Sifting Through Allmusic Essays

Quite probably, you have already browsed through the encyclopedic section of musical genres and styles (and sub-styles) available at Allmusic, and saw all the descriptions and lists of top artists, albums and songs, right?

Just in case, I want to highlight the ‘related essays’ they keep at the bottom. It’s quite a mixed bag, with more than 110 essays in the pop/rock section (last time I checked) sorted alphabetically from various different authors. And, to add to the confusion, the essays are not dated. Many essays in this long, unordered list seem less than vital today (“Rockabilly Women” or “New Jack Swing“, anyone?) and the double entries for Rock Records: A Beginner’s Guide and History clearly sugessts that no one has been taking much care of this place recently. But there is great stuff there to:

Remastered CDs: Why Care, and Why Buy Them by Bruce Eder is just outstanding. A long, very well-written and knowledgeable account of the evolution of CD mastering techniques, it serves as fundamental account of history of the CD business:

In Japan, by contrast, the record labels had a different philosophy, especially where western pop/rock was concerned — they recognized the potential for the format and insisted on using the best possible sources from the beginning, on albums such as Born To Run. And as the different divisions of the same labels in various countries adopted digital technology and began building their catalogs at different times — Japan was about three years in front of the United States — there wasn’t a lot of coordination or consistency around the world. Because Japan had a huge head-start, a surprising number of early CD releases sold in the United States were pressed there, so much so that Columbia Records made a point of labeling its American-pressed CDs as “Now Made In The USA” as soon as they were available.

But the Japanese release of Born To Run sounded distinctly better than the first US pressing. And the American-released Capitol-EMI release of Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love, derived from the domestic LP production master, sounded like a shadow of the EMI-UK version, which came from the first-generation studio master tape. Put simply, a lot of American-mastered CDs, even after the format had taken off, sounded flat and indistinct, and especially, in some instances, when compared with their overseas counterparts

The other good news is that there are more Bruce Eder pieces in there, and they are all worth-reading. I also enjoyed many articles by Richie Unterberger, such as the simply-titled Box Set:

The introduction of the compact disc, along with the increasing spending power of Baby Boomers eager to assemble collected works of classic rock and soul musicians, began to spur the production of rock box sets in the mid-1980s. In 1986, Bob Dylan’s five-LP Biograph set became the first rock retrospective of such size to reach the Top 40 album charts. More importantly, its mix of classic hits, key album cuts, rarities, and previously unreleased material, as well as a lavish booklet, became a model of sorts for the hundreds of rock and pop retrospectives that would follow. Later that year, a five-album box set of live Bruce Springsteen material went to number one. Multi-album live boxes didn’t sprout in its aftermath; hardly anyone, after all, has as fanatical a following as Springsteen What it did prove was that fans were willing to pay for such big, lavish packages in much greater force than most people expected.

For the truly comprehensive box sets, listeners often need to look to Europe, where reissue labels are truly fanatical about their music. Germany’s Bear Family is particularly legendary for its almost humorously exhaustive retrospectives, such as their five-CD Lesley Gore compilation, their four-CD Marvin Rainwater set, and its eight-CD Lonnie Donegan project. These can be just as exhausting as exhaustive — do you really want to hear that Gene Vincent alternate take, or over 200 Fats Domino songs?

sion Musicians by Richie Unterberger
Singer/Songwriters by Richie Unterberger

1 comment

  1. I cannot find “Remastered CDs: Why Care, and Why Buy Them” by Bruce Eder ANYWHERE! I am so angry! It is no longer available on AllMusic, or any other place on the web for that matter, and I don’t wonder why. The major record labels probably campaigned to have it removed from the internet, consider how truthful this article sounds from what you posted of it.

    Please let me know where I can get to read and keep a copy of Eder’s article so that the TRUTH can be shared among music fans.

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