Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

  • Music:

Hit and Miss

Last week, Lut and I caught the tail end of Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" playing on the radio. "I love that song," I said. "It doesn't get enough airplay any more."

"Me too. And it seems like whenever I do catch it, it's just the last bit."

"We should get a copy."

This weekend, after we went to see "Constantine", we dropped in on the Barnes and Noble next door to the movie theatre. I made a beeline for the music section, and browsed through to see what Peter Gabriel albums they had. I found a copy of "So", one of the self-titled albums (I don't remember which one-- not 'Car Windshield' or 'Melt', though, and it didn't have "Solsbury Hill" on it) and several different compilations.

Generally speaking, I don't like compilation albums. If I like an artist enough to buy their albums, I want to listen to all of their songs, not just the ones that made the top 40. And if I own any other albums by a given artist, then a compilation inevitably duplicates music that I already have.

I could've gone home, browsed the web to find out what album "Solsbury Hill" first appeared on, and ordered a copy of it online. But I was in the store now and thinking about it, and I had to admit that I was unlikely to buy every album Peter Gabriel had ever done and thereby collect all his music. Perhaps buying a compilation wouldn't be a bad deal.

I flipped through the different ones, all of which featured "Solsbury Hill". One that caught my eye was labeled "Peter Gabriel: The Definitive Two CD Collection". It looked to have a lot of different songs on it. Several of them I already owned (it has four tracks from "Us") or didn't care if I never heard again (there's nothing really wrong with "Sledgehammer" but there's nothing all that right about it, either). But it was only $20, a pretty good price for two discs, so I shrugged and got it.

As it turns out, this isn't one of those two-disc sets where each disc has 40 minutes of music on it. No, these CDs are jammed with songs: 75 minutes each, and a total of 31 different tracks.between them. (It wasn't obvious from the album cover how many songs there were -- the titles were listed, but not numbered).

More amusing was the labeling on the CDs themselves, which is very simple. No "Disc 1" and "Disc 2" with corresponding lists of songs here. Nope; each disc has just one word on it. The red disc reads "Hit". The green one: "Miss".

Those labels aren't quite accurate. I think you really need to stretch the definition of "miss" to qualify a song like "In Your Eyes" as one. But I was familiar with every single song on the "Hit" CD based on radio airplay ("So open up your fruitcakes/ I will be your honeybee" .... *sigh*). I knew less than half the tracks on "Miss", and some of the ones I did recognize were only through album play -- like the chillingly well-executed "Family Snapshot".

I brought CDs to work, and listened to them there. I often play CDs in my cubical, using my computer speakers at a very low volume so as not to disturb my coworkers. I had no troubles listening to "Hit" this way.

But I found listening to "Miss" at work to be intensely frustrating. It seemed to me that all the songs I didn't know were recorded at extra-low volumes, with a few peaks here and there at "loud" spots. The well-known songs sounded fine. I was constantly flipping the volume up and down as it changed tracks. "Maybe that's why they're 'misses'," I reflected sourly. "No one can hear them." I decided to bring the CD home and listen to it there, where I wouldn't feel compelled to crank the volume down if a track got loud.

So I brought it home, stuck it in my CD drive, set it to a normal volume, and hit play.


I'd been certain that there was some problem with the sound levels on this disc; that it had been badly mixed, or that the quiet parts had been recorded as just too quiet.

But listening to it at home -- it sounded great. I wasn't straining to catch the soft passages, or deafened by the loud ones. The recording levels were exactly right.


It may be that, at work, there's enough background noise that it drowns out the subtler strains of these tracks; that my requirement to keep the music at just-audible levels just won't work for tracks with any variation in volume.

But really, what it makes me wonder is: am I really hearing music when I'm at work? Or is my "listening" more a matter of picking up familiar rhythms, and filling in the rest of the song mentally?

Maybe I should take some of my other CDs home, and see how much better they sound when played at a normal volume.


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