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Monday, September 29, 2008

Flowers on the Wall

The Statler Brothers, a country music quartet featuring a vocal approach based on gospel music, enjoyed a huge off-the-wall pop hit in 1966 with "Flowers on the Wall," a classic lonely-guy lament with a sprightly backing and comic lyrics.

(None of them were brothers, and none named 'Statler'; originally known as the Kingsmen, they were forced to change that when "Louie Louie" by Seattle's Kingsmen hit big in 1963. As a result, the vocal quartet named themselves after a brand of facial tissue!)

Because of shrinking playlists and the lack of imagination on the part of radio programmers, you aren't likely to hear the catchy "Flowers on the Wall" these days, even though filmmaker Quentin Tarantino brought the song back several years ago. The version used in Pulp Fiction and generally available now is a stereo cut that is NOT the same performance that buyers heard and purchased on mono 45s back in early '66.

I have noticed that some sixties 45s on the Columbia label--thinking, just off the top of my head, of Simon & Garfunkel and Byrds records--feature totally different performances than the ones heard now on stereo CDs and on the radio.

It's not clear to me why this is the case, but as a historian, it both intrigues me and annoys me that what people heard and purchased in the old days is NOT what you hear now.

Here's the original Statler Brothers 45. If you know the song, listen for variations in the drumming (especially in the chorus) and in the vocal mix. If you're not yet familiar with the song, enjoy its period references and all-around charm!



Anonymous Jersette said...

I love this song even though it thoroughly creeped me out as a kid. I think that high tenor harmony put it into really good, weird's more yelping than singing. Never noticed the drumming variation before, though!

4:19 PM, September 29, 2008

Blogger Jennifer Kelley said...

I'm sure that, like the Beatles, many 60's groups considered the mono 45 mix the definitive version of any given song, and the stereo version was done just 'cause they had to have a stereo version. Certainly the Monkees were guilty of this-- "Steppin' Stone," "A Little Bit Me", "Girl I Knew Somewhere," and "Pleasant Valley Sunday" all differ from their stereo counterparts. (And, really, "A Little Bit Me" sounds best on a 45 rpm record-- even the "single" version released on CD is missing that certain spark the 45 had.)

(Ditto "I Feel Fine.")

I know the mono mix of the first four Monkees albums-- especially PAC & J-- differ greatly from the stereo counterparts. Ditto early Beatles albums. Also w/ differences: mono vs. stereo "Pet Sounds." So I'm betting that all 60's groups mixed mono and stereo differently, or even used different performances on the album (like the album vs. single version of "Help Me Rhonda"), just because it the thing to do. It's just that. for the most part, no one modern ("modern" meaning "anyone encountering the music several years or more after it was released") has bothered to track down the mono versions to compare.

4:57 PM, September 29, 2008

Blogger Stuart Shea said...


Totally right about the mono vs. stereo thing. The mono mixes of the Monkees singles you cited, and of many Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Byrds records, among others, far outstrip the stereo versions.

Heck, bands didn't start to take stereo seriously until 1967 or so. Even "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was mixed first in mono, and the Beatles didn't even attend the album's stereo mixing sessions at all.

It's a shame, really, that a lot of the reissues of 60s stuff haven't seen fit to include the original mono versions--i.e. the way people heard it and loved it at the time.

Some bands have been served well by their reissuers...thinking particularly of the Monkees, Traffic, and even Pink Floyd, all of whom have had their early mono mixes reissued.

A side note: the fifth Monkees LP, 'The Birds, the Bees, and the Monkees,' the final one issued in mono, has HUGE mix differences from the stereo.

I think that I'll spend a bunch of time in the next few weeks doing just what you suggest--tracking down mono variations and posting them.

10:40 AM, September 30, 2008

Blogger larryepke said...

Likewise, the Sony CD reissues of the Byrds albums were exemplary. They included single versions, unreleased material and nearly ever one had one unlisted track. One of the tracks was a very funny “open” interview record that was sent to radio stations. The local DJ would read a question and McGuinn and Crosby would answer it. (Alas, since the track was the “hidden” track, the questions are included. But you can pretty much guess them from the responses.)

Another that I know fascinated you features the guys arguing during a recording session. Drummer Mike Clarke isn't playing the song the way the others, including the producer, want him to, and the arguing gets fairly intense!

10:28 AM, October 01, 2008

Blogger Derek See said...

The early mono mixes also show what true artists the recording engineers were in those days; the mixes are beautifully done, and all parts (even on many super lo-fi, raw recordings) are audible. Of course I place my vote for mono.

8:36 AM, October 06, 2008


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