In my last post, I mentioned that a colleague had mentioned the Rolling Stones song 2000 light years from home. I’m not a Stones fan and didn’t know it, so I searched for it and found the video and lyrics, started the video and … couldn’t hear any lyrics. Maybe it was an instrumental piece, or an instrumental version of a song, but the video said “Official”. I finally thought to flip my headphones, and there was Mick.
I have been significantly deaf in one ear since contracting measles at an early age. I wasn’t sure if I’d mentioned that here; a quick search doesn’t show that I have. I’ve had some problems with headphones before, but this was just another level.
That evening, I realised that despite several listens, I had no clear memory of what the song actually sounded like, except that it had a prominent keyboard part. The next morning I listened again and … could’t hear any keyboard. It seems that the vocal is entirely on one track, the keyboard (Brian Jones) is on another and the the guitars and drums are on both. When I flipped the headphones again, I could just sense … something in that ear, but wouldn’t have known that it was a voice, or Mick, or what the words actually are. The only way I can get the full effect is to to listen without headphones. But with one or two people in the house all day, I use the headphones.
My mother told me that I had moderate hearing loss in one ear. Later, I realised that she was probably understating that. On the scale of mild, moderate, moderate-severe, severe and profound hearing loss, I am at least severe – the audiogram I found shows me going off the bottom end of the scale at 80 dB. In one ear. Fortunately, I have normal enough hearing in my other ear. Some years ago, I asked my father what he knew, and he said very little; my mother had taken me to audiologists all those years ago.
This hasn’t stopped me studying classical music (specifically piano) and singing in choirs, but has had a number of other consequences, especially easily becoming overwhelmed in enclosed, noisy spaces. Also, if I can’t hear Mick directly in my bad ear, it makes me wonder what else I’ve missed out on along the way. The fact that I am now working as a legal editor, either in a mostly-quiet office or at home, isn’t coincidental.
Meanwhile, how far is 2000 light years? This page gives the approximate thickness of the plane of the Milky Way galaxy at the Sun’s location as 1500 light years, and the distance to Deneb as 3200 light years, if that helps. Certainly, we’e talking on a galactic scale. But the song mentions Aldebaran between mentioning 1000 light years and 2000 light years. But Aldebaran is (only) 65 million light years away.
At least the Stones got one thing right: light years are a measure of distance, not of time. Which brings me to this: “a million years” or “one million years.” One instance that comes to my mind is The Grass Roots’ hit from the summer of 1969, “I’d Wait a Million Years.” Around the same time we had “In the Year 2525” by Zager and Evans, which covered only 10,000 years. Also, the Who’s “The Song Is Over” (1971) has the line “even if it takes a million years.” There must be some other, less boomer-related, examples out there.
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When advertisements say ‘light-years ahead of competitors’ I’m not sure whether they’re talking about distance or time. ‘Quantum leap’ is another physics term which has escaped into general usage. Yes it’s a sudden jump to a whole nother (sic) level, but it’s really, really, really small.
When stereo first arrived on the scene, recording engineers didn’t seem to know how to make the best use of it. Lots of early-to-mid-1960s pop recordings have instruments or vocals isolated to one side of the mix, lending an unsettling quality to the headphone experience, even for those of us with two working ears (my wife also has hearing loss in one ear from her youth, so I can appreciate your predicament), Many aficionados much prefer the original mono versions of early Beatles (and Stones) recordings largely for that reason.
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A colleague who remembers the 60s said approximately the same thing.
Today I listened to a video of the most popular song for each month of each decade from the 1960s onwards. One of these (early 1970s) was In the summertime by Mungo Jerry. I heard “… when the weather is hot … and touch the sky”. I flipped the headphones and heard all of those first two lines. Apparently some words are on both tracks and others on one only.
I just listened to the Mungo Jerry song myself, on headphones, and confirmed that’s what is going on (the lead singer is on the right side and a unison “harmony” on the left). Also, the piano is on the left side only, with guitar on the right side only. (I didn’t want to say “on the right track” to avoid ambiguity.) None of this helps me to decipher a few of the lyrics which have resisted comprehension since I first used to hear the song on the radio in 1970.
Something similar with the recording of the vocals on the Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreamin.'” In fact, one streaming music web site had only one track playing and half the sung words were therefore missing.
I have encountered a few more, which I won’t list in full. The most obvious was Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the sky, in which the guitar solo disappeared.
PS I’m sure I’ve missed many more along the way. The only way I know that something is missing is when I know that it’s there or meant to be there.
On a related note, I recently rediscovered this old 1971 hit from my youth, Chicago’s “Lowdown” (not to be confused with the Boz Scaggs song of the same name). I never had any trouble understanding the lyrics. However, when I listen to it nowadays, I hear one of the lines (sung twice, each and every time I hear it) as:
Covid blew away the sun that used to warm the air.
I can’t even imagine what the line actually was anymore.
Ah, “Spirit in the Sky”, possibly my favorite tune from 1970 (seems to be a song people either love or hate, like Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye).
Despite its supposedly ironic genesis, my local church’s band actually wanted to do this song during our services but were never able to get it sounding right (that was before I joined). However, last year or so we had an in-church funeral for which the son requested “Spirit in the Sky,” so I worked it out with my singer and drummer (the full church band had disbanded a few years ago because the leader left for North Carolina) and I think we did a fairly creditable rendition of it.