Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bonus Tracks

The new remastered version of the Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street is out with ten bonus tracks. I haven't heard it yet, so there could be some swell tracks we've never heard. But I doubt it.

There have been thousands of remastered "with bonus tracks" CDs over the last thirty years. I've bought more than my share. I can't think of more than a handful of bonus tracks that added anything to the experience of the original album. There may be some sort of academic interest in the bonus tracks, but really improving on the original? Not so much. Every once in a while, bonus tracks include singles that were never released on an album, and some of those can be worth hearing.

What is a producer's job? Well, one of the important roles of a producer is to choose which songs are the best, and/or which songs fit into the particular record being produced. Bonus tracks typically prove that the producers did a fine job the first time around. The bonus tracks were the outtakes from the recording session. They were left off for good reason. Often the bonus tracks are unfinished, which makes matters just that much worse.

I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who disagree with me on this one, and far be it from me to tell those people how to enjoy their music.

Worst offender: The Beatles Anthology series. Six CDs of outtakes and early versions. You might want to listen to three tracks more than once. I know these are not really bonus tracks because there is nothing else on these CDs, but it is still getting you to pay for the stuff on the cutting room floor.

Best bonus tracks: The Band Rock Of Ages. Here we get the rest of the songs performed live that night, including some songs with guest Bob Dylan. Even so, the original record is not improved, and the bonus tracks are not as good as what was originally released.

Why is this such a common phenomenon? Well, vinyl LPs held about 50 minutes of music. You could cram 60 minutes in (Todd Rundgren's A Wizard, A True Star), but the fidelity was reduced because the grooves had to be crammed together. CDs hold 74-78 minutes of music, so there's plenty of room for the crap that was left of the original album. And, of course, now you can resell the "enhanced" product as something other than what the customer bought the first time.

It's like your favorite restaurant decided to give you a free pile of yesterday's leftovers with every meal. Yum.

1 comment:

  1. Agreed. To continue your analogy...bonus tracks are the gastronomic equivalent of eating at The Cheesecake Factory.