K-Chuck Radio: Edison Diamond Discs

What I have for you today are some very rare and very intriguing recordings from the 1920’s.  They were produced by Thomas Edison’s phonograph company, and were manufactured on records that could not be played on standard phonographs.

Such were the Edison Diamond Discs, a flat disc phonograph that promised better fidelity than the standard 78RPM flat discs that the Columbia and Victor record companies produced.

Edison’s records were designed to spin at 80RPM, and the tonearm stylus had to vibrate up and down in the record groove to reproduce the sound.  Edison’s company manufactured Diamond Discs from the early 1910’s all the way up to the late 1920’s, and discs pressed after approximately 1926 are much harder to find than the earlier pressings.

So on today’s K-Chuck Radio, I want to share some Edison Diamond Disc recordings from a wide variety of 1920’s musical genres.  Hope you enjoy.

Varsity Drag

This is from the 1927 popular Broadway show called Good News, and was a major hit in its own right.  The Hotel McAlpin Orchestra were based in a New York City hotel that hosted early radio broadcasts, including the formation of station WMCA.

Kitten on the Keys

Confrey, who used to manufacture player piano rolls, had his biggest hit of the 1920’s with “Kitten on the Keys.”  He recorded for many labels at the time, and this was his only recording for Edison.

The Big Rock Candy Mountains

Vernon Dalhart may have recorded the first million-selling record with “The Prisoner’s Song,” a country ballad that he performed for several different labels over a 20-year period.  Here he is performing this classic folk song.

The Sinking of the Titanic

The most popular early country music songs involved stories about train crashes and other moments of historic tragedy.  Popular chronologist Ernest V. Stoneman penned this classic about the sinking of the unsinkable cruise ship.  No Celine Dion anywhere on this track.

Rhapsody in Blue

How powerful is this?  One of the greatest 20th century compositions of all time, produced and chronicled by one of Thomas Edison’s house groups, The Edisonians.  Of course, due to the limitations of recording technology at the time, the group shortened “Rhapsody in Blue” from its standard 16-minute opus to a nine-minute rendition.

Barney Google

A little background.  Billy Jones and Ernest Hare, also known as “The Happiness Boys” and “The Interwoven Pair,” were a very early recording and radio duo, and they had a ton of recordings in the 1920’s.  Barney Google was a popular newspaper cartoon whose thoroughbred horse, Spark Plug, was feared in most episodes.

How Do You Do?

One more from Billy Jones and Ernest Hare – this was their signature recording, and they recorded it and re-recorded it for many labels of the era.

Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Shean

Many different artists recorded this vintage vaudeville novelty song, including two performers from the Edison label.  Although the original artists Edward Gallagher and Al Shean are not on this recording, I did want to point out that Al Shean’s nephew went on to some fame of his own.  Maybe you’ve heard of him … Groucho Marx.

Jelly Roll Blues

A seminal early jazz recording, this track was composed and originally performed by jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton.   But instead of hiring Jelly Roll Morton for this track, Edison’s company used a house band called the Original Memphis Five to create their own version of the track.

O Holy Night

This Diamond Disc was so popular, Frieda Hempel recorded NINE different iterations of the song over the years.  Hardcore Diamond Disc collectors and completists will avidly search out every single variation of this track.  I am not kidding.

Let Us Not Forget – A Message to the American People

I close with this track.  Thomas Edison steps in front of the microphone and records – in his own words – a message of sovereignty and unity in a post-World War I world.  Note the thick New Jersey accent from Mr. Edison, as he talks about the hard work of “the Belgians, the British, the French and the Eye-Talians.”

The Edison Diamond Discs, and the phonographs that play them, are still very collectible today.  And it’s nice to hear a snippet of 1920’s music on a channel such as this.

Enjoy the vintage sounds of K-Chuck Radio!


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