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 now.
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 all from the fabulous ‘60’s that are not often heard in... uhhh... educational stereo!
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.
1. "Happy Together" — The Turtles, 1967 (2:42)
I never really appreciated the depth of this recording until a headphoned stereo listening prompted by the acquisition of this mix a few years ago. It was a big pop hit for them, but digging into the innards of the production and arrangement reveals extremely skilled practitioners at work. It was engineered and mixed by Bruce Botnick, produced by Joe Wissert and arranged by Chip Douglas. The performing Turtles were:
Howard Kaylan - lead vocal
Mark Volman, Howard Kaylan, Alan Nichol, and Chip Douglas - background vocals (so good!)
Al Nichol - lead guitar
Jim Tucker - rhythm guitar
Chip Douglas - bass
Johnny Barbata - drums
This info was from a guy named either Flo or Eddie.
2. "A Whiter Shade of Pale" — Procul Harum, 1967 (5:57)
This is obviously not the ACTUAL take used, but rather an early one played all the way through. It is the only stereo version of this landmark track and is fascinating as it has an actual ending and various different organ fills than the actual take and is in glorious stereo.
3. "Magic Carpet Ride" — Steppenwolf, 1968 (2:24)
On the menu of 1968’s psychedelicatessen, John Kay’s composition sounds great in stereo. The guitar parts and organ parts can be heard more clearly and the fidelity is a big surprise. A really well made record for its time.
4. "Itchycoo Park" — Small Faces, 1968 (2:22)
Produced by my old pal and fellow Aquarian Andrew Lou Goldman, this was recorded at Olympic Studios in the UK by engineer Glyn Johns. It was written by band members Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane. This is a refreshing mix if you know the song and it’s great to hear Ian McLaglens’s Hammond organ just a wee bit closer. Great use of Marriott’s voice as well. A classic, but not my favorite haircuts.
5. "Stubborn Kinda Feller" — Marvin Gaye, 1962 (2:38)
I believe this was Marvin’s first singles hit and one that floored me in ‘62. My fellow songwriters back then used to call records like this “window-jumpers” as we used to feel like having a leap after we listened as we could never compete with the skills involved in creating a comparable record in that lifetime. The background parts by the then-unknown Vandellas and Marvin’s amazing debut vocal were two of the “jumpin” ingredients. Flute solo is pretty damn good as well.
6. "Reflections" — The Supremes, 1967 (2:49)
A very modern record for its time. The audio sound effect beeps of the intro are spliced in again at various times in the track. They have no bearing on the lyric and are just arrangement accoutrements in daring pre-electronica fashion. More Motown trend-setting and one of the best stereo mixes of its time.
7. "Sun Arise" — Rolf Harris, 1963 (2:25)
Today it’s called world music, but back then it was just, well... weird! Probably Australian folk music as Rolf was an Aussie, but this was a meticulously well made record with great sounds and surely the musical instrument mainstay of that area, the didgeridoo. The vocals are recorded very carefully and the stereo mix is extraordinary for the time period it comes from.
8. "Ride Your Pony" — Lee Dorsey, 1967 (2:52)
Allen Toussaint had his hands on this and most of Lee Dorsey’s recordings from this era. Strangely his signature keyboard figures are missing on this one. Usually The Meters are the backing group and there is a well-placed baritone sax in there as well. Great stereo balance between the two guitar parts throughout.
9. "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" — The Righteous Brothers, 1965 (3:38)
I like to put obscure tracks on my lists but this is the total opposite of that. However, there are interesting stereo mix factors involved. Who mixed this? If it was Phil Spector it provides some possible answers to questions often bandied about by maniacs like myself. The strings are mixed very unprofessionally in that you can hear the engineer’s hands on the faders, i.e. quick volume moves that strings never do in real life. Perhaps Spector was upset by the fact that instruments were more out in the open as opposed to where all instruments were combined into his patented Wall Of Sound in mono mode. The strings stick out and waaay in. He would be disgusted with this mix. Righteous Brothers LPs were made up of two or three Spector singles and the rest of the records were tracks produced by Bill and Bobby themselves. They could have mixed it. So I look at this as the curiosity it ultimately is and will always wonder who mixed it. Got this off a Japanese CD, of course.
10. "Twist and Shout" — The Isley Brothers, 1962 (2:32)
There are three major influence things going on here that make this a formidable track in the history of The Beatles:
a) They covered the song.
b) Their patented "ooo" harmony very prevalent in "She Loves You" at the end of phrases was taken wholesale from these Brothers albeit surely in tribute.
c) Coming out of the long buildup in the middle, Lennon completely aped the lead vocal nuances (voice breaking up, etc.) on the first line out of the buildup, albeit another tribute to the Brothers Isley. Good thing Lennon had a bad cold that day.
You can also hear horn parts that were omitted from the mono mix of this track, i.e. the hit version. An informative track and a good way to end — however, I think this photo was taken when Buddy Hackett was their favorite comedian.
Keep your headphones on for a while and listen to Rare Stereo Mixes, Part One.