In 1927 Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company traveled to Bristol, Tennessee to record "hillbilly" singers, including the original Carter Family. Google refuses to tell me what equipment Peer used, but I'm guessing it was some type of glorified tape recorder. The sound is awful and no one but academics would ever listen to the recordings, and then PBS would try to convince us that we're really missing out if we don't add the hollow, scratchy selections to our collections.

Historical significance aside, it wasn't Ralph Peer's fault. He worked with the most technologically advanced (traveling) equipment of the day. And tube radio listeners of 1927 were most likely entranced by the magic sounds.

By 1953 Les Paul had invented the multi-track recorder. Two whole tracks! His wife Mary Ford was able to sing harmony with herself! And music production was transformed. Soon came the three-track, and by the end of the decade, even four tracks. But even weirdo Phil Spector continued to use three-track recorders for his overrated Wall of Sound hits, including Brian Wilson's favorite, "Be My Baby" by the Ronettes. To be fair, though, it had to be difficult to bounce all those seven hundred instruments onto only three tracks. And Motown produced some damn fine-sounding singles using only three tracks.

By the time The Beatles came along, four-track recorders were in common use. Of course George Martin was a genius at bouncing (among other things) and of course the invention of magnetic tape was far superior to the original recordings on wax. 

Since Marty Robbins' "Don't Worry" was recorded in 1961 I'm guessing only a two-track recorder was used. But the sound is still awesome, and even the guitar distortion that was left in (and in fact, made the recording a classic) feels comfortably at home.

It was all about the producer. Guys like Don Law and Ken Nelson turned what could have been a rasping "Keep On The Sunny Side" instead into sheer magic.

I like ingenuity. I like working with what I have and trying to make something out of it. I like exercising my brain cells. If a producer has twenty-four tracks (at a minimum) at his disposal, how freakin' hard can that be? All he's gotta do is bump his finger against a slider and inadvertently create what he'll label gold dust. 

I like this:


(For all you novice guitar players, this song has only TWO chords. Count 'em ~ TWO.)

It's unfair to compare recordings of today with, say, the recordings of the sixties. In many ways the sound is better, but maybe the technology has caused us to shed something; a hunk of our souls. Perhaps today's producers have gotten slide-happy with their latest toy. They've got it and they're gonna use it, dammit! But music isn't AI-driven. We're not automatons. Not yet.

I'd be in heaven sitting by a campfire and listening to George Strait singing along to his acoustic guitar or Marty Stuart picking his mandolin. Sure, the oohs and ahhs of the background singers would be absent and there'd be no bass smacking me back against the nearest tree trunk, but it'd be nice. As nice as Merle with Roy Hamlet back somewhere in the tree stand picking his steel guitar. 

No wax and no digital gymnastics. 

Just music.

~ Michelle Anderson, Senior Country Editor