The so-called vinyl revival notwithstanding, old music formats do in fact die. Some of the earliest recorded music, for instance, was pressed on 78rpm records made of an extremely brittle material called shellac. And those records, like their early vinyl-based counterparts, are deteriorating and threatening to disappear forever.
But not if the Internet Archive has anything to say about it. The San Francisco-based nonprofit, best known for backing up huge chunks of the web at archive.org, recently digitized 25,000 vinyl and shellac records dating from the late 1800s through the 1950s. Like this 1927 recording of the Hawaiian song “What Are The Wild Waves Saying” or these spoken word fairy tales from 1935. The project “currently focuses on discs that are less likely to be commercially available—or available at all in digital form,” says the website, with a particular focus on underrepresented artists and genres.
Here’s one of 25,000 discs, a 1940s recording of “The Happy Monster,” by Chubby Jackson and His Orchestra:
The audio section of the Internet Archive has been around for years (check out this 2004 upload of the original Lead Belly song famously covered by Nirvana in 1993, embeded below), but with this massive injection of vintage, downloadable sounds it becomes a treasure trove of audio for music buffs, nostalgic grandparents, and DJs alike.
Among fun ways to explore the records, according to the Archive’s Jeff Kaplan:
- “Twitter feed of newly digitized 78’s is fun and addictive: one every 10 minutes. Addictive…
- To list the high bitrate transfers, most recently uploaded first
- Find those that say “Blues” in the metadata, “ragtime,” “yodel or yodelling“
- Find those that have been reviewed recently…
- Find those on the Paramount label.
- Find those that are in very good or near mint condition
- Find Victor recordings 1903-13 (but beware because ½ of our recordings have no dates) [the Archive needs your help with that.]”
You can read more about how the Internet Archive once sought to digitize 40,000 VHS tapes.