Self-Help Before YouTube

Self-Help Before YouTube

Written by Rich Isaacs

Have you ever wondered how we learned to do things (repair/install/build/develop skills, etc.) before smartphones and YouTube came along? Well, back in ancient times, before “there’s an app for that,” there were records for that (and I mean LPs).

I worked in record stores for nearly 30 years, and after a while I owned most of the music that I wanted, so I began to collect non-music albums – the weirder, the better. The thought was (in part) that I could cull some interesting snippets to throw in between songs on mix tapes. I ended up with hundreds of LPs filed under headings such as “Lectures,” “Children’s Stories,” “Historical,” “Old Radio Shows,” “Literature” (readings from classic books), and “Instructional.”

Let’s take a look at some of the entries in that latter category, some of which are actually on YouTube.

Serbo-Croatian Language Record Course

Conversa-Phone was a leader in language instruction records. I can confidently say I will never learn Serbo-Croatian, but I couldn’t resist the relative obscurity of the subject. I have a few others in my collection – Irish (Gaelic), Norwegian, and Swedish – all destined to remain under-utilized.

The YouTube video of this one has some of the worst audio I’ve ever encountered. It sounds like the record was played in a room where the microphone was right up against the speaker and constantly overloaded.


Except for court reporters, is stenography even a thing anymore? Have you ever seen the stenography “alphabet”? The symbols are little more than squiggles, lines, arcs, and loops. It makes Arabic look like block printing. But back in the day, being able to take dictation efficiently was often a plus when trying to land a secretarial job. (Another Conversa-Phone production)

Hear How to Touch Type

I must confess I didn’t listen to this one – I still type with two fingers (sometimes I use as many as four) and I have to look at the keys. My girlfriend is a speed demon on the keyboard (she offered to transcribe my interview with Patrick Gleeson because she knew it would take me a month or more).

Personal Golf Instructions From Driver Thru Putter by Arnold Palmer

With narration by noted sportscaster Chris Schenkel, this two-LP set, custom-pressed by Decca Records, came with a 24-page book of instructions with step-by-step photos of Arnie in action. As a bonus, the inside right cover is a full-panel advertisement for the Mercury Monterey S-55 (circa 1963) – “For a beautiful drive – drive Mercury S-55.”


Home Study Flight Instruction (3 LPs)

Yes, in the comfort of your easy chair, you can learn to fly a plane! Imagine being able to take over the controls after the flight crew was felled by food poisoning, like in the movie Airplane!

This set opens with this admonition: “Effect of the Controls – in the explanations that follow, it is assumed that the airplane is flying in a normal attitude, and not in inverted flight.” Boy, I’m glad you pointed that out, Sparky!


ATC Clears (Air Traffic Control jargon)

Included with the LP were a dictionary of the words and phrases used (along with their shorthand), as well as a sample Los Angeles area flight map (“Not to be used for navigation”).

I wonder if the replacement air traffic controllers who were hired after Reagan fired the existing force in the 1980s were issued this album before donning the headset. (There are lots of ATC videos on YouTube, but I couldn’t find one with this record.)

The How and Why of Hula

This package comes with copious illustrations showing all the movements and meanings of the dance. You’ll have to make your own grass skirt, though. If you search YouTube for this one, you won’t find it (I didn’t), but scrolling down, you will find a ton of Hula Hoop instructions, including one with the suggestive heading, “How to Get It Up.”

Picking Up Girls Made Easy!

Can you say “politically incorrect”? Those of us of a certain age will remember the ads in Playboy and other “men’s magazines” touting this “foolproof” technique. “You’ll listen as a guy just like yourself successfully picks up a gorgeous girl in a string bikini. You’ll actually hear the voices of the people involved:  the guy, as he begins to work his magic…and the girl, as she falls willing victim to his charm.”

There are eight scenarios, set in diverse locations, from the library (“Discover how to turn on a girl who at first is hostile and seemingly unapproachable”) to the beach (“How to get a girl who’s falling out of her bikini to fall into your arms”). It’s creepy, and there’s an unsettling obsession with large breasts. So creepy, in fact, that you may want to take a shower after listening.


Let’s Play Bongos

Let’s not and say we did… (Turtleneck and beret not included).


On Wine: How to Select and Serve Wine (Vol. 1)

I live in Wine Country (Sonoma, CA), but I am not an aficionado. Hell, I’m not much of a wine drinker, period. But if I were, this would come in handy. The first side has a conversation between wine shipper (!), lecturer, and author Peter Sichel and a “young couple.” As this album was a production of the Columbia Special Products label, the second side consists entirely of “fresh, imaginative arrangements” of classical and semi-classical musical favorites from such orchestral luminaries as Percy Faith, Ray Conniff, Skitch Henderson, and Sammy Kaye.

Secrets of Successful Varmint Calling

How can anyone resist a title like that? Along with pictures of said varmints, the back cover notes proclaim: “Varmint calling with mouth-blown calls or recordings provides the outdoorsman with many exciting hours of off-season pleasure. The thrill of seeing a fox, coyote, wolf or bobcat coming to you as you call can be enjoyed year-round, day or night.” Yeah, that’s what I want – a coyote or bobcat coming at me at night…

Take a listen as ace varmint caller Johnny Stewart presents rabbit and bird distress calls.

Learn Self-Hypnosis

Am I wrong to be a little frightened of this one? The cover is intimidating – Vandermeide, who lectured on hypnosis and had a nightclub act, looks like a mad scientist. I mean, what if I go under before I learn how to snap out of it? The answer can be found in the fine print disclaimer on the back: “The publisher in no way shall be held responsible for any hypnosis, whatever the degree which may be induced by this publication.”

New Dimensions (enlarge your breasts through mind power I’m not kidding!)

This may be the weirdest one of all. I was working in one of the major San Francisco Bay Area new-and-used record stores, and I got first look at what was being traded in. This one stumped me. The only words on the solid blue cover were in the lower right corner: “NEW DIMENSIONS.” The label was similarly cryptic, reading: “Bio-Imagery Programming/Figure Enhancement System.” It had a note at the bottom saying:  “IMPORTANT: Please read carefully the instruction manual supplied before listening to this recording.” Well, dang, the manual was missing! I had no clue as to what this record was going to be about, but I had to find out.

I bought it, took it home, and began to play it. The album started out like a standard relaxation/visualization record – “turn down the lights, loosen any tight clothing, get comfortable, picture yourself in a boat on a river” (oops, wrong album – sorry), blah, blah, blah. After about ten minutes of semi-hypnotic, mind-numbingly repetitive exhortations to relax and be comfortable, things got interesting.

“Picture in your mind how your body looked when you were about 12 years of age. Picture what your whole body looked like, your breasts, your arms, your legs. Try to see yourself as your body looked – you can see your figure, see your breasts. Remember some of the disappointment you felt when you saw your body? Bio-Imagery can change that. As you look at yourself as you were, begin to see your body changing. In your mind, begin to see your figure developing – developing slowly, but developing beautiful proportions. See your breasts getting larger and firmer…”

I’ll spare you the rest of the program, but, as you might expect, it didn’t work – I still can’t fill out an A cup.

Back to Copper home page

1 of 2