New Music for Old People: Headphones Week/Rare Stereo Mixes!

By , Columnist

Al Kooper, 1965

Now, I’m not talkin’ about earBUDS that are really bad for your ear canals and can cause hearing damage; I’m talkin’ about a comparatively inexpensive, dependable set of the recording studio diehards — SONY Studio Monitor headPHONES MDR-7506s. Now that’s the way to listen to your iPod, computer, movies on your computer, etc. It’s great sound and pretty comfortable as well and if you don’t overamp the volume, they're much safer than those earduds. Okay — the preacher has now stepped down and the former college professor has stepped in.

I am queer for stereo mixes on headphones, especially songs that were recorded before stereo mixes and then gone back to and mixed in stereo. The reason I am perverted in their favor is that they are incredibly educational to someone such as myself (who produces and engineers recordings) who could not exist without a strong knowledge of the oldies listed here today. I can learn so much more by listening to these stereo mixes than one-dimensional, one-track monaural ones. I am not putting down mono — I am just preferring stereo myself for various reasons.

So here are ten amazing records spanning three decades that are not often heard in stereo PLUS two tracks that have the lead vocals missing so you can REALLY hear what's going on OR you can sing karaoke to them with the headphones on and annoy everyone in the vicinity — your choice entirely. But for the right people, this is a tremendous treasure trove!

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This column is like the title says - its intention is to fill the gap for those of us who were satiated musically in the '60s and then searched desperately as we aged for music we could relate to and get the same buzz from nowadaze. iTunes was the answer for me in 2003 and I have been following the new releases every Tuesday ever since I realized there was an endless stream of music I could enjoy there.

I also include older items that I felt were obscure originally and might not have been heard back then. The reason I am writing this column is to make sure others don't miss this wonderful music. These are not top ten items; but they SHOULD'VE been!

Below is a jukebox containing all the songs I picked this week. After you read about them below, go back and listen to whatever you like by just clicking on that title in the jukebox, or stream the whole playlist by clicking on the "play" icon at the top. It's free and it's the entire song. We're not selling anything. We're just in the business of hopefully making your days better by listening to great music.

Headphones Week/Rare Stereo Mixes!

1. "I Only Have Eyes for You" (1959) — The Flamingos (3:13)

I always say that humans could not have made this record in 1959 — that it sounds like the handiwork of Martians. I’d like to see someone like Todd Rundgren try and copy this as he did on his album Faithful. This would keep him in the studio for a few weeks. But the Martians did it it in one day because that’s the way it was done back then. Stereo surely helps you hear some of the amazing nooks and crannies embedded in this timeless aural masterpiece.

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2. "Duke of Earl" (1962) — Gene Chandler (2:26)

A bit of duke wop for you right here. This is a Chicago record and it’s great to hear the details (like the horns in the second half of the intro) that are not as discernible in mono. A classic with aural ear microscope assistance.

3. "Bright Lights, Big City" (1961) — Jimmy Reed (2:45)

This is raw blues for the time period. Jimmy rarely recorded with a bass player and this is no exception. His mainstays were Eddie Taylor on second guitar, drummer Earl Phillips, his wife Mary Lee (‘Mama’) singing over-his-shoulder harmonies perfectly and occasionally whispering the upcoming lyrics to him as he was fond of the alcohol. This became a blues standard and it’s just rare to hear it in stereo. Calvin Carter produced the bulk of Jimmy’s catalogue for Chicago’s benchmark Vee Jay Records. Dylan probably got the harmonica rack idea from JR (see photo below).

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4. "Walkin' in the Rain" (1965) — The Ronettes (3:20)

Phil Spector HATED stereo. All his records were in mono. So imagine my surprise when I acquired a Japanese compilation CD in the early days of digital with five stereo Spector mixes on it! When Phil was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the guy providing the records that were played in the introduction videos borrowed my CD to see if anyone noticed the stereo mixes! This is probably the rarest of all although the other four are mind-blowers as well.

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5. "When You Walk in the Room" (1963) — Jackie DeShannon (2:41)

Now we go from walkin in the rain to walkin' in the room! Jackie was first known as a songwriter. Coincidentally, Jack Nitzsche, who wrote the Wall Of Sound arrangements for Phil Spector, was involved on this session and sprinkled some of his fairy dust on this track albeit with much less echo than the Spector sides. Sonny Bono and Jack also wrote "Needles and Pins," which Jackie recorded just before this track and got covered by The Searchers, obliterating Jackie’s great version. Much later she would finally triumph with Burt Bacharach at her side. This is a very well made record with details shining through in slashing stereo.

6. "Nobody's Fault But Mine" (1968) — Otis Redding (2:22)

Stax-Volt initially turned its back on stereo, preferring the slam of R&B mono. All the cash in the world cannot conjure up a stereo mix of “Green Onions” as it was probably recorded in mono. However by 1966, multitrack recording was going on at Stax. This track was recorded in 1967, but released posthumously first as a B-side and then on the LP The Immortal Otis Redding, both in 1968. This is a chance to study each member of Booker T & The MGs: Booker is barely discernible on organ but if he was removed you would know it. Steve Cropper sounds like the ringleader. As usual his guitar part is genius and is the core of the whole track. He is panned to the left, but probably not politically. Duck Dunn plays the rhythms in between Cropper's part and stays down low to anchor everything on bass. Al Jackson Jr. is always amazing and young soul drummers can always learn a wealth of information from checking him out. The Memphis Horns are panned to the right and play (as usual) the patented Stax/Volt foil to what the MGs are doing And then there is the big O. It's great to hear him in isolation on this track. His improvisation is always amazing; phrasing and notewise he was a master of originality. This is classic Stax/Volt in rare stereo.

7. "Hold Me Tight" (1968) — Johnny Nash (2:26)

Back before Bob Marley ruled reggae all over the world, Texas-born Johnny was in a film shooting in Jamaica and got entranced by the rock-steady music all around him. He recorded with what became The Wailers and grabbed his first worldwide hit with the self-written "Hold Me Tight." It’s bizarre that there were really good studios there so early but I am certainly not complaining. The blunted guitar parts roool on this track.

8. "Goldfinger" (1965) — Shirley Bassey (2:35)

John Barry was an innovator with his own cinematic style. Unfortunately, the James Bond music is his most recognizable work, but his film discography is one of the finest in history in my opinion. This arrangement and composition is pure John Barry and congrats to Shirley for a) keeping up with the orchestra and b) getting her only US chart hit. This is swashbuckling stereo, my friends!

9. "Walk On By" (1961) — Dionne Warwick (2:51)

For my birthday a few years ago, my lawyer gave me ten tracks of vintage Warwick/Bacharach tracks in stereo with no lead vocals! Always a Bacharach admirer, this gave me an even better listen to his most famous work behind Dionne. You can hear everything here or, as I mentioned before, sing along karaoke-style. I prefer the great guitar ‘chicks’ of the immortal Vinnie Bell and the groundbreaking orchestrations of Mr. B. This is REALLY rare!

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10. "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" (1972) — The Temptations (3:37)

Also a rare track of no lead vocals on this Norman Whitfield-produced smasheroo that borrowed heavily from Isaac Hayes' "Shaft" (the record, that is). So it’s Motown versus Stax for a change. Who do YOU think won? Sing along, bounce around the room or listen deeply. See ya next Friday and happy turkey in advance!

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