Songs Of The Humpback Whale
Guy Lochhead, 10/09/10
Breakthrough album of whalesong. The recordings were made by Dr. Roger S. Payne, his then-wife Katie Payne, and his colleague Frank Watlington in Hawaii and Bermuda in the ’60s, and the album was put out on CRM Records in 1970. Its release was one of the landmark events in changing the way humans perceive the animal world, and galvanised the environmentalist movement into action. Humpback whales are one of the largest and most endangered creatures on Earth, and the only whale known to emit underwater sounds in the form of long, complex sequences of repeated phrases. The National Geographic gave away free flexi-discs of some of the recordings to its members, ordering 10.5 million copies of the sound sheet – the largest record pressing ever. I am fascinated by this record. The huge warmth of its reception came at a time where scientific progress was at the forefront of public imagination, not long after the moon landings, and within months of the newly declared Earth Day. The record became an emblem of the ecology, animal liberation and conservation movements, without yet becoming mired in hippy bullshit. I find the fact that it’s the most-pressed record ever absolutely remarkable given the fact there is no human augmentation to the raw recordings (aside from, say, a motorboat engine or rope creak). It showed a conscientious side of public thought that is rarely given such an opportunity to be expressed. I will include a copy of the original CRM Records pressing that so caught the public imagination.

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