The Capitol Woodgrained Series; The Story


Since the mid-40’s the famous Capitol Records company from Hollywood California stands for high quality in sound and productdesign. From the early brown paper recordcovers with only some typography and the well known Capitol-logo, to the digitally designed booklets for compact discs in these days, Capitol has developped their style and image each new period and found it’s way to musiclovers all over the world.

In the late fourties an enormous revolution took place in albumdesign. First in the 78RPM standard, in bookform with two, three or four and later, when the minigroove records came, in a 25 cm jaket with a printed wooden frame and a full colour picture pasted in the middle. This so called woodgrained series became the first new standard in the early fifties, but soon a screenfilled picture became the design for the future. In a period of about five years about 150 records were released with the woodgrained jackets. They’re so cute and lovely to watch, it’s a small piece of albumcover-history, but a special one.

When the world was at war a colorful future took shape in the United States Of America. The depression was over, the industry began to flourish, new products were developped each day and the entire planet was the market for tomorrow. The 1939 World’s Fair in New York was a bright and astonishing beginning of a new era. But not all things went upwards. The music industry had a big problem because shellac became scarcer and scarcer. Capitol Records began in 1942 when singer Johnny Mercer with the help of film producer Buddy DeSylva and the business acumen of Glenn Wallichs, owner of Music City, at the time the biggest record store in Los Angeles, founded The Capitol Records Company.

It was Paramout Pictures that offered him a first cheque of 15.000 dollar to start off. Actually they bought tons of old records and pulverized them as base material to manufacture new 78 RPM with one track on each side, records mainly for jukeboxes. At first instance the company brand became Liberty Records, which later was changed to Capitol. In the fifties Liberty became a succesful sublabel for Capitol. The first official recording session took place on april 6 1942, when Martha Tilton sang the song Moon Dreams. On june 4 the first Capitol office was opened on Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood and on that day the first record was released.

Nat King Cole, a black singer in a white world, became the first megastar for Capitol in the late fourties. His singles sold millions and the recordcutting machines never stood still from hat moment on. There was a new tough kind of plastic on the market which was almost unbreakable and a new speed which was suitable for a slower spinning machine. The new hardware was launched and this grammophones found their way to the living rooms of the new richies soon. The biggest revolution of the new format was the amount of tracks that could be pressed on a singe disc. A 10″ lp could bear eight songs, the upcoming 12″ Long Playing Record could have four more, a standard that stood until the late sixties, lost some of it’s power in the seventies, but went on to be popular among artists untill today

In the beginning years of Capitol the main musical genres were jazz, dixieland, orchestral music, vocal groups and singers. But the company was intensively searching for new styles for the novelty market and new studio techniques helped a lot to reach that goal. Les Paul was one of the artists who had a technical background and he was the first artist who used multitracking tapemachines. The New Sound Of Les Paul (1951) was one of the most popular records in the Capitol Woodgrained Series. Another great signing was the Peruvian singing wonder Yma Sumac. Her album Voice Of The Xtabay (1951) became an enormous hit and the the album never was out of print until 1990. It marked the beginning interest for exotic music in the US. Les Baxter who orchestrated the disc made his own spectacular statement with Le Sacre Du Sauvage (Ritual Of The Savage on the 12″ LP version). Hawaiian music became popular too, as it also was in the 1930’s. Latin music had the same kind of revival and Capitol reacted with Chuy Reyes and and the before mentoned Yma Sumac, who had another big succes with her album Mambo with bandleader Billy May in 1955.

Anoher big boom was swingjazz and big band music. Billy May, Ray Anthony, Benny Goodman of course and many others leaded the dancecraze that was prior to the outbrake of the rock’n’roll virus in 1956. That also marked the end of the 10″ LP and the beginning of the 7″ single, although the 4-track e.p. predates this format.

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