The choice of Saturday morning music is a momentous decision. Get it wrong, and you can blow the mood of the weekend.
This morning I pulled out two of my mainstays.
Queen’s Greatest Hits was the best album in my Dad’s collection. Sure, there was Johnny Cash, Mamas and the Papas, and even some ABBA. But Dad got wise and bought the album everyone was buying after hearing it at a friend’s place. It was no fluke that Queen’s Greatest Hits became one of the biggest selling albums ever, and THE biggest ever greatest hits release. It’s an extraordinary collection of some of the most iconic songs in music history. It seemed to be at the top of the UK album charts for months.
It was also my first formal introduction to Queen. I only really knew them through their singles. We sang Bohemian Rhapsody in the primary school playground when it was no.1 on Top of the Pops. We knew that Flash Gordon was by Queen and everyone knew the words to We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. But when Dad bought Queen’s Greatest Hits, another door was opened for me. I discovered the BACK CATALOGUE. Queen II. A Night At the Opera. Are you kidding me, albums like this exist!? I scrimped and saved and didn’t rest until I owned every Queen LP.
But Greatest Hits has always been the cream of the crop. And it’s always been the perfect Saturday morning album. Sun shining, slight breeze, windows and doors open … there’s no better music to bring in the weekend. It was always thus, and always thus will be.
Queen’s Greatest Hits is a double vinyl album now, remastered at half speed to improve the sound. It has the same running order, opening with Bohemian Rhapsody all the way through to We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. The running order was always part of the album’s appeal. It’s a superb run-through of an amazing musical career, showcasing the eclectic styles Queen used on each album. Take Side 2 as an example: Bicycle Race is followed by You’re My Best Friend, followed by Don’t Stop Me Now, and completed by Save Me. Each song is so different, so independently brilliant, and yet collectively they hang together so well.
I’m not completely happy with this reissue though. I don’t think it’s the best example of vinyl mastering around. The vocals in Fat Bottom Girls are recessed in a way I’ve never heard before. The duelling guitars on Bicycle Race are very quiet, and throughout the album the vocals sound slightly distorted, particularly on those sibilant Ss. I’ve read that some of the remasters were done from digital sources rather than the original analogue recordings, and the distortions in the vocal tracks are certainly more obvious in such productions. In other words, we’re not necessarily hearing what was on the original record. It’s close, but sometimes there’s just no cigar. In some places there’s genuine improvement. Crazy Little Thing Called Love sounds amazing, better than I’ve heard it before. But in comparison Somebody To Love is lacklustre, when it was always an album highlight for me.
So, the verdict. Great to be nostalgic on a Saturday morning, but the Queen’s Greatest Hits reissue doesn’t quite have the magical sound the original did. Ah well. Time to put away childhood things
On the other hand, Pearl Jam’s Vs sounds incredible. I have never heard this album sound so good as it does on vinyl. My favourite Pearl Jam album, Vs is also their heaviest. Each song is angry and confronting in its own way, whether blistering like Animal or just quietly defiant like Daughter. The album is a stiff middle finger to … well, everyone really. In the early days, if I began the weekend with Vs it usually meant I was in a bad mood. That’s what Carolyn said, anyway. It was like my weekend migraine. I don’t think that was necessarily the case—I just loved the album. I played it so much our eldest daughter was singing ‘Saw thiiiings’ from Rearviewmirror before she could talk.
The vinyl of Vs sounds really incredible. The drums have a woody, punchy tone that drives the album’s aggression. Take a listen to Leash and you’ll hear what I mean. The guitars are forefronted and superbly balanced. Just have a listen to how they sound on Glorified G. Brilliant. And Eddie’s vocals are crystal clear – no distortion at all. THIS is how you produce a vinyl record.
I have to say, however, this is an ugly vinyl pressing—like many coming out of the US, it’s noisy, poppy, a grubby vinyl finish. I’m surprised Pearl Jam let it out of the shop.
Side 2 of the album is where the power of the vinyl really stands out. Blood is a simple assault on the ears. Rearviewmiror is up there with the best songs ever written. On record it’s easy to imagine yourself in the studio watching Eddie spit out his defiant words: ‘Saw things so much clearer.’ What a line, and what a delivery. Throughout the album you’re aware of something extra that was always missing from the digital recording—the room itself, the space around the instruments, and the ‘between-ness’ of the band members. Pearl Jam have always been one of my favourite bands for that very reason—the way they read one another and build off one another’s presence. Their recent concert movie Let’s Play Two depicted that perfectly.
Vs was released in 1993. It’s disconcerting to see that Pearl Jam were protesting the same aspects of American society that we all see coming out of there every day still. Gun violence, racism, consumerism, bullshit relationships. Nothing has changed. In fact, they’d probably say it’s got worse. Which makes me think, we’re due another grunge era. I’m not sure we’ve yet seen the true artistic response to Trumpism that we saw to Bush 1.0 or Bush 2.0. If it’s anything like what Pearl Jam produced on Vs, I can’t wait.