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Simon Napier Bell: the Dodgy Business of Popular Music: The Beginning of Records . . .





Simon Napier-Bell (who previously managed Wham, Marc Bolan, Japan and Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page (during his Yardbirds phase) is back in Skrufff, delivering a short series of excerpts from his must-read new history of the music business book ‘TA-RA-RA-BOOM-DE-AY- the Dodgy Business of Popular Music’. (Click here to download/ buy: )



Thomas Edison was born in Ohio in 1847. At age fifteen he began to study telegraphy, four years later he got a job with Western Union where he invented a device to electrocute the cockroaches in the office. He then devised a telegraphic printer that he sold to the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company, Western Union’s biggest rival, for $30,000.


In 1867 that was an enormous amount, like a million dollars today, and with the money Edison set up a factory and started inventing more things. In due course he came up with what he called a phonogram. When someone sang into the horn, instead of the stylus tracing sound waves onto paper it indented them into tin foil. For playback, when the cylinder was revolved the stylus followed the indentations and sent the same sound back up the horn that had previously come down it.


Edison took his new machine to the office of the Scientific American, and in its next issue it made a report.


“Mr. Thomas A. Edison recently came into this office, placed a little machine on our desk, turned a crank and the machine inquired as to our health, asked how we liked the phonograph, informed us that it was very well, and bid us a cordial good night. These remarks were not only perfectly audible to ourselves, but to a dozen or more persons gathered around.”


The recordings were of poor quality and couldn’t be copied, but Edison, who was a master of publicity, glossed over the weaknesses and lavishly described the possibilities.


“You can have a phonograph in your parlour with an album of selected phonographic matter lying beside it. You can take a sheet from the album, place it on the phonograph, start the clockwork and have a symphony performed; then, by changing the sheet, you can listen to a chapter or two of a favourite novel; this may be followed by a song, a duet, or a quartet…”

In fact, you could do no such thing, but Edison was working on it . . .”



TA-RA-RA-BOOM-DE-AY- the Dodgy Business of Popular Music: “click here to download/ buy:










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