Sunday, January 17, 2010

I Miss Liner Notes

I rarely buy CDs anymore. For me it is much more economical and practical to simply download a digital recording, rather than purchasing a digital recording etched on a metal and plastic wafer and enclosed it yet more plastic. I also rarely buy vinyl these days, unless I come across some interesting used records someplace.

This means I almost never get my hands on liner notes for any recording I buy. Obviously this isn't a big enough deal to make me go back to buying CDs by default, but I do miss them. I love looking for the names of session musicians and songwriters I know from other bands and recordings. If different tracks have different producers it can be very interesting to listen for their fingerprints. Sometimes there will be interesting tidbits about where and when something was recorded that shed light on why the album turned out the way it did.

Clearly these concerns are mostly the purview of musicians, collectors and other subsets of music junkies. But sometimes there are things in liner notes that anybody would find interesting. I'll get to a couple examples of that in a moment.

Since we junkies have other ways to get our questions answered the absence of liner notes from digital downloads isn't that great of a loss. It's really just an inconvenience. For example, I was able to find out that a lot of the heavy lifting on Herbie Hancock's 1980's albums was not done by Hancock but under-sung genius Bill Lasswell. I didn't need liner notes for that. Between Google and Wikipedia any music junkie with a little determination can find out most of what they want to know. To bring up Bill Lasswell again, his album Hashisheen was making me crazy because some of the voices doing the spoken word parts were very familiar but I couldn't place them. Even without liner notes I found multiple web sites listing all of the speakers.

The 1985 Shriekback album, Oil And Gold, contains complete lyrics for the album. This is not uncommon for the time, or for today. The twist is that they are written in a phonetic alphabet. The web site linked from the album name above says the alphabet is called INTERFŌN but I have not been able to confirm this. Anyway, it's a gas to read, even if you aren't interested in languages, especially if you aren't British, since the band is.

This next example I can't verify this at all (not for lack of trying; I don't own the album and an embarrassing amount of time with Google has yielded nothing) which may disprove my earlier point about the loss of liner notes being a mere inconvenience. I'll tell it from memory anyway, just in case I'm right.

In 1988 Monty Python released a compilation of sketches and songs as the album The Final Ripoff (aptly named as it was mostly previously released but not labeled as such). The liner notes corrected and contradicted themselves, alternately stating that some material was or was not remastered or edited by whoever (probably André Jacquemin, but like I said, I'm doing this from memory). Like other Python humor this is funny for different reasons depending on who you are and what you know, but I think the idea of self-contradictory credits are inherently funny. I mean, why do we every assume they are accurate? Do we trust the people who write copy and do layout for album packaging? Do we trust the people who provide them with information?

Digital distribution for DJ Dual Core music goes through TuneCore. When you upload the songs and other album information for a release to TuneCore there is a space to include liner notes. It comes with a caveat that none of the outlets they distribute to (iTunes, Amazon MP3, Real Rhapsody, eMusic) regularly provide liner notes "yet."

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