BOOK REVIEW: Put The Needle On The Record by Matthew Chojnacki

BOOK REVIEW: Put The Needle On The Record
The 1980s at 45 Revolutions Per Minute by Matthew Chojnacki

Reviewed by Armen Marc Benneian

Often things that were once ubiquitous get cast aside in the blur of relentless technological change, come back to our attention, newly appreciated against their efficient but frequently soulless replacements. The progression from the vinyl music record to the CD and now MP3 is one such example that every music listener over a certain age has experienced. One can be attracted to the simple intelligence and convenience of music delivery and storage in the MP3 age, but no one can dispute that something elemental has been lost. Sound fidelity, of course. But also the object itself. The tactile and visual pleasure of the thing. The elegance of the disc and the art of the jacket.

As the small, but hardcore base of audiophile vinyl devotees stood their ground and never defected to the digital camp, the rest of us gleefully surrendered our cumbersome vinyl collections to begin accumulating compact discs. Later, we jettisoned our CDs after moving everything onto hard drives. Lately, we upload to the cloud.

It’s not surprising, then, this on-going resurgence of interest in high fidelity analog music reproduction, both vintage and new release, along with the return of those wonderful pop culture artifacts — the LP jacket and 45 picture-sleeve.

For most listeners younger than 30, their recent discovery of turntables and vintage records holds an irresistible retro hip, much in the same way spinning Dad and Mom’s Sinatra 78s felt to baby boomers in the ’70s. So, it’s natural to witness a corresponding explosion of interest in the history of vinyl records and — in the case of Cleveland-based pop culture historian Matthew Chojnacki’s new book — their art.

Put The Needle On The Record: The 1980s At 45 Revolutions Per Minute (Schiffer. 2011. 272 pp. Hardbound. $39.99) functions quite well as a conversation-starting coffee-table book, with its instantly engaging, well printed, and faithful reproductions of 250 picture-sleeve covers of 45s from the Eighties.

Though not intended to be any sort of comprehensive catalog on the subject — the author’s initial survey spanned over 10,000 discs — this book is a knowingly distilled sampling of 45 art from the decade, including the expected bent toward new wave, punk and pop, but not forgetting rap, disco, soul and even metal.

Providing more than mere captions, the author presents entertaining back-story commentary for each entry, generated from his archive of interviews with the artists over the years. Also included are photographer and designer credits, where known, and publication data.

The 45s are presented in page-facing pairs that compare visual styles. For instance, art-school rock mainstay Talking Heads’ single “And She Was,” illustrated by folk art icon Rev. Howard Finster is matched with Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” illustrated by James Rizzi, a former NYC cabbie and pal of Tina Weymouth & Chris Franz. Elsewhere, Grace Jones goes head to head with Annie Lennox in gender ambiguous expressions. Even Dolly Parton (“9×5”) shares an entry with Donna Summer (“She Works Hard For The Money”). The essays by Jake Shears of Scissor Sisters and Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran offer insightful takes on the subject at hand.

Above all else, this is a book about remembering. And fun. Eighties nostalgia? Really? Yes, really. Why the heck not? If you doubt it, pick up this book. There is some wonderful art here. Even the most vulgar and self-absorbed of Eighties style have attained a kind of odd eminence with the passage of years. Pop culture is its own strange force.

Those afflicted with the collecting gene are cautioned: this book charges the desire to acquire. Well-preserved picture-sleeve 45s have always been collectible while certain scarcer issues have attained eye-popping values.

Chojnacki’s publisher would do well to encourage him to get cracking on his next project: the art of the 45 rpm of the Sixties and Seventies, of course.

Check out Black Friday on Fri 11/25, when independent record shops across the US will have special offers, limited vinyl releases and cool promotions. Visit your local independent record store:

From Cool Cleveland contributor Armen Marc Benneian.

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