Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations/Let’s Go Away for Awhile (1966)

Hello everyone, its time to read about a new record! But first:

Updates:
David Berkeley: The Fire in My Head (Straw Man): I still have yet to receive this; I have no idea where it is.

Simon & Garfunkel: Wednesday Morning, 3AM (Columbia): Still no word on this one. Hasn’t been shipped. I guess the guy legitimately can’t find it. I haven’t heard from him since last time, so my guess would be that it’s not coming. Time to find another one! David Berkeley:

 

The Beach Boys- Good Vibrations/Let’s Go Away for Awhile:

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“Good Vibrations” Side A, complete with Capitol’s 1960s swirl label

The origins of “Good Vibrations” can be traced back to the childhood of Brian Wilson, The Beach Boys’ songwriter, producer & all around leader. His mother subscribed in the new age belief that all matter gives off energy, or vibrations & that dogs, in particular, are excellent receptors. She told a young Wilson that they tend bark & growl around bad vibrations & act happily & playful around the good ones. Whether he believed in it or not, the notion stuck & he played with the idea for a long time.

Jump to 1966.

Once Pet Sounds was released & met with indifference from the general population, but amazing acclaim from the music community, Wilson decided that he wanted to make an even better album. First, he had to start with a single. Thus, his new project began its extremely long & costly studio process.

“Good Vibrations” is beautifully crafted, with very unique instrumentation. For one, cellos were brought in to add almost a percussive sound to the chorus. Played under the vocals of singer, Mike Love, the quick, sharp triplets drive the song along. Another new addition to popular music was the electro-theremin, or tannerin, which involves turning knobs via an attached slider, to mimic the sound of an actual theremin.*

The recording technique was like the one used for recoding Pet Sounds, but to a much larger extent. The song took over eight months for Wilson to record, rerecord & mix his final product. In addition, multiple studios in five different complexes ran at the same time, with each one recording a different section of the song. It was a tiring process, with songwriter constantly running between studios & figuring out instruments’ arrangements. This multi-studio technique would eventually be adopted by The Beatles to record St. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band & The Beatles (White Album).

It was also a costly endeavor, with Capitol Records shelling out $50,000 for the record’s completion. That’s $362,316.36 in today’s money. Remember, those are just recording costs. Promotion & distribution, the most expensive part of record-making, are not figured into the fifty grand. The price was, & still is unheard of.**

Unfortunately, the one place that Wilson didn’t get support was from the rest of The Beach Boys. They had met the idea of making Pet Sounds with a substantial level of ambivalence, so when the album failed to do as well as they’d have liked, they were even more reluctant to record “Good Vibrations” & Smile, the album which it was slated to support in advance. Some members also claimed the song was too long. ***

Ever the classy guy, Wilson never specified which band members opposed the record, but this excerpt Rolling Stone Article, written by David Felton gives a good sense of the opposition which fed the frustration that eventually played a role in his mental breakdown.

DAVID FELTON: Did everybody support what you were trying to do?
BRIAN WILSON: No, not everybody. There was a lot of “Oh you can’t do this, that’s too modern,” or, “That’s going to be too long a record.” I said “No, it’s not going to be too long a record, it’s going to be just right.”
DAVID FELTON: Who resisted you? Your manager? The record company?
BRIAN WILSON: No, people in the group, but I can’t tell ya who. We just had resisting ideas. They didn’t quite understand what this jumping from studio to studio was all about. And they couldn’t conceive of the record as I did. I saw the record as a totality piece.

 

Nonetheless, Wilson convinced his band to record the vocals & release the single, most likely with the, “Well, this is my masterpiece & I don’t see any of you writing anything anyway,” argument. The joke was on the rest of them, though, because “Good Vibrations,” backed with “Let’s Go Away for Awhile,” an instrumental off of Pet Sounds, smashed the charts, landing the number one spot in Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Rhodesia, the UK & the US.

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“Good Vibrations'” Side B, “Let’s Go Away for Awhile”

Visual inspection:
You’ll notice there’s no “Cover Art” section in this post. That’s because in the 1960s, singles normally didn’t come with cover art. Yes, there were picture sleeves, but those were relatively few in numbers. The vast majority of 45s came in regular seven inch paper sleeves, & that’s exactly how I received this one.

photo 1

A 7″ paper sleeve.

When inspecting records, 45s must be treated differently than LPs. Generally, the quality of the vinyl on a single won’t be as good & it’ll have much more wear. Remember, these things only came with two songs, & if it was a number one like this one, chances are, it saw a ton of play. When I looked at my new copy of “Good Vibrations,” it definitely looked loved, but I have no complaints. There are no major gouges or deep scratches on either side. The record has only a few scuffs, which I judged wouldn’t have much impact on the audio quality.

 

Sound:
When mixed properly, seven inch singles are supposed to sound superior to LPs. This is because the record is spinning at 45 RPM instead of 33 1/3. The faster spin of the record causes the recording stylus to cover more space over the same amount of time, meaning the analog audio is much less compressed. However, in the 1960s, there was an unfortunate trade off between quality & consumerism. Old singles were mixed to play on cheaper turntables because the biggest consumers were children & teenagers. Most didn’t own state-of-the-art stereo systems, but instead, had small, portable battery powered players, with internal speakers. I found that the sound was very mixed very flatly, because the engineers in no doubt mixed the music for small, tinny-sounding speakers. When I put it on, there were quite a few pops & hisses, but that’s what you’d expect. The record is forty-eight years old & has been played countless times. I’m not worried about it at all. I think it adds to the listening experience. Despite the loss of audio quality in the mix, the record seems to play louder than any of my albums do. I can hear it play louder when I turn the volume down. I need to do some more research on this, but I’m guessing it’s because the stylus vibrates more intensely with the faster spin.

 

Final Thoughts:
This record was given to me as a gift & I absolutely love it. It’s a song I’ve always wanted on vinyl & now I finally have it. The record is wonderfully complex & I can only continue to praise Brian Wilson for his genius efforts & for his contributions to modern music. If you want to pick up a vinyl copy of “Good Vibrations,” they’re all over eBay & in used record shops. Look carefully & make sure you get something in good shape. There are plenty that aren’t.

 

*They’re cool instruments. Seriously. You play them by waving your hands between two antennae, which changes the pitch & volume. See one in action.

** Take a look at the chart in this NPR article, taken from an episode of the “All Things Considered” radio show, which breaks down the costs of making a Rihanna record. NPR calculated that from brainstorming to promotion & release, it costs $1,078,000 to make a her hit single. Let’s say Rihanna record in 1966. Putting out a single would have cost about $148,700. Now, in order to compare the two recording costs, we need to subtract the cost of promotion, because Brian Wilson’s bill of $50,000 was for recording & musician fees, only. Rihanna’s promotion is about a million dollars in today’s money & in 1966, her promotion would’ve been $138,000. So after making the subtractions, we’re left with $10,800 in 1966 money. That’s about a fifth as much. Still, that’s assuming that Wilson used songwriters & producers. He didn’t; he did those things himself. Except for studio musicians, Capitol didn’t even need spend money to hire outside the company & they still spent FIVE times as much on recording. I’d say they were pretty invested in the project.

***The record’s run time is 3:39, which doesn’t seem too long now, but in those days, it was. Singles were about 1:30 to 2:30. It’s so long that the run-out groove is too short for my tone arm. I have to turn the auto-stop off because the tone arm hits its stop point just before the song starts its fadeout.

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Deadlines: Civil War POW Security

Good Monday morning Bologna readers. I hope you all had a good weekend.

 

Many of us have full-time jobs & with that line of work come many schedules we have to meet, or deadlines. It’s a phrase we use every day, without really thinking about it.

Deadlines may be stressful things to meet these days, but when the phrase was first coined, the stress level (understatement of the century), was much higher & they were things you definitely didn’t want to come in contact with.

Let’s go back to the American Civil War.

Before the war started, methods of holding prisoners of war were varied. Some were kept in actual prisons with real criminals, while others were kept on prison ships, where diseases like smallpox ran rampant. After the outbreak of war, the number of POWs rose very quickly. Almost instantaneously, both the Union & Confederate armies had a gigantic number of captives on their hands, the likes of which had never been seen before. Both armies had to begin thinking of new ways to keep prisoners & so, both sides simultaneously decided to build detainment centers, modeled after the first prisoner of war camp, built around the turn of the Eighteenth Century in England, called Norman Cross.

One of the most notorious prisons was built by the Confederates in Andersonville, Georgia to hold Federal prisoners caught in the Richmond, Virginia area. Even though POW prisons were works in progress at the time & mistreatment was common in many contemporary camps, this one was notorious for its sadism towards the captives it housed, as food was deliberately withheld & the prisoners had to make do with a single stream to use as a shower, kitchen & bathroom. It was designed to house 10,000 prisoners, but would eventually contain three times as much. Unsurprisingly, the place was a disease breeding ground & pool of starvation. I’m not going to post pictures of survivors. They’re not pretty.

Around the edge, fifteen foot walls made of logs were constructed, with guard towers nicknamed “pigeon roosts” positioned every ninety feet or so. About 20 feet from the wooden walls, a fairly shallow trench was dug. In some areas, it was replaced with a short fence, but both served the same purpose. What were these built for? Well, let’s let Walter Bowie, a captain in the Confederate Army explain it through one of his inspection reports, dated May 10, 1864:

On the inside of the stockade and twenty feet from it there is a… line established, over which no prisoner is allowed to go, day or night, under penalty of being shot.

AndersonvilleWall

Reconstructed walls of Andersonville, complete with pigeon roosts. Note the small fence. You can also see the most basic of tentsPhoto courtesy of Jud McCranie

Yes, that’s right, guards were positioned in these guard towers & they had orders to shoot & kill any prisoner who crossed this line & regardless of whether it was an accident or not.

What did soldiers come to call this marker? They called it the “deadline.”

The Confederates weren’t the only ones guilty of deplorable POW conditions, & many camps in the North adopted deadlines, as well. This includes the Union Chicago-area prison, Camp Douglas, which because of its detestable treatment of its prisoners, especially during the city’s freezing winters, earned the nickname “The North’s Andersonville.”

The website, Today, I Found Out’s article, “Origin of the ‘Deadline,'” describes the natural evolution from POW security measure to time limit. Before its modern use became widespread, it switched from a literal meaning, to a figurative one. For example, in 1900, a parent might have set a deadline on a child’s behavior at dinner. The child might have been sent from the table, if they misbehaved.

The phrase as we know it came to life in the 1920’s, in the newspaper business. If you cross the deadline to get the paper out, people won’t get the news & you’ll most certainly be fired.

So, there it is, everyone. That’s the morbid origin of the term “deadline.” I hope you have a great rest of the week, & be sure not to cross those deadlines at work.

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Stephen Kellogg: Blunderstone Rookery (2013)

Hey all, I have another record to share with you, but first:

Updates:
The Beach Boys- Good Vibrations/Let’s Go Away for Awhile [45 RPM Single] (Capitol): I received this as a gift because I’d been ranting about how the release of “Good Vibrations” was a milestone in music production & history. It’ll be my first single review & I’m pretty pumped for it.

David Berkeley- Fire in My Head (Straw Man): I ordered this from David Berkeley’s store, via Amazon & I’m running into the same problems I did with the record I’m about to review. It says “processing,” but I haven’t gotten it yet. It probably needs to be pressed, or something. I’m very curious about the vinyl quality, as some of the independently released records were pretty thin & floppy.

Simon & Garfunkel- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (Columbia): Okay, so after a long & very unpleasant argument with the post office about the package floating somewhere in US Mail land for way too long, I finally was able to get it delivered. It has found its happy new home in my record collection.

Simon & Garfunkel- Wednesday Morning, 3AM (Columbia): Interesting story on this one. I ordered it through eBay & no matter how many times I checked, it was never listed as shipped. Just as I was about to message the seller, I received one from him, telling me he couldn’t find the record. He’s searching for it & said that he gave me a full refund & when he finds it, he’ll ship it. Free record!

Stephen Kellogg- Blunderstone Rookery:
In in 2012, one of my favorite bands, Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers announced their hiatus. That word is not what a fan of any band wants to hear because even though it implies they’re taking a break, nine times out of ten, it means that they’re done. Think about it. All the boy bands from the late 90s are technically still on hiatus so Justin Timberlake can make a solo record. As far as I’m concerned, those idiots can stay that way, but hey, I digress.

Anyway, SK6ers announced their indefinite lack of plans to record after 2012. Their final “Hi-Ate-Us” tour was planned for the summer before the split, & when I heard it, I was pretty disappointed. Then, a glimmer of hope. In early 2013, Kellogg went public with plans to release his first solo record in about ten years.

Tthe record would be named Blunderstone Rookery, after the home of the main character in his favorite book, David Copperfield. Kellogg even went as far as to sign copies of the Charles Dickens novel while on tour, for no other reason than just feeling like it.

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Blunderstone Rookery’s Elm City label

 

Cover Art:
Blunderstone Rookery’s cover art is a pretty cool looking picture of Kellogg, in profile, on a background collage of what looks like old posters & newspaper ads. The orange, black & blue contrast is very attention-grabbing. The addition of plain text, with his name in black & the album title in red, makes it a pretty cool looking cover.

photo 5

Stephen Kellogg’s Blunderstone Rookery cover

Sound:
I knew right away that this was going to be a better experience than I had with The Bear because when I looked at & held the vinyl disc, it was heavier, sturdier & much more durable. When I played it, the tone arm didn’t rise & fall over the hills & valleys of a wavy, warped record.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the typical country twang, but all throughout his musical career, when Kellogg uses it, he finds a subtle balance, creating a his own style of music which is influenced by elements from the genre, rather than using imitation. The influence is very apparent in a number of the songs on the album, but that same perfect balance continues into it. Folk, rock & other influences perforate the sound of Kellogg’s songs, creating a wonderful audio experience that is overflowing with emotion.

Final Thoughts:
I think this record was a transition for Kellogg, during which, he was relearning his bearings as a solo act. As I’ve said before, this is his first record without his band in about a decade, so it must have been exciting, yet a little nerve wracking to venture out on without the help of his old friends. Regardless of how different it in no doubt was, SK passed with flying colors. Blunderstone Rookery is made of both new material & unreleased Sixers’ songs, which is never a bad thing, & if he’s going to continue down the solo road, I can’t wait to see what his future albums which consist entirely of songs written solely by Kellogg have in store.

I love this album. It’s a positively wonderful way to kick off a solo career, so give it a listen. You won’t regret it.

If you’re interested in purchasing the album on vinyl or in another format, you can do so here.

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Quack Doctors: Dutch Frauds

Good Monday morning to you all, Bologna followers!

I have an interesting one, made possible by request, so without any further delay, here we go.

Imagine you’re in the doctor’s office. You’ve been feeling under the weather & have a cough that’s been lingering for a while. Clearly something is wrong. The doctor comes in, checks you out & tells you to go home because you’re fine. You’re not fine; you’re sick & you know it. What a quack.

Quack is one of those lucky few slang words that has made its way into the dictionary. If you open a copy of or head over to Merriam-Webster & read through all the definitions which talk about noises ducks make, it’s there. The word is defined as: a pretender to medical skill. But wait; there’s more! It even comes in verb form, meaning if you’re a quack doctor, you can quack & give bad, or fake medical advice.

Anyway, we’ve lucked out again because the answer to where this one came from is actually really easy. Believe it or not, this has absolutely nothing to do with ducks. It does, however, have everything to do with the Dutch.

Quack comes from the Dutch word, kwakzalver, & it dates back to the 1500s. The literal translation of the word is “boaster who applies a salve,” & it’s is a reference to traveling medicine men. These guys would wander from town to town, peddling their remedies & ripping people off, by telling them they had the cure for anything & everything. In the English world, these medicine men were commonly known as as snake oil salesmen. Since there was no English word for for the phrase, kwakzalver was eventually adopted & anglicized to be “quacksalver.” Then, because saying, “Quacksalver,” is a mouthful, the second part was dropped, leaving, “quack.”

So, if you were to call a doctor a quack, you’re really calling them a Renaissance Era medical con man, & by default, a medical fraud. That’s a pretty serious charge.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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St. Patrick’s Day: 10 Common English Words Which Have Gaelic Roots

Hello everyone! Happy St. Patrick’s Day (or Pádraig, as Gaelic speakers would call him)!

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I figured I’d do a post about the Gaelic language. Now, I don’t by any means claim to speak it, I find it to be a fascinating & beautiful sounding language.

For those who don’t know, Gaelic dates back to well before the Fourth Century, when it was first written. Today, it’s a language spoken mostly in Ireland, & 34% of the island’s inhabitants speak it as their first language, adding to a total of 1.77 million people speaking it as either their first or second language. Believe it or not, as many as 30,000 Americans also speak the language fluently. Despite the majority of Irish people citing English as their first language, the Republic of Ireland has made Gaelic an official national & first language. Children learn it in school, & even the street signs have translations.

Dublin_DPD_Street_sign

A street sign in Dublin, with English on the Bottom & Gaelic on top.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Ww2censor

The European Union recognizes Gaelic as an official language & it’s even acknowledged as an official second language of the UK. So, to say it’s historically & culturally significant to the people of Ireland & to the world is an understatement.

Now that you know a little about Gaelic, you can see how it’s worked its way into everyday English. Here are ten words you probably didn’t know had a connection to the original language of the Emerald Isle.

1) Bog:
We’ll start off with an easy one. The word is used to describe a watery area, covered in grassy plants, where the extremely soft soil is made of decomposed material. It’s the same in Gaelic as it is in English. The original word meant soft.

2) Clan:
This word refers to your extended family, & usually it refers to relatives who are Scottish or Irish. For example, my Irish family is named Hanley, so I come from the Hanley clan. It’s no coincidence that we mostly use it to describe families from this part of the world because this one comes from the Gaelic word, clann, meaning offspring.

3) Galore:
Meaning in abundance, or in large amounts, it comes from the phrase go leor, meaning, “til plenty.”

4) Glen:
You know, the place where fairies & elves live. It comes from the Gaelic word for valley, gleann.

5) Kibosh:
Putting the kibosh on something means to put it to a very effective end. At first glance, you’d probably think this one comes from Yiddish. Well, so do most people, but that may not be true. Many scholars agree that it’s Gaelic in origin. The word which influenced it was most likely caidhp bháis, & it translates to “Death Cap.” It was a reference to the black hood put over someone’s face before hanging. I’d say that’s a pretty effective end. Wouldn’t you?

6)Pet:
This one’s pretty simple. Pet comes from the Gaelic word, peata, meaning, “small tame animal.”

7) Phoney:
Phoney came from the English word fawney. This was used to describe gold-leafed brass rings, falsely sold as solid gold by thieves & con men. Fawney goes back even farther, to the Gaelic, fáinne, which translates as fake.

8) Slogan:
The word we know that means a catch phrase comes from the Gaelic word meaning “battle cry.” The word is sluagh-ghairm. So, instead of hearing jingles & snappy taglines, you’d probably hear this before you were run though with a sword.

9) Smithereens:
Here’s another easy one. This word comes from the Gaelic word smidirīn, meaning “tiny pieces.”

10) Whiskey:
Yes, whiskey is a word that comes from Ireland. Everyone knows whiskey. It comes from the Gaelic uisce beatha, which translates to “the water of life.” Very appropriate.

 

 

As you can see, Gaelic’s influence on English can be found in some pretty common words. It’s no surprise considering the English picked up new words pretty much everywhere they went/oppressed.

There you have it. Now you know; you’re welcome. Enjoy the rest of your St. Patrick’s Day!

PS:

This is a shamrock.

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A shamrock (seamróg). Now you know 11 words. Photo used courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user, Graymalkn

 

This is not:

Four-leaf_Clover_Trifolium_repens_2

A four-leaf clover. Photo released into public domain by Wikimedia Commons user KEBman.

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Cutting Through the Red Tape: Keeping Legal Documents Sealed

Hello, Bologna readers. It’s been a hectic two days at work, but I’ve finally found time to talk with you about a new idiom.

Today’s post is pretty quick. Here we go.

“Cut through the red tape.” It’s a figure of speech, referring to official work & paperwork. Once you cut through the red tape, or get the housekeeping out of the way, you can get down to business.

This one is extremely straightforward & has a very literal explanation. The only hitch is that when we talk about cutting through the tape, we’re not talking about the Scotch or duct kind. We’re talking about ribbon. Beginning in the Seventeenth Century, lawyers, government workers & basically anyone who had access to official documents kept them closed by tying them red ribbon. In order to open the document to read it, you quite literally had to cut the red ribbon.

NARA_Backstage_Pass_(2011-08)_-_14

1906 US Pension documents bound in red tape
Photo used courtesy of Jarek Tuszynski

The Phrase Finder’s entry on this word says the first figurative use of the phrase goes to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1838 work, Alice, or the Mysteries. He writes:

The men of more dazzling genius began to sneer at the red-tape minister as a mere official manager of details.

As you can see, the phrase eventually evolved to also be figurative, but its roots are still very clear. Before attending to their business, lawyers had to literally cut through red tape to open their documents. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Anyway, it’s back to work for me. I hope you all enjoy the rest of your week. I’ll leave you here.

Now you know; you’re welcome.

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Pulling Out All the Stops: Making Organ Music Fill a Church

It’s Monday again, & that means it’s time for Bill’s Bologna.

“Boy, they really pulled out all the stops at that party.” If you were to say that about a party, it would mean that the hosts spared no expense in order throw the best one they could. It’s another expression we often use without thinking about how it started. If you’re wondering, you’ve luckily come to the right place because I have the answer.

I love his one because for once, it has to do with music.

Organs are traditional in churches, usually accompanying the hymns being sung. They’re gigantic, ornate keyboard & foot pedal instruments, which send air through a pipe system to make their sound. While a lot of organs are stand alone instruments, in some churches, the pipes are incorporated into the walls.

To get a picture of just how complex this type of instrument is, you can watch a video of the famous organist, Carol Williams play “Flight of the Bumblebee” on an organ, uploaded by Wikipedia user, BellVideo, here. Note all of the knobs & switches. Yes, she’s also playing with her feet.

What does this have to do with an organ? It’s actually a very simple explanation. Many churches, especially Catholic cathedrals, are huge, open places, & because they were build so long ago, there was no way to electrically amplify the organs. How do you make the organ louder? You add a bunch of knobs. While some of them can be turned, others can be pulled out or pushed in, having a direct effect on the airflow through the pipes. When an organist thinks it isn’t loud enough & wants to get the most volume out of it, they can just pull out all of the sliding knobs.

What are these knobs called?

Stops.

Weingarten_Basilika_Gabler-Orgel_Spieltisch

An organ with its stops at Basilika St. Martin in Weingarten, Germany
Photo courtesy of Andreas Praefcke

The connection between the phrase is deceptively easy to make, which the folks at The Phrase Finder acknowledge. They assure us that this is the real origin, though, dating the first known example to be from George Gascoigne’s poem, “The Steele Glas,” in 1576. Gascoigne writes:

But sweeter soundes, of concorde, peace, and loue,
Are out of tune, and iarre in euery stoppe.

It’s in the transition period between Middle & Modern English, which is why it may be hard to read. If you look, you can make it out to be:

But sweeter sounds, of concord, peace, and love
Are out of tune and are in every stop.

According to Max Cryer’s Who Said That First?: The Curious Origins of Common Words and Phrases, as far as we know, the first use of the phrase using of organ stops as a metaphor dates to the 1860s, in Matthew Arnold’s Essays in Criticism. He writes:

Knowing how unpopular a task one is undertaking when one tries to pull out a few more stops in that powerful, but at present, somewhat narrow-toned organ… the modern Englishman.

So there it is. It was that simple. You pull out all the stops to make an organ the loudest it can be, & you pull out all the metaphorical stops to make your efforts yield the best results. The explanation extremely cut & dry, unlike most.  I can’t really say much more about it because that’s the way it is, & to be honest, it’s a little refreshing to be able to give you a straightforward answer.

Until next week, now you know; you’re welcome.

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