Old Man Mellencamp

Tuesday, John Mellencamp called the Internet “the most dangerous thing invented since the Atomic bomb,” and railed against its impact on music, including mp3s. He said of remastered Beatles track:

[Y]ou could barely even recognize it as the same song. You could tell it was those guys singing, but the warmth and quality of what the artist intended for us to hear was so vastly different.

Note to self for when I grow old: Any contrast that starts with some variation of “In my day” – which the reference to the Beatles is here – is always going to make me sound cranky and out of touch. I’m willing to accept that professional musicians who’ve spent time in studios hear the details of sound better than us laypeople. Still, Berry Gordy understood that what mattered was how music sounded to us, and he legendarily took mixes to see what they sounded like in cars, where so much of his audience would hear them.

OffBeat contributor Alex Cook wrote me, saying:

My formative years were spent with used records, 2nd generation tapes and third-hand equipment and I thought CD’s were a godsend quality-wise when they came out. It was like hearing the music instead of the record, and I can’t really hear a huge drop off with mp3’s.

My experience was similar. I’ve never owned a kick-ass stereo, listen to a lot of music on the factory-installed stereo in my car, and I once did a campus radio show called “Stars on Scratchy 45s” that specialized in vinyl with surface noise. Any time I hear the We Five’s “You Were on My Mind” without some bacon popping, I think something’s missing.

I’d also buy the anti-mp3 argument more if that wasn’t the way more record companies sent out promos that way. That almost forces me to review through computer speakers, earbuds or earphones, none of which seem like solutions that would make Mellencamp happy.

I believe there are qualities to the sound that I need better equipment to appreciate, and I believe that I’d have a better appreciation of some albums if I heard everything the artist put there, and heard it the way he or she intended. When Rykodisc released a remastered David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, I heard a 12-string guitar I’d never heard on my vinyl copy. But the 12-string was a detail, and the combination of those songs and those performances made the album something that could withstand a buried 12-string guitar for years.

I can’t speak to the remastered Beatles albums that offended Mellencamp so, but mp3s and the Internet aren’t doing anywhere near as much damage to the music business as the companies and artists did first.

  • Marko

    He said the sound was hopeless on an iPod not on the cd according to other news sources.

  • Dhloup

    Analog is so much better than digital.

  • Old & In the Way

    Time for a geezer check. Look, I'm no fan of Mellencamp or apologist for him; but this audio quality issue has been going on since long before computers were on the scene. Neither the mainstream recording industry or technology industry that followed have ever really cared enough about the sound quality (aka fidelity) of their music because the delivery systems of the majority of buyers and listeners were so poor. Back in the 50s & 60s I recall those cheapo multi-stackable 45 players with ridiculously ineffective speakers, lp turntables in huge pieces of furniture with afterthough speakers, jukeboxes, AM radios (especially the early transistors). All were just the equivalent of current less than ideal sound reproducers – each deficient in its own way. Many of studio engineers and producers have miixed to cheap speakers (such as Auratones or even car speakers) because of that. Actually some of the speakers you can get for your computer these days don't sound half bad, if you have a decent sound card and don't mind no bottom end to speak of. Analog is only better if the records were recorded, mastered and pressed well and you hear them on a system designed to reproduce the audio spectrum and stereo soundstage (where the instruments are placed in the mix) reasonalbly accurately. I grew up listening to music on fairly crappy devices myself, inlcuding a LOT of car time, and still self-trained my ears to hear into the music and pick out individual instruments, harmonies, rhythms, and other details. If you love music, then your ears adapt. But you have to know what real instruments sound like in live settings first for your brain to tease out a semblance of that in any recording. Vinyl recordings do not inherently sound better because of the meduim – I love old 45s, but they were never high fidelity products to begin with, being the mp3s of their day; and many lps were not recorded all that well or pressed on high quality vinyl. But compared side by side on a good sounding, full-range system, I am sure a even a 45 track would beat out (if you discount the surface noise) the same song rendered into mp3 via lossy downsampling, because there is inherently less musical information in that sound file format. I have music in all formats – tons of vinyl, thousands of CDs, DVDs, and lots of other digital formats (wav, flac, and mp3). It all serves the purpose and can be enjoyed for what it is. But I still insist, as is the right of out of touch geezerhood, that hearing any of it through the best sound system you can afford (must cost more than your laptop!), is the only way to fully appreciate and more accurately judge the dynamics and nuances of music – just as long as you don' make me listen to the former Cougar's stuff. Give me Fess anyday.