I like odd stuff. I’ve mentioned that several times. I like to look for odd stuff in strange places too. It’s where the best stuff is. If you are a regular to my little corner of the Internet you’ll know that too. But I never expected to buy a bunch of stuff that would then open up a world of, well, a world of odd.
Parallel records are nothing new. In fact they’ve been around since 1901 apparently. Essentially they are a vinyl record made up concentric grooves. The design and manufacturing process allows a parallel record to hold several different tracks on one side. What’s new about that? Well, depending on where you drop the needle at the lead-in point, the record will then latch on at a random location and begin to play. Thus you’d play a record and never know what track would be played. The design also meant that records were limited in length and thus they were really only used as novelties.
You spin me right round
It was by pure chance that earlier this year I happened upon a small collection of records from the 1970’s. Marketed by CBS and distributed in Japan, I had happened upon the world of the Super Record Game (スーパーレコードゲーム).
Super Record Game titles were just that, a game utilising a vinyl record(s) as a key feature of gameplay. I cannot find a full catalog, however I’ve managed to source 2 titles and information about another two in the series. One of which I’ve seen for sale only once, according to my research for this article. The other I’ve never seen for sale at all and had to really dig in to the lower levels and darkest crypts of the World Wide Web to even find a blurry image of it. It’s a pain too as that is one title I really want to find.
The sport of kings
The titles in my collection are Horse Racing and Rene Van Dale’s Horoscopes / Love Premonition. I also managed to source a special CBS promotional vinyl for both titles. The retail releases show a copyright date of 1977. This is not present on the promotional copy, so I’m going with assumption that it was released in 1977 and recorded in 1976. The only time in research I’ve ever seen the promotional copy for sale is for the copy I have. If you find more, let me know!
The horse racing title comprises three vinyl records, with a recording on both sides of each. Also included are race form cards, betting slips and large fold-out sheets of play money, which, considering this is 40 years old, have remained in pristine white, untouched condition. Amazing.Drop the needle on a record and you are greeted by the dulcet tones of a Japanese gentleman introducing the race, the horses in the parade, the jockeys and then finally the start of the race. Our Japanese friend then proceeds to get very excited whilst commentating on the main event before climaxing and collapsing exhausted in a gambling-infused heap on the floor as the results are relayed back. At this point, you are either potless and begging your friends for another few quid or you are on the phone to your boss to let him or her know you’ve retired and are not coming in to work on Monday.
Go West young man!
Interestingly, the Horse Racing title was not something born from the Orient. Rather it would appear that it was licensed from Maas Marketing, a company in Mississauga near Toronto with a title named They’re At The Post which was made up of the same game materials only using four records instead of three. The exact same title found it’s way to the brisk shores of the United Kingdom in the form of They’re Off! which for reasons unknown appears to be brought to market by the Daily Mirror, a popular newspaper in the UK. Commentary has also been re-recorded by then renowned racing commentator, the late Noel Whitcomb.I managed to get hold of a copy of They’re Off! in very good condition considering it’s age. The contents follow the same line as it’s Japanese and Canadian equivalents. Amazingly, everything is present, not yellowed and virtually intact except for one betting slip filled in by a Mr. J W Pryce.
If you take a closer look at the back of one of the included race cards you will notice that They’re Off! was distributed from Unit 4, Bordon Trading Estate in Bordon, a town in Hampshire in the UK. Notice too the original Maas Marketing copyright date of 1975. A full two years before Super Record Game Horse Racing went on sale in Japan. I’m assuming They’re Off! is from 1975 too as no other dating is present on the box or contents.Drop the needle on one of the records from They’re Off! and it’s the same formula as the Super Record Game title. Introduction and horse form. The main event. Climax. Collapse in a heap. Complain you lost all your money.
I played one of the records around twenty or so times to see how many variations I could get from just one side of one record. I ended up with six before I gave up. Six full length, nicely mastered races, around 3 or so minutes in length per race is fairly good for a concentric record. Fair play to Maas Marketing for squeezing as much as possible out of a unique recording form.
They’re Off! was also released in the USA around the same time. The title remained the same, except the sponsor was someone called Ronco. Perhaps a racing newspaper? Canada was the only country to see the original title and box art. Further research opened up a veritable treasure trove of these horse racing records. Some of them date back to the 1930’s! If you’d like to see a proper bounty, have a look here.
We got a love thang
I’m only interested in Japanese curios though, so join me now as we delve in to something a little bit different. Released around the same time as Horse Racing under the Super Record Game brand, CBS published the wonderfully odd Rene Van Dale’s Horoscopes / Love Premonitions in 1977. In fact, promo record aside where CBS marketed them together, if you look at the obi strip from Horse Racing you will see the Rene Van Dale title clearly advertised for sale.Rene Van Dale is a famous astrologist, Japan’s answer to Russell Grant or Mystic Meg if you will. He’s been around donkey’s years and has his name slapped on more stuff than a NASCAR driver promotes in one afternoon of racing (that’s a lot of stuff by the way).
This record isn’t quite as fancy as the Horse Racing title. All you get here is the record itself. A single, two-sided piece of vinyl, and a giant fold-out poster detailing both horoscope readings and your future love timeline. Again, considering this is 40 years old, the contents are pearl white and look like they just left the pressing factory. I’m thinking all these records were either kept in storage for decades or have sat in the hands of collectors for some time. I couldn’t even move the obi strip off of the cover of this one it was so new. Hence I left the obi strip on to scan the cover for the main feature image of this blog!As per the horse racing title, I played this record several times over to see how many variations I could get. I managed 6 again, although looking at the enclosed chart I reckon you’ll find maybe 10 recordings across both sides.
The premise is very similar, you get the same introduction and some cheerful harp strings being plucked in the background as a sort of spiritual mood setter. Then this soft, heavily reverberated, almost eerie voice burbles nothings, in Japanese, over your trusted set of speakers before fading away to the glorious crackle of the run out groove makes its presence known.
I like this record and I have absolutely no idea why. I can’t understand it. It’s in Japanese. There’s just something about it that I have found I’ve warmed too. I think it’s the eclectic (putting it mildly) cover art, or the fact that it is quite a rare record. Not as rare as other titles in the series, or that promotional copy, but certainly not something you walk in to your local HMV and walk out with five minutes later. As far as I am aware these titles have never seen a digital release. Probably because of the reliance on parallel grooved vinyl. That said it never stopped Autechre from releasing a wonderful Mini Disc that you can potentially never play in the same order twice. Yet the Mini Disc takes advantage of gapless playback in such a way that whatever order you play the album in it sounds correct. It’s bizarre but it works. I own a copy so I know!
I was surprised to find that Rene Van Dale has lent his name to a few different products over the years. For the Horoscopes/Love Premonitions record I’m assuming he wrote the scripts and chart texts, as the audio recording is clearly not him (it’s a woman for starters). He is often referred to by applicable trade journals or media stations to comment on relevant current affairs stories. One of which took me totally by surprise.
Mariko Aoki phenomenon.
No, I’d never heard of it either, but in 1985 a woman named Mariko Aoki wrote an article in a Japanese publication named Book Magazine about needing to defecate every time she was in a bookshop. Van Dale was quoted as saying “intellectual appetite and curiosity are characteristics of bookstores, theorizing that the feeling of a type of nervous tension in response to these characteristics provoke the series of symptoms.”
Most impressive of all is an Epoch Super Cassette Vision game featuring Rene Van Dale. Curiously it appeared on a game pack-in with a now ultra rare Epoch Super Cassette Vision Lady console. If you ever get to play the game, just remember that little vinyl record in my collection and the Mariko Aoki phenomenon!