Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck (2:43)
Not that long ago, Sears was the coolest store ever. One of those places where the whole family could formulate their consumer desires, complete with catalogs you could take home for coveting in private. Here’s two pieces of Sears mystique to enjoy.
The Silvertone demo (cover) is a side-length drama with an orchestral score, taking us through the warm moments when the Dudleys, with the help of their Silvertone salesman, Mr. Rogers, got a new stereo for their home. It seems that back in the day, Sears would set up a new stereo in your home—and leave it there overnight—so you could try it out. I wonder why they don’t do that anymore? I’d like to demo some 60” plasma TVs.
Most of the acting in this mini-melodrama is spot on, although teenage daughter Judy sounds like she’s been hitting the goofballs with her Beatnik friends. There’s also an intrusive ambient track when they’re talking at the Sears store. Listen closely for the guy coughing. You’ll also hear some great stereo separation and the obligatory jets passing overhead sound effect.
The second track is a radio-only 78RPM from Columbia (label) that features Dorothy Shea pining for the men she sees in the Sears catalogue. Dates unknown on both tracks, but the Dorothy Shea cut is likely from the pre-rock 1950s, since radio stations phased out 78s during the early rock years. Like all 78s, there’s surface wear, but not as bad as I’ve found on most recordings.
Stereo demos are at the top of my list when it comes to record collecting for two reasons. First, they’re a lot of fun. Second, they push the possibilities of stereo in ways that most artists neglect. Most of the blame for that falls on Phil Spector, who valued loudness over subtlety and cemented the idea of simply duplicating the sound in the left and right channels. Few artists outside of classical circles and MUZAK did much with the three-dimensional quality of stereo after that, so these albums provide a glimpse at what might have been.
Stereo demos come in four varieties. The most common are stereo samplers, which are simply compilations of tracks from full-length records. Next, and slightly more interesting, are compilations with introductory audio or brief audio between tracks. Zenith and Columbia put out a lot of these, and like stereo samplers, they’re common thrift-store finds.
Most record stores will yield at least one single-track stereo demonstration album, which has an intro, typically incorporating a lot of sound effects, followed by a collection of recycled tracks.
The Holy Grail of stereo demos is a record such as this, where one or both sides are narration and stereo demonstrations. They are the forerunners of the infomercial and a lesson in how technology was promoted before we had CES and the Web to whip us into a buying frenzy. They’re also the hardest to find. Expect to spend some time digging to turn them up, and expect to love them when you get them home.