Saturday, 10 December 2011

The sound of one ear listening

From the "iTunes -- is there anything it can't do?" Department: a while back, I downloaded the Fats Domino song "I Want to Walk You Home" from the iTunes music store and was disappointed to discover that the track was presented as if it were stereo when in fact it was a two-track recording obviously never meant for stereo. Allow me to explain. Back in the 50s, it became customary in the recording studio to record songs intended to be released on 45 rpm records with two tracks: one for the vocal, one for the instruments (of course, nowadays, there can be many, many tracks), which were then mixed by the producer for the final mono version of the song for the 45. Until the late 60s, nearly all 45s were released in mono, not stereo; the idea of the two tracks was merely to improve the recording and mixing process: to avoid re-doing everything if there was a mistake in either the vocal or the music, and to make sure the instruments didn't drown out the vocal, as could happen if it were all recorded through one microphone. The intent of having two separate tracks was not to create a stereo recording. They could be mixed to create a stereo track. Until the late 60s however, mono was a much more important medium than stereo in rock and pop, mainly due to the importance of the 45 rpm single relative to the more "adult" stereo LP. Singles were carefully mixed in mono to make the maximum noisy impact from a single speaker (a "wall of sound," to coin a phrase) and then, as an afterthought, if at all, mixed for more sedate stereo. For example, the Beatles and their producer George Martin, until the final triumph of stereo in '68-'69, lavished much more attention on the mono mixes, as did Berry Gordy at Motown, where the stereo mixes of songs were slapped together by engineers working the night shift. (Much of the above factual background, when not based on general knowledge or the evidence of my own ears, is based on the book 45 RPM: the History, Heroes, and Villains of a Pop Music Revolution and, as to the Beatles, on Mark Lewisohn's excellent The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions. For more, much more, on the Beatles from the standpoint of stereo vs. mono recordings, this article just about covers it.)

In the vinyl record era, 45 RPM singles usually stayed in print where there was any demand for the song. In the CD and mp3 era, however, vinyl went bye-bye and many 50s and 60s recordings became available only in their inferior stereo versions. Apparently, the record companies must cater to the same type of taste that views all black & white movies as inferior to color. (Check out this compilation of 60s hits, where one of the supposed selling points is that it contains stereo rather than mono versions of the songs.) The original, preferable, mono versions of 50s and 60s songs are tough to find. Only rarely will iTunes specifically list a track as the "Mono Single Version." EMI has made the original mono versions of most of the Beatles' singles available only in a prohibitively expensive box set. Think of that: the most popular rock act ever, and some of their most popular songs cannot be easily heard the way they were originally heard (and were intended by the group to be heard).

Message: they care

I liked this guy's comment (via Powerline) suggesting the Democrats switch to supporting the other side for a change, since, by throwing their, ahem, support to the other side, they actually might help our cause more. I especially liked it because a week or so ago I made a simllar comment to a friend who made a sarcastic comment about the French. I said, "you must be a supporter of the French, under the Democrats' definition of support: you put them down to your friends, you oppose everything they stand for, and you're critical of their actions and motives. "

Not warming to the idea

It's hard to keep up with all the anti-warming warning material; while the global warming hysteria of Al Gore, Jupiter Pluvius, has the support of the Hollywood elite -- the stupidest rich people in the world, not counting certain members of the British royal family -- Gore has lost John Hinderaker of Powerline, who, like me, is old enough to remember the global colding threat of the 70s. Iowahawk is also cool, so to speak, to the hot new idea of buying carbon indulgences. Aussie Tim Blair meanwhile continues to document the bizarre phenomenon of the Gore coldening effect (which seems to have a better empirical basis than carbon emission-created global warming). I'd rather be on Powerline's, and Blair, and Iowahawk's side than Hollywood's any day, so I have to say that's a pleasing development to me. Anyway, Gore should concentrate on getting rid of the carbon emissions by the Martians, who have their own global warming issues.

Movie rambling: Five

Years ago, the TNT Network (back when it ran the classic films now shown on TCM, which didn't exist then) showed the 1951 post-apocalypse movie Five, and I was impressed enough to include it on my list of top 100 films. I hadn't seen it in years, it's never run on TV anymore, and I couldn't find it on DVD. Recently, however, I picked up a DVD copy at a fairly reasonable price on the eBays. It came in a suspiciously generic-looking case, but the print of the film used for the transfer to disc doesn't seem that bad, considering.

A second viewing demonstrated that my top 100 ranking was maybe a little too generous, but it is better than most other atom war survivor movies. The film starts in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear war that has seemingly killed nearly everyone on earth, although who was fighting who over what is never discussed -- a nice touch actually. Five survivors gradually converge on a remote house (conveniently, it's writer/ director Arch Oboler's own Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house). The plot concentrates on the human element, rather than any possible science fiction aspects. The pace is slow at times, and it's a little on the talky side (Oboler's background was in radio) but the performances are superb, and some of the imagery stayed with me days after I watched it. (I'm becoming more inclined to view "imagery staying with me" as one of the more important criteria for evaluating a movie. I didn't think much, for instance, of the Japanese horror movies Ju-On and Dark Water when I first saw them a few months ago, but they both gave me nightmares afterwards, so as horror flicks they must've done something right.) There's a grim, gritty tone about Five that is unusual in a 50s American film; someone on the internet speculated that the look and feel of Five might have inspired that of George Romero's original Night of the Living Dead, and I can also see the similarities. I'd recommend this one to any movie buff if the opportunity to see it presents itself.

It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times

Ohio State's loss last night in the NCAA basketball championship continues quite a dubious streak for me as a fan. Last fall, my favorite baseball team, the Tigers, lost the World Series. Then Ohio State lost the NCAA BCS championship in football. Then my favorite NFL team, the Bears, lost the Super Bowl. And now the Buckeyes lose in basketball. Better to get there and lose than to not get there at all, I suppose (and the Bears and Tigers took a long time getting there). Fortunately, it's baseball season again so I can put the Buckeyes' loss to one side. At my house it's also softball season, since my daughter's playing softball. The last couple of days we've been playing catch in the backyard to practice. As I tell her, if you can catch a wrench, you can catch a ball.