Carlos De Loera | Thursday, September 15, 2016
This past Friday, Capitol Records released “Live at the Hollywood Bowl,” a remastered version of two legendary Beatles concerts originally recorded in 1964-65 and released in 1977. Friday also saw the release of “Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016,” a selection of acoustic versions of White’s songs that showcase the evolution of his songwriting throughout the years. On the surface it seems as though there is no apparent connection between the two albums, but together the albums highlight one of the most important aspects of the recording process: sound mixing.
On Aug. 23, 1964, The Beatles performed at the Hollywood Bowl and a year later on Aug. 29 and 30, 1965, they returned for another two sets. All three performances were professionally recorded by Capitol Records. The recordings were done on a 3-track with vocals on one track, drums and bass on another track, and guitars on the third. A common thread between the tracks was that they were all filled with screams from the audience. In fact, the screams were so loud during the concert that The Beatles were not even able to hear themselves play. These screams diminished the quality of the tracks so much that Capitol Records decided to hold off on releasing the live performances. In 1977, seven years after the Beatles broke up, producer George Martin and Capitol Records managed to salvage some of the recordings and put them together to create the live album. The album was made up of 13 song performances carefully selected from the three performances. The recordings still featured the band being significantly drowned out by screams, but there was enough there for Capitol Records to release a vinyl. To date, these recordings are the only professional live recordings of The Beatles.
More than 50 years after The Beatles’ performance and almost 40 years after the release of “The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl,” Giles Martin, producer and son of George Martin, was contacted by Capitol Records and told that new tapes of the Hollywood Bowl performances had been found. Included in the recordings were four previously-unreleased tracks. In an interview with “All Songs Considered,” Giles Martin talked about how he was able to improve the recordings using “de-mix technology.” With de-mix technology he was able to, as he described, “take one track and separate it into its constituent parts.” He went on to say, “What we ended up with is it split the [live] track into two tracks and you get the screams on one half … and the band playing [on the other half].” This was crucial because it allowed him to go into each track and bring the best out of each instrument, which ensured that each track did not get drowned out by the audience. The final product of this de-mixing process is “Live at the Hollywood Bowl,” which truly gives listeners the chance to experience the full magnitude of a Beatles live performance from the music to the crowd.
Whereas the main goal of “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” was to bring about new sounds, the objective of “Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016” was to strip songs of much of their sound. While many of the songs on the album will have a traditionally acoustic sound, the use of the term “acoustic” to describe the entire collection is a bit misleading. Listeners can expect to hear, in some songs, full drum sets, violins, slide guitars, cellos and a multitude of other instruments that are not usually associated with the term “acoustic.” Rather than re-recording many of his songs in an acoustic manner, White merely retrieved some songs from his solo work and from his days with The White Stripes and The Raconteurs. (Unfortunately, there are no The Dead Weather songs on the album.) The collection includes two never-before-released tracks and a plethora of songs throughout White’s discography compiled into an album. A good deal of the songs were originally recorded acoustically or were pulled from official studio acoustic cuts, but there are few songs on the album where the original “plugged” version is used. What makes these “plugged” songs acoustic is that the electric instruments used are mostly mixed out. In an interview, White revealed that he decided to use this method to “let people hear the way [these songs] started off.” Creating acoustic versions of these songs would change the tracks, but by stripping back the electric instruments, White is able to let the songs organically revert to their primal forms.
On one hand, “Live at the Hollywood Bowl” is able to create a more polished sounding recording of a live performance while still letting the listener hear the raw talent of the Fab Four and the insanity of the crowds they drew. Conversely, “Jack White Acoustic Recordings 1998-2016” takes a more fleshed-out production and distills it to a raw form that allows the listener to focus less on the masterful electric guitar playing of White and more on the strength and evolution of his songwriting. Through the process of mixing both albums is able to give a new life to older recordings, it still preserves the key aspects of each artist’s songs that make them great.