Last week, Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine sent along a fabulous YouTube clip of Wanna Buy a Record? The rare 35-minute film was made by Capitol Records in 1951 to explain how records were made and why they cost what they did (85 cents at the time). The film was for promotional purposes only and featured Mel Blanc [pictured] and Billy May along with executive Alan Livingston and assorted Capitol stars. The Capitol Recording Studios featured in the film was at 5515 Melrose Ave. and predated the famed Capitol Tower, which was completed in 1956.
A little historical perspective. In 1951, the so-called speed wars between Columbia and RCA had just ended a year earlier. Between 1948 and 1950, the record industry was in turmoil. After Columbia introduced the 33 1/3 LP, RCA refused to adapt the new format—despite Columbia's offer to give RCA the technology. Instead, RCA launched the 45-rpm in 1949 to compete with Columbia's LP. For more than a year, the industry and, more important, the consumer, had no idea which format would win. In the process, record sales plummeted as consumers did what consumers do: They stuck with what they already knew—the 78 rpm. [Record-store customer Billy May gets slapped around by store owner Mel Blanc]
But as RCA started to lose stars from its highly lucrative classical division to Columbia, the label accepted the LP while the 45-rpm was used for singles but largely ignored by Columbia. This Capitol film is important because you see the company at a crucial moment in its history trying to make a case for the new vinyl records of both speeds.
By the way, Alan Livingston [pictured] would sign Frank Sinatra two years later—before the company was sold to Britain's EMI in 1955. In 1963, Livingston also would be forced to release a record by an English quartet under pressure from the company's London-based owners. That quartet was the Beatles.
Capitol's president at the time was Glenn Wallichs, who had started his career in 1940 by founding Music City, shown in the early frames of the film. Also of note, Wallichs had assumed day-to-day control of Capitol by January 1951, with Johnny Mercer merely a holder of stock at that point and Buddy DeSylva, the third founding parter, deceased since July 1950, with his family holding his controlling interest.
Mel Blanc, of course, is the voice of Bugs Bunny and many other cartoon characters. Billy May was one of Capitol's leading big band arrangers.
By the way, I sense that all the extras are extra special. Some of them I recognize, but I'm sure many of you would love to contribute Comments identifying them.
So without further delay, here's Wanna Buy a Record? from 1951...