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.