Sunday, March 18, 2007

Albums versus CDs

The great debate and I must admit, I like them both.

Why I love Albums: They have a warmer sound than CDs (which sometimes sound artificial and compressed), and the packaging on LPs is far superior. You get a real cover, lyrics and liner notes that are large enough to actually read. And if you're lucky, you might get a poster or other goodies. You can hold it in your hand and look at it while you listen.

Another rub against CDs, is that they've totally lost the whole "Two Act" format of albums. For instance, Side 1 of Abbey Road ends with a jarring, abrupt stop of the distorted madness on "I Want You". On the CD, it immediately goes into George's mellow "Here Comes The Sun". You don't have any time to reflect on the weird "I Want You" ending which was so much a part of the original experience. With the LP, you have to take a minute and flip it over, with "I Want You's" unnerving ending still rattling around in your brain. And then, ahh, George calms us down with his gentle acoustic guitar.

You can't really listen to just one side on a CD. If it's side two that strikes your fancy, you have to remember where to start the damn thing. What's the first song on side two of Rubber Soul? Hell, I don't remember. Are we talking American or British version? Listening to just side one is even trickier. You have to shut the thing off before side two starts. And programming doesn't work, cuz it separates songs that flow together with awkward stops.

Why CDs are great: They don't snap, crackle, pop OR skip. Usually. And they are easy to store and you can play them in your car, computer, and on portable devices. You can carry thousands of dollars worth of CDs in a case the size of a small address book. They are much better in the car than cassettes were. And even though you get the occasional jump if you hit a pot-hole, they sound better than tape and don't end up getting eaten by your player. Remember the old days when you'd see yards of cassette tape blowing in the wind on some long lonesome highway? And you'd think, "I hope that was a John Denver tape and not a Beatles one."

I will write another diatribe on the Beatles cassettes later. And how Captiol butchered the song order on some of them, ruining the whole experience. And 8-Tracks!? Don't get me started.

Well, here's the answer: Get both. If you want to experience the nostalgia of listening to just one side, hearing that friendly little crackle here and there, and want the experience of handling something substantial, grab the LP. But a decent turntable is a must. Cheap ones are apt to skip a lot.

On the other hand, if you just want to hear Rubber Soul NOW, and don't want to look at the cover or hear that vinyl sound, go with the CD. And obviously, when your on the road, your CD case becomes your most important cargo. When you have guests over, CDs, especially multi-disc players are a Godsend. I get a real kick out of the random element of shuffling my CDs. A Beatle song here, some Nirvana, a little Earth Wind and Fire. It's the bomb.

But if I had to make a choice, and had to toss out either all of my Beatle Albums or CDs, I've have to go the purist route. All the albums that were intended as albums, I'd keep and get rid of the CD versions. The albums were the original deal and there's no way I could part with them.

But I'd still have all the post-album era Beatles and solo Beatles CDs for the car, and there's plenty of them to keep me entertained. I'm not sure exactly when Paul, George and Ringo went to CD, but I'm guessing for our Paul it was somewhere around his Unplugged CD. And as for the Beatles, we have the BBC, Yellow Submarine Songtrack, Let it be...Naked, The Anthologies, 1, Love, and the Past Masters. I could live with that.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The White Album poster and photos

I finally got around to having one of my White Album posters framed and have it displayed proudly in my home. After nearly forty years, it still fascinates me. And along with the four glossy photos, The White Album extras are a great example of the trade off we took when we went the CD route.

I remember getting The White Album for Christmas in 1968 and my reaction to it at the time. It was weird and kind of disturbing to those of us who first fell for the Fabs in early 1964. What a change in those few years. The poster and the four glossy pics of the boys were a stark contrast to those "Hard Day's Night" fellows. Even our boy Paul looked rough, sporting a few weeks worth of facial hair. We'd see the full grown beard later on Let it be.

John Lennon had gone thru the biggest transition, looking very thin, with his hair long, unwashed, and split down the middle. His famous National Health glasses weren't new in 1968, but they added to the his new anti-pop star look.

On close examination, the poster shows nude drawings of John and Yoko and an almost nude photo of McCartney. It also has a red check mark over a picture of their departed friend and manager Brian Epstein, which always struck me as a pretty grim statement.

Interestingly, on the American version of the poster the drawings of John and Yoko had to be redone minus private parts, and McCartney's pubic hair is airbrushed away.

If you want to read an interesting account of the White Album cover concept and the poster, read Paul's book "Many Years From Now". It has a lengthy section all about the decision to go with the white cover, raised lettering and individual numbering. Paul also describes gathering the photos for the poster and how pop-artist Richard Hamilton and he assembled the final product.