A Sergeant Pepper’s before there was one

The technology for stereo sound was invented in the 1930s. No one used it much. It was partly that the equipment, both to record and play back stereo, was expensive. But mostly, no one saw much point in stereo music. The first stereo LPs came out in the mid-1950s, and they were all of sound effects. Trains, were popular. You could hear them steam in from the left, pass with a loud whoosh, and then fade out to the right. Novelty stuff.

2020-sleeveThen this LP appeared. It was the idea of Enoch Light, a veteran American band leader. A skilled an imaginative musician, he decided to make music crafted specifically for the medium of stereo. Persuasive Percussion was built around the work of jazz drummer and vibraphonist Terry Snyder, who had played with Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and other swing legends.

Greg Milner tells the story in his fabulous history of recorded sound Perfecting Sound Forever:

Most of the songs on the album were well known standards … But the album was recorded and mastered with such care and the stereo effect was so dramatic , that is was unlike anything most people had ever heard … Even the album’s packaging made it seem like special …an abstract pattern of black dots designed by the painter Josef Albers …  Persuasive Percussion was like a concept album, with the “concept” being your hi-fi … a Sergeant Pepper’s (before there was one).

Persuasive Percussion was a huge hit. It millions of copies, and paved the way for stereo to become the dominant format for recorded music. This was not always such a good thing: mono sound works perfectly well for most music  and there was some naff use of stereo effects over the years. A lot of excellent mono recordings were also “split” for stereo editions. Like the mass shift of the vinyl back catalogue to CD in the 1990s, the reformatting was often hasty and carelessly done, actually diminishing sound quality.

The thing about Persuasive Percussion is that Enoch Light had a concept and patience and care, and Snyder and the other musicians on the album got the concept, and had the skill to execute. The result is a delight.

This is my favorite track on the album, a reworking of the Cole Porter tune “My Heart Belongs to Daddy”. Worth putting on a pair of headphones and turning up the volume for this one.

  • Artist: Terry Snyder and The All Stars
  • LP Title: Persuasive Percussion
  • Track: Side 2, Track 1 “My Heart Belongs To Daddy”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: His Master’s Voice OCSD.7501
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1959

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs


The Persuader

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as stereo sound systems became more affordable, many record companies produced what you might call stereo samplers, compilations of sound effects and popular music which sounded impressive in the new format. They were sold very cheaply, or even given away, a freebie thrown in with a new record player.

This one, Breakthrough Volume 2 (the imaginatively-titled follow up to Breakthrough) was put together by EMI, and features instrumental tracks from the big bands and pop orchestras of the day. It was the kind of thing you might have heard while sipping a martini and waiting to board Concord.breakthrough 2 cov

The first track is, quite obviously, designed to blow the wavering potential stereo buyer into next week, and also into reaching for the chequebook. (An obsolete method of payment, once popular. It was lighter and more convenient than a leather bag of doubloons.) It is the theme to a popular and cutting edge TV series, The Persuaders!, which starred Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. It may not surprise, given the lead actors, that the main characters are a pair of boozy, sports-car driving, womanising playboys who use unorthodox methods to protect sunny southern France from the scourge of crime.persuaders

I have never seen it, but it looks kinda fun judging from the opening titles. Nice theme, too, but the version which appears on Breakthrough Vol 2 is better than the original. It features Johnny Keating, a British a band leader, composer and arranger, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.

Now, if sir and madam would like to relax on the purple crushed-velvet sofa, I would be delighted to dazzle you with the magic that is High-Fidelity Stereo Sound …

  • Artist: John Keating conducting the London Symphony Orchestra
  • LP Title: Breakthough, Volume 2 (Various Artists)
  • Track: Side 1 Track 1 “The Persuaders Theme”
  • Format: 12”, 33⅓ rpm
  • Label: HMV SOELP 10000
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1972

This record is one of hundreds of titles for sale on Discogs