Friday, March 19, 2010

Vinyl Movies... In Space Age Stereo!

It's sometimes difficult to remember a time before home video. We have so much media literally at our fingertips these days, that a time before VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray, Tivo, streaming video, etc., seems almost unbelievable. Those of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s loving TV and movies had to resign ourselves to watching the shows we liked only when network programmers scheduled them (assuming our parents let us at all), and if we wanted to revisit a favorite film, the only option we usually had was a paperback novelization (by Alan Dean Foster, most likely) - if we were lucky and the film we liked even got novelized.

When Star Wars came along and surprised everyone with its incredible mainstream popularity, Lucas, Fox and hundreds of licensors scrambled to create new products that they could sell to Wars-hungry masses while said masses waited impatiently for the sequel. Among those new products was The Story of Star Wars - a long-playing record album that contained an abridged version of the film story, composed of dialogue, sound effects and music from the movie soundtrack, with additional narration (by actor Roscoe Lee Browne, who had played "Box" in Logan's Run) to smooth out the audio narrative.

I had this album on cassette, and I listened to it so often that even today, I can recite large swaths of the dialogue in Star Wars from memory.

Of course, being Star Wars, and with affordable videocassettes of the movie itself still several years away, the Story Of... album sold like crazy. Millions of kids like myself re-experienced that movie over and over in our heads for years. It was so successful that similar story albums were released for the next two Star Wars films, and several other genre productions, too. I know there were similar albums for Raiders of the Lost Ark ('natch), Battlestar Galactica, and The Black Hole. Probably others, as well.

If you hunt around online, you can find downloads of most of these records. They're actually pretty amazing. Most of the abridgements are expertly done (the Saga of Battlestar Galactica LP plays better than the actual pilot, in my opinion), and they're damned fun to listen to.

In fact, I often listen to them while I work on various projects - this blog, for example - at my computer.


  1. Thanks for this great nostalgic post Christopher. How I too remember these abbridged cassettes and lps (and Marvel's comic book serialization)... ahh, the good old days :)

  2. Abridgements like these are truly, truly awesome. I have found albums of the three original Star Wars movies, Battlestar Galactica, and The Black Hole... I used to have Tron, but it got deleted somehow.

    Good stuff, good stuff...

  3. It's interesting to note the "name" narrators who did NEW material to "link" and expand the stories for vinyl. Sometimes it was their ONLY contribution to the francise...
    Roscoe Lee Browne in Story of Star Wars.
    Malachi Throne in Story of Empire Strikes Back.
    Sometimes it was the star of the series...
    Lorne Greene in Story of Battllstar Galactica.

    One movie story album in particular, Raiders of the Lost Ark: the Movie on Record, didn't use ANY narrator! And it held together beautifully.

    Sadly, Star Trek had movie story albums for I-IV which didn't use the movie soundtracks, but were more like Power Records versions with new casts, music and fx.

  4. Now, I want to listen to Raiders!

    P.S. Where is that shot above the "about this blog" blurb from, please?

  5. Damn kids--they don't know how hard we had it back then! Grumble, grumble.

    OK, seriously, I had forgotten about this. The Radio version was excellent and well-remembered (I think), but this was more like seeing the film IN YOUR MIND!

  6. I remember the Star Wars and the Black Hole rocords really well. We played the Star Wars record so much: it even got dropped and a big chunk of it broke out of it, and we still kept playing the parts of it that would still play. I'm sure my dad appreciated us wrecking his needles on the turntable because of it!

  7. Ah yes, the Star Wars albums with a movie still on the album itself. Never saw the original movie until VHS so the soundtracks, story albums, novelization and the paperback of the Marvel comic adaption were what I had. That and the crude film reel toys where you could play key scenes of the movie sans sound frame by frame with a handcrank.

  8. The Story of Star Wars was the second record album I ever purchased. I was in third grade and would listen to it every day when I came home from school. Also, my two best friends Brian and Eddie had it, so during recess we'd play Star Wars and pretty much quote the album verbatim.

    The funny thing is that my record had a scratch during the final battle and to this day when I watch the movie, I expect Luke to say "Biggs, Wedge, let's close it up" more than once.

    Thanks for posting about this. It's brought back some nice memories.

  9. Something I always wondered about regarding "The Saga of Battlestar Galactica" album. Why on earth (pun intended) did they use a picture of the Mattel Cyclon figure on the cover instead of the costumes?

  10. I've got that Empire album in my loft, I used to listen to it all the time as a kid!

  11. The Raiders of the Lost Ark record is good listen, but there are many parts where you won't know what's going on if you hadn't seen the film, or know it that well. It's manically the action scenes. Some "Narrated actions" by actors could of helped this cause a lot of the audio apparently was newly recorded, but of course this would of taken away some of the movie feel.

  12. I used to have "The Empire Strikes Back" tape (and accompanying book) when I was ten, but it wasn't a great adaptation. The special effects sounds were off mark and the voice actors were absolutely horrible. I definitely preferred the albums over the cheaper tapes that were aimed at a much younger audience.

    Did anyone ever tape record movies when they aired on cable (or regular network broadcasts), only to listen to them later? I did that before VCRs became a household item.