‘Look here, friend,’ said I, If you have anything important to tell us, out with it;
But if you are only trying to bamboozle us, you are mistaken in your game.’Herman Melville: Moby Dick, or the Whale
I always wanted to lead something I wrote with a quote.
And the above tracks pretty well with most of my output: Sometimes, even I can’t tell when I’m bamboozling, and when I’m not.
Anyway, I got some pricey new headphones for my birthday.
New headphones require that you listen to everything you’ve heard before with new ears. Because, essentially, you have new ears. I also like to make sure my ears are wax-free when I try out new cans for the first time.
(Denominationally, where do you stand on the question of Q-Tip use? I know, I know. Danger lurks. I’m afraid that one day, I’ll be performing delicate ear hole hygiene when an earthquake strikes. Now not only am I now fighting my insurance company, I’m doing it with a cotton swab painfully sticking out of my head. I don’t want to be dealing with an Allstate employee who’s surely not as sympathetic as Bob Parr in that condition.)
I’m no audiophile.
There, I said it.
I’m no oenophile, either. But I enjoy wine, sometimes because of the taste, sometimes in spite of it.
In much the same vein, I enjoy music.
I don’t know, however, that I catch all the nuance and subtle detail that performers and producers insert into the mix when I listen to a song for the first hundred times or so on a substandard car stereo or a portable speaker that’s more portable than speaker.
However, it’s those first hundred times or so, and the fact that through those first hundred times or so I’m still not sick of that song down to my protoplasmic essence, that makes me want to listen to it again with my new ears.
Is there something else there? A tiny detail that might heighten my enjoyment even further, or explain why this one song, rather than the one over there, kicks off the dopamine rush?
I slap the phones on (heavy but comfy) and choose something easy:
Remastered Sgt. Pepper’s.
And yes, the ‘Super Deluxe Edition,’ which includes the ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ 2015 remix, ‘Penny Lane’s ‘Capitol Records Mono US Promo Mix, and ‘Getting Better (Take 12).’
No mention of takes 1 though 11.
I play the final chord from ‘A Day in the Life.’ The wavering harmonium (?) fades first and reluctantly in my new sound environment; … ah, there’s the famed squeak at 4:50, clear as day.
‘Lucy…’ becomes way heavier at the bottom, balancing Lennon’s reedy vocals.
Needless yet entertaining granularity: Why is George’s little guitar run at the end of the mono version of the title track way more foregrounded than in the 2017 stereo mix? I dash off an email to Giles Martin to ask, forgetting that I don’t know him or his email address.
I try something more prosaic: Maria Muldaur’s ‘Midnight at the Oasis.’
Can I say prosaic? It is just a slight piece of pop art and a tune I’ve listened to over and over without registering anything other than it being catchy and vaguely obscene. Was there something I’d missed?
For the most part, no. I’d always enjoyed the insistent, unhurried shuffle of the thing, Muldaur’s seductive croon, the way the whole song wears its hot weather – hot times ideology on its sleeve without falling into the steel drums and reggae-ish beat trap, the sturdy backdrop of acoustic guitar and piano.
Everything’s cleaner and brighter and sharper now, but it’s still just ‘Midnight at the Oasis.’
Then there’s Amos Garrett’s guitar.
Not the obvious parts, though. We all know what I’m talking about.
Garrett plays the role of lead superbly if by the book on the majority of ‘MatO,’ highlighted by his lengthy and legendary picked rundown across the bridge.
Beginning in the second verse, he adds a pedal steel-cum-tropical, even ukulele-like counterpoint, tastefully reinforcing the song’s laid-back, buzzed, and unabashedly sensual atmosphere. He’s doing here exactly what a veteran session guitarist should be doing: adding without grandstanding and, when spotlighted, delivering something instantly memorable.
What he does otherwise is something else entirely.
Several times during the song, he quietly but emphatically embroiders these sort of scratching and plinking parts into the corners and crevices of the sound palette, filigrees of perfect ornamentation, laying on an extra aural dimension that’s both easily overlooked and essential to the overall vibe of the song.
I’ve kinda heard these licks before, but at a sub-conscious level. They’ve been there as part of the overall scheme; I’ve just never paid attention.
Now I have. And every time I listen to ‘Midnight at the Oasis’ going forward, no matter where or when, Garrett’s subtle touches are all I’ll be listening for.
New ears, baby!
I blame my scattershot way of listening without listening for not noticing a lovely detail like this for decades, and my new cans for the obsession I immediately developed for searching out others.
You more musically sound listeners out there may have already unearthed scads of instances like these.
I’m going to have fun doing the same.
Let the author know that you liked their article with a “Green Thumb” Upvote!