Booze & Vinyl: A Spirited Guide to Great Music and Mixed Drinks
André Darlington & Tenaya Darlington (Running Press Adult, 2018)
Music is the universal mixer; it can be paired aesthetically with anything. Food and drink writing sibs, André Darlington and Tenaya Darlington, already responsible for matching movies with food and beverages in Movie Night Menus: Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by the Films We Love (Running Press Adult, 2016), have given us the same paradigm with vinyl LPs and mixed drinks.
The premise of this book is the Neo-Romantic notion of a vinyl-listening party where the host serves a tipple curated to the music. Neo-romantic because vinyl has experienced its near death and ultimate resurrection during the period dominated by the compact disc giving way to music streaming. Now it is quite chic to spin long-playing records (LPs) on a Thorens turntable as was done between the advent of the LP in 1948 and the introduction of the compact disc in 1982. The long-playing vinyl record has a rich and circuitous history, one whose arc necessarily approximates that of the technology of sound recording and bears mention.
In 1877 Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, a device that used foil-coated cylinders (and eventually, wax-coated cardboard cylinders), which could accommodate grooves etched in them by one of two needles. The recording needle would write recorded sound into the cylinder, which could then be played back by running the second needle through the grooves made by the first. The cylinder phonograph was driven by a crank mechanism, which the user had to turn manually throughout the recording and playback process.
The next innovation in sound recording was provided by the German-American inventor Emile Berliner. Berliner was credited with the development of the lateral-cut flat-disc record, played on a gramophone (patented in 1887), and eventually being called a gramophone record. These were the antecedents to the shellac discs made to be played at 78 revolutions per minute, eventually being called "78s." Berliner's gramophone departed significantly from Edison's phonograph: the gramophone used flat discs instead of cylinders to play recorded audio, and these discs were created without using the gramophone itself to record them.
A limitation of the 78 rmp disc was it could hold just under 3 minutes of recorded sound on each side. This format had the disadvantage of not allowing an artist to release more that a few pieces at once. Both artists and the listening public were more than ready for a format capable of holding more music. In 1948, Columbia Records released the first long-playing microgroove record made of polyvinyl carbonate rather than the heavier shellac, spinning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute and holding about 23 minutes on each side. This recording featured the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York (known today as the New York Philharmonic) with Bruno Walter conducting, performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor with Nathan Milstein as the soloist. A seismic shift was felt in the music industry was felt as the 12-inch LP became the standard format for commercial recordings, introducing a new commodity unit—the album.
Musical artists were now able to record full-length projects consisting of between 10 and 12 songs. These albums enjoyed a sonic continuum, featuring a mix of multiple separate audio recordings, which were melded together by a mixing engineer and mastered to sound integrated and sonically smooth. As such the LP was instrumental in the development and evolution of rock n' roll and frequency-modulating (FM) radio. This set the stage for what author and producer Bill Flanagan calls the "Golden Age" of music, from approximately 1955 through 1980. With rock n' roll and the LP came the record store and what the late music critic Lester Bangs called "the ministry" of shopping for albums.
Soon record collections became a thing and, like a book library, could tell one much about the taste and intelligence of the owner by inspecting either. Listening to LPs was then accompanied by reading the liner notes, that narrative located on the back of a single record album, of the gatefold of multidisc albums, written typically by music writers. In these liner notes an additional flavor of music writing emerged. It was a sweet ritual: read about a pending new release in a music magazine like Creem or Rolling Stone, go to the record store to pick up the release, which often led to an hour of pursuing the stacks and cut-out binds, bringing home two or three more LPs in the bargain. Then there was the tearing off the shrink-wrap, carefully removing the LP so as not to get fingerprints on it, laying the sacred disc on the turntable and dropping the tone arm on the first song of the first side...and then repeating this series of actions a million times. In there lay the romance of the vinyl LP that is summoned by the brother and sister Darlington in this book.
Their book is a clever one, each album discussed is matched with two cocktail recipes, labeled Side A and Side B. These cocktail pairings range from the eclectic energy of A Tribe Called Quest's Low End Theory (Jive, 1991) inspiring the more contemporary Queens Cocktail (ATCQ hail from Queens) for Side A and a solid throwback to the Jazz Age with a Side Care for Side B to the sheerly obvious joy of Prince's Purple Rain (Warner Bros, 1984) with the purple Side A of the Aviation and Side B of the lavender Fallen Angel. While the drink recipes, old and new, are a draw, the true charm of this book is the authors stepping out of food and beverage writing into music reportage.
The recordings are divided into four categories (detailed here with representative recordings):
Rock - Bruce Springsteen, Born In The USA (Columbia, 1975) and Queen, A Night At The Opera (Elektra, 1975)
Dance - Various Artists, Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack (RSO, 1977) and Talking Heads, Remain In Light (Sire, 1980)
Chill - The Velvet Underground, The Velvet Underground & Nico (Verve, 1967) and Carole King, Tapestry (A&M, 1971)
Seduce - Joni Mitchell, Blue (Reprise, 1971) and Marvin Gaye, What's Going On (Tamla, 1973)
Each category is curated for mood, inclination, and adventure, with encouragement to be daring and just a little bit "out there."
Seventy recordings are chosen to drive the party and booze. Seventy is a small subset of the number of recordings made Between 1955 (Frank Sinatra, In The Wee Small Hours [Capitol]) and 2008 (Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster [Streamline]). In the hands of the authors, what lies between is a beautifully egalitarian and eclectic collection of music that is sure to both delight and inform the listener. If one of the characteristics of the best books written is to compel the reader to seek out material beyond the present reading. Few readers of this book will be familiar with all of the music presented, hopefully leading the reader to stretch beyond their personal listening comfort to sample this music new to them.
While perfectly willing to devour all of the Rolling Stones (Sticky Fingers [Rolling Stones, 1971]), Led Zepplin (IV [Atlantic, 1971]), James Brown (Live At The Apollo [King, 1963]), and Aretha Franklin (I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Love You [Atlantic, 1967), I would likely have never considered Joy Division, A Tribe Called Quest, or the Cure. But I listened to them...all of them. This book, sans the booze, shows its authors as informed and omnivorous music consumers. The booze is that added element separating the very good from the truly exceptional.