Beatles

Sgt Pepper – 50 Years On

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sgt pepperWhen I first heard the news that there was going to be a new improved release of Sgt Pepper, my first reaction was “so what”.  How can anyone improve what is arguably the greatest album of all time, released by the greatest band of all time, who were at the top of the creative peak and is well known to be their crowning achievement.  If you are a child of the 70’s, you grew up listening to ALBUMS, track by track, front to back, over and over, and you would rate the release as a whole achievement, not based on one great song or two.  And, if you are like me, you reluctantly shifted from an album oriented way of listening to music to a song methodology thanks to streaming services and the shuffle play feature on our phones.  Finally, if you are like me, a child who grew up listening to music in the 1970’s, you miss being able to sit down and listen to an album from start to finish, without being interrupted by songs from other artists, commercials, or a text or call interrupting you.

There are few albums in music that are as sacred as Sgt Pepper. Many of us, heck, all of us that love music and love or appreciate the Beatles, know this album probably as much as any album in our collections.  Within its 40 minutes we know every note, and if the songs are ever played out of order, we know it immediately.  I remember reading an article years ago that published the proposed song order of Sgt Pepper, and I then listened to the songs in that order.  It didn’t work for me.  It didn’t make sense. The songs seemed out of place from each other.  Sgt Pepper, like many of our favorite classic albums, are perfect because of the way they are, and the way we have been listening to them for decades.

 Curiosity got the better of me, so I ordered the newly remastered version of Sgt Pepper.   I didn’t convert the tracks to a compressed MP3 format, and instead listened to the CD beginning to end in my car and my home stereo.  Over and over again, just like the old days.  This is a brand new stereo mix of the original mono recordings (more on that in a minute), and I have to tell you, this sounds like a totally different album.  You have heard these songs hundreds, if not thousands, of times, and they have never sounded more present, more real, than ever before. 

 I am totally amazed how much better the sound and music of this version is compared to previous releases.  The clarity difference is the first thing I noticed.  Ringo’s drums are much more present (there are fills of his in A Day In The Life I had never noticed before).  McCartney’s bass playing is more pronounced and more complex than I ever imagined, and the guitars are more alive and more raw, and everyone’s vocals are clearer than ever before.  Everything if fuller and better balanced.  The mix, as Giles Martin has said, is what the band sounded like in the studio. 

 This release reveals fresh wonders, nuances and improvements fans who are familiar with the work will immediately notice, especially the ‘bottom’ end of the sound.  There is simply put, more punch to the songs. The songs jump out at you like you are hearing them for the first time.

Getting Better has an aggression that I had never heard before, and A Day In The Life just rings for repeat, repeat, repeat. And the title track is just crazy frantic, with McCartney’s lead guitar in the forefront mashing out chords.

 After listening to this nonstop for a few weeks, I was curious how Giles Martin (he is George Martin’s son by the way) was able to create what is essentially almost a new album from 50 year old original recordings.   I learned that the technology of 1967 limited the band to 4 track analog recordings, totally different from the virtual unlimited number of tracks artists can use today.  When the four tracks were filled up with music the engineer would mix them down to a single track and transfer that to another four track recorder and work from there. That that process was repeated over and over for each tune, and with each transfer some sound quality was forfeited, but being 1967 they had no choice. 

 Luckily, all generations of the four-track session tapes were archived, so for the new “Sgt. Pepper’s” the engineers mixed direct from all of the first generation session masters, and as has been mentioned the difference is like night and day.  Martin had access to every last spool of tape from the sessions, and he used them to create the masterpiece and the best sounding version of this album that I have ever heard. 

 So, the question is whether or not greatness can be improved, and in this case the answer is a resounding yes!   Get your hands on this, don’t convert it to MP3, and listen to it properly with no distractions the way we used to do as teenagers (sitting on the floor or bed in our rooms, doing nothing but listening to the music), and enjoy every single second of this.  Everything, from start to finish, song by song, note by note, just seems more together than ever before.  We know Sgt Pepper as their crowning achievement, and they would still release some amazing music in the few years they had left (White Album, Abbey Road) but Sgt Pepper shows them as a band at the top of their game, playing sounds together in way they never would again, and today we get to listen to it again, in ways we never thought possible years ago.

Bravo Mr Martin.  Bravo.

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Music And Me

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There are few things more important than music in my life.  Breathing, health, family and friends will always be on the top of my list, but after that there is music.  Music is the very essence of who I am and I cannot ever live without it.

Music has been with me for as long as I remember.  I started playing the piano at the age of 5, and remember buying my first records at 11 or 12 years old.  I cannot imagine driving in my car, exercising, or performing any other passive function without listening to music.  As I write this article I am listening to music.  It is all around me, and I am always thinking about it.

Music is the way I express myself, and moves me in ways that I cannot accurately describe.   Without any warning, music can make me laugh or cry, lighten my mood, move me, it can remind me, and inspire me like nothing else.

The the right sound at the right time, in the right situation, affects me like almost nothing else in my life.  The other day How Can I Be Sure by The Rascals shuffled on my phone and the beauty of the song hit my emotional center with such force that I was close to tears, brought on by the beautiful lyrics and amazing instrumentation behind the words.  Similarly, while driving the other day I Don’t Want To Go Home by Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes came on and it lifted my spirit as I thought about summer, the beach, youth, and anything but the 18 degree temperature outside.

I am very open minded about music and listen to so many different genres that when someone asks me what type of music I like best I am unable to answer them.  Bruce Springsteen is my favorite artist (I have seen him over 60 times and am not ready to end that ride),  and if I had to make a list of other favorites the Beatles would be number two, but after that things get rather confusing.  For example the last 12 songs I have listened to on my iphone are:

 

  1. REM – Driver 8
  2. Grateful Dead – Big Railroad Blues
  3. Genesis – Ripples
  4. Rush – Subdivisions
  5. Springsteen – Streets Of Fire (Live ’78, Passaic)
  6. O.A.R – Shattered (Turn The Car Around)
  7. Bob Dylan – Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You
  8. The Band – Get Up Jake
  9. Pearl Jam – I Am Mine (Live)
  10. Phish – Ghost
  11. The Verve Pipe – Colorful
  12. Linkin Park – Bleed It Out

So, you can imagine my lack of surprise when some of my friends call me a music snob.  You can imagine how hard it is for me to make a mix CD for friends.  I like so much, and have so much material to draw from (close to 1000 cd’s, a few hundred albums sitting in a closet, and over 6000 tracks on my itunes library) that choosing the “right” songs for a mix is an impossible labor of love that totally depends on the mood I am in.

In a future article I will write about the social side of music, what that means to me, and how it has changed for me over the last 40 years.  I will talk about how in the old days your collection took up a wall in a room (and organizing it, if you did,, was a labor of love) and today it may fit into a hard drive the size of your hand.  I will talk about how I have shifted from an album oriented approach to listening to music to a track approach, how streaming makes exposure to  music much easier, and how all of this is good and sometimes limiting to how we share and listen to music.

Thank for listening.  If you love music as much as I do, I hope you found this article interesting.

And remember, it is possible to “learn more from a three minute record than we ever learned in school”.

 

I Miss Albums

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I miss albums.

I miss…..
• being able to admire the artwork, read the liner notes and the lyrics while listening to the songs.
• being able to drop the needle and play (reference to Springsteen’s Mary’s Place intentional).
• taking the cleaner and wiping the record clean before each play, and cleaning the stylus with the little brush.
• going to a friend’s house (or a dorm room) and browsing their record collection and becoming instant friends because it was obvious that our tastes in music were similar. They also had a copy of Love’s Forever Changes, or the cover of Bitches Brew was worn and frayed, or At The Fillmore East never seemed to make its way back into the stack, or they just didn’t know how to categorize the Beatles solo albums (put at the end of the Beatles section or alphabetize like all the other artists).
• the days of playing an album and friends or neighbors would hear it and we would bond some more and talk about the music and other stuff and we would then listen to something else, and it would morph into listening to something new and different.
• those days when I would make a mix tape and it would take me hours (if not days) and I would have albums scattered all over the floor as I tried to make that perfect running order.

I still have my albums. They haven’t been played in over 25 years (since I started re-booting my collection with CD’s). But I still have them and I don’t want to let them go just yet.

I like how CD’s don’t scratch, and sound clean, though not as ‘rich’ as an album. I appreciate how they take up less room, and how I can put 5 of them in the player and be entertained for hours. I like how easy it is to travel with them and play them in my car (as opposed to making a ‘car tape’). I like how I can display my CD collection in two wall units in our living room and it doesn’t take over the whole room (like my album collection used to).

I still listen to my CD’s, at home, and in the car.

I like being able to find out information about any CD or a song or an artist in seconds. Google and Amazon are my friend.

I love my Itunes library, with 6000+ songs that give me a wealth of music to listen to in an instant. I can make a mix CD or a playlist in a fraction of the time it used to take to make a mix tape (it may be easier, but it is not as much fun).

I love my 64 Gig Ipod Classic and my Iphone. I can listen to any song at any time whenever I want wherever I am, and I can do it quickly and without much thought, and I can put my headphones on and block out the world and isolate myself and nobody will know what I am listening to and it’s my music and you can’t have it. The person at the table next to me at Starbucks is doing the same, and I don’t care what they are listening to. It can’t be as good as what I am listening to. We would never have the same taste in music.

I miss albums……….