Before School of Rock there was Century Records. Nothing against the 6-year-old guitar prodigy or the teen wonderkid singer songwriter, but who doesn’t love a creaky out of tune cover song played by a run-of-the-mill middle school band?
Century Records was largely a franchise operation. Local recording companies across USA peddled Century’s LP Packages then sent their school recordings to Saugus, California to be pressed and printed. Century was the brain child of a guy named Keyser who was deep into plastics and vinyl. In fact, Century eventually became a strictly plastics operation and stopped its franchising of school records all together. But not before creating a library of unique no-frills LPs for amateur tin-ear archeologists to unearth and revive.
In our unrelenting mission to rescue junked albums, we first ran into these LPs in thrift store bargain bins. They usually have a pretty generic cover with a distinctive sketch of the Century Records Building on the back. Some of the tracks are are pretty good, though we prefer the cuts with plenty of rough around the edges. These numbers illustrate the beauty of the Century Record concept: everyone can get a shot at being a recording artist and have the LP to prove it!
Such dillies include Alameda High School Band’s version of Greensleeves on yellow vinyl, the Byrd Junior High 1964 Band’s medley of hits from West Side Story, and the Wilson Junior High School Chorus’ 1967 rendition of the Impossible Dream. Standards like these become instant entertainment in a way that karaoke never could be.
A few years ago, it dawned on us that we might be able to find the Century building as sketched on the back of the LPs– after all, Saugus is practically in our own backyard. Armed with a map, some Century LPs, and a camera, we headed north on Highway 5. We were certain this distinctive looking building would be easy to spot. No such luck.
We showed the LP to the owners of a local coffee shop, several gas station attendants, and even the woman on duty at the historical society. No one had heard of the place let alone seen this building. Everyone was really nice though, and the historical society lady even thanked us for educating her about her own town. Alas Century Records was obsolete– erased from the local memory and urban landscape. We’ll just have to turn to the turntable for solace in Wilson Junior High’s The Impossible Dream.