Getting into the mix

Three more that fans want raw
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  August 24, 2010

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"Street-walkin' cheetah: the Raw Power of the Stooges' James Williamson," by Daniel Brockman
Raw Power is viewed by many as one of the all-time great rock albums — but its hyper-trebly, David Bowie–mixed brittleness has been almost as infamous as the musical mayhem on the wax. At first, the band self-produced the record. James Williamson explains, “Our management was busy breaking David Bowie in America, they weren’t paying any attention to us. So we got to make the album without any adult supervision. But they finally heard it and said, ‘This isn’t gonna fly,’ so they brought in their golden boy in hopes to salvage it. Bowie came over to LA on some days off from his US tour and did it — and you know, I have to say, he really took a bizarre approach to the mix.”

The ensuing decades saw the album’s legend grow, with an endless parade of bootlegs purporting to offer the “real” mix before Ziggy Stardust had got his bass-stifling hands on it. In 1997, Sony reissued a “definitive” version overseen by Pop himself, an overblown monster that hit the ceiling of digital distortion. Fans who’d lived with the Bowie mix and their bootlegs for decades were irate. Williamson and Ron Asheton were both openly critical.

This year’s remaster of the Bowie mix puts a sheen on the original vinyl release — but for most fans, agreeing to disagree is just part of loving Raw Power. “If it was up to me,” says Williamson, “I’d just release all the tracks and let whoever buys the album mix it for themselves. I mean, why are we arguing about this for 30 years?” Amen, James — but aren’t arguments part and parcel of being an obsessive rock fan? With that in mind, let’s look at three more of rock’s most controversial mixing jobs:

THE BEATLES | LET IT BE [1970] | Near the end of their seven-year dynasty, the Beatles’ January 1969 attempt at a return-to-roots album flamed out in confusion and miles of magnetic tape. Wall-of-sound producer Phil Spector fashioned the spaghetti into a hit album, but with tacked-on string sections and other cheesy touches that rubbed fans the wrong way for decades — until a Spector-less version of the album, Let It Be . . . Naked, was released in 2003, sans cheese.

METALLICA | . . . AND JUSTICE FOR ALL [1988] | Metallica rebounded from the death of bassist Cliff Burton with this double-platter breakthrough album thanks to the crossover hit “One.” But amid the MTV adulation, many fans noticed a distinct lack of bass guitar. Perhaps the band were just hazing new member Jason Newstead, but whatever the cause, fans still wonder whether there isn’t some kind of alternate mix that includes an audible low end.

NIRVANA | IN UTERO [1993] | Kurt Cobain and company’s choice of Steve Albini to record what would be their final studio album seemed a logical choice, especially with Cobain wanting to avoid a repeat of the grunge-o-matic sheen that Butch Vig had left on their previous multi-platinum long-player. But the tracks the band brought back from their Minnesota sojourn did not please the label overlords. As Cobain put it, “The grown-ups don’t like it.” Nirvana eventually remixed a few tracks after Geffen’s consternation crumbled their resolve.

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