When scratches are a sign of love

The vinyl microgroove LP was launched in 1949. So when this record was released, late in 1952, the technology was still new, exciting and expensive. One of the many superior features of the vinyl record is hard to appreciate, unless you have handled a shellac gramophone disc. Or, more to the point dropped one. Think of an old china plate hitting a concrete floor … the things were heavy, and brittle.1021 shearing 1952 label

So, many labels boasted words along the lines of “Long Playing – Microgroove – Unbreakable”. This is sort of true, in the way real-estate advertisements are sort of true. Anyone determined to break one of these discs would have had no great trouble. And even if you were trying to take care of the thing – well, it doesn’t say “Unscratchable”.

You’re Hearing George Shearing was a ten-inch long-playing record, released by MGM. Quite a few labels experimented with the ten-inch LP. The size was familiar to customers, because most popular gramophone records were ten inches. Twelve inch discs were usually reserved for classical music. Also, it was thought that people with smaller hands (I am being politically correct, they meant “women”) would find the smaller disc easier to handle. Patronising, maybe, but it is actually true – the size is more user-friendly. Ten-inch LPs were very popular for a long time. They usually had four tracks on each side, and had a total playing time of about 24 minutes.

1021 shearing 1952It is obvious that all 24 minutes of this particular disc were played, over and over. The thing is as battered as a piece of deep-fried fish. A dirty record can always be cleaned, but scratches – not much you can do about them.

The music is stunning, though. George Shearing. I had never heard of him. Born blind in 1919, youngest of nine in a working-class London family – his dad was a coal delivery man – he was taught piano at a school for the blind. He became successful in the UK, then moved to the States and made it big in the jazz scene. It is a cliché, but I can think of no better way to say it: his piano talks. Sometimes, it even paints. Find and listen to his “November Sea Scape”, and you will see what I mean.

I have not shared that track here, because the scratchiness of the record intrudes too heavily. I have gone for a more up-tempo number, “Strolling”. Still scratched like a lame racehorse, but the brilliance comes through.

The noise does interfere with the enjoyment of the music – I would love to find a better copy – but there is actually something touching about listening to a scratchy disc. Someone loved this record, and played it again and again. How many dance parties, romantic evenings, or just quiet nights at home were livened up, or maybe soothed, by this recording?  Recorded nearly 70 years ago, the work of a blind lad from Battersea, whose name I didn’t even know until I found this LP. There is something fine in all that.

  • Artist: George Shearing
  • LP Title: You’re Hearing George Shearing
  • Side 1, Track 2: “Strolling”
  • Format: 10” LP 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: MGM MGM-01-103
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1952

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