won’t get hurt.” And Jerry replies: “Who are you — Mannix?”


Finally, in the episode in which NBC president Russell Dalrymple gets food poisoning after Elaine sneezes on his pasta primavera, George has a tumultuous session with his counselor, Dana, played by Gina Hecht. During the session, Dana tells George that she read the script for a sit-com pilot Jerry and George have pitched to NBC, and she was not impressed. When George repeats this to his friends, Elaine — who recommended Dana — says, “Maybe she didn’t think it was funny,” to which George replies, “Oh, she didn’t think it was funny? What is she – Rowan and Martin?”

Who are you? Who am I? A very “exerstential” question, as Elaine Benes observed.

For a list of actual people referred to in “Seinfeld” scripts, click on THIS LINK.

Humphrey Bogart and Peter Lorre in "Casablanca."