In honor of the recent re-release of the original Beatles on Mono LP’S set, I thought I’d write some reflections of all the changes that have happened, in how we listen to music.
It’s kind of ironic, because, there has been a real return to vinyl, even among whole new generations, let alone people like the baby Boomers who grew up with it. Many people now get their music directly through downloading (and don’t even think of paying for it and helping support the artists who make it), so it’s actually become harder than ever for musicians to make a living.
“ Has the McDonaldization of music , with its constant accessibility, taken something away from the music itself”
I wrote the above words back in 1989, for an Ottawa, Canada Carleton University newspaper, when CD’s were supposed to be the new format, which would sound better and last forever. And just today, I heard that Ottawa’s CD Warehouse (nominated once as the best music store in Canada) is closing their doors after 24 years. Of course, as with the DVD video format, people have changed the way they consume music and film. And “consume” is perhaps the fitting word. Like fast food restaurants we, a lot of us anyway, want to just gobble it down 24/7.
But some of us still remembe, how we would, after saving up our money as kids, finally be able to afford the latest LP. The Beatles’ especially, seem to have a new album out about every 6 months or so (groups today are lucky to get one out every few years). Every Beatles’ record was a quantum leap from the previous one- from Rubber Soul to Revolver to Sgt. Peppers’ to The White Album to Abbey Road. And the other leaders in rock at the time, like Dylan and the Stones, did the same thing, and we as fans had to make the jumps too.
But it was then a whole ritual we went through. You couldn’t wait to rush home, after waiting so long to finally have a copy and tear off the plastic wrapping, like it was Xmas, and gaze at the a cover. For there was a real art to designing covers then, especially after Sgt. Peppers’ psychedelic one, and as with the music inside, musicians were constantly trying to outdo each other artistically, but in a friendly rivals way, which made us all grow, artists and audience alike. Then we would pop it on the turntable and play it for the first time. But at the same time, we’d read over the back cover and the often printed lyrics and liner notes, noting who’s singing what song and who’s playing what instrument and which musicians are guesting on it, etc. Albums were albums then, each one had a certain "flow" or feel to it; artists and producers worked hard to position each song for variety, etc. and sometimes with even an overall concept behind it. Kids these days download songs separately and thus it doesn't have the same impact. Instead of a three-minute statement, an artist had a whole side or two of an LP to explore his or her expressions. I think that's why so many of those albums still stand up.
I know it probably sounds strange to some people who didn’t grow up with it this way, like some fancy chef going on and on about the proper way to savor a fine wine or meal. But that is what it was like for so many of us back then. It was a ritual and rituals are important. There is something to be said, even for having to wait for things in life, in the same way, which children still appreciate, after anticipating a present, getting up early Xmas morning, and finally getting it. There’s just something about having to work and earning its reward. Getting a new album, felt like that to us.
I wrote those above words about the taking for granting our music, 25 years ago now. And perhaps, we did lose something in the process, in this fast paced world of the internet and social media, where everything, for good and bad, is available to us all, anytime.
Times change, and that’s just life too. But as Marshall Mcluhan told us, each media also changes the message. There were first, Thomas Edison’s wax cylinders, 78 rpm’s, 33’s, 45 singles, LP’s, 8- tracks , cassettes, CD’s and now MP3’s, downloading, streaming-each for its time. Analog vinyl, which several musicians like Neil Young have long maintained (Young has recently announced his own process), most experts now agree, has a “warmer” sound than digital (and these are the first re-releases that went back to the original mono analog masters). Steve Berkowitz, one of engineers on the new project states, “the intention of these records is only realized in analog, because they made them in analog. People will feel it differently. There are sounds and feelings and spaces that the human animal reacts to, whether you know it or not. It's innate in us in as animals."
Generations since then may not be aware of these differences, because they haven’t actually heard them, especially using the portable devices of today. The Beatles themselves actually took part in the mixing of the original mono versions, whereas, the later stereo versions were usually mixed by engineers only. So this is the way the Beatles originally intended them to be heard.
People laughed at me when I wrote those words and when I even predicted a comeback for vinyl one day. At the time, I was running a vinyl store called Get Back! Records (a take-off on both The Beatles and my hope that vinyl would come back one day). I ran vinyl stores for 30 years, opening perhaps the first used one in Ottawa, Canada in 1972. The owner of the Ottawa CD store that just announced its closing, said that vinyl sales have actually been increasing by two or three times every year, these past few years. It’s still admittedly, a relatively small minority market, but many bands, both new and old (including McCartney’s latest), are now also available on vinyl. The Beatles box set of 14 LP’s is $375 (and doesn’t contain Abbey Road, Let It Be or Yellow Submarine, because they were recorded in stereo) and is mainly for collectors (individual albums can also purchased though).
All I can say is, I can still remember first hearing, The Beatles’ Yesterday and Today album , which Capitol Records complied from the British LP’s and called it (and later withdrew the legendary, rare “Butcher Cover”), growing up in the States in 1966. And it was the original mono version (which I still have, amazingly) with “Day Tripper” coming out of my speakers in Mono and feeling like The Beatles were right there in my university room. There’s something to be said, as I say, for these often tribal youth rituals which human beings still seem to need, and the somewhat surprising return to vinyl by many young people too, these past several years. They remind us, that despite all the changes, some things are timeless. Get Back to MONO! Read Alan Chrisman’s other recent blog on his meeting several people from the Beatles Beginnings: Meeting Beatles People from the Mono Days www.beatlely.wordpress.com
OTTAWA CITIZEN ARTICLE on ALAN CHRISMAN’S “GET BACK! RECORDS” VINYL STORE, 1999: