Friday, February 02, 2007

Sometimes Less Is More



A recent conversation with a friend who got one of those USB turntables for Christmas and is busy uploading all his old LPs and singles set me to thinking about the music I have on vinyl that I haven't bought again on CD.

Aside from stuff I don't play anymore (I feel no compulsion nowadays to listen to The Housemartins, for example) and stuff you can't get anymore (old jazz LPs I bought second hand from Ray's Jazz when it was a real shop next to a greasy spoon in Shaftesbury Avenue, not a 'concession' in Foyles bookstore) there is some stuff here I absolutely love, that I have had for 20 years or more, that I continue to play - and of which the CD version just seems....wrong.

One such album is 'Songs For DistinguƩ Lovers' by Billie Holiday.

On the original LP there are six tracks of around 5-6 mins each (three per side).

The songs, which were already iconic standards when Ms Holiday recorded them with a small group of jazz legends (including Ben Webster, Barney Kessel, Jimmy Rowles) and no strings in three days in January 1957 (two years before her death at the age of 44) are

Side 1

Day In, Day Out
A Foggy Day
Stars Fell On Alabama

Side 2

One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)
Just One Of Those Things
I Didn't Know What Time It Was

You could add nothing, and you could take nothing away.

In little more than thirty minutes the LP tells a story with economy, artistry and restraint.

It's as perfect a selection of songs and performances as you could imagine.

And the warm, full sound that comes out of that black plastic is a cruel reminder of all we have flattened out of music in our pursuit of the 'perfect' digital sound.

So when I was rummaging in a music store lately and I came across the CD version -remastered, perfectly packaged with a cardboard facsimile of the original record cover, additional sleeve notes and WHAT! Another six tracks from the original sessions! BOLTED ON THE END???!!!! I sniffed sadly at it, and put it back.

Would you sellotape some extra characters into an original Da Vinci cartoon because you found some other sketches he did at the same sitting?

You would not.

For me this album will always end

I didn't know what year it was
Life was no prize
I wanted love and here it was
Shining out of your eyes.

I'm wise
And I know what time it is now.

(Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart).

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