The real question is do we already have them?
Think about what we believe is the sound of the Four Seasons……“A recording is nothing until it is decoded and what it decodes is an illusion.”…is a quote from Greg Milners ‘Perfect Sound Forever’.
Back in the sixties when Bob Crewe first produced the Four Seasons incredible sound….(the sound of Frankie Valli’s falsetto) there were some who doubted the sound was natural ….as no-one had ever sounded like that!!. And to some extent there is a distortion in the records of the day as tracks were ‘bounced ‘ on the tape machines to create the final MONO mix. Phil Spectors ‘Wall Of Sound’ is perhaps the most ‘perfect’ distortion of the 60s?
So in a week that sees the release of the long-awaited Beatles RE-MASTERS it is worth reviewing the state of the Four Seasons catalogue and in doing so the future of music!
Greg Milner’s book really asks questions about the sounds we treasure. Described in the Sunday Times as “a tour-de-force of fascinating anecdotes, lucidly expounded science, witty asides, stylistic verve, and page after page of ‘gosh I never new that facts”. This book de-mystifies hi-fi like never before and whilst describing how sound has been recorded and sold for nearly 100 years it leaves us wondering whether things have gotten better or worse.
We’ve laboured in our previous blog notes re the MONO v STEREO argument and the advent of the ‘Loudness Wars’ and we have asked if music now is approaching a ZERO value as so many downloads and CD copying is reducing the economic model for CD production.
But what gives hope for the future is the emergence of the ‘Pleasurize Music Foundation’. This sets standards for the production/mastering of all CD’s and has enabled us to start to evaluate the Four Seasons CD Discography….
You’ll find a full explanation of these standards at our new Sound Evaluation web page, and in our CD Discography evaluations of some of the most important CD releases by the group. But this is only the start……..Other recent developments show the desperation to reclaim the ‘golden days of album sales’.
Apple is working with the four largest
record labels to stimulate digital sales of albums by bundling a new
interactive booklet, sleeve notes and other interactive features with music
downloads, in a move it hopes will change buying trends on its online iTunes
store. This may appeal to younger people but it will be competing against the
re-surgence of vinyl which whilst not needed by the 'on the go' listener will
re-capture the collector. The sound is arguably better and you can get so many
more albums or 45s on a shelf. !!
With more models of USB record players emerging too the thought crossed my mind that the PC based digitiser that I have become is perhaps the future model of the serious music collector. The CD will still sell although it is increasingly difficult to make any money from CD sales. Music in download form is such a low value low profit market that it is difficult to see how anyone can continue to sell it and gain royalties & profit based on the old economic model. HMV in the UK are increasingly prioritizing ‘technology sales’ of speakers, mp3 players, docking stations and the like and emerging technology featuring home wi-fi players and digital headphones is opening up the way for improvements to digital sound…..with players that ‘de-compress’ the sound!. This market is huge as listeners become more educated in enjoying their digital music.
In many ways the model from Apple is perhaps a way forward to maximize this enjoyment. It is no surprise that the most popular Four Seasons blog we have had was the one on 'I Wonder Why' which included an article and a You-Tube video with original artwork and old photos and the track. Fans wrote to me and praised this approach and I maintain people will want to listen to music in a fully interactive way. Take our current research on the early Four Seasons ‘Billboard’ cuttings, if that was linked to artwork and sound files of the tracks ..and interviews with artists/producers and fans it would be a fully interactive digi-book newsletter item.. You Tube however remains the best way at present to discover music and artists. Our recent Tribute to Ellie Greenwich has had over 1600 views since her passing on August 26th.
Perhaps Apple's idea has a future. But we do it for free and have more info generally than the owners of the music...so it is difficult to see how the owners will make money in this model. Four Seasons fans do not want to go on and on re-buying versions of their vinyl/digital collections from the past. Unfortunately with Jersey Boys rumoured to be making Bob and Frankie $1m a week each…and a film deal to come…it is likely they wont care. A Four Seasons Re-mastered project seems unlikely.
But to truly enjoy the music you need good masters and after over 160 plus re-issues of the original vinyl material since 1987, it seems that the Partnership may have literally ‘lost’ their masters……to us!!
"We didn't understand what the unexpected consequences of moving into the digital domain would be," one record company executive candidly said. "We thought we were doing this great thing of improving the sound and being able to make perfect copies and all that, and we just did not understand that we had crossed a line that meant we could never go backward. That's the realization that is finally dawning on the record companies --- there's no turning back. As long as we were in the analog domain, we had an advantage in the marketplace, but now we don't. As soon as we made it possible for things to be transmitted over the Internet and for copies to be pretty good or perfect, we could never go back."
So consider that maybe they have given us the masters by the multitude of releases on CD. All we have to do is identify the best mixes and you can gather them. The Four Seasons Sound Archive is perhaps how we (the fans) will take control of the music. The CD evaluations we have started will enable any of us to identify the best ‘masters’ on CD and to build our own ‘best of’ collections from past releases..
Josh Indar argues…..“Yet for all the freedoms gained by the ability to record and manipulate sound, there is a cost. However important music is in our lives, it is no longer a fleeting expression of the emotions of its players. It has become an artificial construction, a simulacrum, a ghost of what it once was.”
So is there a genuine ‘master’ of the Four Seasons recordings?
Jersey Boys performance of the Four Seasons songs is a ‘distortion’ of their original performance….for theatrical effect….and we love it!!
“While the freeing of music from the boundaries of the physical world has brought plenty of catchy songs and powerful ideas into existence, it has also devalued music as a cultural binding agent and reduced the power of live performance, causing many to wonder why the songs they hear at a concert don’t sound as “good” as they do in their Ipod’s earbuds. The simple answer to this question is because almost all modern recordings are deceptions, “records” of performances that never existed, and in many cases, could never exist.
Milner(In his book that we opened with) rightly blames this development on the advent of magnetic tape, which was conceived of in 19th century America, patented some 30 years later in Austria, perfected by the Nazis and then rediscovered by an enterprising GI, who brought it back the states after WWII. Magnetic tape, Milner writes “taught music how to lie” by introducing the ability to cut, splice and layer sounds into musical constructions that sounded completely real, yet were anything but. “ argues Josh Indar in his review.
But without it Bob Crewe, George Martin and Phil Spector…(to name a few) could not have created the 3 minute gems we all love.
Perhaps the best we can hope for is to see if amongst the vinyl and CD versions of the Seasons tracks we can find ‘the illusion’ that Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio tried to create.
We will see what our CD evaluations show and let you know. Will we find the ‘Best Mixes.?
The intended recordings perhaps but…“A recording is nothing until it is decoded and what it decodes is an illusion.”
(Photo of Bob Crewe and George Schowerer - Sound Engineer at the mixing desk 1967 'creating the illusion' courtesy of George)