Back to Black: The Magic of Mono
As I sit down to write this on a bleary-eyed early morning, I can hear the coffee maker click on automatically. My phone dings insistently to remind me of meetings, appointments and upcoming annoyances, then it offers up a morning tweet for dessert. In my pocket I there’s a little flash drive smaller than my thumb, carrying about 35 albums’ worth of music with a little room for more.
Technology has surely wiped some of the romance out of modern life; what did you expect? Old guys like me quickly get tiresome in referencing the past to recall the many ways that life was better – yeah, guilty as charged.
Thankfully, at my house there’s an easy way to shut up the old guy: slap some vinyl on the turntable, and crank it. With the resurgence of vinyl records we’ve all rediscovered our roots, and we are “remembering” our past, meaning: if we knew this at all, surely we forgot. Frankly, I forgot about mono.
Back in the day, record companies put out music in monophonic – as opposed to stereo – because they wanted their hit singles to sound good on AM radio and on the crappy sound systems that lived in most homes. Stereo was kind of an afterthought, and often you could hear stuff on the mono (meaning: “original version”) that didn’t show up on the stereo versions. Or so we’re told today.
When LPs nearly died and CDs came along, old music got remixed, remastered and repackaged. The resurgence of vinyl provided another opportunity to hear (and buy) the same old stuff once more and then we have the mono versions. I don’t know how many versions of Revolver or Highway 61 Revisited I want, but I certainly have more than I need. Mono is the aural version of watching a black-and-white movie: experiencing the past while not quite reliving it. Know what I mean? (I think I don’t.)
Hell, I didn’t know the Beatles did their albums in mono. I was just a kid when the Beatles were a real thing, and besides, I didn’t buy albums – just 45 singles. I knew about Brian Wilson’s famous deafness in one ear, and that’s why he did many of his masterpieces in mono; but I learned that only after I had gotten older.
So here we are, a decade deep into the 21st century, and we’re still spinning mono records on turntables. You gotta admit, that stuff sounds GOOD.