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Spoken Word

Spoken Word: Postwar American Phonograph Cultures

Jacob Smith
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 276
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  • Book Info
    Spoken Word
    Book Description:

    From the 1940s to the 1970s, the phonograph industry experienced phenomenal growth, both in sales and in cultural influence. Along with hugely popular music recordings, spoken word LPs served a multitude of functions and assumed an important place in the American home. In this book, Jacob Smith surveys a diverse range of spoken word genres—including readings of classic works of literature and drama, comedy albums, children’s records, home therapy kits, even erotica—to illuminate this often overlooked aspect of the postwar entertainment industry and American culture. A viable alternative to mainstream broadcasting, records gave their listeners control over what they could hear at home. Smith shows how the savvy industry used spoken word records to develop markets for children, African Americans, women, and others not well served by radio and television.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94835-8
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    NASA launched two Voyager spacecraft in August and September of 1977. These craft were to explore the outer planets from Jupiter to Uranus and then leave the solar system to become what Carl Sagan called “emissaries of Earth to the realm of the stars.” As part of that mission, they carried a message for any extraterrestrial civilizations they might encounter, which included musical selections from around the world, greetings in sixty languages, and statements from President Jimmy Carter and Secretary General of the United Nations Kurt Waldheim. As artifacts of the cold war space race, the Voyager spacecraft were emblematic...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Turntable Jr.
    (pp. 13-48)

    In August 2001, the last episode of theBozo’s Circustelevision show was aired on WGN in Chicago. Though the show had been a staple of local Chicago television for forty years and over seven thousand episodes, the final WGN broadcast received national press coverage that hailed Bozo as the longest-running children’s television character in America, seen at one time on stations from coast to coast. Bozo’s television debut had been in Los Angeles in 1949, and in his heyday there were Bozos on the air in most major American cities, as well as in Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, and Greece....

  7. CHAPTER 2 Hi-Fi Midcult
    (pp. 49-78)

    In 1952 two young women, recent graduates of Hunter College, went to the Kaufmann Auditorium in New York to hear the poet Dylan Thomas give a reading of his work. After the performance, Barbara Holdridge and Marianne Mantell tried to see Thomas but could not get past a crowd of admirers. Determined not to give up, they sent an usher backstage with a note for the poet, in which they stated that they had a business proposition for him, being careful to sign only their first initials to conceal their gender.¹ After a time, the usher made his way back...

  8. CHAPTER 3 33 ⅓ Sexual Revolutions per Minute
    (pp. 79-121)

    In 1966 a man named Joe Davis was convicted by a federal jury of sending obscene materials through the mail. Davis was fined one thousand dollars and given a suspended sentence of six months in jail, despite the fact that the items that Davis had mailed contained no explicit images of bodies or sexual activity and, in some cases, no discernible verbal content at all: Davis had been dealing in erotic phonograph records. In historical surveys that discuss the role of the media in the sexual revolution, mention has been made of films (the fall of the Hollywood production code,...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Mimetic Moments
    (pp. 122-154)

    In the autumn of 1962, a small record company released an LP that was soon selling more quickly than any phonograph record that had come before it. Two weeks after it went on sale, 1.2 million copies had been shipped. In four weeks its sales topped 2.5 million, and by eight weeks, it had sold 4 million copies, topping the former best seller, theMy Fair Ladysoundtrack, which had taken six years to sell 3.5 million. A Chicago record store owner claimed that it was the hottest selling item he had seen in fourteen years in the business, and...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Blind Television
    (pp. 155-200)

    In his 2008 book on American comedians, Richard Zoglin describes an “obsession” with stand-up comedy that he shared with many of his baby boom peers. Zoglin states that his generation experienced standup comics through two media: audiences watched them on television variety shows and “communed with them in private on the all-but-forgotten medium of long-playing records.”¹ Zoglin’s book is one of several recent histories of postwar American comedy that make passing reference to the records made by the “new comedians” of this era but do not sustain an argument about the LP medium.² Bringing scholarly perspectives on recorded sound, the...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 201-208)

    Perhaps the single most celebrated episode ofSaturday Night Livewas broadcast on April 22, 1978, and featured Steve Martin as guest host. The show included the debut of Martin’s new novelty song “King Tut”; a mock-Hollywood musical dance sequence featuring Martin and Gilda Radner; an appearance by the two “wild and crazy” Festrunk brothers as played by Martin and Dan Aykroyd; and musical performances by the Blues Brothers. Near the end of the episode, Martin, Aykroyd, and Jane Curtain appeared as a panel of psychics on a mock–current events discussion show entitled “Next Week in Review.” At one...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 209-250)
  13. Further Reading
    (pp. 251-256)
  14. Index
    (pp. 257-263)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 264-264)