Having just acquired the deluxe remastered editions of all the albums by Queen, my favourite band of all time, at considerable expense and ripped them to the hard disc of my laptop, I was one happy camper. Little did I know that my happiness wouldn’t last very long. The reason for this has nothing to do with Queen or its music.
You see, just a few days after I had all the Queen albums on my laptop, I read about Jimmy Page’s plans to put out special editions of all the albums by Led Zeppelin (another all-time favourite band) sometime next year. Enough for me to feel like pulling my hair out as I had only recently begun acquiring Led Zeppelin’s albums after waiting for years for Mr Page to remaster and upgrade them.
Obviously, the new Led Zeppelin remasters will sound much better than the CDs currently available. And given the current trends, there could possibly be 24/96 or 24/192 downloads, which means we may have to buy the albums not one more time, but twice.
Putting out new versions of albums isn’t exactly a new trend – it happened even in the days of vinyl. But in that era, it usually happened because an album went OOP (out of print).
It’s only in the CD era and the decline of the album format in the age of downloads that record companies figured they could maximise their returns very easily by putting out remastered and remixed versions of fan favourites.
The first wave of remastered CDs were entirely justified – simply because the CD versions of albums issued in the 1980s were total crap – dull, lifeless and boring, especially when compared to their vinyl versions.
As digital remixing and remastering techniques improved, we got some special and deluxe editions in the 1990s and early 2000s that truly delivered. And then things became unstuck when the same old albums were put out again and again (think Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” – available on MFSL, SACD and several deluxe editions) to mark all sorts of anniversaries. Each new version included some unreleased tracks in the hope that fans would double or triple dip (even though some of the tracks were unreleased for a simple reason – they were really bad).
Some bands obviously do a better job than others in putting out special editions – U2, The Who and Queen are some that come to mind. With others I’m not so sure – I’d love to get the immersion editions of Pink Floyd’s albums but why on earth would I want to pay a fortune for marbles and a scarf (yup, those are part of the box sets though what they have to do with music, I have no clue).
Maybe it’s about time bands begin thinking of compensating fans who already have their albums when they put out the umpteenth remixed and remastered edition – for example, a discount for anyone who walks into the store with an older version of an album.