We talked last week about the renaissance of some original cast albums on vinyl — twelve-inch vinyl, that is.
Will there be a rebirth of seven-inch vinyl records, too? SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical is at least giving such a format a chance to make a comeback (or, as Norma Desmond would insist, “a return”).
The surprise hit musical that has racked up more than three dozen nominations from various awards committees (and wins from the Outer Critics Circle) offers three songs on this disc: “(Just A) Simple Sponge” (written by Panic! At the Disco), “No Control” (by David Bowie & Brian Eno) and “The SpongeBob SquarePants Theme” (by Derek Drymon, Mark Harrison, Stephen Hillenburg & Blaise Smith).
Given the colorful nature of the musical, black vinyl wouldn’t have been appropriate. Instead, the record sports the same blue marble hue that we know from the egg that Nick Arnstein presented to Fanny Brice. This color fits in nicely with the pastel palettes established by David Zinn, who designed both the set and the costumes for SpongeBob which resulted in Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations.
It’s a very limited-edition, for the manufacturers swear it’ll be a one-time only pressing. More to the point, you can’t even order it online. You must get it at your local record store.
“WHAT local record store,” you’re asking? Yes, times have changed since the days when I was living in Boston and buying cast albums in Krey’s, Jordan Marsh, Raymond’s, Boston Music Company, Radio Shack, The Coop, Arcade Bazaar, Lechmere Sales, Lafayette Radio, Mosher Music, Carl Fischer, City Mart and Zayre. Each and every one of the thirteen is long gone.
To keep alive whatever actual brick-and-mortar record stores still exist, there’s a site to help you find them: https://recordstoreday.com/. One or more of them in your neck of the woods may still have a SpongeBob seven-inch vinyl, which was specifically pressed for April 21, now known as Record Store Day, our newest important holiday.
So, as is the case with the recent twelve-inch vinyl release of Avenue Q, the more things change, the more they revert to years past. In 1952, RCA Victor truly believed that the tidal wave of the future was the EP — meaning Extended Play seven-inch records that spun around at 45 revolutions per minute and offered a few songs per side and not just one.
Many television consoles – genuine pieces of handsome wooden furniture — had tiny players with fat spindles tucked into their upper right hand corners. Because of the rapid-fire growth of TV sales, RCA was confident that this formal would easily beat out Columbia’s 1948 innovation, the twelve-inch record that clocked in at thirty-three-and-a-third revolutions per minute. RCA executives reasoned that consumers wouldn’t want to buy an entirely different console that would annex more of their living room space. Why have two pieces of furniture when one would do double-duty?
To hedge their bets, both companies offered EPs and LPs. So did other labels: Capitol offered By the Beautiful Sea and Decca the 1954 On Your Toes revival among many other cast albums in both formats. Not many years had to pass, however, before all the companies realized that people preferred to get as many as eight uninterrupted songs on one side of a record than the usual two or three on an EP – even if it meant purchasing a second piece of bulky furniture.
Today’s antique shops prove that there was a time when RCA released nearly two dozen original cast albums on seven-inch record EPs, sometimes with two discs (Brigadoon), mostly with three – ranging from the hybrid Call Me Madam in 1950 to Jamaica in 1957.
The early ones were printed on blue vinyl, because RCA Victor actually had a color-coding system for its 45 r.p.m. records: pop recordings were released on black vinyl, but folk records were on green, R&B on orange, classical on red vinyl and more popular classics — and original cast albums — in blue (because of, believe it or not, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue). I remember being with a fellow record hunter who found Wish You Were Here’s EP in a 99-cent bin and, because he was unaware of the color-coding system, wondered if the discs were blue because the show had included an on-stage swimming pool.
This color-coding lasted until the Korean War (or Conflict, if you will), when vinyl was needed for more important purposes. All that was left to RCA was what the company had punched out as holes. All those different colored circles when mixed together turned out as black, the color that remained even after the war (or police action, if you prefer that term) had ended.
Another Wish You Were Here 45 r.p.m. story, although not one that involves EPs: Eddie Fisher’s recording of the musical’s title song has always received credit for stoking interest in the show which had received poor reviews (although, to be fair, the authors and staff did return to work on it and apparently improved it; the show wound up as one of Broadway’s twenty-five longest-running musicals).
Fisher’s recording was the first-ever single 45 to have a picture sleeve: a seven-inch square glossy photograph of the smiling crooner looking out at his fans. It was much more impressive than RCA’s dull standard issue gray-and-maroon all-purpose sleeve.
One must wonder, though, how many teen girls that were then crazy for Fisher bought the record for the picture sleeve as much as the song. And if you doubt Fisher’s popularity in those days, be apprised that there was a song called “I Want Eddie Fisher for Christmas” — honest! – written by Joan Javits (yes, New York Senator Jacob Javits’ daughter) and Phil Springer, both of whom wrote a song for Tovarich when original composer Lee Pockriss and lyric Anne Croswell (both of Ernest in Love fame) were fired.
Each and every one of the musicals mentioned in this piece was released on vinyl, but now SpongeBob SquarePants is the one that’s done it in both seven- and twelve inch formats. It’s just one more distinction and achievement for the biggest surprise hit of the 2017-2018 season.
Peter Filichia also writes a column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and each Friday at www.mtishows.com. His book The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.