Special Edition

Last week I was waffling on about the soundtrack of our lives and the effect on personal music tastes and it started me thinking – and laughing – about the very special edition versions of songs that exist in my experience and probably in my experience alone.

It is an area I feel of true nostalgia in that the past gave far more opportunity for creativity due to the limitations of the technology that we used to play and listen to music. Nowadays, with digital precision the mp3 players spool out the track as the artist intended far too reliably.

But when I was a kid, and we were reliant on vinyl and cassettes, then all sorts of interesting effects were possible.

The very first cassette tape I was given by a friend at school was a recording of Queen Greatest Hits volume one, on an incredibly cheap Agfa cassette. The friend concerned had done his best to fit the album on as neatly as possible (although it does not – so my experience of “Save Me” always has it cutting off just before the end) and I more or less wore it out over the years.

The main oddity of this recording was the sound system he had recorded it off was only going through on one half of the stereo. So I was getting only half the track, the right hand side. In most of the songs it doesn’t matter, but Freddie Mercury just isn’t for part of ‘Now I’m here’ and for a while I assumed that ‘Bicycle Race’ had a bell, then a gap of silence and then another bell… Which sounded odd and therefore it was never a favourite track.

I know better now of course. But my one sided version is still the original in my head.

The other classic recording mistake is, of course, the needle jump. As you try lovingly to transfer from the precious vinyl to the cassette, unless you had the best equipment going (I didn’t) then it seemed inevitable.

I am pretty sure all of us of a certain age have our own examples; my best one is my recording of the 7” of ‘Sexcrime (1984)’ by the Eurythmics. OK, it is a pretty stuttering track anyway, but my version quite literally jumped all over the place, no matter how much I tried to clean it with one of those soft yellow cloths that as far as I could tell just added yellow fluff to the dust and the scratches.

Moving away from our own recordings, the other area where our own individual versions of songs exist is in the misheard lyric department. Those cases when for twenty years you think the singer is saying one thing and when you finally find out the lyrics it’s something completely different. Usually something that has the potential to completely change your view of the whole song (a possible disaster scenario).

Thankfully, I am a lyric listener so if it tends to sound odd I usually seek out the words pretty quickly. I know a lot of people though who are less focussed on the words than the music and most of them are a little surprised to find out what the song is about. As a sideline there is that wonderful class of songs that sound cheerful and upbeat but are actually either really rude or depressing – a good example of the latter being the rather odd ‘Hello; this is Joannie’ by Paul Evans, do go and weird yourself out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRfS10Ae46o

One of these that always stuck in my head as a kid (and I have to sing my lyric to, just like Kenny Rodgers’ “four hundred children and a crop in the field” – don’t ask) was The Kane Gang’s 1984 hit ‘The Closest thing to Heaven’ which to this day I am sure is really the closest thing to Hebburn, an unprepossessing suburb of Newcastle next to Jarrow.

And they were from the North East too so it is entirely possible that this is the lyric, and everyone else has got it wrong.  See for yourself http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_qTPj-pDmQ

If I lived there, I think I would definitely adopt it as a local anthem.