The Christmas Song: A Deep Dive into a Holiday Chestnut

This year our holiday theme at Half Price Books is “Make the Season Bright.” Those four words appear in one of the most ubiquitous and aptly-named Christmas songs ever written, “The Christmas Song.” You might know it better by its opening lyrics: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…”

Our line comes in the second section of the song: “Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe help to make the season bright.” We’d argue that books, music and movies also do the trick.

Here’s a closer look at the history of this holiday classic. Continue reading

All Things Printed & Recorded: Ephemera, Etc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores. For December, we’re looking at one of our smaller but most interesting product categories: ephemera—miscellaneous printed materials that have become collectible over time. Common examples found in HPB stores include sheet music, postcards and posters.

TIMELIMEsheet music singers
1457  The Mainz Psalter is the first printed book to include music, though the notation is added in by hand. 
1840  The world’s first picture postcard is sent when British writer Theodore Hook mails a self-made card to himself.
1891  Toulouse-Lautrec’s artful poster designs spark a poster craze in Paris.
1917-1918  During World War I, the US government prints 2,500 different posters to aid in the war effort, including the famous “I Want You” recruiting poster featuring Uncle Sam.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Cheret posterBefore the advent of recording, sheet music dominated the music industry. The late 1800s saw the zenith of “parlor music,” with people gathering around the piano to play and sing the popular songs of the day.
  • “Large letter” postcards, usually printed on linen-textured paper, were popular during the mid-20th century. The style was developed by Chicago-based Curt Teich and Company.
  • In the 1880s, French painter and lithographer Jules Chéret ushered in modern advertising with a new printing process that allowed for brighter colors and more economical mass production of large posters.
  • Psychedelic posters of the 1960s, like the ones produced by The Family Dog, were influenced by Art Nouveau and Surrealism.

Want to dive deeper? Check out these great products!

book A History of Postcards: A Pictorial Record From the Turn of the Century to the Present Day, Martin Willoughby
book Postcards: Ephemeral Histories of Modernity, David Prochaska & Jordana Mendelson
book Toulouse Lautrec and La Vie Moderne: Paris 1880–1910, Phillip Dennis Cate, et al.
book Toulouse Lautrec: A Life, Julia Frey
slate_film-512 Discovery of Art: Toulouse Lautrec
book World War I Posters: 100th Anniversary Collectors Edition, Edward J. White
book World War II Posters In Color, Philip Martin McCaulay
book Jules Cheret: Artist of the Belle Epoque and Pioneer of Poster Art, Michael Buhrs, et al
book Posters of Jules Cheret: 46 Full Color Plates and Illustrated Catalogue Risonne, Lucy Broido
book High Art: A History of the Psychedelic Poster, Ted Owen, Denise Dickson & Walter Patrick Medeiros
book Off the Wall: Psychedelic Rock Posters From San Francisco, Amelie Gastaut & Jean-Pierre Criqui
slate_film-512 24 X 36: A Movie About Movie Posters
music-note-2 American Classics: Parlor Music Revisited, Daniel Kobialka

Behind the Book: When We Were Young by Karen Kingsbury

Editor’s Note: Karen Kingsbury has captivated thousands with her Baxter Family series. No one is more invested in a single family than Kingsbury fans. Her award-winning books center on realistic storylines and emotional writing keep bringing fans back for more and more. In her latest novel, When We Were Young, she focuses on second chances and the way back to each other. We had the opportunity to catch up with Karen recently, and she was kind enough to provide us with answers to our questions.

When We Were Young front cover

When We Were Young focuses on second chances. What inspired you to write about this?
My son, Tyler, showed me a new John Mayer song – Never on the Day You Leave. The message was haunting. My take away question was this: What if you could know today what would happen if you really walked out that door tomorrow? From that point, the novel came to life. Like all my books, very soon God had given me a movie in my head and heart. I loved everything about writing this book. Continue reading

All Things Printed & Recorded: Ready. Cassette. Go!

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores. For October, we’re hitting rewind on the history of the cassette tape.

TIMELINE
1928  Magnetic tape is invented by Fritz Pfleumer.cassette
1963  Philips introduces the compact cassette; it is first used for dictation machines.
1968  The first in-dashboard car cassette player appears.
1968  Dolby noise reduction gives cassettes better sound and more viability for music. 
1993  Compact discs overtake cassettes in sales. By 2000, a tiny percentage of music is sold on cassette.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Mixtapes on cassette—homemade compilations of songs in a carefully considered order, often given to another person—were a mainstay in the 1980s. Novelist Nick Hornby wrote in High Fidelity, “making a tape is like writing a letter—there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again.”
  • Bill Lear of Lear Jet Corporation led the development of the 8-track, which debuted in 1964 and was common until the early 80s. Some record labels released 8-track tapes as late as 1988.
  • Due to their small size, cassettes made music personal and portable, paving the way for products like stereo boom boxes and the Sony Walkman.

Want to dive deeper? Check out these great products!

book Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture, Thurston Moore
book Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Love, Jason Bitner
book Tape, Steven Camden
book Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time, Rob Sheffield
book High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
slate_film-512 High Fidelity 
slate_film-512 Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape

Collectible Conversations: Albums That Should Be Seen and Not Heard

There are several reasons the LP format has endured for six decades, and is in fact back in ascendance. The warm, full sound of vinyl may be at the top of that list of reasons, but another big factor involves the visual aspect, not the aural. The square-foot LP cover is a nice, big canvas on which could be featured not only relevant info about the recording but beautiful, provocative or bizarre imagery.

Many LP covers are iconic: The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was so recognizable that The Mothers of Invention and others parodied or imitated it. The Clash and other artists recreated the pink-and-green graphics over black-and-white photo of the 1956 Elvis Presley album. Miles Davis, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell and so many other popular artists’ works are memorably packaged.

But we want to talk about the other side of album art, the record covers that are so bad they’re good (or, often, are just…so bad.) Perhaps it’s inept or insane illustrations. Maybe it’s culture clash or has out-of-date kitsch appeal. Or our favorites: celebrities who are not singers but who couldn’t resist the opportunity to record an album to prove to the world that they are not singers.

Operations Director Jan Cornelius and I will be hosting a Collectible Conversations presentation Thursday evening, August 30, in which we’ll show some examples of the bad LP covers we’ve collected over the years. And, contrary to our presentation’s title, we will be so bold as to play a few snippets (snippets are all we can stand) of some of them.

Here are just a few “highlights” from the collection:

  • Sebastian Cabot, Actor – Bob Dylan, Poet
  • Mr. T’s Be Somebody or Be Somebody’s Fool
  • Heino
  • Music to Suffer By

We love to talk about bad LP covers, but we love inflicting them on others even more! Our Collectible Conversation featuring bad LP covers takes place on Thursday, August 30, at 6:00 p.m., in our Flagship store’s Collectibles section.

All Things Printed & Recorded: Video Games Come Into Play

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores. For August, it’s all fun and games—video games, to be exact.

Super Mario gamesTIMELINE
1940  A computer playing the traditional game Nim is displayed at the World’s Fair.
1958  A tennis game played using an analog computer and an oscilloscope is demonstrated at Brookhaven National Laboratory.
1962  Spacewar, the first computer-based video game, is invented by an MIT student.
1975  Atari partners with Sears to release its arcade game Pong for the home market.
1985  Nintendo’s NES revives an ailing American video game industry two years after its original release in Japan, where it was called Famicom.
1995  Sony releases PlayStation in the United States. When PlayStation 2 debuts in 2000, it becomes the dominant home console.
2001  Microsoft enters the market with Xbox and hit games like Halo. Xbox 360 would debut four years later.

Continue reading

Smart Patriotic Sounds for July 4

Independence Day is fast upon us, and if you’re like me, that means you’re planning what patriotic American music to play at your cookout or family gathering. I mean, I’m not literally doing a cookout, because I live in Texas and it’s a bazillion degrees out. But I do enjoy making a good themed playlist.

Problem is, you likely don’t own much patriotic music. Besides Sousa marches, the national anthem, songs people think are the national anthem and that one Lee Greenwood tune…what even is patriotic music?

You could take the easy route and play any American music. (For that matter, you could take the super easy route and play literally any music, and no one at your cookout or indoor air conditioned food-eating event would bat an eye, but I’m writing an important blog post here, so don’t do that!) Sure, any American music would do, but this being HPB and all, let’s dig deeper in the crates and find some music that celebrates America, but perhaps not in the obvious flag-waving ways. Continue reading

All Things Printed & Recorded: Children’s Books–Adventures in Wonder

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores. For May, we’ve stepped through the looking-glass to learn about the history and development of children’s literature.

PokyLittlePuppy.png

TIMELINE
1658  Orbis Pictus, the first children’s textbook with pictures, is published.
1744  John Newbery releases A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, considered the first children’s book.
1942  The Poky Little Puppy is among the first 12 Little Golden Book titles.
1963  Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are raises the level of artistry in children’s picture books.

Alice vintage bookDID YOU KNOW?

  • Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865, was a watershed in children’s literature. Its emphasis on fantasy and childlike imagination was a departure from earlier works for kids, which were largely educational and reality-based.
  • Competition with the Soviets fueled US efforts to create more engaging books for young readers. One result was the Beginner Books imprint, founded in 1957 by Phyllis Cerf, Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and Helen Geisel.
  • Released in 1942 and still in print today, Seventeenth Summer by Maurine Daly, is often cited as the first modern young adult (YA) book.

~~~

Want to dive deeper? Check out these great products!

book The History of Children’s Books in 100 Books, Roderick Cave and Sara Ayad
book Children’s Literature: An Illustrated History, Peter Hunt, ed.
book 100 Great Children’s Picturebooks, Martin Salisbury
book John Newbery: Father of Children’s Literature, Shirley Graham
book 75 Years of Little Golden Books, 1942-2017: A Commemorative Set of 12 Best Loved Books
book The Story of Alice: Lewis Carroll and the Secret History of Wonderland, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst
book Theodor Geisel: A Portrait of the Man Who Became Dr. Seuss, Donald Pease
book Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult, Bruce Handy
slate_film-512 Miss Potter
slate_film-512 Finding Neverland

Tree-mendous Books, Movies and Music

Arbor Day is April 27, so we’re going out on a limb to highlight a few of our favorite trees in literature, film and even music. There’s no shortage of choices, given that humans have coexisted with and been fascinated by trees—sometimes even worshiping them—for all of history.

To_Kill_a_Mockingbird
The Radley oak tree in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
Trees loom large in Harper Lee’s beloved 1960 novel, so it’s no surprise that most editions of the book feature a tree on the cover. Trees, after all, are where mockingbirds hang out. And, as Atticus Finch tells us, “it’s a sin” to kill a mockingbird because all they do is make music for us to enjoy. Furthermore, a tree plays an important role in the plot, as the mysterious recluse Boo Radley uses the knothole of a neighborhood oak tree as a place to leave small gifts for the Finch children, Scout and Jem.

Continue reading

All Things Printed & Recorded: Revolutions in Recorded Sound

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year in our HPB calendar, we’re celebrating all things printed and recorded—and played, solved, watched, etc. In other words, all the cool stuff we buy and sell in our stores. For April, weve got some groovy info on the history of sound recording. 

Record.png

 

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Thomas Edison’s phonograph, using a rotating cylinder wrapped in tinfoil, was the first machine to play back recorded sound. The first recording was Edison himself reciting the opening lines to “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”
  • Columbia Records introduced the 12-inch, 331/3 rpm long play record in 1948. Lighter and less brittle than its predecessors, the vinyl LP would come to dominate the recorded music market. Musicians took advantage of the LP’s extended playing time to create album-length artistic statements.

Sgt Pepper and Thriller

TIMELINE
1877  Thomas Edison invents the phonograph.
1889  Emile Berliner’s gramophone, which uses discs instead of cylinders, debuts.
1949  RCA Victor introduces the 45 rpm single a year after Columbia debuts its 331/3 LP.
1957  Stereo records appear.
2007  Vinyl, long considered obsolete, resurges in popularity.

old victrola

Want to dive deeper? Check out these great products!

slate_film-512 High Fidelity
book Dust & Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting, Eilon Paz
book Vinyl: The Analogue Record in the Digital Age, Dominik Bartmanski & Ian Woodward book The Vinyl Detective: The Run-Out Groove, Andrew Cartmel
book Sound Recording: The Life Story of a Technology, David L. Morton, Jr.
book Chasing Sound: Technology, Culture and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to the LP, Susan Schmidt Horning
book Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music, Greg Milner
book Old Records Never Die: One Mans Quest for His Vinyl and His Past, Eric Spitznagel