In the beginning I had the Dansette record player. Two controls. Volume and Tone. My friend’s better Dansette had three: volume, bass and treble. They were mono.
In 1970 I knew a guy who had a stereo record player. It was a classic bright red and cream 60s record player with integrated speaker, with a plug in extra speaker. There was a balance control and a tone control on both record player and its extension speaker. The balance control was important for listening to The Velvet Underground, because you could isolate and understand the spoken voice narrative on The Gift and Murder Mystery by turning down the thrashy background music as far as possible – the voice was all one side. That’s what early stereo mixes often were – vocals on one side and music on the other, which is why the early Beatles albums all sound best in mono. The Beatles participated in the mono mix, but left the stereo mix to engineers.
My friend was advised that you could hear things differently if you put one speaker on full bass and the other on full treble. It sounded awful, but then as he was listening to The Doors a lot, especially The End, the source sounded awful in the first place. Another friend with an early component stereo (turntable, amplifier, speakers) maintained that you should have full bass and full treble on, otherwise you were losing something.
Do you remember the amplifiers of the late 1970s? They came with a bank of presets, “equalizers” or tiny faders for different frequencies. So you could fiddle around lifting a particular frequency which might bring up an instrument higher in the mix. Hi-fi buffs held that they denigrated the sound. High-end amplifiers by the late 80s had no tone controls at all- my 1990s Myrad system has none. Why fiddle with the intended mix, hi fi buffs said.
You still get the “fiddle about” effect on some car stereos where you can select POP / Classical / Easy Listening / Rock which changed the tone balance. Some systems have equalizers. Home cinema systems were fond of settings like Concert Hall / Auditorium / Club. The Pioneer 5.1 amp I used to have would let you select Concertgebouw, Amsterdam or Budokan, Tokyo or even Royal Albert Hall which was notorious for bad sound.
There is more on remixes on 12″ singles, which is where they belong, and as bonus tracks on CD singles and albums. However, here I’m interested in the Remix or recreation of an older classic album or track.
In the early days of the Apple Mac computer, Peter Gabriel released what many believed would be the future of music, Xplora 1. It contained 100 minutes of video, 39 minutes of audio, a book and 100 still images. You loaded it onto your tiny Mac, and you had the song, but you had the faders the engineer had in the studio on screen, so you could remix it to your heart’s delight. It was great fun for half an hour, isolating bass guitar for me, but you soon realized that Peter Gabriel’s original mix was how it sounded best.
GargageBand replaced it, though it is still a fascinating idea using master tracks of an album. I would love to see how the 1993 CD-ROM compares, but unfortunately I dare not risk putting it into my CD/DVD drive attached to my iMac. I fear an unusual and unrecognisable format will then fail to eject from the drive.
DVD-Audio, and SACD introduced a brief fad for the 5.1 remix to suit home cinema systems. Some, like Lyle Lovett’s Joshua Judges Ruth were interesting by putting the choir up in a balcony behind you.
Pink Floyd’s Money had the tills revolving around the four speakers in a dizzying whirl.
The Last Waltz DVD-Audio tried to place you on the middle of the stage. Music From Big Pink also got a 5.1 mix.
Giles Martin created LOVE for the Cirque du Soleil with radical remixes of Beatles songs and they were brilliant – never replacements for the originals, but alternatives, like the vocal only Because. He went on to remix Sergeant Pepper, The White Album and Abbey Road. Some people hated Love but you need to see the Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas, with the multiple speaker mix.
Yes have decided to re-issue their five classic albums completely remixed by Stephen Wilson.
DJ remixes are a different category, creating a new piece.
Recently we’ve had DJ remixes of Bob Dylan’s Masters of War by The Avener for Record Store Day 2018 as a 7″ single. It is horrendously mind-numbingly awful.
Graceland / Delta Sweete … click to enlarge
Paul Simon handed over Graceland for 2018s release Graceland- The remixes. I haven’t managed to listen all the way through. That’s creating a new album, mostly by repeating one tiny element till you want to pull your head off On You Can Call Me All you get 48 seconds of one repeated stuck bit. It’s only because I can see my iTunes bar moving through and counting off the seconds that I know it isn’t stuck. Whatever possessed Paul Simon to permit such a moronic exercise? You wait 2 minutes 38 seconds to hear a snatch of Paul Simon.
It can work. 2020 brought Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete remix. The original stereo mix was typically crude for its era. Andrew Ball went back to the original multi-track tapes and did a more modern and subtle stereo mix. It’s a vast improvement. This is simply going back to a high-quality multi-track and re-mixing the elements WITHOUT adding anything. It’s more than ‘cleaning up’ though.