The benefit I receive for getting up early and going to work is that I am afforded the opportunity to listen to morning radio. Drive-time is talk time, so while I get a certain amount of music to fill my head for the upcoming day, I also get a goodly amount of chatter about this and that. Last week, I was lucky enough to have both, when the crew at KFOG in San Francisco started going on about this revelation they had experienced when playing Dolly Parton's "Jolene" at thirty-three and a third rpm. Suddenly, this "world class rock" station found themselves playing a Dolly Parton record. This was notable for the following reasons: First of all, it was Dolly Parton, who has all kinds of world class attributes, but "rock" is not among them. Secondly, it was a record, not a compact disc or digital audio file. Finally, this was a single, or forty-five, named for the number of revolutions per minute required to play at the proper speed. It was a bit of an anomaly in a world of corporate radio built on focus groups and prescribed playlists.
But this was drive time, and so the discussion began. By slowing it down, Greg and Bill asserted, the song became imminently more listenable. There was no mention of how changing the register of the voice made it sound as if a guy was now begging Jolene " please don't take my man." The thing they seemed most curious about was how someone came to make this discovery in the first place. They cited several other incidences of audio recordings and their manipulations, such as listening to "Strawberry Fields" backward to hear John Lennon saying "I buried Paul," or timing your "Dark Side of the Moon" experience to sync up with "The Wizard of Oz." That and the little plastic thingy they needed to make that tiny record fit on their turntable.
It made me remember my first record player, the one that had a built in adapter for forty-fives. It had one speaker on the right hand side of the case that could be closed up and carried wherever there was an electrical outlet to play stacks of wax. Well, it could play one record at a time. It was my parents' couch-sized Hi-Fi that could play four or five albums, one after another. It was my portable audio system that taught me how those clever chipmunk records were made. By playing those LPs at sixteen rpm, I could hear David Seville carefully enunciating all those endearing bits that sound so much cuter when they get played at twice the speed. I did this the first time by accident, having moved the speed lever all the way down when I was switching from a forty-five to a thirty-three and third LP. This meant that I spent the next couple of weeks doing the same thing on purpose with a great many records. Sometimes I listened to them fast. Sometimes I listened to them slow.
When I was a little older and had a belt-driven turntable with a "neutral" setting, I was able to explore a great many mysteries of backwards masking. I never did hear the voice of Satan, but I did hear my older brother lecture me about the way that sort of thing tears up needles. I was congratulated by Roger Waters for finding the secret message in "The Wall."
And so I went to work with a sense of ennui, missing those days of happy accident. The ones that sound a little like Kenny Rogers singing a Dolly Parton song.