Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Medium Is Apparently the Message

At the dawn of the CD era, a not-very-funny joke about Charles Manson made the rounds: after he heard the Beatles' White Album on CD, he realized it wasn't telling him to start a race war by murdering people. The joke got at something significant about the vastly improved fidelity of the CD, though: it could change the way we experience certain musical performances.

This apparently works in the opposite direction, too.

After the inestimable Yah Shure was kind enough to send me an mp3 of it, as released on a pricey Japanese box set earlier this year. I eagerly anticipated experiencing the single's spooky cool, only with greater fidelity. But it didn't happen that way. The Japanese single edit sounds as if it were cut directly from the original version on L.A. Woman: no enhanced reverb, no changes in the mix, not even the little bump on the way to the "falling rain" keyboards.

What the what?

Yah Shure observes that the record has been mastered in the modern fashion, which is to say, too loud--not as bad as some, but still too much, the practice that gives most of the records you hear these days all the dynamic range of the dial tone. But even this shouldn't affect the other things I heard, such as the subtle difference in speed.

And yet it sure seems different.

The observes that the single "is given a Japanese only treatment, and has a longer keyboard solo than the US original single." And it does--it clocks in at 4:56 instead of 4:39. If the edit was different, it's possible that the mix was different over there, too.

Or maybe, in my old age, I've finally become one of those people who prefers the sound of vinyl to the sound of a CD. But if the two versions aren't actually different, I'll eat my hat.

BYE BYE, "AMERICAN PIE": Monday's post mentioned the ultra-rare radio version of Don McLean's hit, and how you never hear it anymore. There's a reason, it turns out. Yah Shure says that copies were pressed on styrene and not vinyl, and because styrene is more fragile, the singles didn't last very long with normal radio play. The United Artists label chose not to re-service stations with new copies after the old ones wore out, so stations were left to either play the commercial 45 (which splits the song into two parts) or the whole 8:36. Copies are highly sought-after by collectors, and undoubtedly expensive. It's never been commercially released.

A CONFESSION ABOUT LOU REED: Each of us has a list of artists who, while they were important and influential to others, never made much of an impression on us. Lou Reed is one of mine. I heard "Walk on the Wild Side" on WLS in 1973, but nothing else until many years later. (Not even "Sweet Jane" and "Perfect Day," which I didn't hear until my classic-rock days in the early '00s, believe it or not.) Although I met several people in college who helped expand my musical horizons, the Velvet Underground was not one of the bands they were into. (Somebody observed on social media yesterday that perhaps he wasn't East Coast enough to get the Velvets, and I once wrote here about who seemed to consider them greater than the Beatles.) So other people are going to do a better job eulogizing Reed than I can. I did, however, very much enjoy that's been making the rounds, and this clip from a British music show about." If you're a fan, there are a couple of live Reed bootlegs, from 1974 and 1980, over .
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