Sunday, October 22, 2006

The satisfaction of vinyl and close harmonies

I must admit to being a fan of old vinyl. Sure CDs have the advantage of a wider dynamic range and ease of use, but something just seems to be missing.

My turntable, a trusty old Denon DP-60L, has been out of commission for the past few weeks. It had developed an annoying hum. I figured that it was just a bad ground connection but haven't had the time to chase it down and fix it. Well Sunday was cool and rainy, a perfect day to get that turntable fixed. The ground (earth to our British friends) problem turned out to be a simple loose connection at the pre-amp, but since I had the turntable apart I gave it a full tune-up.

That is when I realized what was missing from listening to music the modern digital way. Each time I play one of my treasured LPs I have a ritual to perform. First the album must be removed from the liner carefully holding it with the palms against the edges. Next is the cleaning of the album to remove any dust that has settled on the surface. I then turn my attention to the stylus and give it a cleaning with a dense but gentle stylus brush. When all is clean the tone arm can be moved over the lead in and gently lowered onto the record and the platter set spinning. This ritual is repeated for each side of each album, approximately every twenty minutes.

I believe it is this ritual, performed with care and reverence, that makes one feel he has contributed to the music somehow. The science tells us that CDs offer cleaner, more complete sound, but after performing the album ritual and sitting in my listening chair, the music from an album satisfies something within.

Since my turntable is freshly tuned I spent the day performing the ritual and transferred a few things to digital to share with the riders on the Bus.

The musical style of the Highwaymen is one that has not been revived in the decades since its peak in the early 1960s. The harmonies of the collegiate folk vocal groups like the Highwaymen, the Chad Mitchell Trio, the Kingston Trio, the Brothers Four, the Serendipity Singers, Joe and Eddie,... fell out of favor as the more confrontational and politically oriented folk singers such as Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs took the stage to raise our collective consciousnesses. 'Tis a shame that the beautiful harmonies of these groups have never regained the popularity they once enjoyed.

Highwaymen - Cotton Fields.mp3

Highwaymen - Big Rock Candy Mountain.mp3

Highwaymen - March On Brothers!.mp3

Highwaymen - Ramblin' Boy.mp3


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good way to start out a Monday.
It is getting time to break out the old lp's and get them transferred to digital I still have a ton of old cassettes that need to be done also.
I just hope that I can still get my turntable to work..


October 23, 2006 6:42 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Joey - Transferring LPs (and cassettes) is a prefect winter pastime. Fortunately turntables are fairly simple machines and if they can't be revived at least new or used ones can be had inexpensively.

That old Denon of mine is 25 years old now and only requires annual tone arm and cartridge adjustments.

October 23, 2006 7:47 AM  
Anonymous G-Dub said...

I don't know, Ed. Somehow "Big Rock Candy Mountain" sung like this just doesn't sit right. Even the children's version I had as a kid seemed more manly.

I gotta admit though, this kind of singing is somewhat relaxing. It seems to have a sincere innocence that might be hard to duplicate today..

My folks had lots of Kingston Trio, and I grew up listening to them, and the Smothers brothers, so maybe it's just me being taken back to my childhood that puts me in that frame of mind.

Although the Smothers Brothers are way cool, and could probably even whip Chuck Norris. Granted it would take both of them, but still, that's pretty tough.

Well, I can't really make any more sense of the whole thng than that, so I'll just say thanks. I really enjoy your blog.

October 23, 2006 11:49 AM  
Blogger Kat said...

I love these groups.

Lately I've found myself drawn to these late 50's, early 60's singers and their innocence.

They introduced me to the more traditional songs, and their harmonies were sweet to my ears.

October 23, 2006 1:41 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Perhaps, g-dub, after hearing Haywire Mac's original "Big Rock", they all seem to pale. I have a version by the New Christy Minstrels with "cleaned up" lyrics to suit their artificially sweetened group persona. I can only listen to a short bit of the song before it turns my stomach and I have to chase it with bourbon.

You may be right about the innocence of those groups being difficult to duplicate today. The whole world seems to have lost it’s innocence. I too was a big fan of the Smothers Brothers. You are right about them being tough; they pushed the boundaries of corporate acceptance, not backing down from their beliefs even after CBS yanked their show off the air in 1969. I still have some of the transcripts of Pat Paulson’s campaign speeches on the show. I think he would have made a fine president, as he always said “Every four years Americans vote some amateur clown into the White House, it’s about time we elect a professional.”

Thanks for the kind words, g-dub. It is the feedback and exchange of ideas that make this daily self-flagellation worth the effort.

October 23, 2006 2:36 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Kat, I too have found myself drawn to these groups lately. I can’t quite identify what it is that has recaptured my interest; the beauty of the harmonies, the simplicity of the songs, or the wonderful memories they revive.

October 23, 2006 2:52 PM  
Blogger elis blues said...

by the way, the turntable does not only "seem to warmer" -
LP technology actually has a wider dynamic range than CDs - it's simple acoustics/physics - the CD digital sampling process cannot possibly cover the complete range of information on an analog LP, ask any studio technician who studied acoustics and recording...
A sharper sound definition does not mean that you have more sound information in the end result - it only means that you might have less background noise or distortion.
In addition, the process of remastering old tapes would be much too expensive if the studio tech did a really accurate job of recreating the analog sound of the original album, and most record companies can't be bothered. Also, in my experience, many sound techs are "mesmorized" by new technology and have lost the old art or craft of listening, using your ears and your experience to actually evaluate the music and it's content - most sound techs today put out a very sterile and sibilant sound - way too much treble is used in most recordings and live sound today - that's why it doesn't sound "warm".

October 26, 2006 11:41 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hi Eli, Your points about "warmth" are well taken. The sound on a CD has all too often sounded "sterile" to my ears.
BTW - Happy (belated) birthady!

October 27, 2006 9:43 AM  

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