Thursday, 3 May 2018

Swinging Through The Sixties takes on Dave Dexter Jr


Well people, the new episode of the Swinging Through The Sixties podcast is here, and it's about Capitol Records' Dave Dexter junior's remixes and re-sequencings of the Beatles' songs. Interestingly, it starts with a rare stereo recording of the Beatles from a 29 August 1965 press conference at the Capitol Records Tower where they are complaining about the way their American company presented their material on disc.
After the press conference, the boys had no qualms about accepting their gold records for "Help!".
Several examples of the sonic differences (which The Beatles didn't address in this clip) are played and the Capitol mixes are compared with the "in your face" original mixes of the British albums.

Most of the albums I grew up with were 70's stereo British LPs, but this album was in the neighbourhood.

In a teaser for the episode, this information is provided:
"Capitol Records exec Dave Dexter was the man who initially declined parent company EMI's requests to issue The Beatles' records in America. Then, after being ordered to do so, he not only oversaw remixes that slathered much of their music with reverb and fake stereo; he actually ensured he was credited on the records for what rock critic Dave Marsh would later refer to as "genuine stupidity"".

Here's how the contents of the podcast is described on their website:
"Back in the 1960s, courtesy of Capitol Records executive Dave Dexter, Jr., American Beatles fans bought different records and often heard very different mixes to those enjoyed by their British counterparts: ones bathed in reverb and converted into fake stereo “with the assistance” of Mr. Dexter."

"Those mixes have long since been eliminated from the catalogue, but they’re back with a vengeance in this show—and subjected to the scrutiny of Messrs. Taros, Buskin, Bartock and Kozinn as they discuss the pros, cons, and marketing strategies behind these alternately popular and egregious alterations to The Beatles’ music. What emerges is information that will enlighten listeners on both sides of the Atlantic—while jolting them with juxtaposed U.S. and U.K. mixes of some legendary tracks."


Meet The Beatles - With The Beatles minus most of the covers, plus the hit single A and B's

The participants, Brit Richard Buskin mostly acts (or is) apalled by the sequencing as well as the remixing of the songs on the American albums, whereas the Americans Erik Taros, Craig Bartock and Allan Kozinn certainly mostly defend Dexter's job, both his drenching of reverb and echo to the sound, as well as re-sequencing them for the U.S. market. The approach of the cover art is not discussed, that is the British "artistic" approach versus the U.S. more commercial sales posters approach.

Help! had the instrumental score and the film songs.
Perhaps Dexter (1915-1990) was right. Maybe the Americans are a different breed of people, who will need to have music presented to them in a different manner to really appreciate it and buy it. Whereas the rest of the world actually did go out and buy British albums or domestic copies of the British albums in droves, making them number one in charts all around the globe, maybe they did it just because they weren't Americans. After all, singers and pop groups who sold millions of records all over the rest of the world, like Cliff Richard, Abba and A-ha, were one hit wonders stateside, if at all. Maybe repackaging and remixing them would have made them palatable for the U.S.A. consumers? One of the aspects that are being discussed is that Americans at that point in time were used to reverb, not only on the records, but also on the voices of their radio DJs.

But for the most part, I kept thinking that this podcast is really of no interest to people in any other countries than U.S.A. As a teenager in the seventies, I grew up with the stereo British albums, because they were the ones for sale in my home country of Norway. The mono albums were out of print until they were re-released in 1982. And it's probably why I prefer stereo to mono, I'll give you that. However, I have no problems about the new stereo remixes, in fact I've championed them ever since the 1999 "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" album. Loved "Let It Be...Naked" (which messed with the songs even further) and loved "Love" (ditto). So I find it easy to appreciate a superior stereo image to the one I was used to in my teens and twenties. As for American albums, sure I bought them, when they were available as imports, or at used records stores. But only as a curiosity, only to listen to the quaint remixed versions of the songs, which was much the same reason why I went out and bought the British mono LPs. First in second hand records shops, then completing them when they were re-released. To hear the differences. To get new product for the insatiable collector in me, the same thing that drove me into buying bootlegs, once I had exhausted the limitations of the released recordings and mixes.

Actually, I'll tell a lie: in the very early days of my love story with the Beatles, I had a "red album" (1962-1966) which had the pseudo James Bond Theme just before "Help!", and I did enjoy that transition between the two songs. But the U.S. albums were never a big deal, although they are there in my record collection - just for completeness sake.

A Capitol Records single release.
The discussion also turns to whether or not to include the hit singles on an album. Capitol Records always did this, whereas The Beatles insisted that Parlophone should not, because they felt that this was to cheat their audience. After having bought the hit single and then bough the album which was released weeks later only to find that two of the songs were the same as on the single, that means you have paid twice for the same two songs. One of the Americans confessed that he would have felt cheated if he had bought an album and it didn't contain the hit single...because he never bough singles anyway, only albums. This of course, shows that American teenagers were far better off than us. Talking to first generation Beatles fans here in Norway, they could never afford to buy an album in the early sixties. If they were lucky, their parents would buy them one album for Christmas and one for their birthday, that was the lot for a year - two albums. Which was the exact amount of albums The Beatles released a year. But the fans were always able to save up enough to buy singles, or even EPs. EPs contained the same amount of songs as two singles, but cost less - so it was value for money.

EPs: four songs for less money than two singles. This is a Swedish EP.
Even growing up in the seventies and eighties, when I could afford albums, I bought a lot of singles. Because they had different photos on the sleeves and they often contained other songs or different mixes than what could be found on the albums. And I'm not just talking about the Beatles or Wings here, all artists used to tuck away excellent music on B-sides otherwise not available elsewhere than on the single release. So if American albums always contained the hit singles, the fans were somewhat cheated of one of my favourite pastimes, the hunt for that elusive single which you wanted so much, and the joy of finding it. Of course, the American singles also held an attraction for their photo sleeves, whereas the British singles only had factory sleeves, except for a couple of them.

Reflecting on how Dave Dexter initially said no to the Beatles until he was forced by his superiors to release their records (allegedly because he didn't like the way John played the harmonica), Mark Lewisohn minced no words in the extended edition of The Beatles Tune In: “The fact Vee Jay was having a huge hit with a harmonica record Dex had nixed a couple of months earlier [Frank Ifield’s “I Remember You”] prompted no circumspection, and neither did the success Capitol was having with another self-contained vocal-instrumental group, the Beach Boys. Dexter had no love for the British and a neat way of showing it. Though he rejected the Beatles, the Shadows, Cliff Richard, Adam Faith, Helen Shapiro and Matt Monro, he did issue ‘Bobbikins,’ a piano instrumental by Mrs. Mills. Gladys Mills was that most British of discoveries, an ample, 43-year-old, heavy-wattled housewife who chopped out party singalong numbers on a saloon-bar-like piano. After finding sudden TV fame late in 1961, she was signed to Parlophone by Norman Newell, but while her debut single was a hit, the follow-ups weren’t—and it was one of these failures that Dex decided America needed.”

So, armed with this evidence it's probably safe to assume that Dave Dexter Jr didn't really like the Brits at all, and he showed it by rejecting record after record - and by releasing a novelty throwaway non-hit song, as if to say to his British mother company: "See if I care". I agree with Buskin that I can't understand why the British company didn't force the hands of Capitol Records. But like I said before, maybe there is something peculiar in the U.S.A. and their market, which can't be understood by us.

Listen to the podcast:
Website
iTunes

Further reading:
Wikipedia: Dave Dexter Jr
Dave Dexter, the Beatles and Capitol Records by Richie Unterberger
Memos from Dexter about the Beatles

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