The Origins of “Auld Lang Syne”

 

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

 

It’s the New Year’s tradition that nobody completely understands. Revelers sing “Auld Lang Syne” when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, but to most, the words’ meaning is a mystery.

Translated literally, the Scottish term auld lang syne means “days gone by” or “old times”.

The song is a classic Scottish folk tune with a warm, welcoming melody that has equal parts nostalgia and hope. The lyrics honor friendships and good times.

It was written by the poet Robert Burns in the 18th century. Burns has become well-known for a number of his poems and songs, but Auld Lang Syne is certainly one of his most well-loved and practiced songs. Burns claimed to have written down the song from “an old man” singing the tune, though it’s clear to historians that Burns wrote some of the lines himself.

The song is not sung only on New Year’s; its major theme is its signal of endings or fresh starts. This includes such rituals as funerals, graduations, and more.

Burns himself was quite fond of Auld Lang Syne. He wrote “… is not the Scots phrase, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, exceedingly expressive – there is an old song and tune which has often thrilled thro’ my soul.” (source) Perhaps that’s why the song has stuck with us for all this time — and sticks in people’s heads, even if nobody knows the lyrics.

(P.S. If you’re looking for vintage New Year’s postcards, look no further!)

The Victor Talking Machine Company

No discussion of records or record players is complete without bringing up the Victor Talking Machine Company.

The company is well known for its logo, showing a fox terrier looking into a phonograph with the words “His Master’s Voice.” (Some claim that the surface the dog sits on is his master’s coffin, though that’s never been confirmed.)

The company name “Victor” could have come from a number of inspirations. One such story says that the business founder Eldridge R. Johnson chose it for its resemblance to the word “victory”, saying it would a “scientific and business ‘victory.’” Another story says it comes from the battle of the patents over Berliner and Frank Seaman’s Zonophone. These aren’t the only guesses, but are the most widely accepted theories.602px-RedSealTetrazziniBatti

The fox terrier in the logo is named ‘Nipper’. In 1898 the artist Francis Barraud painted his brother’s dog Nipper listening to the horn of a phonograph; the Victor Talking Machine Company started using the image as its logo.

The company released a number of different kinds of phonographs. The earlier versions ran purely on the acoustic method, with zero electricity.

Victor gained its name by recording famous performers. Most performers charged much more than Victor could make up for in record sales – but it paid off later by making the business’s name well known. Victor released the recordings by the most popular music names of the time under the “Red Seal” records, catapulting the Victor name to success.

The Carter Family promotional Victor portrait.

The Carter Family promotional Victor portrait.

Radio found its way into families’ living rooms in the 1920s, and Victor had to adapt to the new music culture and technology. Victor moved to an electrical-based recording system using a microphone and released the new records under the name “Orthophonic Victrolas”.

The Victor Talking Machine Company existed from 1901 to 1929, when it was sold to the Radio Corporation of America, which later became the company RCA Victor. It’s still a very recognizable company from its image of Nipper the dog looking into the phonograph.

Why We “Face the Music”

If you refuse to accept any unpleasant consequences of your actions, you may be told to “face the music,” whether you like it or not.

The origin of this idiom is a little blurry. How do you come to “face” something you can’t see?

One theory suggests that the phrase has a military history. When disgraced soldiers were kicked out of their regiment, drummers would allegedly play them out through their final march. Other references say that these soldiers had to sit on their horses backwards, forcing them to face and hear the drums, therefore “facing the music”.

This is not the only theory however, and it’s far from being historically proven.

Another story claims an origin with music in church. The organ often sat in the balcony in the back of a church; this was before electric blowers made the billows louder. So to better hear the music, the congregation turned around to face the music to hear it better.

Perhaps the Victor-Victrola record player, as described by this vintage advertisement, will help you literally face the music.

Perhaps the Victor-Victrola record player, as described by this vintage advertisement, will help you literally face the music.

Yet another tale suggests the phrase comes from theater, where a new, nervous performer would have to face the judging eyes of the audience and the orchestra pit despite any apprehensions.

Let’s turn to more solid evidence. The first printed appearances come from New Hampshire. The New-Hampshire Statesman and State Journal August 2 1834 edition contains this line: “Will the editor of the Courier explain this black affair. We want no equivocation – ‘face the music’ this time.”

The National Era has an excerpt of dialogue with an abolitionist senator, Mr. Hale: “Mr. FOOTE – As the Senator from New Hampshire is an aspirant himself, what does he think a candidate ought to do? Mr. HALE – (with promptitude and humor) Why, stand up and face the music.”

1850 brought an explosion of “face the music” usage (perhaps accounting for a great number of people with guilty consciences) and it was brought into regular use.

So what we do know is that “face the music” came into common use mid-1800s. As for the true origin of the phrase, well, that may never be fully proved.

How to Start a Record Collection

 

Vinyl record collecting has hit an upswing in popularity in recent years. Perhaps it came with a disillusionment with mp3 files, or perhaps along with the rise of vintage and thrift shopping, but either way record collecting is now truly in vogue.

Records not only have value and the promise of a return investment, but they also provide deeper sounds that today’s mp3s, and even CDs, can’t give.

Music makers have to compress files to make mp3s, which means leaving out background layers of sound. While you might not consciously recognize the loss, comparing mp3s with vinyls back-to-back brings out a clear winner.

Convinced? Well, that’s great. But where do you start?

 

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The Player

First things first: to put your brand-spanking-new collection to use, you need a good record player.

That doesn’t mean breaking the bank. You don’t have to spring for an uber-fancy turntable to get good sound. Crosley turntables, for instance, are portable and affordable.

The lingo can get technical when it comes to record players. Check out this source for more information.

Get to know the equipment and it will reward you right back.

 

The Records and How to Find Them

The really fun part, of course, is the records themselves.

Some new records come in different colors, a fun way to add a visual effect to your musical moment.

Start by buying used, not new. Used records are cheaper and have a history to them that new records can’t live up to. This is a great way to find the most classic albums.

Finding good records is like a treasure hunt. Try starting at thrift stores for the best deals. They will likely have boxes of cheap records. It’s your job to sort through those and separate the good from the bad.

Yard sales also have low-price records. Although there’s less guarantee that you will find records at a yard sale, if you luck out the records will likely be dirt cheap. And who knows – there might be a full box of records waiting for you for a measly $5.

Record stores are cropping up everywhere, which will be your best bet for finding that certain record you’ve been looking for — except, of course, for looking online.

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Choose a Focus

Sure, if you want to you can just pick up any old record that strikes your fancy. But finding the right records might get easier if you choose a particular focus.

This means anything you can think of, like genres, recording labels, artists, or periods of time.  Maybe you’re really into the punk-rock scene. Or maybe you only want musicals on record from the 1950s-60s. Your taste will determine your focus.

 

Your Work Will Pay Off

The record is as durable as you can get when it comes to music. We’ve gone through so many types of music storage – cassettes, CDs, mp3s – but the vinyl record has stood its ground throughout the musical revolution. Chances are that years from now your record collection will be worth even more than the time and effort you put into it.