Reflections on Rock Music: Remasters, Reissues, and Bootleg Releases…

Originally posted 2009-03-16 23:51:12. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Chris Moore:

In lieu of a video tonight, I’d like to take a moment and review one of the music industry’s favorite ways to make an extra dime on previously released material — also known as “remastered” and/or “reissued” albums.  And, just because it feels right, I’d like to incorporate some thoughts on the release of previously unreleased material, or “bootleg,” “b-side,” and/or “rarity” collections.

Remastered Recordings

What is a remastered recording, really?  Now, in some cases, a remastered recording can be the most exciting release in an artist’s catalog, particularly for longtime fans and audiophiles.  For instance, there really is no substitute for the fully stereo-version of the Beach Boys Pet Sounds.  This remastered disc created quite a controversy when it first came out, as you had purists who claimed it should remain mono, as it was originally intended and released by Brian Wilson and the boys.  Others embraced the all-new expansion of the sound on this classic album.  As for me, I cannot understand how anyone in possession of the Pet Sounds CD could refrain from skipping to track 14 every time to begin with the stereo recording of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.”  Compared to the mono recordings, the second set of stereo-mixed tracks are crisp and clear as they pop out around your ears.  You can hear each instrument and truly appreciate the minute instrumental and harmonic details that are present in this Beach Boys masterpiece, as compared to the mono versions which have a tendency to crackle and feel claustrophobic when turned up to any reasonable volume.

This, unfortunately, is probably the exception in the world of “remasters.”

Beware music fans when you pick up a CD or read online that a disc has been “remastered.”  The trick here is to read into the fine print and ascertain to what degree the recording has actually been altered.  For instance, the classic packaging/marketing trick has been for a sticker on a CD case to read “Digitally Remastered.”  That sounds great!  I have to have this new and improved recording for my collection!…

Well, perhaps so, but half the time all this means is that someone converted the analog tracks into a digital format.  Depending on the artist, producer, remixer, and age of original recording, there has often been no real improvement to the sound of the recording.  I’ve certainly been burned a few times by this “Digitally Remastered” marketing…

That being said, there really are some truly great remastered recordings out there if you’re careful to ascertain the degree of thought and effort that has gone into the apparent “remastering” (Like the re-issue of the main albums in Bob Dylan’s catalog a few years ago — and you better appreciate the improvement in sound quality, because there’s no booklet or bonus tracks to speak of!)

Reissues

Not to sound bitter here or anything, but reissues can also be just another waste of money.  Or they can offer any amazing addition to your collection.  How can you tell the difference?  Well, here are a few tips:

  • If it is a reissue of a recently released album, it’s probably just the same old material with a couple of shoddily recorded demos or tracks that didn’t make it to the album (usually for a reason) attached;
  • If it is an album that never made it to CD, then you must ask yourself: How much do I love this artist? If the answer is anything other than “very much,” then stay far, far away from this type of reissue!!  On the other hand, if the answer is “very much,” then what are you waiting for?  Some of my favorite CD purchases have fallen under this category, most notably Warren Zevon’s The Envoy.  I can’t believe that, previous to the reissue of this album in 2003, I wouldn’t have been able to hear such songs as “The Overdraft” or “Hula Hula Boys.”
  • If it is a reissue of a live album, you need to seriously question what has been improved since the initial release.  After all, what level of improvement can there really be in terms of sound quality?  It’s a live album.  It better have lots of additional tracks or an amazing, detailed booklet with updated interviews, etc.  Johnny Cash’s Live at Folsom Prison reissue is an excellent example of a worthwhile purchase in this category.
  • If it is an anniversary edition of a studio recording, some of the same criteria apply as above.  For instance, have the tracks been remastered?  (I mean, really remastered!)  Is there a decent array of bonus tracks added for the collector who already has the original album?  Is there a seriously detailed booklet with a decent number of pages?  I mean, after all, if this is an album worthy of a reissue, there must be a good deal of back story, historical importance, and/or artists from that band or other bands that are excited and willing to talk about it!
  • Finally, there is the enigmatic multiple format reissue.  What is this, you may ask?  This is when an album or collection of tracks is released and there are multiple options for the consumer.  For instance, when Pearl Jam re-releases their debut album Ten later this month, there will be three different packages available.  There’s the “Legacy Edition” with two discs — one with the original tracks, one with a newly remixed version of the album by original producer Brendan O’Brien and six bonus tracks.  There’s the “Deluxe Edition” with the aforementioned two discs and a DVD of Pearl Jam’s MTV Unplugged performance from 1992.  Then, there’s the “Collector’s Edition” with the aforementioned two CDs and one DVD, four vinyl discs (one with the original album, one with the remixed and bonus tracks, two with a live concert), a cassette version of Pearl Jam’s original “Momma-Son” demo, and “Package also includes an Eddie Vedder-style composition notebook filled with replica personal notes, images and mementos from the collections of Eddie Vedder and Jeff Ament, a vellum envelope with replicated era-specific ephemera from Pearl Jam’s early work and a two-sided print commemorating the Drop in the Park concert.”  Wow.  Now that’s some selection.  For most people, the “Legacy Edition” really should be enough.  For me, the intermediate Pearl Jam fan (and the ultimate fan of CD packaging), I will consider the “Deluxe Edition” based on the price difference.  If it’s a reasonable amount more, I would really be interested to watch the unplugged performance.  As for the “Collector’s Edition” (valued on Amazon.com at $124.99), you truly need to be a Collector with a capital “C.”  Now, don’t get me wrong; they have really done it up with some amazing elements, but as much as I love and appreciate CD packaging, I’m not about to drop that much money on a single album reissue.  If my memory serves me well, this was the price for buying all the Dylan reissues at one point (again, admittedly without any booklet, bonus tracks, or memorabilia to speak of).

Bootlegs (and B-sides and Rarities)

A final category in this collection of corporate cash cows (and music lovers’ delights!) are officially released bootleg recordings.  For convenience, I’ll lump in B-sides and rarities.  Bootlegs, of course, are tracks that have not been officially released but are circulated underground among fans.  Perhaps the most famous release of a bootleg was Bob Dylan and the Band’s Basement Tapes.  Worth every crazy, weird minute of sound, my friends!  Dylan’s celebrated Bootleg Series is dedicated to releasing unheard tracks and live concerts that have been — almost without exception — wonderful and worthwhile purchases.  Again, I would ask that you apply that aforementioned question to the purchase laid out before you:  “How much do you like this band/artist?”

Most bands, at some point or another, release a collection of unreleased tracks, b-sides, and rarities.  These are sometimes mediocre at best (Hootie and the Blowfish’s Scattered, Covered, and Smothered) with a minimum of only somewhat interesting liner notes.  However, these are sometimes wildly fascinating and rewarding, such as the Beach Boys’ Endless Harmony soundtrack, Warren Zevon’s Preludes, or Pearl Jam’s Lost Dogs (the latter incorporating a detailed and interesting read of a booklet).

The trick here, to be repeated once and only once more, is to evaluate how much you like the artist or band, and then to take a calculated risk.  In this writer’s opinion, half the fun of surfing the racks (or the web) and buying new albums — whether they be standard releases, remasters, reissues, or bootlegs — is the risk involved.  You may be — and perhaps most often will be — unimpressed or only somewhat entertained.  But it’s all worth it when you have those moments of revelation as you discover a truly worthwhile addition to your music library!

“Please, Mrs. Henry” (Bob Dylan Cover)

Originally posted 2009-04-27 21:13:03. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

For Bob Dylan chords / tabs / lyrics, CLICK HERE!

By Chris Moore:

And, just like that, I’m back with my second session of the night!

As a follow-up to my previous music video, this is “Please, Mrs. Henry,” also from Bob Dylan’s 1975 release The Basement Tapes.  Generally, I am most impressed with complete, clean studio recordings of songs from my favorite bands, yet there are many instances of great music being created when an artist has stripped away at all the usual standards and practices of studio recording.  A most recent — and admittedly weird — instance of this is the re-release of Beck’s early nineties indie rock release One Foot in the Grave.  While this album really isn’t the kind of music I’ll be showing off to my friends, there is this really raw and unique sound to it.  One of the benefits to these types of recordings is the quantity of music usually available — i.e. 24 Basement Tapes tracks and 32 tracks on the aforementioned Beck album.  In the first 16 album tracks, songs like “Cyanide Breath Mint,” “Asshole” (later covered by Tom Petty for the She’s the One soundtrack!), and “Painted Eyelids” would never make it anywhere near the radio.  I love the lyrics and sound to some of the bonus tracks, as well — “Favorite Nerve,” “Burning Boyfriend,” and, “Feather in Your Cap” to name a few.

Of course, with these types of recordings, there are always going to be throwaway tracks and songs that will make you want to say, “What was he thinking?!”  But that’s to be expected…

Getting back to the Laptop Session at hand, “Please, Mrs. Henry” is one of the songs I initially disliked from this album.  More specifically, I found it kind of plain.  Now that I’ve gone back to it — specifically during my Bob Dylan mp3 marathon earlier this month — I have a newfound appreciation for the lyrics as well as the music.  Where else can you get the perspective of a singer/narrator who is not only telling you he is drunk, but actuallly sounds drunk while he’s doing it?  Dylan’s inflection aside, how else can you read lyrics like “I’ve been sniffin’ too many eggs…Drinkin’ too many kegs” or “I’m groanin’ in a hallway; pretty soon, I’ll be mad” or, who could forget, “Why don’t you look my way and pump me a few?”

Great stuff.

With that, I’ll leave you to watch my interpretation of one of the many songs on The Basement Tapes that have been capturing the attention of fans since it was recorded in 1968.  Even before the album was officially released, these tracks became some of the most bootlegged songs in rock music history.  (Think: Great White Wonder.)  And now you have my version to add to the mix.  It certainly doesn’t approach the level that Dylan’s on, but it was a lot of fun to try!  (Check out the chords, linked at the top of this post, so you can play, too…)

See you next session!

“Worlds Apart” (Original Wednesday Song by Co-Songwriter Jim Fusco)

Originally posted 2008-06-11 21:12:17. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

Welcome to Original Wednesday here at the Laptop Sessions! It only comes but once every three weeks for me, so you know I’m going to make it a good one.

Tonight, I bring you an original song I wrote with the help of my fellow MoU (at http://jimfusco.com/albums.html ) bandmates for our latest album, “Homestead’s Revenge”. The album is GREAT, and you can listen to the whole thing for free on our website.

This song is track two off the album and follows a very interesting pattern. You might notice that the verse never comes back after the first round. It just has the chorus and middle instrumental parts play again and again. You almost don’t even notice it only has that one full verse until you stop and think about it.

I recorded this video last night. That is, I recorded this video BEFORE I made my huge discoveries pertaining to my original and cover songs videos.

First, I found a great program called iGlasses that allows me to manually control the iSight camera in my Macbook. It’s about time- I can’t stand when the camera just decides, “You know what, why don’t I just make it a lot darker for no reason?” Now, I’ll be able to control the exposure and brightness (plus white balance and color controls) BEFORE I record the video. This will save me time and, as we video professionals know, will make the end-result a lot nicer looking. It’s much more difficult to fix something in post-production than it is to do it right the first time around.

Second, I finally got my ZOOM H2 to record at the same time my iSight camera does!! You see, iMovie HD doesn’t give you the option to record using a different audio source. It just says “Record with iSight”.

Well, I went out to the main Apple preferences, switched the input in there, and presto- crystal clear sound without that incessantly loud fan noise that comes from the laptop.

But again, this was all learned AFTER I recorded the videos you’ll see from me for about the next month. BUT, at least we know great looking AND sounding video for me is on the horizon.

And the best part? I don’t have to do any extra work! :-)

Thanks for watching and keep spreading the word about our great acoustic cover songs and original music!

 



“Sister Golden Hair” (America Cover)

Originally posted 2008-02-15 23:16:51. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

By Jim Fusco:

I’m pretty excited today, as I give you a new band to the Laptop Sessions: America!

I got into this band because of today’s cover song, Sister Golden Hair.  I used to hear it on the radio many times growing up and decided that it would be perfect for a cover song.  I’ve now seen the band America in concert at least ten times, meeting them and getting their autographs on many occasions. They’re great guys and that only helped make them one of my favorite bands.

Jim and Chris with the band America.

I love their album “Homecoming” and will be doing most of the songs off it in the future. But, for now, I give you the tune that started it all for me. Once I found out that this song was from the same guys that did “Horse With No Name”, I had to get the “Best Of” CD. After that, I scoured CT (this was before eBay was huge) for any America CDs I could find. I even bought some of the LPs. The band was surprised to see such a young guy asking to get those signed.  My gravitation towards America was probably due to the fact that I could tell they were influenced by the Beach Boys- their harmonies and melodic songs drew me in.  And, they put a classic rock spin on things- kind of like Crosby, Stills, and Nash, but even more mellow.

“Sister Golden Hair” is really one of my favorite songs.  The chorus is so catchy, but Gerry Beckley (the singer and songwriter for this song) didn’t stop there- he began the song with a great acoustic guitar part and some really cool slide guitar.  One of the reasons why the original recording of “Sister Golden Hair” sounds so good is because Beatles producer George Martin actually produced it!  Yes, that’s right- he even produced a few other albums for America in the mid 70s.  The first song he produced for them was the big hit “Tin Man”.

America had two #1 Billboard hits- “A Horse With No Name” and “Sister Golden Hair”.  It’s a shame they didn’t have a third, because then each member would’ve had their shot at having a Number One Hit.  “A Horse With No Name” was written by Dewey Bunnell, but original member Dan Peek (left in the late 70s, but is now deceased) never got a song up to Number One.  He did have a popular song, though, in “Lonely People”, which is instantly recognizable.  So, I guess all of the band members had their chances to shine.

Like many of my acoustic cover song videos, I’m using my nylon string guitar here.  Sure, it doesn’t sound exactly like the original, but I thought it allowed me to sing over the guitar without shouting.  On the verses, I found that I needed a softer sounding guitar because the tone is so “conversational” and not soaring above the music (like a Beach Boys song would be, for instance).

I hope you all enjoy this America acoustic cover song- truly one of my favorites. Stay tuned for more cover song music videos from the musicians here at the Laptop Sessions video blog!