Monthly Archives: January 2014

Record #4: The Bear (2009)

Welcome to another vinyl installment of Bill’s Bologna. Let’s get right into it.

Updates:
Stephen Kellogg: Blunderstone Rookery– Still no word on when that’s coming in. It’s still processing.

Hanson: Anthem– Over the weekend, after almost a month of nothing, I started to get my USPS notification emails. Everything happened all at once & the record came in last night.

The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds–  I ordered it last week. It just recently came in. I’ve listened & believe me, I am extremely excited post my review of this one.

Record #4- Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers: The Bear

Let’s get to it.

The Bear Label

The Bear was released on Vanguard Records, one of the larger independent labels.


This album is one of my favorites. I love Stephen Kellog & the Sixers, or, as their fans affectionately call them, Sk6ers. They’re one of my favorite bands out there. The first time I found out about them was when they opened up for Hanson at the Calvin Theater in Northampton, Massachusetts, back in 2008. For those of you who are scratching your heads, yes, they’re the same kids who did “Mmmbop.” More on that in another post. Anyway, frontman, Stephen Kellogg stood center stage with Blue Jean, his Gibson Southern Jumbo, while the band playd along behind him. I was instantly hooked & inspired by his acoustic playing style & folk rock arrangements. Wasting no time, I hopped onto iTunes & bought his most recent release, Glassjaw Boxer. I loved it, but unfortunately, I didn’t get to see him live again until just before his next release, The Bear.

The Bear was released on my birthday in 2009 & sounds like a much different album. There’s more of a country influence & it’s definitely grittier. Less polished production is someting I really tend to like, so it goes without saying that when I had the opportunity to buy it in LP format, I was really excited to see how it sounded.

Cover Art:
The Bear’s cover art is pretty ornate. It has a cartoon picture of a bear’s back in front of  a blue & white drawing of what looks like an old fashioned New York City. “Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers / The Bear,” is written is sprawling script across the top of the art. The artist made it look like an old music poser. It looks aged, like it’s been hanging in the window of a small concert venue for years. They did a wonderful job.

The Bear Cover
Cover art for “The Bear”

Sound:
Stephen Kellogg is an audiophile & always releases his albums on vinyl. When he does this, he gives the vinyl buyers a special treat. The records usually come with different mixes & bonus tracks. On this one, it’s a beautiful song called “May Day.”

There’s only one problem with this record, but it’s huge.
When I picked up the jacket with record still inside, it felt a little light. I opened it up & there were the sleeve & disc, just like they were supposed to be. When I slipped the record out of its sleeve & gently tuned it over to see both sides, it felt very thin. The previous records I’d bought had some density to them, but this felt very flimsy. Oh well, it was time for a listen. I set it spinning on my turntable & went to lie down on my bed. It opened with the title track, “The Bear.” I was really looking forward to hearing it because instead of a bass guitar, they use a tuba. It sounded great & met my initial approval. When the instrument kicks in, in the second verse, it really stands out. It’s the perfect addition to round out the sound in a very intriguing way. The next track “A (Wth Love),” a very country sounding track was fine. Shady Esperano and the Young Hearts,” their most upbeat song, also sounded great. The rhythm section was full & played perfectly into my ears, but after that song, the trouble started.

The Bear Disc

My first Stephen Kellogg record

As I was lying there, Kellogg’s song, “Oh Adeline,” came on. This was the other song on album I was excited to hear. Unfortunately, this is where it all went wrong. About a quarter of the way through the song, it started to warble.* The speed of the songs sounded like it was fluctuating a little bit. It wasn’t a ton, but it was just enough to be annoying. At first, I thought I had somehow broken my tuntable, but when I got up to look, it turned out that the record was warped.** It was confirmed when the same exact thing  happened on the other side.

Now, make no mistake, this was not a problem with the mix. The warping was definitely there & it was easy to see. As the record played, the warped waves in the vinyl disc caused the tone arm to visibly rise & drop.. The reason the sound was shaky was because as the needle runs up a lump in the vinyl, it slows down, playing back the audio at a slower rate, but as it runs down the other side, gravity takes over & lets it drop down through the groove. As a result, it moves slightly faster, speeding up the playback.

It could have been a pressing problem at Vanguard, or the vinyl may have been cheap. It was thin, but I doubt bad pressing was the case. Independent labels release a good amount of vinyl to people who care about it. I don’t think they would let too many bad records get by them. That leaves poor storage or bad transit handling. Remember, it was pressed in 2009 & if it was on its side, warping definitely would occur. It also could have been lying under something on the truck, but it doesn’t matter how it happened; it’s still a problem, regardless.

I was very disappointed becase I’d waited for a long time to get this one in. I have yet to decide what to do with it. I may replace it & if I do, I know I won’t be ordering from that store again.

All warping aside, The Sixers did a great job recrding & mixing this one. The alternate mix is incredible on the unhurt tracks & the arrangements are just as great as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, the bonus track,  “May Day,” fell victim to the warping & I didn’t get to listen to that one the way I wanted. I look forward to when I can.

Anyway, that’s about it from me today. I need to catch up on the new records I’ve gotten, but after that, you’ll get a word post from me. I promise.

*Stop it. No, it’s not the “wa-wa-wa-wa-w-w-w” you hear in dubstep. This was a problem with the playback speed.
**Just to be sure, I tested all of my other records, & not one of them played as poorly as this one.

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Astronomy vs Astrology: Absolutely Not the Same Thing

About six months ago, I subscribed to a podcast called Astronomy Cast. It’s a wonderful popular science podcast about, you guessed it, astronomy & I highly recommend it. They cover anything & everything & their November episode on the zodiac inspired me to do some research & write this article.

But first, a small back story:

I’m a space nerd. It started my freshman year in college, when I needed to take a science course for my general education requirements. I’ve always liked science a lot, but there’s one problem. While I have no issue grasping the concepts, I’m terrible with numbers. Ask me to write an article on it & I’m fine, but ask me to prove theories with numbers &, well, I probably won’t prove them. I’ll probably just send you to a book or website that can. I only had to take an intro course, but even so, chemistry was out. So was physics. Even at their beginner levels, math is heavily involved. That’s when I came across Sacred Heart University’s listing of their introductory astronomy course.

I was a little apprehensive; I didn’t know what was in store for me, but it turned out to be the perfect one to take, kicking off my love affair with space. We learned about everything from the proposed history of the universe to names of stars & where they’re located in the sky.

I eventually got myself a pretty cool telescope with an eight inch mirror (I regret that I haven’t used it since my move to Boston), which can easily make out Jupiter’s cloud bands & moons, far away clouds of gas & distant galaxies. Now, I was ready to stargaze & to the dismay of others, from that moment on, I could talk anyone’s ear off about it. Pretty soon, though, I started to notice two very common responses from a concerning amount of people:

1) “It’s cool you’re into astrology, when did you get into that stuff?”
2) “Oh, cool. That’s like horoscopes & stuff, right? So, can you predict my future?”

Not to sound pretentious, but these are what I call, “head-desk” responses & soon, you’ll find out why. Before I explain it, though, I just want to say that I know people believe in certain things & while I explain this, I’m going to try to be sensitive to all the astrology lovers out there.

That’s funny. No, I’m not. Astrology is a gigantic pile of crap.  Seriously.

Okay, you get how I feel about it, so I’ll just get into the rest of the article. Astrology is a type of divination. It’s the “study” of how the locations of the different planets, sun & moon in the zodiac calendar influence your personality & daily life… blah blah blah…  There is absolutely no way any of this is true. There is plenty of evidence to support my stance, but for now, I’ll just go through the basics with you.

The positions of the constellations in the Zodiac calendar are not accurate:
This is one of the biggest points made in the “Zodiac” episode of Astronomy Cast.

The Zodiac calendar is centered around the solar ecliptic. For those of you who are wondering, the ecliptic is the line the sun appears to follow across the sky over the course of a year. In the same amount of time, the Earth travels in a complete circle, or orbit, around the sun. As we travel along the orbital path, the angle at which we observe the sun constantly changes. That means that the stars we see behind the sun change as we move through the year & your birth sign is the constellation where the sun was positioned when you were born. This is said to have a direct influence on your personality & what makes you, you.

Many of the other significant bodies in the solar system more or less follow the ecliptic as well. Astrologers believe if Mars or any other planet is in X constellation, your mood should therefore be Y. The same can be applied to the moon.

Here’s the problem with all of this. The people who invented this type of divination decided to divide up the year into twelve equal parts. Even if we disregard the fact that there are actually thirteen constellations through which the ecliptic passes, the constellations aren’t even remotely the same size & therefore don’t take up a convenient one twelfth of the ecliptic. The time it takes for the sun to appear to pass through each constellation ranges from just a few days to about forty. This means for most people, they weren’t even born under the sign they think they were & that, my friends, is just stupid.

A zodiac chart from the 9th Century, showing the 12 months versus the 12 evenly spaced zodiac signs.

A zodiac chart from the 9th Century, showing the 12 months versus the 12 evenly spaced zodiac signs.
(Photo in Public Domain)

Constellations are just shapes made up by our imagination.
Nowadays, constellations serve a purpose. Astronomers use them to find & name stars & other astronomical objects. They’re locations in the sky where we can find things. Pretty practical, right? This wasn’t always the case, though.

We know that the concept of constellations go as far back as the Ancient Babylonians, & they probably go back farther. Back in the early days of stargazing, Babylonians believed that these shapes in the sky were the deceased heroes of their culture, floating in heaven. Eventually, the Ancient Greeks adopted these stories & added their own. The Romans then added to the Greeks’ work & so on.

I like to imagine that the conversations between citizens & wise men went like this:

Citizen: Oh great one, I have a question about the stars.
Wise Man: Go ahead, son.
Citizen: How did they get there? What is that shape?
Wise Man: Well, um… uhhh, they’re dead people in heaven. See that one? That’s a ummm- hunter. His name’s Orion.
Citizen: Wow really? That doesn’t sound like a name.
Wise Man: Yeah, but it is, & see those two stars in a line that don’t look like a dog at all?
Citizen: Yes, what do they make?
Wise Man: A dog.

Anyway, they’re just imaginative & since we now know the sky isn’t a two dimensional thing, we know that the constellations’ shapes would be drastically different, if we were to look from another part of the galaxy.

They’re meaningless, aside from modern cataloging.

The pull of gravity from the planets isn’t nearly enough to affect your mood.
Jupiter is the biggest planet in the solar system. Aside from the sun, it’s the most massive object & has the most gravity. Relative to the rest of the solar system, the moon is small, but it can pull oceans. Just think what Jupiter can do. Better yet, your body is two thirds water. Just imagine what that does to your brain chemistry & physical health!

Okay, everything I just said up there is complete garbage & it’s all because of Newton’s law of univesal gravitation. One thing I will concede is that the planets of the solar system are pretty massive. With mass comes gravity, & with gravity, come tidal effects. These are what cause the oceans to rise & fall with the moon’s position. Here’s the thing about that law, though. While more massive objects have more of a gravitational influence, that influence diminishes as it gets farther away. That’s why if you send a spaceship out to, say, the moon, it will have to hit 25,000 miles per hour. That’s called escape velocity The farther you are from an object, the less you’ll feel from its gravitational pull. As you head towards the moon, Earth’s gravity wants to pull you back, making you decelerate, but if you leave Earth at 25,000 mph, its gravity won’t slow you down enough. You’ll coast, slowing down, but eventually, you’ll be far enough from Earth that its gravitational influence won’t exert enough on you to keep you back. You’ll break free. The moon’s will become stronger as you get closer to it & you’ll start to be pulled moon-wards.

Why did I give that long winded example? Well here: It also works the same way with the planets. Jupiter’s mass is about 25 thousand times the mass of the moon’s, so it’s natural to think it’d pull us towards it without a problem. That’s not true. It’s so far away (at its closest, Jupiter is 365 million miles away, compared to the moon’s 240 thousand) & Earth is so close, the effects are unbelievably tiny.

Let’s get some perspective on how small this effect is. Mars is much closer to Earth than Jupiter, at an average of distance 140 million miles. If you’re standing on the surface of Earth, Mars has the same gravitational influence as three humans who are in the same room as you. That’s almost nothing, & therefore, by astrology’s logic, every time you pass three people at a close distance, your personality or mood should change.

Astrology also assumes that each planet stays constantly at the same distance from Earth. That’s not even close to true. The planets are constantly at different distances from you. I previously said Mars is at an average of 140 million miles away. Remember, everything in the solar system is in motion & that means that depending on when you look at it, a planet could be all the way on the other side of the sun. It could also be on the same side as you. At its greatest distance, Mars’ gravitational influence would be much less than it’s closest distance. So, there’s definitely that.

Astrology constantly needs adjusting.
Remember when I said that everything in the solar system is in motion? The same applies to the galaxy. That means that every star is in its own orbit around the center of the Milky Way. As a consequence,the constellations are going to disassemble & change over time. Check out this video. Watch the Big Dipper in the middle. The stars start to move away from their familiar ladle-like shape. It’s a slow process, but regardless, there is going to come a time when astrologers need to rethink the signs.

The Earth is protected from the solar wind.
Reactions which are influenced by electrically charged particles happen all the time. This could affect the electrical charges which are being fired in our brains all the time, therefore changing our mood, right?
Some planets have electromagnetic fields, but it boils down to the same problem as before: distance. Jupiter has a disgustingly huge magnetic field. It’s so large, that we can pick its sound up on our radio telescopes, but by the time it gets to us, it’s too weak to do anything.

Rendition of Jupiter's magnetic field, or magnetosphere. Note how Jupiter's moons are surrounded, but Earth is not. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user, Volcanopele

Rendition of Jupiter’s magnetic field, or magnetosphere. Note how Jupiter’s moons are surrounded, but Earth is not.
(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user, Volcanopele)

The only object that can influence us with its particles is the sun, by constantly emitting the solar wind, which is a stream of charged particles. These flow out in every single direction. Guess what planet sits in one of the every single directions. That’s right, Earth. When an extra big solar flare that is aimed at us occurs on the sun, it has the capability to knock out communications satellites & power grids.
Down here, we have protection from it. That comes in the form of our own magnetic field. Our magnetic field deflects the majority of the sun’s charged particles, UV & other harmful radiation. So, aside from sunburn, dehydration & skin cancer it’s unlikely. Let’s pretend that most astrologers’ arguments are valid. There are still two things that astrologers don’t take into consideration here:

1) Even if the sun did influence our personalities, there is no reason to think that it would only influence us in the womb. We have more exposure to the sun after we’re born, so at the very least, depending on whether or not we wear hats or sunscreen, our personalities would still be changing constantly.
2) The website, Bad Astronomy’s article, “Misconceptions: Astrology” brings attention to astrologers’ tendencies to give the sun way less importance than the planets, despite the fact that the sun has much more of an influence on us in every way possible. It has 99% of the solar system’s mass. If it were to have an impact on your personality, it would be astronomically (all pun intended) larger than that of the planets’ effects combined.

So, as you can see, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence is stacked against astrology. That’s just the surface; there are countless other facts. Look, if you have fun pretending to predict the future, I won’t hold it against you at all. Just don’t expect me to follow along.

Anyway, that’s my rant for the week. I’ll be back with more records & useless information next week!

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Record #3: With the Beatles (1963 [2009 Remaster])

Hello, everyone!

Lately, I’ve been posting without any real schedule. I know this used to be a Monday post, but I didn’t run as tight of a ship as I’d have liked over the holidays. My plan for now is to do my word & random facts posts on Mondays & talk about my record collection whenever I get a new one. I’ll start it on Monday, so for now I’m going to post about my newest LP.

First, though, the  housekeeping:

Stephen Kellogg: Blunderstone Rookery-
No update. There’s no tracking information & the District Lines website still says the order is processing. I’m going to send them an email at the end of the week.

Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers: The Bear
This one was an impulse buy. I own it on CD, but when I stumbled upon it on Amazon, I noticed there are a few bonus tracks. Kellogg also tends to release alternate mixes on vinyl, so I’m getting something a little different than what I already have.  It arrived today & I can’t wait to give it a spin when I get home.

Hanson: Anthem-
Last week, I received an email from the Hanson.net store, saying that the record has shipped. According to the tracking info, it’s been waiting for the post office to pick it up since last Saturday. Maybe an email to hanson.net is in store, too.

Now for the main event:

LP2

The With the Beatles Parlophone label.

My copy of With the Beatles arrived last week. I was very excited to get it because along with Let it Be, it was one of the first CD I ever owned. I have wonderful memories of my ten-year-old self placing it in my mom’s parents’ 6 CD (SIX?! Six CDs?!) player & proudly playing it for them.
It was also a landmark album for the group. Originally released in November of 1963 (on the 22nd, the same day President Kennedy was assassinated). The Beatles’ second long playing release was a technological step up from Please Please Me. The production is clearly ahead of what it was on their debut. One thing that stands out is the use of double tracking (not to be confused with the quicker practice of artificial double tracking, which they would invent three years later). Wen you double track, you record the singer’s vocals twice. The engineer delays the second vocal recoding by a fraction of a second, so it doesn’t distort & then splices it in with the original track. It was first used in the movie, Cinderella, but then became widely adapted for album use. Studio engineers originally used the trick to bolster weak singers’ voices, but by the time The Beatles came along, it was meant to give the record a more robust sound.
Two other tricks they used appear on George Harrison’s first composition, “Don’t Bother Me.” John Lennon used Vox AC-30 tremolo effect on his guitar, & also messed around with an early fuzz pedal, the Gibson Maestro. The tremolo made the final cut, while the fuzz didn’t.
With the Beatles also marks the first time a piano was used on one of their records. Most of the piano was played by their producer, George Martin. It appears the songs “Little Child,” “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Not a Second Time” & “Money.”An electric keyboard is played by Lennon on, “I Wanna Be Your Man.”
That’s pretty much the extent of new sounds on the record. It might not sound like much, but it’s very significant. The use of new things on With the Beatles kick started a love affair with studio experimentation, for which the band would become highly acclaimed.

LP1

My copy of With the Beatles

Cover Art:
The cover art for With the Beatles also marked the first time the band had an artistic voice in their album covers. They hired fashion photographer, Robert Freeman, to do the shoot. It was very quick. They lined up in a dark hall with one source of light & shot their photos for about an hour. It would eventually become one of the band’s most iconic photos, as it was also released in the USA as the cover art for the band’s Capitol Records’ debut, Meet the Beatles!
The photo itself, is representative of the early 1960s, while hinting at The Beatles’ future trend setting artsy tendencies. I own it on CD, & on record jacket, it’s obviously much more prominent. There isn’t much to say about it, aside from the fact that it just looks cool.

LP3

With the Beatles cover art by Robert Freeman. Ringo was placed on the bottom not to look artsy, but simply because there wasn’t enough room.

Sound:
This is the first record I’d had a chance to play through speakers of a similar size to the ones I will be getting. My roommate, Leo, lent me some of his speakers which he doesn’t use. I’ll be using these until I can get myself a receiver/amplifier & a pair of decent speakers. Until then, these will definitely work. They’re studio monitors, so the sound is exceptional.
This copy of With the Beatles is also a 2012 remaster from the 2009 set, so I was expecting the sound was going to be impeccable. I was right. See my post on Please Please Me, if you want more information on how they remastered it. Just like the other stereo mixes of the early 1960s, the separation was simple. The instruments came out of one channel, while the vocals came out of the other. Remember, stereophonic records had just become available to the public. It’s definitely something to listen to, if you turn down each speaker individually.

While I listened to the whole record & made sure to savor this new listening experience, I paid extra close attention to the two side openers carefully.

Side A starts with the song, “It Won’t be Long” &  from the get-go, I was slammed with pure Beatl-y goodness.  That link is the 2009 remaster uploaded onto youtube. You can get a feel of how the record opens with a bang. The standout feature of this song is George Harrison’s riff, played on his new Gretsch Country Gentleman. Lennon’s Rickenbacker guitar follows the rhythm of Ringo’s drums. It all balances perfectly.

Side B opens with the Chuck Berry song, “Roll Over Beethoven.” The song starts out with an opening solo & after a few bars, the full band comes in. As you’ve gathered from my other posts, I believe bass is very important. It fills out the sound of a record & is a key driving force of the music. Paul McCartney’s bass was always more prominent in this song, & was very much in the forefront of this one.
Buried in the CD mix, is John Lennon’s little Rickenbackr 325. On the CD, it’s way behind everything & is vastly overshadowed by Harrison’s rock & roll riffs & vocals. Every so often, mostly during breaks in the singing, it shows its jangly face on the surface for a beat or two. The engineers at Abbey Road definitely fixed it & made sure you can hear it.

With the advance of recording techniques between the band’s debut & sophomore record, the overall sound improved. The range from bass to treble was already much less sparse before remastering, but the remastering definitely brings out all aspects of the music even more. It was an absolute pleasure to listen to.

So there you have it. With the Beatles is wonderful album & I really enjoy having it on vinyl. As a Beatle fan, I have always wanted to own & listen to their albums on LP. Now, I get to do that & I couldn’t be more excited. So far, they haven’t.

Two down, nine to go.

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Record #2: The Byrds’ Greatest Hits (1967)

Welcome to this week’s Bill’s Bologna.

From now on, when I post about my records, before I get into the specific one I’ve chosen, I’ll give you an update on which LPs I’m looking for, which one’s I’ve purchased & which ones I’m expecting. Here we go:

I’m still waiting on Stephen Kellogg’s new solo release, Blunderstone Rookery, which I ordered just after Christmas. He sells his music & merch through District Lines & I’m guessing they press the vinyl in batches. As of this morning, the order is still processing. It’s been almost two weeks now, so my guess is that they press in batches. They’re probably waiting unil the orders reach a certain number to get them done. This is just a guess, though, so if anyone knows anything about this, please let me know. I would also like to buy Kellogg’s last album he recorded with his former band on vinyl & this will definitley have an impact on whether I do or not.

My copy of With the Beatles has been facing some delays because of the nasty weather we’ve seen recently, but as of yesterday, the tracking information said it was out for delivery. When I double-checked the progress this morning, something weird happened. There was a giant red exclamation mark next to the tracking number. Next to that, it read, “EXCEPTION.” After looking into it, I found that it means something went wrong in transit. I dug deeper because, well, I wanted my record, & I found out that for some reason, the next event (delivery) was never triggered. Fingers crossed.* At any rate, you can bet I’ll be talking about that one next.

There’s only one brand new thing to report to you this week. I decided Hanson’s 2013 release, Anthem. I was on the fence about about buying it, but on Friday night, I  finally decided to bite the bullet & go for it. As of now, I don’t have any of the tracking information, so I guess it’ll get here when it gets here.

Okay, now that the housekeeping is out of the way, it’s time to talk about The Byrds.

A few weeks ago, I bought a 1967 copy of The Byrds’ Greatest Hits from an eBay store called TreasuredTracs. I bought it for $8 & I definitely recommend working with them. The man I dealt with was named George. He was attentive & without having to ask, he constantly kept me updated on the whereabouts of my package via personal message. Despite the fact that the weather last week was snowy & terrible, George made every effort to get my record to me as quickly as possible. Even with the delays, it only took about a week.

I had the record shipped to my office & it came in yesterday. There were plenty of things to do, but I just couldn’t resist opening it to take a look. They say that the sense of smell is the sense that is most connected to memory & if it’s true, it couldn’t be any more apparent here. When I opened the box & pulled the LP out, the slightly musty smell & dry feel of the cardboard jacket brought me right back to being 10 & rifling through boxes my grandparents’ records in their basement.

The cover art is typical mid 60’s psychedelia. On the bottom half of the jacket, photos of bright flowers are superimposed over photos of the four-Byrd lineup of 1967.** They’re standing in a garden, surrounded by more flowers. On the top half, are individual photos of Roger (previously Jim) McGuinn, David Crosby, Michael Clarke & Chris Hillman. It’s definitely a cover that dates itself, but that’s okay. It’s a product of the times & it’s endearing.

photo

Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Michael Clarke & Chris Hillman on the cover of The Byrds’ Greatest Hits

Before I immerse you in my thoughts on the sound quality of this record, I need to preface a little bit. I’d be lying to you if I were to tell you I was a massive Byrds fan. They’re alright, but they can sound pretty amateurish at times (“Turn! Turn! Turn!” took 78 takes for the band to get right). I listen to them mainly because I’m a fan of their instrumentation… to an extent.
In 1964, after taking his band to see the Beatles film, A Hard Day’s Night, founding member Jim McGuinn decided he would go out & buy a Rickenbacker 360-12 twelve-string guitar. In the movie, George Harrison plays a Rick 12 & McGuinn wanted to emulate this.  Along with the Beatles, The Byrds made the instrument become one of the most iconic sounds in the history of rock music. Where Harrison introduced the world to the electric 12 string, The Byrds put it on the map, & though I love the sound of an electric 12 string, it starts to get a little much. See, they made the chiming sound the guitars produce famous by using it (You’ll know it when you hear it; the band makes is very prominent) so much, it became their schtick. They went all out with with it. For real. It appeared on every single song during their most influential period & the vast majority of their songs later in their career. Like I said, I love the sound (I own a Rickenbacker 12, myself & I give it a lot of love & use), but as a band, you need to vary your sound or it gets a little boring. That being said, this record has my ideal Byrds track order. It’s almost like it was tailored for me… twenty years before I was born. Eleven tracks is about as much of the Byrds as I can take in one sitting & guess what. This compilation has every single track I want to hear… Okay, so I prefaced a lot.

ByrdsLabel

Columbia Records: The Byrds’ Greatest Hits label

Now that that’s out of my system, I can start talking about the actual sound.

When I placed the needle in the grooves, the hiss was a little more prominent than with Please Please Me. That’s to be expected. I had the first play on Please Please Me. The Byrds’ Greatest Hits is almost 50 years old. I wasn’t listening for the pristine cleanliness you can get from a new LP. In all honestly, I was looking forward to the pops, because this is my first old record & they’re crucial to the experience of listening to old LPs.

The Byrds’ production quality was never very high (Sorry Terry Melcher). Aside from The Beatles & Brian Wilson of the The Beach Boys, who were the first people to view albums as works of art, instead of just collections of marketable songs, this was pretty much par for the course for the mid 1960s. This was the standard & The Byrds were no exception. Production on their records is very sparse. When I say this, I don’t mean bare bones & grass roots. The band would get to that later in their career, but for the mid 1960s, the sound was always very thinly mixed. In addition, Roger McGuinn skipped an amplifier & played straight into the recording console, all while running his guitar through two compressors. He’s quoted as saying their engineer compressed everything. All of this saved the recording equipment from the new & relatively loud rock volumes, but destroyed the low end. The effect of the studio compression, plus the extra compression when mastering for CD format completely killed the sound. I was well aware of this, so I listened to the vinyl very carefully. “Mr. Tambourine Man,” was the one I paid the most attention to because on CD & .mp3, the bass is at its thinest. You could even go as far as to say it has a twang to it. On  vinyl, the song was still pretty lacking in bass (though not nearly as much), but there was definitely something different about it. It’s hard to put a finger on, but one thing is for sure. While the bass & depth definitely were still missing, there was a whole spectrum of sound which filled everything else in. The life the tracks had was something I never would have expected from the Byrds. I’d listened to these songs for years & missed so much: coughs, vocal imperfections, foot-taps- you name it & it was there. When I listened to the rest of the record, I discovered the same thing.

ByrdsDisk

My 1967 copy of The Byrds’ Greatest Hits

I don’t have too much else to say because most of the songs have the same instrumental lineup & production quality to them: bass, drums, tambourine, rhythm guitar & electric 12 string, & since I’ve started writing this, I’ve listened to it a few more times. My opinion hasn’t changed. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the songs. They’re songs I’ve been listening to since I was a child, & now I can hear them in a completely different light. I think it goes without saying, that this record reconfirmed my stance on vinyl. It’s full life & detail, while other formats are not, plain & simple. No wonder my dad likes to take care of his old records.

* With the Beatles finally arrived. I’ve listened & will report soon.
** Singer, Gene Clark, left the band in 1966 because despite the fact that he was the band’s most prolific songwriter, he didn’t gain the respect he felt he deserved. He also had an intense fear of flying, leading McGuinn to tell him, “If you can’t fly, you can’t be a Byrd.” Ultimatum puns.

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