The B Side

My Song of the Day Suggestion: Hyperactive by Thomas Dolby, originally on the market in 1984 on 7″ and 12″ vinyl.

I bought the 12″ version during the summer of 1984 and played it on my high-end Technics turntable, Sure needle, Harmon Kardon receiver/amplifier, and Bose speakers.

I absolutely loved the music, but could instantly tell the vinyl media was causing sibilance due to the physical mass of the needle and its suspension being incapable of following the extreme physical dimensions of travel pressed into those vinyl grooves. Too much mass would require too much force for tracking, which destroyed albums. Too little needle mass usually meant insufficient contact area which could result in point pressure damage.

At the time, I thought, “Why not use a vapor-depositioned hollow diamond needle on a conical form and carbon-fiber needle arm? Full-sized outer diamond, full contact area, minimum sibilance, and maximum tracking of the vinyl record groove.” I also thought of using orthoganol lasers to read the movement of the needle, until it hit me that lasers could be used to read the grooves of the vinyl grooves themselves…

Turns out, I was dead on target: Lighten all mass while… Lasers… Yeah….

And there WAS a company that patented and fielded a cartridge that used lasers to read the grooves, so why aren’t they around today? With all the resurgence in vinyl, you certainly don’t want to destroy your old collections by dragging the world’s hardest known substance across soft vinyl…

Then the digital revolution hit and analog was out the window.

Separated as they were by placing a single, though extended song on a 12″ 33-1/3 instead of a 45 RPM 7″, the best needle I had wasn’t following it very well. I immediately bought a more recent, higher-end Audio-Technica styli or cartridge for some ungodly amount of and tried again. Success! It tracked the sonic extremes.

Well, mostly. I could still hear some issues. In desperation, I turned to my audiophile friend who agreed to bring his high-end reel-to-reel setup over.

We ran my turntable at half-speed, 16 ? RPM, recorded onto his reel-to-reel at half his fastest speed (I think 15 inches per second) then played it at top speed, double that. SUCCESS!!!

Well, sort of. The Audio-Technica was picking up every pop and squiggle, so we first cleaned the vinyl immaculately with a dipped pure soap and water then distilled water rinse and filtered high-pressure air cleaning, but there were still sonic infidelities. Next, we tried using the old, “Elmer’s Glue Cleaning Trick,” which, given our previous round, didn’t accomplish any additional cleaning that was noticeable. If anything, it muddied things up a touch, so we repeated the pure soap (Dawn, I think) and distilled water trick. Better! We then gave into folklore and tried a thin layer of glycerin on the vinyl, but the the mass of the viscous fluid killed some of the highs while simultaneously causing needle float over a variety of sharp transitions.


Bottom Line: Thomas Dolby was pushing massive sound into the market targeted towards Compact Disc Digital Audio. Vinyl medium simply couldn’t handle it, though I must admit, if someone read the tracks with dual orthogonal lasers, as I saw advertised a few years later, the degradation through the analog format known as vinyl might have withstood a minimum of degradation.

As it was, I purchased my first CD player from Yamaha in the summer of 1985, and the CD version of Hyperactive along with it, as having played it about 50 times trying to eak the most out of my stereo, it’s the one tune at the time with which I was most familiar i.e. that was most thoroughly burned into my brain.

Yamaha’s CD quality: FAR, FAR better than my then-$400 Technics turntable, $500 HK receiver/amp, some $250 AT needle or cartridge (can’t recall which) and all the vinyl babying known to the modern world.

Having talked about this, I remember, “Get Out of My Mix,” B-side. I also played his 480 video on Youtube using my now far, far better sound system. Bleh! Sounds horrible! Far worse than the somewhat earlier and anlog recorded Sultans of Swing.

Not Dolby’s fault. He was using the best digital audio equipment of the day. I think that was before oversampling, and it shows. What most people don’t understand is that 4x oversampling requires 8x the frequency of your base signal frequency: ” Consider a signal with a bandwidth or highest frequency of B = 100 Hz. The sampling theorem states that sampling frequency would have to be greater than 200 Hz. Sampling at four times that rate requires a sampling frequency of 800 Hz. This gives the anti-aliasing filter a transition band of 300 Hz ((fs/2) ? B = (800 Hz/2) ? 100 Hz = 300 Hz) instead of 0 Hz if the sampling frequency was 200 Hz. “

By comparison, Eric Clapton’s Layla is absolutely smooth as silk: ” Eric Clapton recorded yet a third version. “Layla” appears as track seven on Play the Blues: Live from Jazz at Lincoln Center.[33] Personnel on this version include Wynton Marsalis (vocals, trumpet), Eric Clapton (vocals, guitar), Victor Goines (clarinet), Marcus Printup (trumpet), Chris Crenshaw (trombone, vocals), Don Vappie (banjo), Chris Stainton (keyboards), Dan Nimmer (piano), Carlos Henriquez (bass), and Ali Jackson (drums).

I can’t help but wonder how many millennials know what a B-side is all about. It is, after all, how I discovered this song, way back as “originally released by their blues rock band Derek and the Dominos, as the thirteenth track from their only studio album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs(November 1970).”

Or perhaps it was the B-side of one of my brother’s 45’s…

Leave a Reply