Perry Como - Perry cuts a disc... of stone.

Mom loves Perry Como. In case you're thirty or younger and assume everything that happened before you were born just didn't happen, Perry Como was one of the crooners of the fifties. He was always overshadowed by Sinatra and Bing Crosby, but he was in there with them, making ladies feel things that they dare not mention to their husbands.

This is a two-page article/pictorial of Perry recording an unnamed song , but since the article ran in the Nov 8, 1952 issue of Collier's, these could be photos of Perry recording "Don't Let the Stars Get in you Eyes", which was released in late 1952. The article mentions the song "If "as being "the most recent" hit. If  was released in early 1951, so somewhere between "If" and "Don't let the Stars..." is the song being recorded in the article. I don't think it's either of those songs, because I found recordings of them on YouTube and I don't hear any strings. There's a string section in the pictures.

Anyway, look at the state of recording technology in '52. Holy jeez! Nice banquet table you dragged to the session behind your limo, Perry. Look at the mixing console: A few knobs and one VU meter. The large, vented cabinet on the recording engineer's right is probably the tape machine.

This studio is, in all likelihood, recording in mono. The single volume meter on the console indicates that much. Also, stereo recording (you know - one channel for each ear) was starting to be adopted in the early fifties, but from looking at this picture, I don't think this studio had adopted the new technology just yet. Give them a break. Magnetic tape had only been around commercially for maybe for years when this photo was taken! Previous to that, music was recorded on dead raccoons.
So, of course the recording console was simple: the engineer only had one channel to worry about. I can't think what the rest of the knobs could be. He only needs volume and maybe a few bass and treble adjustments. The Audio Archaeology Team was unable to find any information on 1952 recording consoles. Internet, I am, not for the first time, disappointed with your inability to hand to me all information from anywhere in the universe and from any epoch at a moment's notice. You're on notice, internet.

Multitrack recording didn't appear until a little later in the fifties. Multitrack recording lets you record on part, say, the orchestra, then roll the tape back and add the vocals (if you have a two-track machine). If you want a stereo recording of the orchestra, you need a three-track setup (orchestra left, orchestra right, and one for vocals). If you look at the other pictures, you can see Perry recording vocals independent of the orchestra. How did they do that if they only have a mono studio? Maybe they had two mono machines? That would let them record the orchestra on one machine, then play that tape while Perry sang over it. The recording and Perry's live microphone feed would be mixed together with a "mixer" (probably the thing with knobs on the beat up table in the picture) and recorded together on a second machine. This is called "bouncing" and it's what I was doing in high school with a pair of cassette decks and a couple of cables. It sounded like hell but I had no money.

In the late sixties, pretty much every studio got at least a four track tape machine. For me, this happened in college, when I bought a Tascam Portastudio 424. For the Beatles, this was when they stopped sounding like Herman's Hermits and started sounding like The Beatles.

There is something to be said for older technology. I've been a home recording dork for a few decades and since I migrated my hobby to the PC, I've recorded exactly two songs in the last four years. In the past, with my Tascam DA-38 (a stand-alone device that starts up every time), I'd knock out about two per month. Lately, my copy of Pro Tools (software that runs on a computer) just won't launch at all. Imagine opening your garage in the morning and instead of seeing your car waiting there, you saw an hourglass icon floating in midair. After ten seconds, it disappears, leaving you with your empty garage and no way to get to work. Somehow, we've been convinced this is acceptable behavior from a computer. Now, I have to take a day off work and call Digidesign and pay them twenty bucks to help me figure out why their software is a flaky pile of stupid.

I'm thinking of de-evolving back to something with cables and knobs that works every time.


Jim Dillon said...

Great post! One of my favorite SCTV commercials ever was the ad for the "Perry Como Is Still Alive" concert.
This is interesting history. And when I came to the final photo (lower right on the second page), I thought the recording engineer was using a mouse! That's how history and memory get corrupted. One little bit at a time.

Jim Dillon said...


PhilAreGo@gmail.com said...

Hah! Excellent sketch. SCTV was brilliant. So many good people came from that show. Thanks for the link, Jim!

[ -Mgmt.]

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