Your Humble Narrator was not quite twelve years old when he forked over seventy-nine cents for his first phonograph record, the 45 of the Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" b/w "The Under Assistant West Coast Promotion Man," which in retrospect seems a relatively astute choice for those days: both sides are darkly satirical, to the extent that one could be darkly satirical on the radio in the summer of '65, and neither side has ever been out of print, characteristics echoed in my mindset and my persistence. Still, it doesn't matter how persistent I am: a couple of hits from that era simply cannot be had anymore except on vinyl, having been displaced by alternate — read "wrong" — versions. The noirest of les bêtes, to me anyway, have been the Gerry and the Pacemakers cover of Bobby Darin's "I'll Be There" (Laurie 3279) and a brisk Marianne Faithfull number called "Summer Nights" (London 9780); while Gerry reissues abound, what we usually get is the UK single, which has a different vocal track and the strings mixed out of the break, and Marianne's Greatest Hits compilation features a stereo mix with, again, a different vocal track. I have had to rely, therefore, on existing vinyl to produce my electronic versions for traveling.

And there's one problem with relying on existing vinyl: persons not quite twelve years old did not, in those days, have anything resembling high-fidelity sound systems. I didn't get anything even slightly good, in fact, until my late teens, when I bought a perfectly dreadful coffee-table system — basically this without all the furniture — except that when the bottom-end Garrard record changer started chewing its own idler wheels, I dropped in an actual Dual 1215 turntable, which was a hell of an upgrade at the time. By then, of course, the vinyl had been ground down past any conceivable definition of high fidelity, and while I'm pretty good at denoising stuff, it takes a lot of time to do reasonably well, and in a whole lot less time, I could have bought your damn track, you know?

Fortunately, my two main download vectors — the iTunes Store and Amazon.com — are pretty good about identifying remakes, and alternate takes I can usually spot from the brief preview provided. The problem with that preview, however, is that it starts somewhere in the middle, and you're about to find out why this is a problem.

Now Time-Life, whom you remember for something I'm sure, came early to CDs, and issued something like eleventy dozen of them under various series names. (I have at least fifty labeled "The Rock 'N' Roll Era.") The quality varied wildly, but one thing I saw too often, and would not forgive, was truncation at the beginning of the track. At least three T-L versions I have are thus abused: "Little GTO" by Ronny and the Daytonas (half of opening drumroll clipped); "Time Won't Let Me" by the Outsiders (opening drumroll omitted entirely); "Polk Salad Annie" by Tony Joe White (the original single began on a counted-off "four," omitted entirely). None of these failures of mastering, I submit, would have occurred if the reissue producer had been familiar with the material. Now these discs all came out twenty years after the singles; it's now twenty years after that, and the number of available experts is shrinking markedly.

Which brings me to Sam the Sham. A lot of his MGM work has never been mixed into stereo, and that's actually fine with me: "Wooly Bully," as commonly offered on download, is full of crappy tape slap, and there exists no stereo version of "L'il Red Riding Hood" — or, for that matter, of "I Couldn't Spell !!*@!" — at all. But what I really wanted was the mono 45 mix of "The Hair on My Chinny Chin Chin," the "Red Riding Hood" follow-up, which is much better sung than the stereo LP version on MGM's old Best Of compilation. It's the LP version on the CD reissue in the 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection series, and on every other offering on either iTunes or Amazon, with one exception: a set called The MGM Singles. I previewed the minute in the middle, found it to be the correct 45 version, and pressed the Shut Up And Take My Money key.

Failure. Both versions open with four drum beats, intended to be a knock at the door. (We know it's intended to be a knock at the door because the chorus chimes in, "Who's there?") For some reason known but to God, or to one or several little pigs, three of those beats have been trimmed away, thus making the whole opening sequence incomprehensible. This is a failure only a massive corporation — say, Universal Music, who owns these tracks of late and presumably provided copies to the download stores — could possibly pull off. I suppose I could write Jeff Bezos and demand a refund of my 99 cents, or maybe a month's worth of The Washington Post, but it's not like anyone's going to take Universal to task.

Hence, this piece.

The Vent

#832
  9 August 2013

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