Old guy griping about stuff that used to be cool and isn’t anymore…

  1. Led Zeppelin issues alternate mix of Rock and Roll – Consequence of Sound

Jimmy Page has been remastering the Zep catalog again, and we’re about to get a new version of Led Zeppelin IV. I’m on the fence about the whole remastering the same stuff for the umpteenth time. One the one hand, I like having crisper, cleaner versions of my favorite tunes to listen to in my car on my iPod. On the other, I worry that this is a bit like George Lucas fiddling with the effects and adding deleted scenes back into the original Star Wars trilogy – something that is flat out yucky at its worst and pointless at best.

I’m also not wildly enthusiastic about all this marketing and promotional money being spent to sell music that’s over 40 years old. While I’m not certain of this, I’m pretty sure there’s some really great new rock band out there, toiling thanklessly in their garage and/or basement, who we will never hear because the music biz would rather keep selling us the same stuff than take a risk and try to develop something new.

But rather like the fiddled-with Star Wars films, I will probably buy these remastered relics for a couple of very simple reasons:

  1. I’m old
  2. I really love them

And in that sense, I get why media companies (I refuse to call them record companies anymore, since that really ain’t their business any longer) want to invest in this sort of thing – they know that I’m typical. We may grunt and complain and fuss over this stunt every single time it gets repeated, but we keep buying it. We keep buying it for the simple reason that it’s dependable. If I go out and buy music made by a band I’ve never heard of (or only know a couple of tracks from) I might end up with a lot of music I never listen to or even grow to dislike. Likewise, Warner Brothers can keep rebooting Superman and Batman and Paramount can make reboots of Star Trek and I will, pretty reliably, go spend my money on it.

Have I mentioned that I’ve never missed a James Bond film? Even though they are all pretty much the same movie, over and over and over again.

But something is missing.

Last week I was talking to my son about my high school friend Phil’s wacky Led Zep-themed VW Bug. Phil had a series of mind-boggling cars when we were in school. Perhaps the most gobsmacking was the ship-metal gray VW bug upon which he had painted Jimmy Page’s ZoSo symbol from the inner jacket of Zeppelin IV. Mid-conversation I realized that Ryan had no idea what I was talking about when I referred to that symbol because, while he’s familiar with Led Zeppelin IV on a level few of his peers are, he’d never seen the LP cover. So I pulled the record out of my library and showed it to him.

First though, I had to wait for him to assimilate what he was looking at. He turned the jacket over in his hands several times, mouth hanging open. When he was done being awestruck, he handed it back to me and said, “Wow, that artwork is incredible.” It really is.

I’ve got a pretty vast collection of LPs, but I don’t play them very often, and I hadn’t held that particular record in my hands in years. Forgive the back-in-my-day-ism, but we didn’t have music videos then (let alone on-demand music videos from YouTube) and bands like Zep were never on TV. We had their records and that was about it. We sat in our rooms, lights dimmed, headphones on and listened, turning the cover of the album we were listening to over in our hands again and again, analyzing every detail. If there was a lyric sheet we read along. Heck, I had the entire production team for all of my favorites memorized by the third time I’d played the record.

Everyone says you cannot judge a book by its cover, but I always found that I could pretty reliably predict whether or not I would like an album by the cover jacket. If the art was sophisticated and intricately designed I could be pretty certain the music on the vinyl was going to be equally well-crafted and thought out. Artsy jackets usually contained artsy tunes. Angry looking jackets were full of angry tunes.

When CDs arrived the record jacket died. There was just no way to replicate the experience of a 12.5″ jacket (especially if it was a fold-out jacket like Zep IV had) on a flimsy 4″ sheet of paper, especially if it was stuffed inside of a plastic jewel case. Most of my friends dispensed with the cases entirely once CD players became common in their cars and would file all their discs in a binder-style case with little sleeves to hold dozens of CDs at a time and stuff them under the passenger seats of their cars. So when mp3s and iTunes came along the transition to having nothing to look at or hold onto was an easy one. But now we’ve got nothing.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my iPod. I love that I can haul 18,000+ songs around with me where I want to go, but I also get why not having something tangible to hold onto makes people devalue music. When I walked into the Record Factory at 12 and bought my first copy of Led Zeppelin IV, Dark Side of the Moon, Out of the Blue or Abbey Road I knew that the people behind those LPs put a ton of effort into them before I’d even played a note. When I picked up Iron Maiden’s Killers and saw the soon to be iconic face of Eddie staring back at me I knew this was going to be an aggressive ride. Even a simple cover like the Ramones debut LP or Blondie’s Parallel Lines had me staring at them and trying to puzzle out what the music inside was all about.

Musicians today put no less effort, energy or creativity into their work, but an entire avenue of expression has really be torn away from them. I often wonder what might have happened to Nirvana if their breakthrough, Nevermind, had been released in the vinyl era. Nevermind’s naked baby in the pool image is one everyone remembers, but we saw it on a 4″ insert, inside of a jewel case, stuffed into a longbox. Put that image on an LP cover and try to sell that at Walmart.

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