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Zombies ate my Walkman
Firstly, let's get one bit of sad news that could have totally derailed this week's otherwise very compelling blog out of the way.Kim Deal left the Pixies. This means we are left with no Pixies.While lesser beings had Aussie soap stars on their walls as a feminine ideal, I had Kim. The Pixies are one of the greatest bands of all time, but have been a Greatest Hits cash combo for ages. So its, rinse, repeat and she'll be back.Stuff falling off what is already dead is not a tragedy, but cutting live bits and flesh from the still breathing can be.And that is what a bunch of corporate raiders want to do to that old Walkman maker, Sony.The film and music divisions are sort of ok compared to the rotting television plus other stuff bit, so Wall Street wrecking ballbags want to cut them off and sell them.But how did an electronics company end up owning a movie studio, and more importantly, a record label?Have a smell of the history of the record business and you'll see all kinds of big companies have had a flutter, often because they sold the kit records were played on. This sure was true of RCA and Philips - the latter of which under the PolyGram brand kept a frostbitten toe in the Game well into the 90s. But Sony was very late to this pooped party - why bother?Sony has been in trouble overall for a long time. Like all Japanese megacorps it has made stuff from rice cookers to military grade computer chips and cameras - all at once. It also owned some decent resorts.Founded primarily by the genius that was Akio Morita, Sony - the name being a blend of the Latin "sonus" for sound and postwar Japanamerican slang "sonny boy" for ambitious youngster - has done more for music than you might think.Along with Philips, it invented the Compact Disc. While we all love vinyl and might boo and hiss, it is a remarkably free and high fidelity format of the kind no-one would make today. No copy protection crap or region lock lobotomization. Sure it has digital coldness, but is free from compression and was designed with fidelity first and foremost in mind.Sony also gave us the Walkman - sort of.A German-Brazilian inventor called Andreas Pavel wanted to choose what music he heard on the go. And for it to sound pretty ok. So he invented a shrunken audio cassette player called the Stereobelt. A test run in 1972 playing back Herbie Mann when he pleased turned him on deeply. He shopped it around to the electronics giants of the day, but no-one thought people would ever wear headphones in public. So nothing happened.How much Sony knew about this is unclear, but Nobotushi Kihari produced a prototype of the much smaller Walkman for Akio to enjoy operas while flying about in 1978. Akio loved the device but hated the name and wanted it changed until he was told it was too late. Increasingly ace professional recording versions mean we'll benefit from bootleg recordings of classic acts well into the future. A revolution in how, where, when and why we all can listen to music was born thanks to Sony. But as always, time destroys all advantages.Sony's success defining formats and habits in other areas of AV started to snuffle from then on.Even though it was better, Betamax famously failed in the video format warz. DAT, a new kind of digital tape that had better than CD quality and lots of magic was heavily taxed, forced to have a chip installed to limit copying and held up in the US Courts thanks to the record industry rapists. All this made DAT a rich man's toy, and a rare one at that.Akio was outraged. Our increasingly retarded world made less and less sense to the Sony Samurai.Betamax was superior in quality, more reliable and cheaper than the competition. DAT appealed to his inner engineer with its excellence - a very tiny tape (related to the Betamax) could hold at least two hours of pro grade audio and should have been huge. Why had Betamax failed? Why had DAT been crippled and priced out of reach?Akio thought it was because Sony did not own the companies that fed the machines with content.While logical, this was not quite the case. VHS succeeded because RCA insisted a super rubbish mode could just about hold the four hours of an American Football game, and porn producers were given copying machines nearly for free.The record company coke zombies were mortified by the fact CDs could make pretty decent tapes, and someday would be readable by home computers - so pulled in every favour possible to kill another way to groove. Sony bought CBS Records and Columbia Pictures to stop this happening again. Akio was dead from a tennis overdose a few years later.Of course what is meant to save often kills - and it was the very music division, the former CBS/Columbia Records, that reacted with horror when Sony engineers presented Walkmans based on tiny hard drives long before the iPod, and prevented a Grand Bargain with Napster which would have ensured a richer future for the majors in the digital era.And now the vultures are circling Akio's fading legacy.But a better breed of vulture will be sniffing round our new in racks this Saturday. We have Jazz-Fusion, Soul, Funk, Hip Hop and Classic Rock in a large quantity and here are some names.Ray Charles, Isaac Hayes, Desmond Dekker, Prince Buster, Kevin Ayers, Miles Davis, Dave Valentin, Freddie Hubbard, James Brown, Parliament, George Clinton, Funkadelic, Swamp Dog, Fat Back Band, Trouble Funk, Ramones, Bowie, Pink Floyd, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Mobb Deep Hii-Tek, Dr Dre, Handsome Boy Modelling School, Pete Rock...Plus d+b, jungle, 91-93 bb hardcore, disco 12's + reggae 12's. And more. Feel you there.
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