Bum Deal For Music Lovers

MY PIECE ABOUT the forthcoming Beach Boys remasters got me thinking: while some artists have had their catalogues comprehensively remastered – and a few of them have them remastered several times – there are quite a few bona fide rock classics that have never been given the respect due to them with a decent sonic overhaul.
Try scouring the internet for definitive information on this topic, and it’s hard to come by.
So, what works of genius have still to receive their just dues? And are remasters always better than the original CD pressings?But just off the top of my head – that’s the bit just under what remains of my lank hair – I can think of a bunch of neglected classics.
For instance, what about an album that never fails to make top 50 lists of ‘best albums’ by the most august journals: Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart & the Magic Band. Okay, it’s a pretty left-of-centre recording, and many find it just too weird, but it’s justly considered a classic. So much so that, despite poor sales, Warners have always kept the 1969 album available, where much more (fleetingly) popular albums have been deleted and sunk without trace. Yes, this great album is available on CD, but has never been remastered.
In fact, Warners has a long history of neglecting the remastering of its catalogue. Joni Mitchell has an incredible discography, most of it on Warners (or, to be more specific, Reprise, and another Warners-affiliated label, Asylum), but it took them well over a decade after the advent of the compact disc to even do a cursory remastering of a few of her albums. I could be wrong, but suspect that more than half of her catalogue on CD is simply taken from the vinyl masters, and that’s a shame, because Mitchell was always a studio perfectionist.
Another Warners act (through Elektra) is brilliant LA psychedelic act Love, whose gorgeous, out-of-this-world Forever Changes will forever remain on my personal top 50. Yet for many years the CD version came with an unwanted high-pitched tone that completely spoiled the experience. It was finally remastered in the late ‘90s, but other Warners acts weren’t so lucky.
These include killer Van Morrison albums like Astral Weeks and Moondance, the whole of Tim Buckley’s official 10-album discography (with the exception of his first, and worst, album, which was finally given a new life in 2011), and even Rickie Lee Jones, who was always famed for the audiophile quality of her records.
In England, possibly the worst example of catalogue management is Kate Bush, whose Hounds Of Love was given a brittle digital remaster in 1997, and her worst album The Red Shoes a nice remaster last year. The rest of her catalogue, however, is straight vinyl masters that sound poor, and could well do with a remix job rather than just a mastering.
Then there are those albums that get so-called remasters, but end up sounding worse, rather than better. One of my all-time favourites is the second album by guitarist John McLaughlin, Devotion, which came out in 1970 around the time he was a member of the Miles Davis band. It’s an amazing record that boils with an agitated, deeply affected set of emotions and spectacular playing that never simply sets out to stun with virtuosity. But it sounds like shit. I’ve now got three versions on CD and they’re all awful, sonically.
So, Witchdoctor readers, here’s a task for you. Let me know your choice of albums that deserve a decent remastering, and we’ll look at compiling our findings into one motherfracking cracker of a list. Okay? GARY STEEL

8 Comments

  1. Van Morrison’s “Astral Weeks”, “Moondance”, and “His Band and Street Choir” were remastered but only, strangely, for the Japanese market. “Moondance” even has some strange anomalies – for instance, tambourine on “Into The Mystic” – that don’t appear on pressings in the rest of the world. To my ears, the Japanese versions are the ones to beat.

  2. The classic Husker Du catalogue would be an interesting challenge! They have done some of Bob Moulds solo/Sugar stuff but I read somewhere that the Husker Du masters are held back by some individual? Anyone know more?

  3. The Gordons Volume 1 – or should that be on 11 ?

  4. be careful what you wish for !
    most remasters are not worth the plastic they’re pressed on.

  5. The Japanese Van Morrison issues sound interesting. Strange anomalies like completely different mixes that show up different instruments – that’s another subject worthy of analyses.

  6. Regarding John McLaughlin’s Devotion which I’ve also been looking for a decent transfer of. I read something in a Wire piece (I think) about Alan Douglas pioneering the technique he later used notoriously on Jimi Hendrix material after the Devotion tapes had been somehow damaged. I haven’t been able to find anything further on this and have always wondered what the story was.
    & have always wondered if it had any effect on the possibility of getting a decent remaster of this lp.

    I had a Celluloid label version of the cd which wasn’t great & thought there was one I had been told had been remastered. i think that might be the one you have pictured, it certainly had returned to Ira Cohen’s distorto photography which the Celluoloid either doesn’t use or distorts to the point where it looks completely different.
    Would love a decent copy of that cd anyway.

    That Japanese version of Astral weeks is indeed significantly better BTW.
    Would love to see Prince’s lps getting remastered, as wel as Cabaret Voltaire’s Clock DVA’s Thirst, Saccharine Trust, Conqueroo, a lot of the SST catalogue. Is there decent audio out of the Animals mid 60s stuff?

  7. I owned a copy of McLaughlin’s Devotion on vinyl in the early ’70s, was too young to appreciate it, and stupidly, sold it! I’ve now accumulated THREE CD versions, all of which sound like shit. Celluloid reissued Devotion in the ’80s with a different cover, and it sounded really bad. Then Neon (licensed from Charly) released it in 2000, with a totally inappropriate cover picture of McLaughlin in his 50s (!) and that sounded like crap. And then, in 2001, Fuel released a version with an approximation of the original cover and a sticker claiming that it was remastered. Except that, if anything, it sounded worse than the other two and has clicks and pops, so it clearly mastered from vinyl. So I’ve still yet to find a “real” version of this crappy sounding but incredible album… it’s probably in my all-time top 20 list.

  8. Yes , I too have the best (?) version of Devotion , and it is pretty poor . As sonicview wisely says , however , not all recent remasterings are an improvement over some previous versions ; some are worse , and some just different .
    It still is dependent on the person doing the job .
    The humorous aspect of some of them , is that they are “supervised” by someone who can’t hear anyway !
    ie some of The Who releases were supposedly done under the supervision of Pete Townshend , whose hearing has been shot for years ! Hopefully the only part he was responsible for was the selection of which bonus tracks were to be added.

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