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After Nearly a Century, Wax Cylinder Music Gets a New Release

Tiny Tim wax cylinders (courtesy Justin Martell)
Tiny Tim wax cylinders (courtesy Justin Martell)

Good news obsolete technology fans, the first cylinder music release in nearly a century is out today, although even its creator acknowledges that 99.9% of those who buy it won’t be able to play it.

The brainchild of Justin Martell, the 1903 black wax cylinder is a recording of late musician Tiny Tim‘s 1979 performance of “Nobody Else Can Love Me (Like My Old Tomato Can)” (yes, that’s a real song and is in the Library of Congress). Martell has been releasing music by Tiny Tim since 2009, and if the name Tiny Tim is unfamiliar to you, or only recalls the Christmas Carol, please refer to his biggest hit, the ukulele falsetto song “Tip-Toe Thru’ the Tulips with Me” from 1968.

John Wayne and Tiny Tim in 1971 (via Wikimedia)
John Wayne and Tiny Tim in 1971 (via Wikimedia)

Only 50 of the cylinders were recorded by Benjamin Canady (aka “The Victrola Guy“) who has been working with ongoing experiments of recording on old Edison cylinder phonographs. As the Vinyl Factory points out in their coverage of this momentous music resurrection, the cylinder record hasn’t totally vanished — Beck also used this tech recently as inspiration for his tracks cut into a beer bottle this year — but there’s been no wide release for the round records since the early 20th century. And if you decide to buy one of the Tiny Tim recordings for $60, it’s quite likely you’ll have no way to play it, although they each do come with a digital recording of the song blaring from some antique phonograph horns. This isn’t the analogue age, after all.

The revival of the cylinder for tiny Time isn’t totally random, as Martell told Hyperallergic:

The idea of releasing a cylinder record was born, not out of a desire to be contrary, but to fulfill a career-long dream which Tiny Tim had, and to pay tribute to who Tiny was as an entertainer. Songs from the early years of the phonograph made up the majority of Tiny Tim’s repertoire. He sought to emulate the styles of the first stars of the record industry – such as, Billy Murray, Irving Kaufman, Henry Burr, Byron G. Harlan, Ada Jones – and often performed songs from the 1890’s, 1910’s, and 1920’s. It’s even evident in his trademark warbly voice, which literally sounds like a scratchy cylinder or 78. In other words, if any other popular artist of the last 50 years was meant to be heard on a cylinder record, it’s Tiny Tim.

Here’s a preview of it droning away:

Who knows, perhaps the wax cylinder is the next retro-tech to get a niche craze, following the devotion to vinyl records and lomography into the 21st century. Now someone just needs to start creating phonographs for them to be played on.

Click here for more on the wax cylinder recording of Tiny Tim’s “Nobody Else Can Love Me (Like My Old Tomato Can).”

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