Songs of Broadway
In the closing years of my fathers auto dealership he retired in 1973 new cars started to include 8-track tape players. Our family acquired a small collection of tapes that we could listen to in the car, everything from Barbara Mandrell to the Grieg Piano Concerto (which I insisted on playing at the full thrilling concert-hall volume, somewhat to the distress of my mother sitting in the back seat between the speakers).
When I moved to Pennsylvania in 1974, I left the electronic organ at my parents home but took my piano with me. That deprived my parents of much of the music they were used to hearing around the house. Oh, they still had the radio and the TV and a few 78- and 45-rpm records, but they had enjoyed my live music. My mother could pick out enough notes on a keyboard to teach herself the alto part of an anthem for the church choir, but that was about it. Now the only times she could listen to me were when I visited and played the organ, or when they visited me and I played the transplanted piano.
Also, they could no longer hear those 8-track tapes, because the format was becoming obsolete and the auto manufacturers were phasing it out. In 1978 my parents suggested what theyd like for Christmas: an 8-track tape player for home use, so they could listen to the tapes that were piled up in the spare bedroom.
I went to my local Radio Shack and bought a Clarinette all-in-one device that received AM and FM stations, played records including 78s, and played and recorded 8-track tapes.
I also bought some blank 8-track cartridges so I could include mix tapes with the Christmas gift. In particular, I resolved to atone for my pianos absence by recording a whole album of old standards played by yours truly.
So, sometime around the first of December, I opened the lid of my Baldwin Acrosonic spinet and positioned two microphones, left and right. I inserted a 45-minute blank cartridge into the Clarinette. The cartridge held 11¼ minutes of tape in an endless loop. Each time the splice came around, the record/playback heads would shift sideways to another pair of tracks, comprising another of the four programs on the tape. I was prepared to play for about 11 minutes, watching the clock; then Id wait for the clunk of the heads moving, which would signal me to play for another 11 minutes; and so on. An 8-track tape cannot be rewound, and there would be no opportunity for me to go back and fix my mistakes. Id have to press on for a continuous 45 minutes.
My selections came from a book of collected sheet-music arrangements of classic Broadway tunes. For each program, I marked about five songs: introduction, verse, and one chorus.
My parents appreciated the gift, but the limitations of the 8-track format were immediately apparent to me: tape hiss, a constant rumbling from the cartridge, and lots of wow and flutter.
Nevertheless, just before the Clarinette wore out in 1999, I copied the cartridge to a cassette. And now Ive uploaded the music to the World Wide Web as four Windows Media Audio (.wma) files. At DSL speeds, each file might take about half a minute to download.
Here then are those Great Songs of Broadway as I recorded them in stereo, live to tape, in 1978.