Tag Archives: Record

English Chamber Orchistra, Conducted by Johannes Somary: J.S. Bach- The Brandenburg Concertos (1-6 Complete)

Updates:
The Animals- Boom Boom EP (Columbia, reissued by ABKCO): This one was an interesting find. I bought it two weeks ago at Newbury Comics. I guess only about 1,400 were pressed. I was pretty lucky to find it.

The Decemberists- The King is Dead (Capitol): Back at Newbury again. The store near my parents’ house is small & doesn’t really have the best selection, but every once in a while, I find something I love. This is one of my favorite albums of all time, so when I saw it, I had to get it.

NOTE: After this post, I’m going to start doing my updates a little differently. I’ll posting a link to my page called, “The Record Collection.” Here, you can see my entire collection, complete with links to reviews I’ve written.

 

English Chamber Orchestra, Conducted by Johannes Somary: J.S. Bach- The Brandenburg Concertos (1-6, Complete):
I fell in love with these works about five years ago, in a music history class. The one that stood out to me was the Brandenburg Concerto N0.3 in G Major. I immediately went home sought out the entire collection on iTunes & since then, they’ve become my go-to classical pieces, when I feel like listening. Since then, they’ve continued to fascinate me the most out of any classical music.

Jump forward five years.

If I know there’s a used record shop around, I’m stopping in. Period. Northampton, Massachusetts is no different, with Turn it Up!. This place is absolutely great. As you walk in, it smells the way a record store that sells used vinyl should: like old dusty cardboard. Half the store consists of CDs & cassettes, while the other half is where you can find the LPs. If I were a kid, that half of the store would be my candy shop.

Anyway, during a trip to Northampton for a Stephen Kellogg show, we made a pit stop & I picked up three or four records. I was all set to leave, when I glanced over to see my lovely girlfriend at the dollar bin, holding an old, extremely dusty, ex-library-owned copy of a Sesame Street record. I smiled at the sight (she’s in school to be a children’s librarian) & in realizing I had forgotten to check there, I headed over.

For those of you who haven’t seen a record store dollar bin, this part of the shop is a small shelf which is full of records that most people aren’t looking to buy & ones that aren’t in very good condition. Needless to say, my hopes weren’t too high. I flipped through the old records & found a US release of Rubber Soul. The cover was ripped & the record was in atrocious condition, so I moved on.

After a few minutes of rummaging through the seemingly bottomless pile of vinyl & cardboard, I finally came across a fairly inconspicuous looking double album. For some reason, instead of flipping past it, I picked it up. To my surprise, it was a recording of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos in their entirety. My favorite classical pieces for a dollar? Absolutely. I scooped the record up immediately & added it to the bunch of records I was about to buy.

 

History:
I’d be lying to you if I were to tell you I’m an expert on any classical music from any era. I never studied it in any depth & I sure don’t know how to play it. That being said, here’s a little history on my favorite composer & my favorite of his collections.

The Brandenburg Concerto collection was given & dedicated to Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg, which was then a region of Prussia. Originally, titled, Six Concerts avec Plusieurs Instruments (French for: Six Concerts with Many Instruments) was presented in 1721, but most likely written beforehand.

Some sources claim that, despite their widespread acclaim today, Bach may never have heard the works performed. Shortly after presenting them to his commissioner, he took up a position as music director in the city of Leipzig. The composer would remain there until his death in 1750. Once there, the music he made in the many of the prominent churches began to overshadow is previous compositions & much of the early sheet music was stored away.

It wasn’t until almost a century later, to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of his death that these concertos were rediscovered & became known as game-changers. Bach used many instruments, often in very unorthodox styles. For example, the music we listened to in my class, No. 3 in G Major, was the first piece to feature a harpsichord in the forefront. Up until then, the instrument was mainly used to play chords & less intricate parts to the music. Harpsichords were almost strictly accompaniment instruments. However, in this piece, Bach wrote a solo for the instrument. The world now saw that harpsichords were much more versatile than previously thought.

Either way, the Brandenburg Concertos have become known across the world as some of the best Baroque pieces ever composed. I’d have to agree.

If you’d like to dive further into the history of these works, you can get a very detailed explanation here.

 

Cover Art/Vinyl Quality:
There isn’t much artwork on this one. The gate-fold record jacket is blue with swirls of purple. There’s no real design.

photo 4[1]

Cover Art for The Brandenburg Concertos

It’s a double album, in the same format as Hanson’s Anthem or The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife. The two discs have three or four tracks per side. This one is a little different than the others, though & the difference is in the length of the track. Baroque pieces tend to be quite a bit longer than rock songs, so even though there are only three to four tracks on a  side, one side of this album works out to be about the same length as a side on a seven-track-per-side rock record. All in all, the entire collection runs for about an hour & forty minutes, or about double the length of a standard LP.

photo 2[1]

The Double LP

The vinyl discs are in surprisingly good condition for spending time in a dollar bin for who knows how long. Most of the other records were stored in the same way & were scratched, gouged & their covers & sleeves were falling apart. On the other hand, The Brandenburg Concertos’ discs were among the few that were only a little dusty from sitting unplayed in their sleeves for a while. When I got home, all I had to do was wipe the vinyl down with my record cleaning kid, making the album was good for a spin on the turntable.

 

Sound:
Just a little disclaimer here: When it comes to classical music, I am not an audiophile, but I can point out a few things. Being a different recording than the one I had from my course, I could pick discrepancies between this recording & the one I had from school, almost right away. The audio mix was a little different, with some noticeable differences between the way the prominent instruments were presented, which made the sound of the mix (despite the fact that a record always will sound fuller, it was definitely the mix & not the fact that it was a vinyl recording) a little warmer. The overall tempo was also slower. All of these things were just fine with me;  you have to expect some elements to change from recording to recording. They’re different performances, with different key elements, such as the musicians, the producer & the conductor, all of whom have personal artistic visions. There isn’t a ton more I can speak to, but I will say that the sound of the music filling your bedroom as you try to relax beats the tinny sound from ear-buds or computer speakers any day.

photo 3[1]

The Vanguard label

Final Thoughts:
I was really lucky to find this double album & am glad I decided to pick it up. I really enjoyed listening to these pieces & am looking forward to playing them many times to come. Finally able to listen to them through real speakers is quite the musical experience & I’m grateful to be able to have access to a sound which is as close to what Bach had intended.

You can find different versions of The Brandenburg Concertos on CD & mp3, anywhere, really. This specific vinyl release from Vanguard can also be found on eBay, for between five & twenty dollars, but don’t forget to check your dollar bin!

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David Berkeley Hasn’t Forgotten His Fans

As you all know, I’ve been waiting on a record by David Berkeley called The Fire in My Head. For those of you who don’t know, Berkeley is an independent artist who has a bunch of really great records.

I ordered this one back in February, & gave it some time because vinyl most likely makes up a smaller percentage of his sales & is expensive to press. I figured that they probably press the records in batches, so they had to wait until they met the number they press at once. Well, the date the tracking number gave me came & went, & I became a little nervous.

I knew it wasn’t a problem on Berkeley’s end because the record had shipped & the tracking information followed it to my building. I just never received it. No one had seen it; it was just gone.

Jump to May. I was just about to ask Amazon to get my money back, so I could try to reorder it through Berkeley’s site instead, when the man who works in the mail room dropped a package on my desk. It looked like a record. He told me that it had been delivered by one of his colleagues to the wrong Bill, whose last name is vaguely similar to mine. When I opened it, I found that it was what I had been waiting for.

The meaning of this post is to acknowledge David Berkeley & his crew working at his store. See, when I opened the package the packing slip fell out. On it was a nice, handwritten note thanking me for buying the record & for being a fan. They said if I order through his website next time, they’ll be sure to give me some deals.

Whether or not the deals are there for anyone who purchases through his site doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that someone in his camp wrote a note to let a fan know he’s appreciated. This is the way it should be done, but unfortunately, you never see it. Granted, a musician who makes the celebrity list probably can’t do it because if you answer one, you have to answer a million more, but this just makes me appreciate the efforts of a passionate artist trying to make a living. Doing that isn’t an easy thing to do & I guarantee it took his sweat, blood & soul to get where he is. Small gestures like thank you notes make fans realize this & make it easy for them to support his work. I have never had a problem doing that, & this just reinforced it.

So, Mr. Berkeley, in the off chance you stumble upon this tiny corner of the internet which contains a blog about music & life’s little details, thank you to you & your wonderful support staff at your store. Your efforts don’t go unnoticed, I promise.

As for the rest of you, check out David Berkeley. It’s definitely worth your time. If you’re interested, you can buy his albums & other merchandise here.

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Hanson: Anthem (2013)

I have a fairly interesting record to talk about today. I’ll get to that in a second, but first:

 

Updates:

David Berkeley: The Fire in My Head (Straw Man): I have no clue what happened to this record. I am going to contact Amazon & see what they say.

The Decemberists: The Crane Wife(Capitol)
I bought this on iTunes a few years back, after the band was brought to my attention by a few different friends. It quickly became one of my favorite albums. When I saw it on vinyl at Newbury Comics a few weeks ago, I had to pick it up.

 

Hanson- Anthem:


Above, I said that I had an interesting album for you & I would imagine many of you have forgotten about these guys. By “these guys,” I mean Hanson. Yes, Hanson, the teenagers who sang, “Mmmbop,” otherwise known as the catchiest song on the planet (All jokes aside, they totally own it. They still play it live & nail it with adult voices & insanely tight three-part harmonies). I know what you’re all thinking. Before you click the “back” button, just read this. It won’t take too long.

Anthem Label

Hanson’s Anthem label with Hanson & 3CG logos

Anyway, in the wake of their ridiculously huge success in the late 90s & a bunch of corporate firings & mergers, they found themselves on Island Def Jam Records (a hip hop label, of all places). Between 1999-2000, while signed with IDJ, Hanson wrote & recorded their second major release, This Time Around.  The label let them record it without to much input from their executives, but made it clear that it wasn’t too keen on the more mature, more classic rock & pop-soul oriented music the band had written. They essentially told Hanson, “Hey, even though you’re older now, you need to keep acting 12, so we can make money,” because Def Jam is a huge label & of course they did.

The album was met with moderate success, but the album didn’t come close to selling the numbers of their first record. After a few weeks, the numbers were crunched, most likely by some high-level accounting executive who had never met Hanson. At any rate, IDJ decided that the band weren’t bringing in enough money & pulled all of the band’s tour funding… right smack-dab in the middle of a massive international tour. Despite this, as a thank you to their loyal fans, Hanson continued to honor their tour dates, despite the fact that Isaac, Taylor & Zac undoubtedly came home with massive holes in their wallets.

Fast forward a year. Both Hanson & the label decided it’s time to give record making another go. Great, right? The band got to write more & the label got to make more money! A win win, fairy-tale ending!

Hold on a second. We’re talking about one of the biggest record companies in the country here, not to mention they were a hip hop label, which, at the time, had no idea how to deal with a rock band.

Beginning in 2001, Hanson presented IDJ with song after song. With each batch of new demos sent to the company, the response from Jeff Fenster* was more or less the same: “You’ve got some good stuff here, but it doesn’t have it.” Three years, ninety rejected original songs, & an incalculable amount of the label’s unarticulated statements as to what “it” was later, an excruciating legal battle took place in order for the band to finally be out of the contract.**

Not too long after, they formed their own record company, 3CG Records. The gamble of their first independent release, Underneath, paid off, reaching number one on Billboard’s Top Independent Albums & number 27 on Billboard’s Hot 200 Albums. Their single, “Penny & Me,” reached no. two on Billbard’s Hot 100 Singles.

Since the release of Underneath, Hanson has put out three more acclaimed records, with Anthem being the latest. It was released on June 18th, 2013, the same day as Stephen Kellogg’s Blunderstone Rookery.

 

Cover Art/ Vinyl Comments:

Anthem's album cover

Anthem’s album cover


Anthem has a pretty straightforward cover, set on a black background. It features Zac, Taylor & Isaac standing next to each other, in the shadows.

The other interesting thing about this record, is that it’s a thirteen song album, but was pressed on two discs of 180 gram vinyl. Each side has three or four tracks. I’ve looked into it & I can’t find any information as to why they do this. The only thing I found was that a lot of modern musicians release their vinyl editions like this.

Anthem's 2 disc set

Anthem’s 2 disc set

My personal theory is that in this day & age, people like to skip from track to track, rather than play an album from start to finish. Having three tracks per side makes it easier for the listener to select the track. They only have to take out one record. I’m not claiming this to be the truth, because in all honesty, I have no idea. I can’t imagine it’s more cost effective. If anyone who reads this knows the real reason, please leave me a comment.

 

Sound:
Hanson has come a long way since their “Mmmbop” & Middle of Nowhere days. They’ve matured greatly from record to record, changing their sound with each new release, but this one takes a much larger leap. Hanson had a rough time making Anthem & all three members have said that the band’s internal tensions were higher than ever & they butt heads quite a bit. As captured in their documentary, Re Made in Americathe band struggled to balance three very different artistic visions for the music. Things came to a boiling point. When the time came to decide whether to call it quits or keep going, they chose the second option, channeling all of the tension into making the best record they could.

That being said, Anthem & its predecessor, Shout it out are two completely different records. They really changed it up, while still retaining Hanson’s signature three-part harmonies & album format. Taylor & Zac take most of the leads, while making sure to leave room for a song sung by oldest brother, Isaac. The tone out of Isaac’s guitar has remained relatively the same, but for the most part, this is where the similarities stop. While Shout it Out his extremely bright, upbeat & piano-driven, Anthem takes a darker turn. The music is much harder & hits you like a punch. The drums pound, the guitar rocks & the piano is buried much deeper in the mix. It’s not quite a sound I expected from them.

The disc itself sounds great. As I said before, it was released on 180 gram vinyl, so it’s durable & less prone to warps. There are a more few pops than I’d like on a brand new record, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with. Early on, there was a small skip at the beginning of the song, “Juliet,” but that seems to have gone away. There aren’t many other things to say regarding quality.

 

Final Thoughts:
I liked this album a lot, but that comes with a little reservation. It’s definitely Hanson’s most mature work. There’s no question about that, but something about its darker tone seems to slow it down. I still enjoyed it, even though its darker feel tended to slow the pace down a bit.

Key tracks:
“Get the Girl Back”
“Juliet”
“Already home”
“For Your Love”

If you’d like to purchase Anthem in any format, you can do so through Hanson’s website, here.

 

*Fenster was the head of Island Def Jam’s A & R department at the time. I won’t say more because I refuse to give him too much of my time. If you want to know more, you can watch him happily spout on & on about his “musical” & “creative” accomplishments here.

**If you want to learn about Hanson’s battle with IDJ in its entirety, you can download their documentary, Strong Enough to Break, in episodic installments on iTunes, or watch it in the same format here. The film originated as a “making the record” style documentary, but quickly switched gears to become an incredibly detailed documentation of the problems many bands face when dealing with gigantic corporate record labels. You can also buy it on DVD, along with a CD of sixteen unreleased tracks & demos from their merch store.

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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:

photo

“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.

photo 2

“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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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.

photo 4

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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Record #5: Pet Sounds (1966)

Hello, readers!

It’s been a while since I’ve written about a record & this time, I have a good one for you.  I’m really excited to tell you about it, but first:

Updates:
J.S. Bach- The Complete Brandenburg Concertos (Vanguard): This is my favorite collection of Baroque pieces. I found it, in its entirety for $1 at Turn it Up!, in Northampton, MA. I had to grab it.

Bruce Springsteen- Born in the USA (Columbia): This one was given to me by a friend, Andrew. He had an extra copy sitting around & decided to help me beef up my collection.

Eric Clapton- 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO): I found this one for about $3 at Turn it Up!. It’s one of my favorites, but I haven’t heard it on vinyl as of yet.

Crosby, Stills & Nash- Daylight Again (Atlantic): Yet another good record found cheaply in Northampton.

Stephen Kellogg- Blunderstone Rookery (Elm City [Universal]):  It’s here. I’ve played it & it’ll be reviewing it next.

Simon & Garfunkel- Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme (Columbia): I ordered this last week. It’s a 1966 copy from Columbia. I have the tracking number & it’s en route.

Simon & Garfunkel- Wednesday Morning, 3AM (Columbia): I ordered this one on February 18th. It has yet to be shipped.

Now for the main event:

The Beach Boys- Pet Sounds:
Here’s a little history leading up to the release of Pet Sounds:

The Beach Boys released their first studio record on Capitol Records in 1962. Brian Wilson & his cousin, Mike Love, co-wrote most of their early material, which consisted of summertime rock ‘n’ roll songs. They had great success, but even so, Wilson felt uncomfortable. While the rest of the band were content being pop stars, he had other plans for his music. Those plans started to become a reality after suffering a small nervous breakdown in December, 1964. Being a writer, arranger, producer & performer at the same time had taken its toll, & by January, 1965, Wilson had quit playing live. Now, there was time to devote all his energy towards songwriting.

That same year, he heard an album which blew him away: Rubber Soul. The Beatles eighth Capitol release impressed Wilson so much, it inspired him to make something he thought would be better. The end result was Pet Sounds.

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My copy of Pet Sounds on 180 gram vinyl

Unfortunately, by the time the album was released, in May of 1966, The Beach Boys were typecast as the summertime band that sang songs about California & cars. That, paired with Wilson’s father’s usurping managerial control of the band & insistence that Wilson pander to his audience, caused the album’s  sales to be mediocre, at best. Reviews were mixed to negative.

Not all ways lost, though. The record was noticed by one group of people. The music community was quick to swipe up Pet Sounds & listen. Back then, the music industry was a very different thing, in the way the executives ran it, but in the artist who were part of it. Today, the top 40 is filled with “artists” who have no staying power, making the professional musician job turnover higher than it’s ever been. The stars only interact with each other when they promote a tour or album release & most of the songwriting is done by people hired to write & arrange for them.

In the 1960s, things were different. Yes, there were musicians who didn’t have staying power. Yes, record companies were money grubbing & ruthless, but the majority of professional musicians had camaraderie. People like John Lennon, Bob Dylan & Brian Wilson were friends. Their social lives were intertwined. Successes were helped & encouraged by bouncing ideas off of each other & giving constructive criticism. Songwriting rivalries were there, but they were almost always friendly. It’s been widely documented that The Beatles & The Rolling Stones used to actually work together to set release dates so that each of them could have their own successful time on the charts. They supported each other & it was a wonderful thing.

I say all that because Brian Wilson’s work on Pet Sounds was received with open arms by successful & striving musicians alike. Wilson learned his technique of layering instruments from his friend, producer, Phil Spector, who dubbed the method the “wall of sound.”  Also incorporated, were sounds which hadn’t been used in rock music, such as the bass harmonica & even Coca Cola cans (You can see the gigantic size of the album’s personnel list here). These elements were recognized as innovative by contemporary musicians & inspired many subsequent records, including he legendary Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, with Paul McCartney going as far as to say, “I figure no one is educated musically ’til they’ve heard [Pet Sounds].”

This is why I wanted to hear it on vinyl. I needed to listen to it the way my musical heroes did.

Cover Art:
Pet Sounds’ cover art is pretty simple; it’s the band at the San Diego Zoo, feeding goats. It was supposed to be a play on the album title, & there really isn’t much else to say about it.

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The cover of Pet Sounds, still in shrink wrap

Sound:
I own Pet Sounds in mono. It’s a re-release, & like most reissues, the record itself was pressed on 180 gram vinyl. People claim it sounds better that regular 120 gram, but that’s debatable. However, one thing that is certain, is that thicker records are more durable & less prone to warping. So I guess you could say that in the long run, there will be an impact on the sound.

Brian Wilson has said that Pet Sounds is a record that you can’t just listen to in passing. He says that the best way to experience the album is to put it on the turntable, put on headphones & shut off the lights. That way the listener experiences nothing but the pure sound of the record. I didn’t quite listen to it like that, though I plan to, but I did listen from start to finish. I also have the album on my computer, & even through nice speakers, the quality isn’t even remotely as good.

The difference between laying it on a turntable versus a computer is like night & day. Pet Sounds is jam packed with sound, & Wilson intended every bit of it to be heard. Much of this is lost during the compression of an .mp3, but  once the needle drops, every sound, from the standard electric guitar, to bicycle bells becomes unbelievably clear.

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Pet Sounds‘ Capitol Records rainbow label

I’d listened to the album a million times before I bought the Vinyl, & while I knew it was ground-breaking, its lack of luster through computer speakers or .ear buds made it sound ordinary. When I made the switch, I can finally say, I get it. I now know what Wilson’s vision was & I understand completely. That, combined with an understanding of the times in which it was released, gave me a musical epiphany. It was the first time this has happened to me so suddenly & with such force. I finally was able to listen to it the way all my musical heroes did & I am unbelievably humbled to be able to say it affected me the same way.

Final Thoughts:
John Lennon & Paul McCartney are widely considered to be the 2 main musical geniuses of the Twentieth Century. I truly believe that the 1960s saw a third musical genius in Brian Wilson. Without any shadow of a doubt, his intricate & beautiful mind was right on par with Lennon’s & McCartney’s. Unfortunately, because of the lack of his band’s support & because his mental state was so fragile, he couldn’t keep up. Wilson eventually had a much more serious nervous breakdown & withdrew to the confines of his bedroom. I truly believe that if he had been given the support he needed, he would have created a much larger catalog of records, many of which would have been held in the highest regard. If things had gone perfectly, Pet Sounds would have been viewed in the same light as Rubber Soul is for The Beatles: a record considered to be the initial departure from the band’s rock ‘n’ roll roots, to something more artful. Thankfully, with age, the recordhas received the recognition it deserves from the general public, earning the title of second greatest album of all time from Rolling Stone.

Hindsight is 20/20, right?

At any rate, Pet Sounds is a wonderful masterpiece, especially when it’s played on vinyl. If you want to hear one of the albums that changed music as we know it, then this is definitely one you need to pick up.

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Thoughts on The Beatles’ US Album 50th Anniversary Remasters

Hello, everyone. Today, I’m going to do a bit of a special post about something I feel pretty strongly about. It’s not a review or anything, but just an opinion on how something’s being handled. Here we go.

January 21, 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the release of The Beatles’ first major American release, Meet the Beatles!. To commemorate the occasion, Apple, the company that handles the band’s affairs, remastered & re-released the US discography on CD. The hype was pretty high because the UK remastered albums were released on CD & vinyl in 2009 & 2012, respectively, & sounded pretty damn sweet. You can read my reviews of the first two records here & here. Even so, the release wasn’t given as much publicity this time around, purely because the new  generation of Beatles fans grew up with the UK versions. The fan base mainly consists of avid fans my age & those who grew up with the US albums, so the market for the American releases is naturally a a little smaller. Nevertheless, promotion ramped up just before the release & continues this month to mark the 50th anniversary of the band’s first visit to the US. Needless to say, I was interested in hearing the improvements to the sound.

Before I get into how I felt about it, there are a few major questions that probably come to mind, & I’ll do my best to answer all of them.

Why are the mixes in America different from the ones in England? Didn’t English bands have a say in what they released in America?
No, not really, & it’s all because of royalties. Depending on the contract, in England, royalties were paid either by disc sold or by side (remember, records need to be flipped), so, regardless of the number of tracks each side contained, the artist would get a flat percentage of the sale.  On the other hand, the United States paid artists their royalties by song. This meant that if an album had the same number of tracks in the US as the it does in the UK, the labels had to pay the artist more per album here than they did across the pond.

Two major differences between English & American albums arose because of this, & both greatly benefited the record companies:

First, in the States, singles & B-sides were almost always included on the album, where as in England, they were separate. This serves two purposes, both of which allowed the labels to make more money off of a British artist:

1) By including the single on the album, consumers pay for the single twice, without thinking about it.

2)  To make room for the single & its flip side, two tracks from the original album needed to be cut. More on that in a second. Then the motives will connect & become clear.

The second difference is in the number of tracks the album contains. In England, albums stopped being financially feasible for the record company after fourteen songs. In America, they stopped being feasible after twelve. This means that two more songs were cut, making a total of four unreleased songs. See where I’m going? Using this method, English bands releasing music in the US would have surplus of four songs. Since the standard was twelve tracks, then record companies could release an entire extra record for every three albums recorded. They didn’t have to pay for studio time since it was done already, but could charge for a full album. It was free money.

What does this have to do with the Beatles?
Remember, the Beatles were unheard of in the States before 1964 & were no less susceptible to American distribution procedures than anyone else. It didn’t help that their American A&R representative was a man named Dave Dexter Jr, either. Dexter’s employer, Capitol Records, was under the same parent corporation as The Beatles’ label, & because of this, they had first refusal rights of the band’s American distribution. Being a jazz purist who despised the abomination that was rock ‘n’ roll, Dexter exercised the right to the fullest, turning the band down three times, until public demand & pressure from his superiors made him change his mind & avidly pursue the contract.

Once it was secured, he commenced to follow the protocol used on all English imports & remixed & chopped up the tapes as he saw fit, in a process known to Beatles’ fans as “Dexterizing.” The end result was the band’s American major label debut Meet the Beatles!. All in all, it’s a good one, & the changes were minimal. They even used the same cover art. It’s basically The Beatles’ second English LP, With the Beatles, with the removal of the four tracks & inclusion of the single, “I Wanna Hold You Hand.” You can click on the two photos below, to see the track listings.

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My copy of With the Beatles

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My dad’s copy of Meet the Beatles!


As I said, it’s far from being the worst Dexterized album. That would be The Beatles Second Album (Again, it’s not a bad album at all; it’s just the principle of it & the one he went to town on the most). You can get more information on it here & a full analysis of the record can be found in Dave Marsh’s book, The Beatles Second Album (Rock of Ages).

Dexter’s meddling went on until 1967, when the band’s contract was set to be renewed. They re-signed on the condition that Capitol Records would only release the tapes as they were. As a result, 1966’s Revolver was the last record to be altered. The Beatles had set yet another precedent in the music industry.

So, what’s wrong with releasing remastered copies of the American albums?
Well, nothing… if they did it the right way.

My dad still has the original LPs & the re-releases from 2004 & 2006, so I was really looking forward to sitting down with my him & comparing the three at some point (I still am), but then a few days ago, he sent me this email:

Some people are claiming that what Apple (or whoever) did to put together these new US albums was simply use the 2009 UK mixes and put the songs in US order. If they weren’t working off the US mixes, it seem unnecessary to get them. Nothing would be Dexterized or anything like that. Have you heard anything about this?

Well, I hadn’t heard about it & I felt I needed to investigate. It struck me as odd because The Beatles’ master tapes are priceless in the recording community & are kept under lock & key. They’re only brought out on very special occasions & even then, very few eyes see them. When they’re transferred to other formats, more care is taken to preserve the integrity of the performances & mixes, than with any other set of recordings ever made.

In the case of the US remasters, I unfortunately feel that this didn’t happen.

Here’s why:

In the early days, when The Beatles wanted to release a record in America, a succession of things needed to happen to get there. They would first record their songs in the studio, with the intent of making an album for the English public. George Martin, their producer, along with their engineer would create mixes of the best takes of the songs. These final mixes would then be sent to mastering, where they would be put on a master tape, or the tape that would be used to cut the master record. After using this to press the records in England, the same tapes would be sent to Capitol, in Los Angeles for the US pressings.

Before being sent to the presses, they would be Dexterized to fit the American market. The new mixes would be sent to Capitol’s own mastering department & new tapes would be created. This then would go to press & would be released to the public.

What does this have to do with the remasters? Well, here’s the thing. A few of the final versions sent over from the UK were different versions of the ones released in England. For example, the song “I Call Your Name”, released on a four song EP (extended play) in Britain & The Beatles’ Second Album in the US, has a slightly different opening guitar solo. The difference is clear as day. (US/UK) For these songs, you’ll get a full on remaster of what was released here. This is where the authenticity stops.

Capitol Records claimed, since the songs were mixed for AM radio & inferior turntables & speakers, the modern listener wouldn’t be offered the best listening experience they could have. How did they fix this? They did it by backtracking past their own master tapes, to work off of the English ones. Using the remasters which were already done fr the UK releases, engineers recreated the mixes that Dexter had made fifty years ago. This means that, save for the tracks that used different takes, the songs you’re hearing are slightly modified duplicates of what you’re getting on the British albums. Instead of getting an actual remaster, you’re getting a recreation. Again, they were adamant about the fact that it was because they wanted to give the listener the best experience, but if I know major labels, the reason is this: they didn’t want to spend the money remastering the same song twice.

I’ve left out a lot of positives because this is mainly an opinion on the technique use to release these records, however I know there will be plenty. As I told my father, there’s no doubt that they’ll sound incredible for what they are. The guys at Abbey Road always do an excellent job & I’m absolutely sure that they took great care in doing what they were instructed to do.
Another great part of this box set is that you’ll get three American albums which were previously unreleased on CD. The first is the US version of A Hard Day’s Night. In 1964, the production company, United Artists reserved the right to release the record because it was a film soundtrack. Capitol has secured the rights & included it in this new box set.
The second two are Yesterday & Today, complete with peel off standard cover to reveal the “Butcher Cover,” & Revolver. The previous release of the American albums only included records up to Rubber Soul.

If you can get your hands on them, please do. Compare & contrast them to the original recordings & the releases from 2004-2006. You’ll have a good time regardless of how they were made.

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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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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.

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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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Record #1: Please Please Me (2009 Remaster)

Welcome to Bill’s Bologna. I know the past week or two have been lacking in posts. The holidays are a busy time of year & I promise I’ll be back in full swing after the new year.

This week, I’ve decided to add a new category to The Bologna.

As many of you know, I’m a musician. Because of this, I’ve learned to appreciate good audio quality, specifically in LPs (short for long play), or records. See, I grew up with a father who showed me what a special listening experience playing a record is. My dad is very meticulous in the way he handles his record collection. He’s had them since he was a child & has always emphasized the care that must be taken in order to keep the vinyl in top condition. I completely agree with him, but I can be a little clumsy at times. That made me a little nervous to start handling them on my own.

At any rate, I figured it was about time I started getting my hands on these things & thankfully, over the Christmas holiday, I got a push to do just that. One of my gifts was a turntable, which is one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve received in a while.

That set me to thinking a bit. I decided to post my experiences as I get new records & listen to them for the first time. It’s not because I’m trying to be pretentious (Yes, I know bragging about LPs can be a very annoying hipster-esque thing), but because I have a genuine love & intense passion for music & I want to share it with you.

Okay, let’s dive into record number one.

Along with the turntable, I was given the 2009 remaster of The Beatles’ debut album, Please Please Me. I’m a Beatle freak, & coincidentally, it was also the first album I ever owned. My father bought it for me on cassette when I was in the second grade. This was a very appropriate start to the collection.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the record, it’s the one that kicks off with Paul McCartney’s, “One-Two-Three-Faww!” of “I Saw Her Standing There” & ends with John Lennon’s vocal chord-shredding performance of “Twist and Shout.”

The first thing I noticed was the cover artwork. It’s a fairly bland photo of the four Beatles leaning over a railing in EMI Record’s London headquarters. I’d seen the photo a million times in my life, but this was the first time it was different. When blown up from the size of a CD jewel case to the size of a record jacket, it becomes much more impressive. You can tell that regardless of simplicity, much more thought went into the artwork than it does today. That makes sense. It has to catch your eye & there’s more opportunity for that on a large record jacket. The bigger the container, the bigger the artwork. The bigger the medium, more attention to creativity & detail is paid.

The Please Please Me cover.

The Please Please Me cover.

Before I get into my listening experience, let me just say that Paul McCartney has stated that the 2009 remasters of their albums are as close as you’re going to get to sounding like you’re standing in the studio with them, without actually doing so. Here’s the thing: that quotation is only regarding the CD, which is completely digital. As such, it has all sorts of limiting & compression. That’s the industry standard for CD & .mp3. Vinyl, on the other hand is unrestricted analog data. In other words, what you hear is what you get – the needle vibrating on tiny ridges in the record grooves. Yes, sometimes engineers still use the compression, but the sound is otherwise unrestricted, full & pure. On top of what was already a pure sound, engineers at Abbey Road took an extra three years to perfect it for vinyl release, removing the limiting & compression that goes into digital files & going through note by note to remove nearly everything which would be considered detrimental to the sound. They did this all while being careful to preserve coughs, sneezes, bad chords & anything the band did that is deemed to be part of the performances. Needless to say, I was very excited to start listening.

Minutes after tearing off the wrapping paper, I carefully pulled the sleeve out of the jacket & taking care only to touch it on its edges, eased the vinyl disc out. I admired it for a few seconds (It’s my very first record, after all) & placed it on the turntable. After taking time to gawk, I lifted the tone arm to start the record spinning at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute. I lowered the needle & gently placed it on the record. The needle’s  staticky run to the grooves hissed through the speakers. Then, the music started. Now, I don’t have a top notch sound system yet (that will come in time), so I was listening to it through the player’s internal speakers. These speakers are designed to be portable & not to punch you in the face with sound, but even so, I was absolutely blown away. I could hear every uncompressed detail of the music, from George Harrison’s loud guitar solos, to the hand-claps buried under the music. I was thoroughly impressed. When it was over, I wanted to play it again & again.

The Beatles' first Parlaphone LP label. Note that this is the first & only Beatles record with songwriting credits are given as: McCartney/Lennon

The Beatles’ first Parlophone LP label. Note that this is the first & only Beatles record with songwriting credits are given as: McCartney/Lennon

Now it was time to show my father. That was the ultimate test. He looked over my record player, listened to a few tunes & gave his enthusiastic approval. Then, he turned to me & said, “Let’s put this thing on my stereo & listen to it through some big speakers, just so you get an idea of what you want.”

We walked into the living room where he keeps his sound system & started the record spinning on the turntable. I can honestly tell you that this record is hands down, the best Beatle recording I have ever heard. I could hear Ringo Starr’s bass drum crystal clearly, despite the fact that producer George Martin has said that they never bothered to mic it directly. Meanwhile, on multiple occasions, Paul McCartney has said he wasn’t satisfied with the lack of Bass sound the band had on their early records. It was as prominent as ever & I’m sure Sir Paul is finally pleased. John Lennon’s chunking away on his tiny little Rickenbacker & George Harrison’s jerky & slightly nervous-sounding leads sounded like they’re right in front of me.

Record

My copy of Please Please Me.

Then, we compared it to an 1973 remaster of their last record, Abbey Road. It’s probably not the most accurate of comparisons because they’re two different records, but my dad doesn’t own Please Please Me on vinyl. I know, but you’re saying, “I thought your dad & you were Beatle freaks.” Settle down. The albums released in the United States were drastically different than the English releases, especially the early ones.* We were just trying to compare one remaster to another. Let me tell you, technology sure has advanced. 

In a production sense, Please Please Me is not the cleanest sounding album. I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s supposed to be & that’s what makes it endearing. It was recorded in just 10 hours & designed to simulate their live set at the time. Needless to say, it isn’t very produced & it isn’t very warm sounding. When we played the remastered album, the guys at Abbey Road Studios somehow managed to preserve the raw rock ‘n’ roll feel, while making the record feel a little warmer & more intimate. It is definitely a job well done & a wonderful piece of work. I am extremely excited to listen to the other Beatles’ vinyl remasters because the band’s production quality & sound only improved as they kept inventing studio techniques & releasing records.

I guess I’ve gushed enough about this, huh?

If you’re interested in my listening experiences (& I hope you are), no need to fear. I have a few records coming in this week & next that I can’t wait to get my hands on, including Stephen Kellogg’s new solo album, Blunderstone Rookery & one by the Byrds. I’ll be sure to keep you updated.

* The early US releases had almost no resemblance to the English originals because after rejecting the group three times, Capitol Records A&R man, Dave Dexter took it upon himself to remix the songs, cut & paste the track order, re-title the albums & ever so graciously, give himself a co-production credit. Oh, by the way, he did all this without consent from the band, their real producer, or their English label under EMI, Parlophone. Also, in 1980, a mere 12 days after John Lennon’s death, Dexter went on to write an inappropriately scathing article in Billboard Magazine, which ripped the late musician apart. Stand up guy.

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