I come not to bury the compact disc, but to praise it.

No respect! No respect, I tell ya!

CDs get a bad rap.  The idea that CDs have any value is a joke.  Bashing the compact disc while praising vinyl has been the choice of the cool kids for awhile now, but it seems to be more about appearances than about the intrinsic value of either format.  I think I detect an unnecessary level of pretentiousness being added.  It’s like claiming to love Bon Scott-era AC/DC, but then hating on Brian Johnson.  We all love Bon, but c’mon.  If Brian hadn’t taken over, and the band had broken up instead, most of us would never have gotten a chance to see them live, and we never would have gotten Back In Black.

I feel the same way about vinyl and CDs.  Yes, vinyl is better, but without the CD there is too much music that I would have missed.  So, much as with Brian Johnson, I’m grateful to the CD.  I’m not a dick toward it.  Don’t be so high and mighty about vinyl, you ungrateful bastards.

Everybody knows that vinyl is cool, and is even undergoing a “resurgence,” according to various internet yahoos.  I like vinyl recordings for the same reasons as everybody else.  But I bought vinyl and CDs for the same reasons – because sometimes it was the only way I could hear certain things.  Yeah, now you can download everything, fine.  But before you could, CDs served an important function.

I have some standards, but I’m not an audiophile.  Vinyl sounds better, and mp3s sound like shit, but a 44.1/16 bit .wav file can sound pretty alright.  I’m also not sentimental.  This may shatter your preconceptions about John Schooley, the man, but I don’t really have much romantic attachment to vinyl as a format.  Okay, maybe a little.

$5,100.69 = Not affordable. Also, a little tough to find a copy.

I do care about music.  If you really like music you end up having to be able to play just about anything, because there is always some stuff you’ll never hear otherwise.  Just as I bought vinyl because that was the only way to hear certain things that hadn’t been reissued on CD, I bought CDs because some of the releases on CD were of things that were so rare, I never would have been able to find a copy of the original vinyl release.  Or, if I had, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it.  CD reissues performed a valuable service by putting impossible-to-find records in the hands of us regular folks.

Ace CD comp featuring Eager Boy, released in 1996 = affordable, and easily located.

Yes, CDs sounded like crap when they were first introduced, and yes, they were also part of a ploy by record companies to get music fans to buy their favorite albums again in a different, and more expensive, format. But if you are one of those people who likes to justify your illegal downloads because CDs “only had a few good songs and the rest were filler”, you probably just had really shitty taste in music.  If you weren’t buying a bunch of lowest common denominator, mass-market kinda crap, you could find plenty of CDs that were great all the way through, thanks to the careful curation of the people who released them.

The mid-1990’s to mid-2000’s were actually a golden era for CD reissues.  Eventually they figured out how to master CDs properly, and they sounded very good.  A good CD could compete with a good vinyl copy, sonically.  Labels like Norton, Ace Records, Kent, Bear FamilySundazed, Rhino, Revenant, Crypt, Soul Jazz, the too-shortly-lived Excello/AVI, and plenty of other operations, did exceptional re-issue work.  Norton, Crypt, and others did vinyl reissues, too.  But most of them did primarily CDs, just because that was the dominant format at the time.

Ain't nobody writing no affectionate coffee table books about the dudes who made Rapidshare or Megaupload

They cleaned up and remastered recordings, they hunted down unreleased tracks, they got knowledgeable people to write informative liner notes.  They dealt with our ridiculous copyright laws, and the major labels (and sometimes, reluctant artists) who owned the rights to the material, and who were reluctant to let it see the light of day again. Without the good work of these people in the pre-iPod era, I either wouldn’t have heard a lot of the music I love, or I would have had to pay outrageous collector-scum prices to hear it.  In fact, I think it is safe to say that we owe the current richness of the vinyl reissues we now enjoy, in part, to the wave of CD reissues from previous decades.

These CD reissues also served to re-shuffle the deck, history-wise.  Artists that had previously been consigned to undeserved obscurity found new life with release on CD.  How many of you two-cool-for-compact-disc people would have heard the likes of the Monks, if not for the Repertoire CD reissue in 1994, or the Infinite Zero release in 1997, which re-introduced the world to their genius?

Thank you, Mr. Engineer.

Sometimes, you got to hear things that never even made it to vinyl in the first place. The genius of Bo Diddley’s Please, Mr. Engineer somehow never saw an official release, only coming to light after the CD compilation Rare and Well Done appeared in 1997.  Or how about hearing the unreleased alternate take of The Coasters’ The Climb, the mind-blowing The Slime? Hell, it was hard enough to find the actual release of The Climb, which only appeared on the That Is Rock n’ Roll LP, Clarion #605, from 1965.  The alternate take had never been released at all. Wouldn’t have happened without Rhino’s 50 Coastin’ Classics, in 1992.  Thank you, Rhino.  The evil major labels were often sitting on some great material and refusing to release it, and for that they deserved to be castigated.  But when it did see the light of day, it was thanks to discos compactos.

Stack of Unused CD-Rs Turns Five

Take a moment to think where all those mp3s that you can download so easily today came from.  The USB turntable is only a recent innovation.  The torrents and downloads you’ve got on your iPod most likely came from one of these CD reissues.  Only now, you get it at 128 kbit/s (which really does sound inferior), with no liner notes.

Another thing that annoys me about the lack of appreciation for CDs is that Gen X and Gen Y types love to hate Baby Boomers, and yet they shun the format of their own era while embracing the format of the Boomers.  C’mon, if Baby Boomers suck so much, and are the source of all the world’s problems, shouldn’t it be the other way around?  Shouldn’t you be claiming that CDs are your favorite format?  Might as well apply this generational animus consistently if you are going to whine about it so much.

Finally, most of the people who enthuse about the quality of  “analog” vinyl sound over “digital” CD sound don’t even know what the hell they are talking about.  I hate to break it to ya, but if you are buying a new vinyl record today, it was probably mastered digitally.  That’s right, that album that you claim sounds so warm on vinyl -it may have been recorded on analog tape, but it probably got mixed digitally and mastered digitally.  Especially if it is a 7-inch on a small label.  100% analog mastering is expensive, way too expensive for most small labels to afford.  Don’t believe me?  Call around to the handful of pressing plants left across the country and ask ’em.

Do the crusher.

So, in conclusion, rather than forsaking the lowly CD, we should be grateful for all that which it has brought us.  As the era of the compact disc closes, we should afford it in passing the respect that it deserves, and allow it to live out its final years with respect and dignity.

Amen.

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This entry was posted in General Orneriness and Contrarianism, Long-winded screeds, Music. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to I come not to bury the compact disc, but to praise it.

  1. Dr. Filth says:

    Nice post – and exceedingly good point about the bulk of modern vinyl releases and reissues, which is a topic rife with possibilities for knife sharpening, considering how many of them are un-DJ-able, compromised on the top and bottom, and aesthetically unsatisfying. Neither one of us can make any claim that we did not fight the CD wars with vinyl grenades in the early to mid 90s, but eventually militant stances must lead to reflection as to why we were ever fighting in the first place. The enduring problem with CDs remains their fragility, which has revealed itself to be their true Achille’s heel – one light scratch and the thing can be fracked. Then again, records are all the same way. It’s dogmatism that is the problem – same with the superiority of mono vs. stereo – ultimately it’s case by case. Ultimately you have to use your ears rather than your belief system.

    • Schooley says:

      Like I told Mariconda, I keep seeing these vinyl “reissues” now of stuff and it was probably pressed up directly from earlier CD reissues. I doubt these people are doing their own original mastering from 78s. Yet hipsters are buying them for 20 bucks each just because it is on vinyl, not knowing that it is probably mastered from a CD, thinking it is superior somehow just because it is on an LP. And, when they could buy a whole JSP box set (also possibly of dubious legality, but at least you’d get 4 discs worth of tunes) for the same price.

      • Dr. Filth says:

        Yeah, despite my many protestations to the contrary in the early 90s, whenever one of them budding MU journalists would come into the shop and ask me to outline the reasons why vinyl was superior to CDs, and me talking about analog waves vs digital stairsteps and all of that stuff I really didn’t understand, what it really really came down to was: All y’all are ditching and undervaluing your records and so the things are the cheapest way to get tons of good music. AND they are obviously vastly cooler besides. So now, in the era of the $21 dollar or more new release, the needless 45 minute double album, and gimmicky heavy vinyl, one must begin to question the relative value. Old vinyl still wins the game, no doubt – I depend on it to make my daily and nightly bread in a variety of ways, and aside from that new goddamn Rolling Stones Some Girls thing I can’t think of the last time I actually purchased a CD (probably the new goddamn Rolling Stones Exile on Main St thing) for anything other than the purposes of flipping for a modest profit. Oh wait, I know. $2 My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy at the flea. market.

      • Schooley says:

        I actually continue to buy new cds sometimes. Most recently, this one:

        http://www.tompkinssquare.com/michael-chapman.html

        Only released on cd, and if it was on vinyl it would be some unwieldy quadruple album, anyway.

        I like both the artist and label, and I’d like for them to continue to do what they do. This sentiment puts me in the minority, apparently.

  2. Larry Higgs says:

    Ask anyone who’s had to move someones vinyl collection and they’d wish they were all CD’s. I love my vinyl and still have it, but if it weren’t for the CD, I would have no room to keep what has been purchased in the CD format if it were vinyl. Having gone through five laptops and three desktops, I’m loathe to give-up on my physical formats for the fact that they usually outlast the machines. In fact I’ve taken to backing up my music collection on flash drives for easier transfer when the old computer goes to computing heaven (or hell) for easy transfer to it s replacement. besides, won’t there be a new generation of hipsters, who will forsake vinyl (so my parents) and embrace the uncool, but sudden hip again CD?

  3. Totally agree. A few years ago I visited the famous jazz-engineer Rudy van Gelder (then 81) in his legendary New Jersey studio (for an interview with Dutch Daily ‘De Volkskrant’). This is what he had to say: ‘Analogue is a nice place to visit, but I would not want to live there anymore. I work fully digital nowadays.’ So he doesn’t adore vinyl like so many jazz lovers? Van Gelder looked like I just suggested to shove his studio into the Hudson river. ‘Look at it this way: all sound carriers are copies of the mastertape. The master can be analogue. But analogue doesn’t copy well to other analogue formats. That’s why lp’s sound distorted compared to what I heard live in the studio. On top of that: vinyl sounds worse the closer you get to the center of the record, because it spins less fast there.’

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