Gettin’ Into The Grooves
The old-timers among us can remember owning one or two albums in every popular format: vinyl LP, cassette, 8-track and CD (nobody really bought open reel tapes or 4-track cartridges – did they?). I’ve owned a bunch of albums in all of the four formats listed – and a few albums I’ve owned in a fifth format!
That would be the “Half-Speed Mastered” albums that first appeared in the late 1970s. Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs, which began in 1977, started to create new versions of classic albums for the audiophile market, in the form of Half-Speed Masters albums. They painstakingly (so they said) tried to find low-generation copies of master tapes and pressed these albums on thick virgin vinyl. The term “half-speed” refers to slowing the cutting lathe to half-speed while cutting the album stamper, resulting in a more accurate and deeply etched groove that held low tones better.
Even if you didn’t have audiophile-quality equipment, the albums sounded great: I bought the Beatles’ Abbey Road and was hooked. It was like getting a new amp for 24 bucks (that’s what each album cost). You could actually hear stuff that was inaudible (on my system, at least) on the standard albums and the music would sort of jump out of the speakers.
Anyway, I collected a handful of these: Sticky Fingers by the Stones, Night Moves by Bob Seger, Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence, The Doors, Fly Like An Eagle by Steve Miller Band and the all-time fave, Dark Side Of The Moon by Pink Floyd. That handful of albums formed the basis of many parties in that era.
CBS/Columbia had their own version of the half-speed albums; I owned Springsteen’s Born To Run and that sounded great. Then this company called Nautilus put out SuperDiscs, my favorites were the Allmans’ Live at Fillmore East and the Doobie Brothers’ The Captain and Me. They all sounded fine, but they were still vinyl LPs and were still susceptible to the inevitable ticks and pops that are nearly as familiar as the guitar solos in “Whipping Post.”
Even though I own a turntable today, I can play these albums and they sound no better (or no worse) than anything else because my system is geared for CDs. Even though I own all of the above on CD, occasionally I’ll slap on a big black vinyl platter and get lost in the sound – of those comforting ticks and pops.
Saturday is Record Store Day. Those places are dying away, so go out and buy some music. Soon you won’t be able to do that … we are truly at the end of an era.