Designed for Hi-Fi Living: The Vinyl LP in Midcentury America
How record albums and their covers delivered mood music, lifestyle advice, global sounds, and travel tips to midcentury Americans who longed to be modern.
The sleek hi-fi console in a well-appointed midcentury American living room might have had a stack of albums by musicians like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, or Patti Page. It was just as likely to have had a selection of LPs from slightly different genres, with such titles as Cocktail Time, Music for a Chinese Dinner at Home, The Perfect Background Music for Your Home Movies, Honeymoon in Hawaii, Strings for a Space Age, or Cairo! The Music of Modern Egypt. The brilliantly hued, full-color cover art might show an ideal listener, an ideal living room, an ideal tourist in an exotic landscape—or even an ideal space traveler. In Designed for Hi-Fi Living, Janet Borgerson and Jonathan Schroeder listen to and look at these vinyl LPs, scouring the cover art and the liner notes, and find that these albums offered a guide for aspirational Americans who yearned to be modern in postwar consumer culture.
Borgerson and Schroeder examine the representations of modern life in a selection of midcentury record albums, discussing nearly 150 vintage album covers, reproduced in color—some featuring modern art or the work of famous designers and photographers. Offering a fascinating glimpse into the postwar imagination, the first part, “Home,” explores how the American home entered the frontlines of cold war debates and became an entertainment zone—a place to play music, mix drinks, and impress guests with displays of good taste. The second part, “Away,” considers albums featuring music, pictures, and tourist information that prepared Americans for the jet age as well as the space race.