Ozzy: That’s the Way It Wasn’t

You remember Winston Smith, don’t you? Sure, he’s the protagonist of George Orwell’s 1984, but do you remember what he did for a living? He worked in the so-called “Ministry of Truth,” changing history by rewriting newspapers and books and any other media that needed updating to reflect the prevailing mindset of Oceana’s totalitarian regime.

Not unlike Ozzy and Elvis.

By now you’ve probably heard about the “reissue” of some of Ozzy Osbourne’s back catalog earlier this year. Problem is, they are not reissues at all. These new versions of the old albums have had the original Bob Daisley bass and Lee Kerslake drum tracks removed; the remastered songs now feature members of Ozzy’s current touring band. Apparently this was done because of ongoing legal disputes over royalties among these former bandmates.

Regardless of motive, this transgression of history is wrong, for reasons that shouldn’t need explaining.

As is what was done to the documentary, Elvis: That’s the Way It Is when it was re-edited and released on DVD about a year ago. While the Ozzy debacle is annoying and typical of the corporate entertainment industry, the new Elvis movie is even more disappointing because its ruination was carried out in the name of the fan. Yeah, you and me and every other music geek were catered to when they unearthed the extra thirty minutes of footage and remastered the sound to create this concert film. Only problem is, the original movie was a heck of a lot more than a concert.

That’s the Way It Is was a strange document of a strange time, something of a foil to Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It was a true documentary—of the entire process of putting post-Comeback Special Elvis Presley into the Las Vegas show scene, a fascinating idea for 1970, especially considering E’s only other appearance there, in the late-1950s, had bombed. (Remember too, this was long before a stint in the desert on the road to eternal life in Branson, Mo., was the natural washed-up pop star progression we think of now.) Sure, on outward appearances That’s the Way It Is was a concert flick, but there was a lot more to the goofy film and its oddball interviews with unnamed and frequently creepy fans and hangers-on. Most of this fell to the cutting room recycle bin for the digital release in favor of more concert footage, little of which adds much of anything to the film as a film. No, the new footage amounts to more rocks for the fan cum crackhead, while eliminating much of what worked in the original film—the reflections of Elvis in the eyes of all who beheld him. The effect leaves Elvis looking as two-dimensional as his postage stamp.

The most important legacy of my much-played VHS dub of That’s the Way It Is is that even the non-Elvis fanatics I’ve shown it to have come away with a better understanding of why this era of Elvis’ long and tumultuous career was perhaps his best. As the availability of the original version of the film wanes, as old videotapes get eaten by dirty players or thrown away after garage sales, this very real historical document will disappear. Sure, we’ll have many more copies of a fancy new DVD to replace it, but without the historical context of the original edit there will be little to learn from it.

Reissues, remastering, lost footage, unreleased tracks—they’re all worthy endeavors, but full-scale revision leads us down a dangerous path indeed. Remember Winston Smith?

18 thoughts on “Ozzy: That’s the Way It Wasn’t”

  1. Does it bother you at all that half of the original performance of those songs is gone? All because Ozzy and Sharon would rather not pay more royalties? What’s next? Removing Bon Scott from the first AC/DC albums?

  2. “…why this era of Elvis’ long and tumultuous career was perhaps his best…”I know you are talking about the very early Vegas years (1969-71), but you might want to clarify that aren’t including those sad, sad 1974-77 years. Or are you?By the way, the Ozzy “remixes” are a really terrible thing. I think it’s equally terrible that they remixed the Beatles “Yellow Submarine” album to remove the outdated 60s trend of separating the vocals to one speaker and the instruments to the other speaker. An album is a document of the times. Once you start fucking with that, it might as well be released as a Fatboy Slim album.Note, though, that I am NOT talking about normal remastering of albums, which I think is usually a GOOD thing. In the case of the upcoming Who’s first album, I am VERY excited about the remastering. When that was first issued on cd, it sounded terrible. As long as they just go back to the original tapes — the original mixes — and remaster those, it’s a good thing. Professional recording equipment has historically been far more advanced, fidelity-wise, than consumer playback equipment. So the good sounds are on those original tapes; they just have to be transferred to the new media in a way that lives up to the original recording!

  3. And that leads to the discussion of mastering v. mixing. They are different things and have different results. Remixing an album refers to changing the levels of individual instruments/vocals and therefore changing the “landscape” of the music. Remastering basically cleans up the fidelity. It doesn’t change the individual levels of the elements of the songs but adjusts the sonic levels of the overall mix. Jude or Jordan, please step in and explain the differences in more technical terms.

  4. And this, of course, leads us to the common-use definition of “remix.” Often, on modern remixes, a DJ will drop everything but the original vocals and add their own sounds. Even the original pressing of the Velvet Underground’s self-titled album contained what was called “Lou Reed’s ‘closet’ mix.” I’ve heard it and it features not just different levels of volume, but some noticeably different vocal takes and some different instrument parts!

  5. Of course I’m not referring to the post-Aloha years of Elvis’ career; ’70-’72 is where it’s at.And on another note, every time I hear one of the cuts from the remastered Who’s Next, it shocks me. I have listened to that album more than any other, period, and it just doesn’t sound like it used to.

  6. For better: It sounds like it probably should have from the start. For worse: It doesn’t sound like your brain thinks it should sound. Verdict: I’d just rather they left well enough alone; the greatest rock album of all time doesn’t really need to be fucked with now, does it?

  7. Of course, Who’s Next was originally mixed while Pete was, um, resting, and it was super bass-heavy. That also brings up my somewhat mixed feelings about remastering the early albums. There’s a certain charm to the fact taht the Who had possibly the worst mixed albums in Rock history, which did lead a bit to their sound. I kinda love that keith’s drums sound like cardboard boxes on “Whiskey Man.” I am looking forward to a remastered “Glow Girl” or “So Sad About us.” Yeow!

  8. The issue with the Who’s first album is their Shel Talmy owned the masters and wouldn’t sell them to MCA for the original cd release. That’s why the CD sounds like ass, while the vinyl version sounds fucking perfect (in my primitivist garage punk opinion). They finally worked out a deal: http://www.sheltalmy.com/whotapes.shtml I can’t wait!

  9. Elvis’s entire history is in a constant state of reivention and hyperbole. A small example would be one of his 70’s era jumpsuits on display at Graceland. It has been altered in the display to look like it was worn by a svelt 140 lb young man, when in fact the thing was a tent back when he was bloated up to the size of the Michelin Man.Now today, there’s a new Elvis “single” which is basically just a DJ/Producers remix of a track he laid down way back when. It sounds like crap. Just give me the original recording, as close to it’s intended sound as possible.

  10. Wow. I didn’t realize it was “redone” by the dude who put together Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil… From cdnow: This new edition of Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, assembled by veteran film restorer Rick Schmidlin, isn’t quite as elaborate as the ones he put together of Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. Roughly thirty minutes of additional footage has been added of Presley’s concert work and off-screen moments. Moreover, Schmidlin has helpfully added titles to the film, indicating who various people are when they appear on screen. A documentary on the restoration of this documentary is also included on this special edition. This will no doubt delight experts in Presley arcana. But for fans, the best parts of Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, are the star’s performances of “That’s All Right Mama,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Mystery Train,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” and “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” — David Ehrenstein

    http://www.cdnow.com/cgi-bin/mserver/pagename=/RP/MOVIES/mv_item.html/itemid=1036215/from=sr-324737-3

  11. CDNOW also notes: “The 2001 DVD reissue boasts an overhauled restoration from Rick Schmidlin that focuses on Presley and minimizes director Denis Sanders’ early-’70s stylized techniques.”

  12. I think the question here is one of artistic intention. When changes are apparently made for commercial reasons only (Ozzy’s replacement of original parts; Alan Douglas’s godawful messing about with Jimi Hendrix’s unreleased masters, before Hendrix’s family thankfully got back control of his work) we should all resist them. But what about the director’s cut of a movie? Should it be the way we remember it, or the way its creator originally wanted it to be, without the earlier constraints of budget limitations or studio politics or less liberal censorship or prehistoric special effects?The same applies to music – Lou Reed’s mix of the 3rd Velvet Underground album is how he wanted it to be, as is the restoration of a couple of passages originally left off from Loaded. The remixes of Clapton’s Layla and Dylan’s Street Legal (both apparently approved by the artists) sound better than the originals to me. And the American CD reissue of the Beatles’ catalogue rightly followed the original British track listings, not the truncated versions put out by Capitol in the US to squeeze more money out of the fans. (Wish Allen Klein would do the same for the Stones – their early albums are not even available in their proper form in Britain now.)In fact many artists in various media go back and rework their creations – when their collected works are compiled, many authors and poets take the opportunity to tweak some of their writings, for example. You may prefer the original version, but if the motives are artistic, not just to make a quick buck, I don’t think the changes can be considered wrong. The ideal would be to have both versions available alongside each other, like the acoustic and electric versions of Eric Andersen’s ‘Bout Changes ‘n’ Things album, so the consumer can choose.If this is not possible, the buyer should at least be entitled to know which version he or she is being sold. Anything short of this is cheating the consumer.

  13. Very well put, Rod. But I am less willing to accept the “director’s cut” philosophy when applied to music for the same reason I don’t like it when applied to (most) films. Both media are collaborative. When a product, be it the film or the recording, are issued, it’s a combined effort of all the people who worked on the project, film editor, sound engineer, director, producer, actor, musicians, etc. When one person–the director or the vocalist, say–go back to the work and reconfigure it, it’s not really reflective of the original vision of a lot of people. Of course, there are exceptions to this–some works get released without reflecting the collective vision in the first place. Regardless, the fact that originals frequently disappear when new versions are issued is a blatant messing with history–and that’s never done for “artistic” reasons, only commercial ones.

  14. I have to weigh in on some of these…

    Sharon Osbourne must be stopped; what she’s done is tantamount to having to repaint the Mona Lisa just because the color brown wants its fair share of royalties. I’m anti-song theft except when it comes to Ozzy, in which case, I say PLEASE STEAL from Ozzy, esp. when it comes to Blizzard and Diary of a Madman.

    The Who remasters are another thing entirely. For all of them, Jon Astley (Pete’s former brother-in-law and the guy who gave us “Jane’s Getting Serious”) REMIXED the original elements. For some albums (Live At Leeds, Who’s Next, Quadrophenia), the results are pretty fantastic. But for my favorite Who album of all time, Tommy, Jon fucked it up majorly; the bass is practically non-existent. For me, the song “Go To The Mirror, Boy!” was such a thrill to hear John Entwistle’s amazing bass line thundering through; that is now gone, sacrificed for a trebly mix where the bass has been virtually removed. The 1969 clever (almost gimmicky) stereo imaging has been “normalized”; in the formerly glorious “Overture”, there was a backing vocal part that travelled from right to left. It is now grounded squarely in the center. As a purist, I’d love to have the original mixes still available; revisionism is usually not a good thing when you substantially alter a masterwork.

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