With Rhino having just announced a second batch of Quadio releases, we're taking a look at the first four titles in the relaunched series - all of which are now available on Blu-ray Disc with high-resolution presentations of the original 4.0 quadraphonic and 2.0 stereo mixes.
Black Sabbath's 1970 LP Paranoid was a landmark record in the transition from "hard rock" to "heavy metal." Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Bill Ward followed up their self-titled debut album of early 1970 with Paranoid, recording it in London in June with producer Rodger Bain. Whereas Black Sabbath placed impressively at No. 8 on the U.K. chart and No. 23 in the U.S., its successor fared even better. Featuring such landmark tracks as "Iron Man," "War Pigs," and the U.K. Top 5 title track, Paranoid made it all the way to the top of the U.K. chart and No. 12 stateside. It sold more than four million copies in the United States, and has since been certified 4x platinum. Warner Bros. first released it in quadraphonic sound in 1974 as mixed by Mike Butcher; his mix was issued on DVD in DTS in 2009 and in 2020 as a stereo fold-down on CD. The new Quadio presentation, like all of the titles in this new wave, is reissued in true high-resolution on Blu-ray.
Make no mistake: this is a flashy, aggressive quad mix - all the more impressive considering this is the work of a four-piece band, with no strings, horns, or enhancements that lend themselves to surround mixing. Those familiar with the original stereo mix will also notice some key differences, including prominent tambourine in "War Pigs" and "Paranoid."
"War Pigs," the opening track, is an aural feast, boasting Ward's drums and Iommi's guitars moving from channel to channel. This compensates for Ozzy's vocal being somewhat buried in the mix. Ward's drums and Butler's bass can be felt in the room, especially if you're inclined to crank the volume up. (Happily, Craig Anderson's mastering makes it possible to play it loud without sacrificing quality.) That all-encompassing heaviness defines the entirety of Butcher's mix. Guitars start alternating in the rear channels of "Paranoid" before the drums kick in up front with sheer power. Yet the quieter moments shine, too; the trippy, languid "Planet Caravan" is one of the more subtly-mixed tracks here but every instrument is clearly and discretely rendered. Those who prefer more pronounced surround will enjoy Osbourne's vocal moving around in "Hand of Doom" (a track which displays the soft-to-loud dynamics particularly well) and Ward's mighty drums doing the same on his showcase, "Rat Salad." Black Sabbath is often associated with a dense, intentionally sludgy sound; it's a marvel how the familiar music on Paranoid including the anthemic "Iron Man" with its instantly identifiable riff retains its integrity while having much more defined separation and breathing room. The Quadio edition of Paranoid is most definitely a tough act to follow and easily the most dazzling of the four titles in the series.
1974 saw the release of the fifth album from Massachusetts' J. Geils Band. Nightmares...And Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle was produced by Bill Szymczyk (Eagles) and featured guitarist Geils alongside lead vocalist Peter Wolf, keyboardist Seth Justman, bassist Danny Klein, drummer Stephen Jo Bladd, and harmonica player Richard Salwitz, a.k.a. Magic Dick. The funky rocker "Must of Got Lost" (penned, like most of the album, by Wolf and Justman) made it to No. 12 on the Hot 100, becoming one of the band's most famous tunes and one of just three top 40 hits the Band placed while on the Atlantic label. The quad version of Nightmares gives Paranoid a run for its money as the most fun entry in this Quadio batch.
Nightmares immediately establishes its surround bona fides with the opening "Detroit Breakdown," with the instrumentation discretely placed and significant use of the rear channels for piano, percussion, and more. This places the listener in the middle of the musical action, which in the case of The J. Geils Band circa 1974 means in the center of a joyful, funky noise. There's tremendous clarity in Justman's organ and Bladd's drums, while Klein's bass is the glue holding everything together. Geils' guitar and Wolf's thunderous lead vocals were always out front (and are, of course, often up front in quad), but they blend well into the powerful ensemble. The infectious, boogieing groove of "Givin' It All Up" similarly lends itself to the immersive treatment, with the rears used for key vocal and guitar parts, too.
Bill Szymczyk remixed Nightmares into quad himself, and the mix reveals details of his organic production. "Must of Got Lost" is the most familiar item on this set, but it can be heard anew, too. Frequently the effect is of making the band sound larger than it is; the added dimension of surround adds an expansive quality to the already dense production of such tracks as the raucous "Stoop Down # 39" and the hypnotic "I'll Be Coming Home." Next to Paranoid, this may well the go-to "demonstration disc" in this series.
A Platinum-certified record which went to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, Alice Cooper's Billion Dollar Babies captured the shock-rocker and his band (guitarist Glen Buxton, keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Michael Bruce, bassist Dennis Dunaway, and drummer Neal Smith) in full flight with songs leaning into fear, horror, a visit to the dentist (ouch!), and even necrophilia. The LP produced by Bob Ezrin yielded four hit singles with "Hello Hooray," "Elected," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," and the title track. The quadraphonic mix has numerous variations from the familiar stereo version, including alternate vocals, extended fades, and unique edits. While Billion Dollar Babies was remixed into 5.1 surround for DVD-Audio release, this Blu-ray marks the digital premiere of the true quad mix - and it happens to be a much more adventurous mix than the rather subdued 5.1 version.
Sound envelops the listener from the first notes of Alice's musical introduction, "Hello Hooray." The instrumentation is well-balanced among the four channels, welcoming listeners to the sonic circus of horrors. The artist is at his most theatrical throughout Billion Dollar Babies, larger-than-life and heightened, and the slightly zany surround mix amplifies those qualities. The spoken word pieces in the brassy "Elected" pop up unexpectedly, and the vocals pan from speaker to speaker. The title track featuring Donovan is another surround showcase, immersing the listener in sound emanating from all four channels. From the chiming guitars which swirl throughout "No More Mr. Nice Guy" to the drums (up front) and harmonica (in the back) trading licks in "Generation Landslide" or the sound effects in "Sick Things" racing around the speakers, the surround mix is one that demands the listener pay attention; the reward is hearing details and subtleties buried in the punchier two-channel stereo mix. It all culminates in the audacious "I Love the Dead," a quasi-Spectorian production which seems made for surround. While some purists may prefer the more focused stereo mix, the quad presentation is much more in the freewheeling spirit of the album than the 5.1 mix and a more than entertaining alternative.
Jefferson Starship's second LP, 1975's Red Octopus, yields the most subtle of the four quadraphonic mixes. With its 2x Platinum certification, it remains the best-selling album by any iteration of the band (including Jefferson Airplane and just-plain Starship). Produced by the band and Larry Cox, Red Octopus spent four non-consecutive weeks at the top of the Billboard 200, largely on the strength of Marty Balin's epic "Miracles." Balin, after contributing one track to 1974's Dragon Fly, was back as a full-time member of the group and wrote or co-wrote five of its ten tracks.
Joining Paul Kantner, Grace Slick, Craig Chaquico, David Freiberg, Pete Sears, John Barbata, and Papa John Creach on the stylistically varied set, Balin led the transition of Jefferson Starship from gutsy rockers to pop radio titans. The soaring pop ballad "Miracles" (in an edited version) peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100, the highest placement for any Jefferson-related song until Starship's "We Built This City" ten years later. With its string section and saxophone solo, the frankly beautiful (if, on the album version, lyrically off-color!) "Miracles" was hardly typical Jefferson material. But it makes for a fine quad presentation, with strings, vocals, and instruments swirling in layered fashion as the track builds to a blissed-out crescendo. Though its melodic hook is less pronounced, "Tumblin'," penned by Balin with Grateful Dead ally Robert Hunter and Craig Chaquico, makes a fine companion to "Miracles" thanks to Balin's yearning vocal. "Sweeter Than Honey" and "I Want to See Another World" both rock with the best of them.
Most of the Red Octopus quad mix is front-heavy but nicely balanced throughout the four speakers. One wishes for a bit more discrete, standout action in the rear channels, but as is, it's easy to appreciate the album's dense and often inventive arrangements. Papa John Creach's instrumental "Git Fiddler" is even livelier and funkier in multi-channel. Similarly, Pete Sears' proggy "Sandalphon" (the second instrumental) benefits from the more expansive quad treatment. Grace Slick's "Ai Garimasu (There Is Love)" gains a newfound clarity, particularly in John Barbata's drums and Craig Chaquico's lead guitar. Slick and Sears' "Play on Love," a moderate chart hit with a pop vibe, places the grooving percussion, rhythm guitar, and piano in the rear channels with the rocking lead vocals and instrumentation up front.
Red Octopus set the stage for 1976's Spitfire, and another big Balin hit via "With Your Love." Hopefully it will be a future reissue in the Quadio series.
All four Quadio titles are housed in Super Jewel Boxes with inserts that, while lacking liner notes, offer credits, master tape box scans, and setup diagrams. Happily, original labels have been created on the discs. These albums have rarely sounded better; with the next wave of Quadio reissues from America, The Spinners, Charles Mingus, and Gordon Lightfoot already shipping, this just might be a new golden era of surround audio, after all.
The first batch of Quadio titles are available from Rhino.com as well as at general retail:
Black Sabbath, Paranoid (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada / Rhino.com)
Alice Cooper, Billion Dollar Babies (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
J. Geils Band, Nightmares...And Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
Jefferson Starship, Red Octopus (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K. / Amazon Canada)
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