Listening #162 Letters

Editor: I write in response to the so-called "review" of Peter, Paul and Mary's In the Wind (45rpm LP, ORG071), by Art Dudley, in the June 2016 issue of Stereophile (pp.35–36). This reads as little more than an unbalanced attack on Original Recordings Group, one laced with an apparent lack of knowledge of the reissue business. First, let me make two points:

• With regard to the creased label [of the album purchased by Mr. Dudley]: This is undoubtedly a bad defect, but one which is not exclusive to ORG product. As someone who has been involved in LP licensing, manufacturing, sales, and distribution for over 20 years, it's astonishing to me that Mr. Dudley did not simply contact the retailer, distributor, or label and inform them of the problem. ORG stands by its product, and such a gross defect would automatically qualify for replacement. More important, every single label suffers a certain number of such defects (warped or dished records, scuffs, off-center labels, etc.). This is an ongoing issue in the LP business, and returns for defectives are experienced by all labels. It might shock Mr. Dudley to know that I own LPs from other reissue labels he mentions that are not physically perfect.

• As to the sound of the album, which Mr. Dudley found so disappointing: He is, of course, entitled to his opinion about the sound. I would disagree with that opinion entirely, but let me also add that this particular pressing has garnered significant praise from other reviewers. This recording has recently entered Arthur Salvatore's listing of recommended recordings on his High End Audio website. It is also now currently a reference recording for Jonathan Valin of The Abso!ute Sound, who quotes the use of this album in his recent writings about the Axpona 2016 and Munich High End 2016 shows.

However, my most fundamental disagreements with this "review" lie in its attempt to paint ORG as, and insinuate that the label is, some kind of bottom-feeding entity by comparison to other high-minded reissue labels like [Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab], Impex, and Speakers Corner. Let me address some of those comparisons:

• With regard to the criticisms of the In the Wind jacket and layout, here's the shocking news for Mr. Dudley: no major label retains an archive of "original typesetting film and screened photographs" of titles released many decades ago. I learned this lesson way back in the mid-1990s, when [Michael] Hobson and I started Classic Records and we were forced to seek out mint-condition original LP covers to scan for all the Classic titles. It may come as a further surprise to Mr. Dudley, but most of his favored labels (MFSL, Impex, Speakers Corner, etc.) do the same thing: They scan original jackets.

Furthermore, the low-contrast, inner-gatefold image that Mr. Dudley so dislikes was the subject of lengthy consultations between ORG and Rhino/WEA, the artist managements, and the artists or their estates. This layout was not ORG's original choice.

• With regard to the provenance of the source, almost every ORG LP reissue has a sticker on the front stating that the record was mastered from original analog tapes or sources. In the case of In the Wind, I can confirm 100% that the original analog masters were used: not a safety copy, not a privately sourced dub, but the original master tapes, received from the studio vaults of Warner Bros., in Burbank. The tape was old but in very good and playable condition. ORG believes Bernie Grundman did an excellent mastering job. Mr. Dudley disagrees. Other reviewers and critics disagree with him.

Here are a few other details about which Mr. Dudley seems to lack insight:

• I can't say with absolute certainty, but, to the best of my knowledge, almost every reissue LP produced in the US is subject to finished-goods licensing. Hence the legal taglines on the back jacket will almost always say something like "Manufactured by Sony/BMG/UNI/WEA/Rhino/Capitol, etc., etc., under license to [whatever label]," or words to that effect. This condition applies to MFSL, Music Matters, Impex, Analogue Productions, etc. Nothing unusual about it. Just another fact of life of the reissue business about which Mr. Dudley seems blissfully unaware.

Also, unlike Mr. Dudley, every consumer or buyer at retail should feel greatly assured when they see such legal credit lines on the back of any LP reissue jacket. That is a guarantee that the album was legitimately licensed from the proper entity and holder of the intellectual property rights. Just as a side note, if I recall correctly, you don't always find that legal info or text on the jackets of some early Speakers Corner records.

And, to my final point, the above means that the artist is almost certainly receiving the royalty due to them from the sale of these LPs. It is, however, the highlight of Mr. Dudley's lack of knowledge of how the reissue business works to think that any reissuing entity, aka "The Licensee," can force "The Licensor," aka the major-label IP or rights holder, to reveal the intimate details of their original royalty terms with the artist. As a reissue company, our obligation is to track down the IP/rights holder of record and sign a business agreement with them. We do not have the power to compel WEA/UNI/Sony, etc., to inform us "if the artists or their heirs will share in the proceeds," as Mr. Dudley so laughably suggests.

And, by the way, in this particular case and as noted above, the artists and their managements were involved in final artwork approvals, which does pretty much imply that they do receive an income stream from the ORG In the Wind LP.

I've been following Mr. Dudley's audio writing since the days of The Listener, which I used to read and enjoy regularly. This article (at this stage I refuse to use the word "review" to describe it) doesn't do anything to burnish that reputation. It does, however, do a lot to (dare I say it) dull it.—Ying Tan, Original Recordings Group

I promised Ying Tan that I would publish his letter. But he appears to rake Art Dudley over the coals for points he did not make, and ignores the points that he did make.—John Atkinson

mink70's picture

Dear Art—

I always look forward to your cogent, smart, funny and elegant articles, but in this month's column I find myself confused by a single sentence.

You write: "And in the second movement's upbeat second theme, the color and texture of the woodwinds and strings were to die for (a sentiment with which P. Tchaikovsky was okay, I'm sure)."

I've read this sentence many times, and remain puzzled by what "sentiment" refers to. Attempting the close reading thing, I wondered whether P. Tchaikovsky might have been "okay" with vivid woodwind and string colors and textures, but of course "color" and "texture" here refer to qualities of electro-mechanical sound reproduction, which didn't exist in his lifetime.

I also considered whether "sentiment" might instead refer to "were to die for," an expression that sounds stereotypically gay, at least if you go by some American movies of the 1980s. Of course P. Tchaikovsky was known to be gay, so for a moment I wondered whether you were being humorous. Then I remembered that P. Tchaikovsky was tormented by and persecuted for his homosexuality, and that this persecution probably caused him to commit suicide, and that coming from a straight man a joke on this subject might be construed to be, at the very least, gauche. And so I realized that a writer of prose as cogent, smart, funny and elegant as yours would never joke about a thing such as this.

I remain puzzled, but will keep trying to figure it out. Reading comprehension was never my strong suit.

Art Dudley's picture
Thanks for reading that column, Mink70, and for your kind words. By "sentiment" I was indeed referring to the fact that Tchaikovsky might've been okay with the idea that something of great beauty could be "to die for." I used that phrase with no thought in mind of sexual orientation - every February we publish our annual Records to Die For issue of Stereophile, and I confess that have never thought of it as our "gay issue" - and with no thought of suicide or other human tragedy. I meant only that Tchaikovsky was, by all reports, not the most light-hearted guy in the world, and thus would have no trouble signing-off on a superlative steeped in morbidity.
AaronGarrett's picture

Thanks for reminding me to listen again to Oh Yeah. Kirk is particularly brilliant. And I love Doug Watkins bass playing so much -- his intonation and solidity in the groove is addictive. So sad that he, his friend Paul Chambers, Scottie LaFaro, Jimmy Blanton and so many others died so young. Only trumpeters seem to have been as cursed. But glorious that at least we can still hear him on so many records.

Ruxtonvet's picture

It is not just ORG that issues releases of old recordings where tape deterioration has occurred. Most companies do the same. Chad Kassem at one of last year's Axpona lectures said that increased dynamics and better bass response are reason enough to reissue an old recording even if ambience and high frequencies have been lost due to the tape deterioration. Speakers Corner is also guilty of the same plus they add transistors to the brew. Reference Recordings has refused to reissue some of their old recordings due to problems with the tapes but they are the exception to the rule. In my experience almost all reissues if they are older than 50 years have tape deterioration issues and sound inferior to an original clean pressing although their dynamics and bass response may be improved.

John Atkinson's picture
I have added Ying Tan's August issue letter to this Web reprint of Art's June column.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile