Backstage with Ron Onesti:
Vinyl records are back, Yay!
This week marks the 140th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s phonograph. So, it is also officially the 140th anniversary of the phonograph record. What actually began as a hard-plastic cylinder evolved into the vinyl record disc with which we all grew up, especially in the early ’70s.
The 78 rpm disc of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s ultimately became the 33⅓ rpm vinyl LP made popular beginning in the early 1970s. That’s when I was growing up, listening to my albums in my room, playing them over and over and over.
This past week, founding member and lead vocalist of the ’70s supergroup Styx appeared at our Arcada Theatre on the 40th anniversary of the release of the “Grand Illusion” album. In honor of that milestone, he performed live the entire album, start to finish! It was epic for a true Styx fan as the evening included songs that had never been performed live before. He, of course, did the radio hits of “Grand Illusion” and “Babe.” He also did the rest of the tracks including “Superstars,” “Miss America” and “Suite Madame Blue.” It was truly fabulous!
“Album” appreciation was different from “45 rpm” appreciation. What came out on 45s were the radio hits played on WLS 89-AM and listed weekly on those surveys available at the local record store. The albums were for the serious fans, willing to make it through all eight to 10 songs, A and B sides.
As Styx’ “Grand Illusion” album was one of my “go-to” records, I began to recall the other ones in my beginning collection. Let’s see … I was a huge Chicago fan, so every album from the band’s first (“Chicago Transit Authority”) through “Chicago IX” (the Greatest Hits record) to the chocolate-wrapper “Chicago X” album were all in circulation on my Sears record player. Especially “Chicago IV,” the four-record set recorded live at Carnegie Hall. I could lip-sync every word and every musical instrument on those albums.
Then there was the Beach Boys’ “Endless Summer” album. “I Get Around” and so many other surfer songs on that album became huge hits. Other members of my record collection included “Foghat Live,” Jethro Tull’s “Songs From The Wood,” Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti,” Kansas’ “Leftoverture,” Rush’s “2112,” Foreigner’s “Double Vision,” Journey’s “Escape,” Boston’s debut album, and a few others. They all kept me singing into my hairbrush, day after day, night after night.
Other albums I had at the time were not even musical. Comedy albums by Cheech and Chong, Richard Pryor and George Carlin kept me in stitches, no matter how many times I played them. Chicago Cubs’ famed broadcaster Jack Brickhouse put out a “Greatest Moments in Cubs History” album I played until the grooves were worn through the record.
I am so happy that “vinyl’ is coming back. I even received a record player from my family as a gift recently! There isn’t a concert at The Arcada that somebody doesn’t bring in a vinyl album with the hopes of getting it signed by the bands. Yes, “records” are back!
And as I get a bit older, and my childhood albums all are celebrating their 40th and 50th anniversaries, I look forward to more album-sides concerts. That’s what makes these bands classic. I am not sure if there will be 40th anniversary concerts of Justin Bieber or Bruno Mars, but one thing I know for sure, the likes of “Stairway To Heaven,” “Free Bird” and “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” will be around for generations to come — Thank God!
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.