I blew my mind out in a car, driving home from a gig in Bethlehem, PA, listening to “Glass Onion” on the radio. First Ringo’s snare and then bang, the whole bad-ass rhythm section and John singing I told you ’bout strawberry fields… Three verses altogether, with a bridge between the second and third. Oh yeah. The cryptic lyrical references to earlier Beatles songs. Each verse ending with Looking through a glass onion. The string section swooning at the eerie fade-out.
I thought whoa, they don’t make them like that anymore, do they? As if to underscore my thought, the DJ instantly played “Glass Onion” again. Afterwards, she announced that she’d actually played two different versions of the song, in connection with the recent release of a six-CD remix of the Beatles’ The White Album.
“I couldn’t tell the one version from the other,” I told Swamp Rabbit when I got back to the shack. “They both sounded great. I’d buy the whole boxed set if I could afford it.”
“Why do a fool thing like that?” the rabbit grumbled. “It’s a lot cheaper to download.”
I had to think about that. You could argue that the purchase would be worth it. Co-producer Giles Martin — son of George Martin, the “fifth Beatle” — did a great job of giving The White Album a “sonic tune-up” without messing around too much with the group’s artistic intentions.
But you could also argue that it’s pathetic of me to think about satisfying my craving for new music by purchasing yet another expensive remix of 50-year-old Beatles songs, even if the sound quality is great.
“What you care about sound quality?” the rabbit said. “The only CD player you own is the one in your beat-up old laptop. Just stream songs to your phone.”
My drunken friend had a point. I’m no audiophile, and the culture has changed. Technology marches on. CDs are becoming a thing of the past as streaming services take over. Recorded music has become more mobile, more affordable, more disposable. This is good for casual listeners but bad for new artists, who can’t make nearly as much money on streamed recordings as artists made on vinyl and CDs in the old days.
I thought of those miners in South Africa who have had to dig thousands of feet farther underground to find new gold. How much deeper can the record companies dig before they extract the last classic-rock nuggets?
“Where are the new mines, the new sounds, the new artists for the ages?” I said.
“Maybe they’re out there, maybe they ain’t,” the rabbit replied. “One thing for sure is you ain’t gonna find them by living in the past.”
Footnote: There are 125 tracks in all, if you count the demos and session takes. As one snarky critic put it: “The market for a set like this is limited to fetishists and completists and that strange baby-boomer contingent that can’t quite let go of the idea of actually owning one’s own music.” I’m still in the latter category — I like liner notes and cover art and so on — but I’m not buying the boxed set.