Arrested Development

#363: The Art of the Mix CD

For more reading of this nature, I recommend the 1001 Albums in 10 Years site, by Geoff.  He is always posting interesting musical nerdiness like this so cheers to Geoff and his excellent site.

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RECORD STORE TALES MkII: Getting More Tale
#363: The Art of the Mix CD

We have come a long way from the mix tape. If you’re of a certain age, you probably made many mix tapes. I know I did. Dozens upon dozens, spending hours doing so. We had to make the tapes in real time. I would meticulously cue up the tapes so there wouldn’t be excessive gaps between songs, or awkward edits. I couldn’t have a song getting clipped at the start or finish. Mix tapes were a matter of pride and I sank a lot of time into making them, from the recording to the J-card. Sometimes the tapes were for me, but most often they were for someone else (usually a girl I was trying to woo).

Making a mix CD is much easier than making a mix tape. Still, for my level of perfectionism, it requires a lot of work and attention to detail. I have certain “rules” that I always adhere to, when making a mix CD. In the past, I have burned and then thrown away many CD copies that did not meet my exacting standards. I would not settle for a mix CD with an annoying flaw in it! My friends deserve better!

Here are my rules:

1. All songs must be more or less equal in volume.

Nothing worse than diving for the volume knob when a song that was mastered waaaay too loudly comes on! Nero has a built-in “normalize” function that analyzes and automatically equalizes the volume on all tracks. However it doesn’t always work well. It can create volume swells within an actual track that weren’t there before. I do not use this feature any longer. Now, I use Audacity to raise or lower a track’s volume manually, before adding it to my mix.  Painstaking, but you get better results.

GOB2. All live songs must have fade-ins and fade-outs.

I cannot stand the sound of crowd noise starting and stopping abrubtly. I add my own fade-ins and fade-outs. Sometimes this is tricky, because certain live albums may have the song breaks in odd locations. There may not be enough room at the start or end of a track. So, sometimes I have to manually add in enough crowd noise to enable a fadeout, a time consuming fix. I also enjoy doing the occasional cross-fade between songs, which used to be very hard on Nero but is easy as pie with Audacity.

3. CD must have a start, middle and ending.

All tracks are carefully selected for each one of my mix CDs, but usually there are several contenders for opening and closing songs. I try to create a flow, with slow parts and heavy parts, through the disc, with a dramatic climax. I don’t always succeed but my goal is to create a mix CD that works like an album. It has to have a direction.

4. Throw on a rare track.

It doesn’t matter who I’m making a mix CD for, I want an obscure song or two on there. I don’t want to make a mix CD entirely of songs you already know. I want to surprise you with something I know you’ve never heard before, but will probably like.

5. All songs must be properly labelled.

Don’t you hate getting a CD from somebody without having a clue what’s on it? Every CD I make for a friend comes with a computer generated cover, including full and accurate track list, down to every punctuation mark and detail. Sometimes I’ll even throw some pictures or logos on the cover for fun, if there is room. Nero also encodes the song and artist names onto the CD. So I have to make sure the file names are all done correctly too, because when you pop my mix CD into certain players (like my car deck) you’re going to see the titles come up automatically. This must always be done correctly. No spelling mistakes, or I’d junk it, and make a new one.

And finally, there is the optional not-rule:

6. Optional – Include short, funny bits between songs to surprise the listener.  

This only applies in certain circumstances.  The “Integrity Mix” CD shown here, with G.O.B. and Franklin Bluth on the cover, has such bits at strategic points.  One is the song “Big Yellow Joint” from the show Arrested Development, and the other is the appearance of the “Hot Cops” busting George Michael from the same episode.  You can see I wanted to keep those bits a surprise for whoever ends up with a copy, because I didn’t number the tracks and didn’t list the bits.  So in a sense they are “hidden” until the listener stumbles upon them.

Are you as picky as I am, or is your quality control as extreme as mine? What are you own techniques in the art of the mix CD?

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WTF Search Terms: Rock and Roll edition

ELVIS UH

WTF Search Terms VI:  Rock and Roll edition

Welcome back to WTF!  Click here if you missed the last one.  This edition collects some musical Google searches that somehow led people here to this blog.  Enjoy these head-scratchers and WTFs!

This first guy’s obviously an idiot.

10.  steve morse sucks

9. is paul stanley loosoing his voice?

8.  i wouldl like to hear mob rules (why, how polite!)

7. life+it+up+kiss

6.   black sabbath paranoid deluxe edition where is the 3 disc (right there.)

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5.  phrase from what tv show – it’s the final countdown!! (Arrested Development.)

4. puff daddy’s embarring habit

3. new kids on the block poster greatest hits

2. real elvis videos tumblr hornny holes

And this week’s winner:

1. marilyn manson with butt plug

Like the WTF’s?  Then come back soon, or better yet, subscribe!

REVIEW: Europe – The Final Countdown (1986)

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EUROPE – The Final Countdown (1986, 2001 Epic remaster)

I remember back in 1986/1987, all the rock magazines were playing on the same angle: Who’s better, Europe or Bon Jovi? Hard to believe that the two bands were once considered on the same playing field, now that Bon Jovi are permanent megastars. Not to mention their music sounds nothing alike!

Everybody knows “The Final Countdown” which received a new life thanks to TV shows shows like Arrested Development. (Gob Bluth uses it as his theme song during his ill-fated magic acts.)  What you may not know is that this album had three other classic singles (“Rock the Night”, “Carrie”, “Cherokee”) and 6 great album tracks with no duds. As an added bonus, this remaster also includes three live tracks from 1987’s Final Countdown World Tour.  These may in fact be the same tracks as the Extended Versions release, but I don’t have that one to verify.

The synth-y title track kicks off the proceedings, its regal anthemic melody setting the mood. A science fiction themed song, the people of Earth have departed for Venus (let’s ignore that Venus is 460 °C). The lyrics…not super great on this album, but let’s not forget that English was their second language and they were still kids at the time. Regardless, “The Final Countdown” is a complete success as a song, from insanely catchy verses to chorus to intricate guitar solo courtesy of John Norum.

“Rock The Night” follows, another catchy song, this time with the guitar handling the meat of the tune. Then, the hit ballad “Carrie”. It’s a bit soft by today’s standards but is still a well written keyboard ballad with a great melody. This is followed by another great rock song, “Danger on the Track”. Vocalist Joey Tempest tells us of a journey followed by “strangers on my back”.  (See, because “back” rhymes with “track”.)  Again, not a great lyric, but it is a great song. Side One of the original LP was finished with the fantastic “Ninja”, which in my own personal world was a single in its own right. The lyrics: “If I were a noble ancient knight, I’d stand by your side to rule and fight.” OK then.

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Apparently the phantom zone wasn’t just for General Zod.

Side Two kicked off with a riff and a smile, and probably the best tune: “Cherokee”.  The lyrics here are not bad, a tale of the demise of the American Indian. However it is the riff that holds the song down, a typical Norum burner of great integrity. Still can’t tell what that voice says at the beginning of the song, though! The next track is “Time Has Come”, a mid-tempo soft one that I considered filler back then but like quite a lot now. “Heart Of Stone” has a bit more meat to it. This is followed by the fastest and heaviest song on the album, “On The Loose”, which has some of Norum’s best playing. In fact it was this song that brought Norum to my attention as a monster shredder in the first place. After hearing this song, I continued to watch his career with great interest, from solo albums to Don Dokken back to Europe. The album closed with another mid-tempo soft song, “Love Chaser”, which has a keyboard melody reminiscent of “The Final Countdown” itself, bringing us full circle. It is another great tune with killer melody and vocals from Joey Tempest.

The three bonus tracks are live takes of “The Final Countdown,” “Danger on the Track” and “Carrie”. Clearly, Europe could always cut it live.  These are from the Hammersmith Odeon in 1987, and feature Norum’s replacement Kee Marcello on guitar.  Marcello is no slouch, and had a different style to Norum’s, therefore adding another element to the songs.

The Final Countdown is the kind of album that I think should be owned, rather than just pick up a hits disc. You won’t go wrong with any of these ten tracks. The live stuff is just an added bonus.

5/5 stars