Monday, August 16, 2004
Calling tech support
Apropos of nothing: I was driving around today thinking, “wow, the independent college radio station here (WKPS-FM, 90.7, ‘the Lion’ is doing a Ray Charles special” for about five or six minutes before I realized that I was, in fact, listening to our Ray Charles Ultimate Hits compilation CD, which Janet had apparently left in the car. I mean, what are the odds that someone’s going to play “At the Club” followed by “I Can’t Stop Loving You” followed by “You Don’t Know Me”? Well, maybe some really lazy DJ.
But those last two songs are always almost-ruined for me by the excruciating, hyper-enunciated, early-1960s-4H-Club-in-sweater-vests backing vocals. Modern sounds in country and western music, indeed-- they sound like Saturday Night Live’s 1977 parody, Ray Charles with the Young Caucasians. Especially Eddy Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me,” which would otherwise be one of the more heartbreaking songs rendered in English, and which the late Mr. Charles delivers with just flawless understatement.
So here’s my question. Now that we have TiVo and iPod and wiki and the eighth generation of MIDI, can’t we simply go back over these classic recordings and remaster them ourselves? Why should we be subjected, yea, unto the seventh generation, to the most soul-sucking backing vocals known to humankind? Why can’t we just revisit the original studio digitally, so to speak, and gently turn a couple of the knobs down to zero? I mean, the CD version of Mingus Ah Um contains two fine, fine sax solos by Booker Ervin and John Handy that were deleted from the vinyl version of “Boogie Stop Shuffle,” as well as a vastly expanded “Bird Calls,” and I’ve heard the same kind of thing on any number of CD rereleases, like the CD version of “Young Man Blues” on the Who’s Live at Leeds that restores about eight seconds of guitar that were excised from the vinyl for reasons known only to Pete Townshend. If CDs can augment the original releases, can’t they do some judicious editing as well?
I’ll be willing to share patent rights with anyone who comes up with the technology. For the Ray Charles “Nashville sound” backing-vocal extraction, I suggest the brand name “Wite Out.” (I don’t think it’s being used anymore.) Any takers?