Blog reviews

listening to the beatles remasters

I bought the world’s biggest, most inefficient ipod.josh-beatles2
Just kidding!

The Beatles remasters are out on CD, and this blogger has been listening intently for the past week.

Everybody knows the band: Liam Gallagher on vocals and rhythm guitar, Noel Gallagher on vocals and bass, Liam Gallagher on lead guitar, and Noel Gallagher on the drums. Everybody also (should) know the songs. But what this blogger, and millions of people my age and younger, don’t know is how the Beatles themselves wanted the music to sound.

You see, I’m 29. 22 years ago, the Beatles released their albums on CD. Before that, they were on records and cassette tapes. In order to listen to an album, I had the choice of hearing my parents’ records, a cassette, or the tinny, terribly mastered CDs. Records sounded good but they had been played for the past 30 years or so and sounded a bit worn. Also, you couldn’t play them in the car. Cassettes played just fine in my Dodge Aries but they never sounded good, even in the best of circumstances. And the CDs, like I said, were rushed to market and sounded like it. But no worries, right? Every band was re-releasing their albums in the 90’s. Except, of course, the only band that really matters.

So for my entire life, I’ve never heard the sound the Beatles intended. I heard either worn records (not too bad, but also not portable), cassettes, or the hastily-produced CDs. Mainly it was the CDs.

And so it was with much anticipation that I put on the newly remastered White Album to hear While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Just for comparison, I first put on the version with which I was familiar. Then I popped in the new CD and was amazed, amazed I say, at the clarity of this 40-year-old recording.

I suddenly heard the Beatles themselves. I heard musicians playing the instruments. I could feel the presence of Ringo at the drums, rather than just a drum-sound. I heard the sound of Paul catching his breath in Paperback Writer. I heard John (at least I think that’s John) coughing in a quiet section of Norwegian Wood. Sometimes I can hear them putting down their instruments at the end of a song. The Beatles are closer now, the songs I’ve heard thousands of times more exuberant, more human, and more dear.

The sound quality really makes a difference. Dear Prudence really sounds like the band playing in a room together. It made me wish they could have performed it live. When they sing harmonies I can actually make out the separate voices. The bass is more present, as are the drums, but not overwhelmingly so. The comparative levels of the songs haven’t changed, it’s all more clear. The Beatles no longer play in a room full of gauze. There’s air there.

My earlier trepidation has been removed. The Beatles CDs finally sound as good as the music recorded onto them. Now I’ll get back to my Beatles ipod.josh-beatles

autobiography Blog

top of the charts

Warren Zevon 1980
I’d like to live alone in the desert
I’d like to be like Georgia O’Keefe
So begins Warren Zevon’s “Splendid Isolation,” the most-played song on my ipod. Why does this song have the highest play count of them all? In a machine that contains over 8,000 tracks – almost 40 gigabytes’ worth of music – why does a non-hit by an artist best known for “Werewolves of London” top them all?
Part of the reason is accessibility. I’ve had all my Beatles and Bob Dylan CDs for years and played the heck out of them. When I finally migrated to ipod, the need to listen to any one song by either of those artists had mellowed. I still love it when “Come Together” or “Visions of Johanna” come up on shuffle, but I rarely seek them out. The songs I listen to most on my ipod were purchased after I began listening to it more than CDs. The only place I can hear them is there.
As for the song itself, “Splendid Isolation” is a perfect mix of happy beat and wry humor. Zevon was a master at writing meaningful songs that were funny. “Like Michael Jackson in Disneyland/Don’t have to share it with nobody else/Lock the gate Goofy, take my hand/And lead me through this world of self.” In the end, the song seems to be a simple break-up story, with the narrator saying he wants to be alone when he’s really just sad. The long lyrical lead-up keeps you guessing.
All this is a long way of saying that I’m totally happy with my current “favorite” song. If somebody were to ask me about it (which they won’t have to now, after reading this blog), I would proudly tell them.
This small bit of credibility is totally canceled out by the 1452 Hannah Montana bootlegs I’ve got on there, though.