Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I have a friend who works at a music shop. He is in a position there to know most of what is going on in that industry.

Recently he shocked me with news about compact discs, as we now know them, being on the verge of extinction. He says they will soon join plastic records and analog tapes in the formats of the past category.

We had plastic (vinyl, polystyrene, shellac, etc.) for about a hundred years. Since the digital revolution, it seems we're going to be changing formats, and costly players, every few years — that is if we want to keep up with the current technology.

What is this next generation music format all about?
—James R. Constantine, Renton, Wash.

DEAR JAMES: Your shocking informant is leveling with you.

At least two competing new music formats already exist: DVD-Audio, and Super Audio Compact Discs (SACD).

It is too early to predict which format will become the standard. In the meantime it may resemble the VHS vs. Beta warfare of the 1970s.

Both use a disc similar to the common CD, but they store a great deal more data. Retail prices for either will likely be under $20, not much above what you're used to paying for compact discs.

Those who have auditioned the new discs — and I have not — say there is a remarkable improvement in their reproduction over ordinary CDs. Even audiophiles, long aware that vinyl sounds better than CDs, admit these new discs are offer the highest fidelity recordings ever heard. They are reportedly as good as if one were present at a live recording session.

As for hardware, DVD-Audio discs will play in your current DVD player. However, you will need a five-speaker with subwoofer surround sound system to experience the additional fidelity.

Exceptions exist but most SACDs must be played on a SACD player. Fortunately, these players will read DVD-Audio discs, but will not reproduce their sound to its fullest extent. Remember, they are competitors.

Both players will play your current collection of audio CDs, and both can be found at prices beginning in the $200 to $300 range.

After writing the above paragraphs, we fortunately heard from someone who actually has some of these components. Here is what Todd Spangler has to say:

“It is correct that the DVD-Audio discs will play in any DVD player, but you must have a DVD-Audio player to access the high fidelity tracks. It is not sufficient to just have five speakers and a subwoofer.

“Paying a DVD-Audio disc in an ordinary DVD player such as I have will ordinarily give you a Dolby Digital soundtrack, which is a compressed 5.1 audio format widely used in DVD movies.

“Some DVD-Audio discs have an auxiliary DTS track, which is another compressed 5.1 audio format that is not as widely used. Both fall far short of the fidelity of DVD-Audio, which uses uncompressed 24 bit PCM data at higher sampling rates than what CD uses.

“As far as SACD, it is not enough to simply say that SACD players will read DVD-Audio discs. Along with many other SACD players, my two-year-old model certainly will not; however, some of the newer SACD players are universal players that can accomplish this. My machine is a stereo only model, but the newer SACD players have multichannel capability similar to DVD-Audio.”
—Todd Spangler, Milwaukee, Wisc.

DEAR JERRY: I recently discovered that there were at least five versions of “Autumn Leaves” that charted in 1955 or '56 — more than just the definitive version by Roger Williams.

One is by Steve Allen, which interests me personally. Both Roger Williams (as Louis Weertz) and Steve Allen attended my alma mater, Drake University, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Neither Steve nor Roger graduated. Roger was expelled for playing popular music in a rehearsal hall, but he returned later for his Master's degree.

Steve's asthma couldn't handle the Iowa climate, and he transferred to Arizona State.

What can you tell me about the other hit versions of “Autumn Leaves”?
—Don Borkowski, Salem, Ore.

DEAR DON: Besides the two Drake Bulldogs you already know, here are the others with charted hit versions of “Autumn Leaves” in 1955:

Mitch Miller (50033); Jackie Gleason (Capitol 3223); Victor Young (Decca 29653); and the Ray Charles Singers (MGM 12068).

“Autumn Leaves” may have been new to American ears and charts in 1955, but the tune had been known in France since 1948,

That is when Jacques Prevert (words) and Joseph Kosma (music) wrote “Les Feuilles Mortes” (The Dead Leaves). A year later, Johnny Mercer penned the English lyrics. Since “Autumn Leaves” sounds far more appealing than “The Dead Leaves,” that became the American title.

Since Mercer founded and co-owned Capitol Records, he first gave the tune to his own star, Jo Stafford.

Like the falling leaves, countless cover versions quickly descended onto the marketplace. Among those with circa-1950 recordings are: Bing Crosby, Edith Piaf, Mitch Miller, Carmen Cavallaro, Ray Anthony, Artie Shaw, Buddy Morrow, Ralph Marterie, Denny Vaughan, David Lewinter, and Jo Stafford's husband, Paul Weston.

You would think at least one of these circa-1950 versions would have clicked, but not a one did.

The leaves fell silent until 1955, when pianist Roger Williams' melodious waxing topped the nation's charts.

IZ ZAT SO? As much as 1955 is regarded as the first full year of rock and roll, three non-rock instrumentals managed to sneak into the Top 1 chart spot that year.

In chronological order, they are: “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” (Perez Prado); “Unchained Melody” (Les Baxter); and “Autumn Leaves” (Roger Williams).

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