Sunday, January 24, 2010

Twenty Ten


It's Twenty Ten!


The Summer of '69 story played out almost in real time, didn't it? It was nice to think about hot weather.

You might have noticed that I could work a few weeks after Labor Day before going off to college. The old Columbia academic calendar had classes starting the last week of September. At Christmas break, we weren't done with the semester yet. We still had term papers hanging over our heads, and we had to keep course content fresh in our brains for the final exams we'd be doing a couple of weeks after classes resumed.

After exams there was a useless intersession break at the end of January that cruelly mocked our inability to relax and let go back when we wanted to, a month earlier. The end of January: hey, time for some fun! Let's go outside and freeze! It's the second-coldest week of the year in New York, according to this page. And if it's on the web it must be true.


In Days of Peace and Music I mentioned getting some Crosby, Stills and Nash CDs. Megan was home the weekend the box came in the mail.

"What did you get in the box?"

"Some CDs."

"Who buys CDs? Download!"

Oh, she's right. Yet another recording medium is on its way to the antique shops. Long players and 45 singles were just coming into their own during my childhood. I saw eight-track and cassettes come and go. And now CDs.

My excuse to Megan was that I wanted to get the art and informative booklets, but that was weak. It's just habit. I still have the LP sleeves if I want to see CSN album art the way it was intended, and some of the CDs I got had only the same old art and notes reproduced in a size reminiscent of microfiche. (And there's an antique medium for you.)

But there was something I'd wanted to do years ago that was now practical to do, thanks to the digital age. I could catch up on Crosby and Nash recordings with their previous bands. I had picked up all of Buffalo Springfield long ago, so I had Stills and Young covered. I like Neil Young. If I want to hear something loud, that is where I usually go. Ragged Glory— whoa! Listening to things like that at the volume level God and Neil intended are the reason I can't always hear you. Huh? What's that? I just saw him doing a great acoustic "Long May You Run" on Conan's last Tonight show.

The Byrds and the Hollies were little known to me outside of what I could remember hearing on the radio. I read many web pages to find out which songs particularly featured Crosby or Nash, and which ones fans and others thought were the good ones. And then, I bought the digital songs, picking selected tracks from what would have been a whole pile of original albums. OK, Megan? I got about twenty tracks.

The Byrds songs Crosby co-wrote weren't a big surprise. I expected the spacey laid-back sound, the McGuinn twelve-string all over, and somewhat CSN-like harmonies with Crosby in the mix. They sound really good. The band played beautifully and the recording is excellent. The number of distinctly Crosby songs is small though. The well-known "Eight Miles High" was in his box set of a few years ago, but fans on the web ridicule its inclusion because he contributed just a little to it. After all the band tossed him for being too full of himself. Two good ones with Crosby solo vocal: "What's Happening?!?!" and "Everybody's Been Burned".

But never mind the Byrds. The Hollies were a revelation!

Wait, I have to admit the engineering sucks. Stereo mixes from hell. They almost outdo the stereo mixes for the first Buffalo Springfield LP, which are so bad that Neil Young allowed only the marginally less awful mono mixes into the BS box set.

I grabbed about a dozen Hollies tracks and loaded them into Sound Studio one by one. I was able to fix some of the worst offences. I wish I could share them but I am not allowed. (Why is something forty years old still protected? That's crazy. I'll save it for another rant.)

"When Your Light's Turned On" has a great British Invasion electric guitar band all in the left channel and the vocals all in the right. What is this, a twintrack from 1963? (See Please Please Me.) No, it was 1967. What was the engineer thinking when he recorded this? We'll never ever want to release this in stereo? You can't undo that but you can make it a little less harsh on the ears. Reduce the left channel volume in the intro and break so that it's consistent with the rest of the song ; boost low frequencies to give it some punch ; reduce volume on the right channel. (Close listening shows that the lead guitar is on a separate track, probably because Tony Hicks played both rhythm and lead, so theoretically you could mix this with vocal center and lead guitar right if you had the master tape. It would be a little better.)

And "King Midas in Reverse". It seems to be a three-track recording. Band, vocal, string section. The string section doesn't start until after verse 1. So how would you mix it? I'll tell you what their engineer did. Band left, vocal right, and then when the strings are about to come in, suddenly toss the vocal to the center, and put the strings on the right ; and make the pre-strings section louder to maintain the same volume level as the rest (even thought it was played quieter!). Oy. In the section before that change, first drop the volume level in both channels, listening to the left channel and getting the band level consistent across the change. Then guess the correct level for the right channel, set it, copy it, and mix it into the left. That'll definitely center the vocal, but you'll need to listen to the vocal across the change to see if you got the level right. I got it on the second try. It's not as hard as it might sound.

The copy of "Maker" I got has the left channel louder than the right, and the vocal is toward the left. I was suspicious. If you reduce the left and raise the right until the vocal reaches the center, then everything sounds good. In fact the right channel peaks higher than the left, but it's those Indian instruments ; notice the Western music interludes peak very equally. How did this get to release so unbalanced? This isn't rocket science.

If you will overlook the technical shortcomings and focus on the music, this is great stuff.

These are my picks. It's less than a dollar a download, you know. Many are available in both mono and stereo, and not always labelled, so check what you're getting.

On a Carousel
Carrie Anne
When Your Light's Turned On
Stop Right There
King Midas in Reverse
Everything Is Sunshine

We've got Allan Clarke, the Hollies' usual lead singer, taking parts of "Carrie Anne" and "When Your Light's Turned On", and even guitarist Tony Hicks singing verse 2 of "Carrie Anne". "Carrie Anne" is the one I remember, or at least its chorus of Nash voices. I did not remember things like the alternate chorus intro and the steel drum instrumental break. Did you? The other songs are not quite typical Hollies, because they're all Nash lead vocals.

The three band members credited their compositions Clarke-Hicks-Nash, but from what Graham Nash and others have said, the last six up there are mostly or entirely by Nash. Like his songs for CSN, some are fun and lightweight, and others have some real feeling to them. And all are damned catchy. They were stuck in my head after a few listenings. Look out!

That's the cover art for the Hollies' Evolution LP, released in Britain in June 1967. Photo by Karl Ferris, with fashions and artwork by Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger a/k/a The Fool. Said to be the first psychedelic album cover, soon followed by Ferris's photographs on several Jimi Hendrix albums and Donovan's Gift from a Flower to a Garden. Graham Nash, a supporter of Ferris's work, produced The Fool's LP in 1968. The American cover, which was used for the CD reissue, has the same photograph, but replaces The Fool's stylish lettering at the bottom with amateurish lettering at the top and the crass note FEATURING CARRIE-ANNE (sic).


It used to be annoying to collect rare tracks. I remember the Kinks were a trial. Even in Britain many of their songs were only issued on singles and EPs, but in the US some were not available at all. The preoccupied staff at their American label, who compiled new albums out of the British material, got so confused that they not only never released some songs but also put one song on two LPs. One thing I was doing in those Greenwich Village shops I mentioned in Truth and Soul was looking for British budget-label LPs that collected a mixture of hits and rare tracks. I didn't have a master discography, so for a while it seemed like there was an endless supply of Kinks tracks I didn't know about. There was the excitement of the hunt. If I really persisted, I'd find something new once in a while. A couple of times I bought an LP for the sake of one song. At least LPs were still cheap then.

Now? The price of CDs is ridiculously high, but as Megan said, who buys CDs? If I want one track off this one and two tracks off that, I only need to buy downloads of those tracks. It's better for the consumer, and you know what, the Hollies got a couple of dollars from me that they would not have got. Everything is a single now.



Twenty Ten. It's not Two Thousand Ten. It's Twenty Ten.

We have to stop this Two Thousand thing we've been doing. Helen thinks it goes back to the movie 2001, which everyone called Two Thousand One. Maybe it does. Maybe the first year Two Thousand set the pattern. Maybe it sounded weird to say Twenty Oh One, up to Twenty Oh Nine.

But Twenty Ten, right? Now we don't have to stick the Oh in there, it's shorter to say Twenty. I'm hearing Twenty Ten on TV, not every time, but enough to make me believe it's in the style book. If they still have style books.

I said Two Thousand Ten the other day and wanted to rewind my life. It will take some discipline, but if we all do it, the world will say Twenty Ten.

I don't know why it's important to me.


New college story next week. It's complete in one part, but I'm not sure about it, so see whether it shows up.

Next time: Jane Doe.

1 comment:

  1. Hollies was never my favorite group, but a lot of their tunes kinda grew on me, when they were current, and later on when they sunk in. :) To your list I might add Jennifer Eccles ("White chalk, written on red brick ..."), Can't Let Go, Dear Eloise, and their absolute #1 sleeper, which I think I'm the only one in the universe who remembers, Gasoline Alley Bred. (WCBS FM played it, all others ignored it.)

    Oh well. :)