There’s a canard that we’re living in the dark ages of audio quality, that files are lo-res and we’re just not hearing what we used to. But that’s forgetting the fact that for most of the previous era people experienced bad playback systems, the all-in-ones of the sixties, the homebrew speakers of the seventies, the cassettes of the eighties and the boomboxes of the nineties, kinda like all the blowback about Spotify ripping off musicians, which is patently untrue, all streaming services pay out 70% or so of their revenues to rightsholders, yet we keep hearing from Neil Young and recording professionals that today’s sound sucks.
But this is wrong.
Yes, chances are if you’re an earbud kinda person you’re not hearing the best quality, but never forget that Beats sold to Apple for billions, and despite those cans being a far cry from Sennheisers, never mind Sonys, they’re probably the best reproductive system their users have ever owned, and that’s a good thing.
Now the scapegoat for all this sound backlash is streaming services, but these services have unearthed previously unheard cuts that are extremely rewarding. The only problem is you oftentimes don’t even know they’ve been released. I got e-mail about new Beach Boys live recordings from the sixties, who knew?
And who knew that Eric Clapton had recut “Anyday” in San Diego? I’d say to check it out, but even better is the remastered take, from “Layla,” it sounds just a bit different, but satisfying in its own way. Even more interesting is Bobby Whitlock’s live rendition with CoCo Carmel, from the album “Carnival,” the vocal is imperfect, but the guitars have power, the song is driving down the track, you’ll want to listen, once, at least.
But the key to the original “Anyday” is Duane Allman. So I decided to pull up “Idlewild South” on Spotify, who knew there was a deluxe remastered package?
First and foremost, there’s a plethora of live takes, from the Ludlow Garage show back in 1970. Actually, those were released previously, back in 1990, but I don’t ever remember hearing the “Midnight Rider” alternate mix, and I’d like to tell you it’s a revelation, but it’s not.
But “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin'” was.
Actually, many a time I just started at “Midnight Rider,” dropped the needle right there and let the LP play through “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed,” but when I heard it Sunday, after starting with “Revival,” I suddenly got it, that’s one amazing thing about music, not only that these songs are land mines, waiting to be discovered at some time in the future, but that with age, wisdom and a new perspective you gain insight, can understand them in ways you were previously unable to.
Actually, it’s the screaming guitar riff, that sustains, that sounds like a train coming down the track, that makes the cut. But suddenly the words spoke out to me too.
Oh, tell me ’bout the car I saw
Parked outside your door
Tell me what you left me waiting
Two or three hours for
Oh, this is a song about infidelity.
Right! But not the kind you think.
I love it when rock stars show vulnerability, she’s been keeping him waiting for all that time, I certainly wouldn’t hang around for that long. But what’s truly happening…
Tell me why when the phone rings baby
You’re up and across the floor
Please don’t keep me wonderin’ no longer
Yup, a guy on the other end of the line, he should be worried about losing her.
And he should, but not to a guy, but to…
I think about the bad times
Lord I think about yours and mine
You were lost in the silver spoon
Thought I pulled you out in time
He didn’t. Pull her out in time. The silver spoon? Who in 1970 had even seen cocaine? Musicians. On the road, slugging it out. There’s experience in this lyric that I did not have, that I still may not have.
And I’m listening to “Idlewild South” and the numbers that never resonated that much do and I’m wondering if my original opinion that the record was uneven was wrong and then I decide to put on my favorite, the debut, made with Adrian Barber, that most people don’t know, it’s the blueprint, for what came later, it’s closer to “Fillmore East” than “Idlewild South,” it contains “Trouble No More.”
That’s right, the initial LP, stiff upon release, one that’s never been fully embraced, is my number one. But when I pulled it up last night, I was positively stunned, it sounded undeniable, from the initial instrumental “Don’t Want You No More” all the way to its finish at the original five minute take of “Whipping Post.”
I wondered what made them decide to begin with an instrumental, then I remembered this was the era of “Abraxas,” but that came later! It’s almost like they weren’t worried about commercialism, but if you listen to this now you’ll want to tell all your friends, it’s mellifluous and overpowering and then…
The whole thing slows down and Gregg starts singing that it’s not his cross to bear and I feel like I’m in an alternative universe, like my head is back in the seventies, ’69 in this case, I GET IT!
And, of course, I have to listen to my favorite cut on the LP, the cover of the McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters, classic “Trouble No More.” It’s like you’re in a bar, not a club with a deejay, no one’s dressed up, everybody’s just getting loosened up, via the alcohol, but the real elixir is the music, it’s stirring you up, got your head nodding, got you in the groove.
And then I decided to play…
The side-long take is the famous one. It’s almost a cliche, with people requesting it at other acts’ concerts, I like it but I never really need to hear it again, and even the Allmans themselves seemed to be going through the motions the last time I heard them perform it at the Beacon, but the five minute take is my secret weapon, I decide I’ll listen for a few seconds, but I can’t turn it off, WHAT IS GOING ON?
Now you’ve got to understand, this was not today, when you spread the word first and practice second, if at all. Listening to this old stuff you realize why Bill Graham had the Allmans close the Fillmore, why he considered them the best live band out there, despite all the legends who’d already broken through, they were so well-rehearsed, they were totally locked-in.
But this is the studio iteration, it’s supposed to be restricted, it’s not supposed to have the feel, the explosion, the sound of the live take, but this cut is playing in my headphones and I’m positively stunned, there’s so much energy, so much drive, I could listen to this all night!
And you should too!
I did some research. I was worried these deluxe versions of the first two albums were remixes, something I pooh-pooh, don’t mess with the original, but the credits say they’re just remastered, how can that be? I pulled up the originals, the instruments were all stuck together, the sound was distant, whereas when I went back to the remasters I could hear all the elements, the detritus had been stripped away, the music shined.
You’ve got to check this stuff out. The better the speakers, the better the sound, but a cursory pair of headphones will do the trick, you’ll be positively stunned.
And you won’t know what to do, the radio station doesn’t care, the press either, all you can do is tell people, the way it used to be, when the English cats listened to the Delta bluesmen and were inspired, this will make you want to go to the show, practice if you’re a musician, raise your expectations and your standards. Listening to Gregg on this remastered take I can truly understand why he felt like he was tied to the whipping post, and that’s what we’re looking for, genuine sensation, feeling, we want our music to express humanity while it levitates us away from this pedestrian universe, we’re living in a golden era, all the hits of yore have resurfaced, they’re right there, PARTAKE!
P.S. I’ve included the original “Whipping Post” at the end of the above playlist so you can compare the sound…